Food Trends That Need to Die in 2014
Here are a few food trends that have become ubiquitous and shed the sheen of novelty — now they're just dull and sometimes annoying, in spite of exciting debuts.
The Cronut Craze
By his own account, Daniel alum Dominique Ansel opened a bakery because he saw gaps in New York's pastry offerings, and he was eager to expand the sweet horizons of his fellow New Yorkers. After capturing a loyal local following with his freshly baked treats, he began thinking about how to elevate the doughnut. Two months of experimentation begot the Cronut, which he unleashed upon the city back in May. Twenty-four hours later, the mania began — and with it came lines so long you'd think the guy was giving out money. If mimicry is the highest form of flattery, Ansel had fervent admirers: Knockoffs proliferated so quickly he was forced to trademark his invention's name; that fans still flock to his tiny shop daily for one of 450 treats is testament to the staying power of the original. Ansel is a pastry genius, and he's humble about his success — so we'll happily ride his train until it leads us to the next mania-inducing snack, which will almost certainly come out of his tiny kitchen. As for the knockoffs? We'll be happy to see those die. And we wouldn't mind if the food tourists took interest in some of the baking wizard's other projects, thereby dispensing with the insane wait.
Putting a Fucking Egg on Everything
This season on Top Chef: New Orleans, editor of Food & Wine magazine Dana Cowin declared that — along with kale and bacon — she is completely done with the "eggs over everything" trend. The chefs sighed, heartbroken, while we found ourselves yelling back at the screen "Thank GOD somebody finally said it." We get it, chefs: It looks pretty, the yolk adds a dollop of fat and flavor, and there's a long list of classic dishes that call for a barely cooked egg — atop pizza and classic steak tartare; dropped in soups, rice bowls and congees. But it's gotten a little fanatical. Just about anything can be ordered "sunrise"-style these days, and eggs are showing up on all three courses of our meal. It's boring us to tears.
You can almost hear the hipsters groan: "I was into sriracha before sriracha was a thing." But it's true: Sriracha, that spicy stuff we all used to feel mildly smug about having in our stoner-food arsenal (my favorite: Velveeta shells and cheese with sriracha) is now everywhere. There are sriracha-flavored potato chips. There's a sriracha documentary. In Los Angeles and Minneapolis, there are doughnut shops that use sriracha as a topping. When news came down that the factory in California might have to close, people freaked out. Someone is trying to sell a package of sriracha on eBay for $10,000. It's on Subway sandwiches. It's like the hot sauce that ate America.
Sriracha is such a trend that the backlash has already begun: In recent months, bloggers have penned such posts as "Sriracha Sauce Is Massively Overrated," "There Is Nothing Cool About Sriracha" and "There's Nothing Punk Rock About Sriracha Anymore." Do we hate this trend or love it? It's hard to get worked up about it either way — it's hot sauce. Just hot sauce. Chill out.
We blame the cupcake and pork years of the late aughts for our present bitter green situation — we wanted a vegetable on our plates, too, after what felt like eons of butter and animal fat. And while we're still for produce, let's all agree to call a moratorium on the kale salad. Packed with antioxidants as it might be, this joyless pile of greens sports the texture of well-worn shoe leather, and, what's worse, it's usually prepared the same way everywhere, from the reclaimed-wood-bedecked hipster halls to the white-tablecloth-adorned fine-dining temples: That combination of fruit, sharp cheese, nuts, and a light citrus dressing is not as novel as you, dear kale salad-maker, think. And if one more chef tells us that his or her kale salad is exempt because it was the first kale salad in the universe, we're going to squirt lemon vinaigrette right into that smug a-hole's eyeballs. Let it go, our friends. Put your energy into making something new.
Haute Chicken and Waffles
In a 2008 episode of his television show Fatherhood, Snoop Dogg took David Beckham to his favorite dining spot, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, for a taste of L.A.'s famous soul food. The tables were Formica, the menus were covered in plastic sneeze guards and a wine pairing meant ordering a Bartles & James from the beverage list. Roscoe's wasn't being ironic. It was just serving honest soul food, smothered in syrup and grease, to those looking for Southern-inspired comfort. Fast-forward five years, and this once humble fried fare has found its way onto the chicest menus in town. Sandwiched somewhere between foie gras and truffles, chicken and waffles has achieved haute status. No longer is simple maple syrup sufficient for such an elite dish. Now highbrow, they come topped with everything from poached quail egg to sriracha aioli. There are online resources dedicated to chicken-and-waffles wine pairings, and even the venerable Thomas Keller has gotten in on it. Granted, some of the world's most notable dishes had humble beginnings — think cassoulet or pizza — but this seems like more of a short-lived trend than a permanent fixture on upscale menus. Any excuse to don eveningwear and dig our manicured fingers into a platter of diner food is good by us, but being charged a week's salary for something we can get at IHOP feels a bit like a rip-off.
