***Today we are posting the first of a series of guest posts from our foodie friends while we are on our two month vacation. Every Sunday we are going to be posting a new article that could touch on a variety of subjects. The first post is from our good friend Christa Glennie Seychew, who has been kind enough to organize these guest posts for us.
Each year, most magazines and newspapers with food sections fall all over themselves to publish a story on food trends, so why should Buffalo Eats be any different?
Today we will look at food trends for 2014, as predicted by big city/big corporate entities. We’ll also sort out what might fly here in Buffalo.
While specific trends certainly take hold here, it seems to happen at a slower pace than in coastal cities, and some national fads simply pass us by. Some of you may lament this, wondering each morning, as you look at yourself in the mirror, why, why your geographic location has robbed you of the opportunity to stand in line for a cronut.
But I feel differently, as I am glad that many of these fly-by-night trends never make their way here, because when they do, they are often adopted by less-than-capable hands, rendering our community flush with crappy knockoffs. Don’t believe me? Go have frozen yogurt or a cupcake—we have scads of bad versions of both available all over our region. Lucky us!
Predictions from the big guys
First up is the list offered annually by The National Restaurant Association, It’s pretty extensive and part of a larger study. The results are taken quite seriously by national food corporations and retailers. The NRA predicted the rise of fresh, locally sourced food almost a decade ago, as well as the more recent influx of the restaurant segment deemed “Fast Casual” (think Panera and Chipotle), where better quality food and a mediocre dining area are offered, but table service is not. Instead people order at a counter and move the food from the preparation area to the dining room themselves.
This year the NRA’s list won’t seem very cutting edge to most of us, but it will still have an impact on the national scene in a way nothing a food editor drums up ever could. The NRA’s list of the top ten trends for 2014 goes as follows:
- Locally sourced meats and seafood
- Locally grown produce
- Environmental sustainability
- Healthful kids’ meals
- Gluten-free cuisine
- Hyper-local sourcing (ie restaurant gardens)
- Children’s nutrition
- Non-wheat pasta (rice, buckwheat, etc.)
- Sustainable seafood
- Farm or estate branded food items
We’ll only review a few of these, as we have other things to get to, but overall I would be happy to see most of these trends turn into more than just conversation here in WNY.
The local food scene is growing each year, but we need to increase the number of farms who truly understand how to work with the urban chef and the urban consumer. For example, we have a good number of livestock farms in WNY, despite how unfriendly the rest of our food system is (in terms of slaughtering, processing, and distribution) but most of them choose to sell meat in quarters and halves (of the entire animal). That might work with chicken, but apartment dwellers and small restaurants have no storage for an entire side of beef. Additionally, restaurants want meat delivered to them fresh, not frozen. Until we sort out the proper packaging and timely distribution of meat and produce in our region, restaurants that source locally and consumers who would like to do the same will always be in the minority.
The gluten-free trend is only going to grow, and two of the items on the NRA list indicate that. While only 3% of the population suffers from Celiac disease, millions of Americans have found that they generally feel better when they limit their carbohydrate intake. I fully support people eating whatever they’d like, including going carb-free. But I have a few points I’d like to offer, points that are likely to make me unpopular.
The first is that restrictions which nearly wipe an entire food group from anyone’s diet seem unwise to me. Remember in the 90s when the whole world went “fat free” and unwitting moms started shoveling Snackwells® “fat free” cookies and crackers down their family’s throats only to learn that said snacks were loaded to the gills with sugar, ultimately rendering them NOT HEALTHY AT ALL? When you cut all the gluten from your diet, what are you eating in place of it? And maybe you should consider cutting only the terrible carbs from your diet, rather than all of them?
Secondly, extreme diet choices are often a cover for something else. Remember back in school how the girl who preached veganism at every kid snarfing a brown bag bologna sandwich ended up being checked into a clinic for anorexia? Or that dinner guest who has a ton of food allergies and despite your efforts to cater to them simply pushes the food around on their plate while ingesting an immobilizing level of alcohol? I admire people who live very clean and disciplined lifestyles—even vegans!—but a lot of what is dressed up as a food allergy is either straight up b.s. or a cover for some other kind of b.s.