Foodstagramming. The fact that there's now a portmanteau for it makes my skin crawl and my iPhone shut down in protest. The word, which doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, refers, of course, to the trend of photographing everything we eat, and then editing it to make it appear somehow more hip or luxurious. But the fact is no one wants to see what your bowl of cereal looks like when you stick a Kelvin filter on it. We also don't want to see images of gourmet meal after gourmet meal. Let's be honest: It's not about the food anymore; it's about self-promotion and showing other food lovers (and, you know, the rest of the wired world) what a foie-gras-and-white-truffle-filled life you live while ignoring those around you in favor of getting just the right angle to make that foam not look like spittle. Dr. Oz has even warned consumption of "food porn" signals an unhealthy preoccupation with food. How about we just enjoy the act of eating it and the company around us? Take a deep breath, and put down the phone. Eat your meal, and converse with your friends, because that's what dining is really about. And I promise that hamburger will taste just as good without a Valencia filter.
Truffle Oil on Everything
Enough with the truffle oil. It's not bacon. It doesn't actually make everything taste better. In fact, it ruins more dishes than it improves. Did macaroni and cheese need to be improved? Was the greasy, salty, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside glory that is the French fry missing something? No. But add the word "truffle" to the description and an inexpensive side dish doubles or triples in price. Not only does the taste and scent of the truffle oil completely overwhelm the dish it's meant to enhance, but the vast majority of the time, the cloying substance is actually olive or grape-seed oil with a chemical additive. This is not news: A 2007 piece in The New York Times revealed that chefs knew perfectly well that the cheap substance was just olive oil with 2,4-dithiapentane added to it. And how could they not, considering that actual truffles cost somewhere around $60 an ounce? Apparently, however, the restaurant industry is, like, competitive and junk. After all, 2,4-dithiapentane is an odorant found in some truffles, so it really just "democratizes" truffles so we can all "enjoy" their flavor. But, as world-renowned chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago told The New York Times, "It doesn't even taste like truffle." Since most people have never tasted the real thing, a massive fraud continues to be perpetuated on the nonelite eating public who don't know the difference. So, no, that food truck that just charged you $18 for stinky mac and cheese is not investing in fungi rooted up by pedigree pigs being shepherded through the French countryside by men in charming berets. It's just cheap oil made to smell expensive to trick you into paying more for the honor of eating it.
In the modern era of the food mashup, crowbarring one dish into another has become a kind of performance art, like competitive eating recalibrated from quantity to thought piece: your dinner as a Jeff Koons balloon. Some of these mashups work; some of them should be banned by the FDA. But a rare few of them are genius, not so much edible cultural fusion as a rip in the space-time continuum. The ramen burger is one of the latter — very silly, but genius nonetheless. It's pretty self-explanatory: a bun woven from ramen noodles and pan-fried, a burger made with chashu or beef, scallions and all kinds of special sauce. Sure, that sound you hear is purists screaming, but they scream a lot. This high-concept take on lowbrow food was dreamed up by Keizo Shimamoto, a computer programmer turned food blogger (aren't we all), who then brought his dream to the public. A large public. When he popped up with his burgers in a south Los Angeles food court, 1,000 people waited in line, starting at dawn, like the dish was a K-pop band. It has since turned up at food festivals and L.A. ramen shops, made by ramen chefs alongside their repeating bowls of tonkotsu. There are even rumors of a ramen burger shop coming to Hollywood. Will a ramen burger be as ubiquitous as gyoza and takoyaki on ramen shop menus? Highly doubtful. But it will be a very fun ride.
Kitchen Towels Standing in for Napkins
When our most forward-thinking restaurateurs began putting kitchen towels on tables instead of napkins, it was endearing. Restaurants had been cautiously making a move toward a more casual presentation ever since the recession made spending a car payment on an ounce of caviar seem crass and insensitive. Bow-tied waiters and starched linens were out; approachable service and the warm comfort of casual dishtowels tied with butcher's twine were in. If the towels had remained an intermittent occurrence they might have maintained their initial appeal, but within just a few years they've appeared on the tables of every gastropub, farm-to-table restaurant and any other establishment that serves craft cocktails or brunch. They're everywhere. And many of them are beginning to look a little threadbare, as if they've been in service since the trend began. If daubing your face with unsightly linens doesn't affront you, consider the lint. All towels aren't created equally, and as they've grown in popularity, restaurants have increasingly come to rely on lower-quality fabric. Draped across the legs these inferior linens have an effect not unlike an unkempt Persian cat, leaving a fine veil of fuzz that requires half a roll of masking tape to remove. Certainly we'll get back to the white linen standard eventually — even the good trends fade. Let's relegate the kitchen towel to where it belongs: the kitchen bucket.
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