I have no doubt that “gluten free” will hang on the wall alongside its other nonsensical pals, “sugar free” and “fat free”, a few years from now when a new restrictive trend takes hold. In the meantime, if you really want to feel better, I suggest you free your food from boxes, bags, and freezer packets, ‘cause what is really killing us isn’t the gluten hiding in a perfect French baguette, or the fat found in farm fresh butter, or the sugar in your coffee (unless it’s that Splenda shit). It’s the fact that most, if not all, of the food we Americans eat (including raw produce!) is designed in a lab and then manufactured and transformed into something with a sell-by-date nature never, ever intended.
Whining like only a New Yorker can
Now that we’ve gleaned the NRA report, let’s look at this seethingly humorous article from NY Post restaurant and real estate critic Steve Cuozzo. Basically the piece asks the NY dining scene to set aside its silliness, but I think you could ask that of NY every year. We won’t look at the stabs he takes at specific NYC restaurants or chefs since they have little affect on the dining scene here in the Queen City, but his bemoaning certain food items and trends may provide a little conversation for us.
- The well-known critic asks us to forget oxtail, as he considers it a “hard-to-navigate knot of bone and fat”. I won’t disagree, though proper preparation renders excellent results. Oxtail is certainly not past its prime here, in a town that adores braised meat. When oxtail hits the specials menu at Lombardo’s, you’ll want to be sure to make a reservation.
- Bone marrow isn’t his favorite either, and quite honestly, like oxtail, when it’s good it’s fantastic, but most of the time, it’s served tepid and somewhat solidified (and never, ever with enough crackers/bread for proper proportioning of each bite), so why bother? I do, however, like the version at Seabar which is served as part of Bourdain’s Last Meal. Removed from the bone, breaded, and deep fried, it is served with a dollop of gremolata.
- Cuozzo surmises that truffle oil (which isn’t made from truffles, or even with truffles) “turns every dish it touches to skank.” I largely agree with this statement, as anyone who has eaten fresh truffles can tell you how very subtle the flavor is, and truffle oil—well, it’s not subtle at all. Have you ever known a slightly older woman, maybe a great aunt, who applied Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds perfume in such staggering excess that it hung like a bad tasting, repellent cloud in the air above the entire dining table? Well, truffle oil is to food what White Diamonds is to the human nose. I would abide a drop or two in the right application, like the Steak and Eggs appetizer at Bacchus, but if I am being honest, I could probably also accept the use of a similarly small portion of gasoline in a cocktail if it were made by the right bartender, so there ya go.
- Complaints about bread service falling out of fashion are all over the place these days. Many say bread for the table is a thing of the past, while others see it as a restaurant simply being cheap. These complaints abound here in Buffalo too, where we’ve seen the near disappearance of the once-ubiquitous bread basket. As far as I’m concerned, in most cases I’m not complaining about its absence. You can keep your cheap, pre-sliced “Italian” and teensy weensy margarine-filled packets, as the whole thing doesn’t constitute a proper serving of bread to begin with. But please, please don’t charge us for bread unless it.is.off.the.hook (which at this point is a category that really only includes Bistro Europa or Elm Street Bakery, a.k.a. bread heaven for those of us gluten-eaters). However, if I’m eating something that should have bread, like soup or pasta with sauce, well by all means there’d best be bread of some sort available and as the guest, I shouldn’t be responsible for remembering to request it before my meal arrives.
An assortment of other suggestions
Food predictions that were pulled off the wire for mainstream media outlets like CBS and US News included the following list:
- Edible food packaging (which is likely to be as nutritious and equal in flavor to the food it contains).
- Growing healthy snack options (a trend I think we see evidence of any time we shop at the local supermarket, as the cannon-like machine churning out flavorless styrofoam corn-based cracker thingies gives us a heart attack every time it coughs out another crunchy frisbee snack).
- Increased tea consumption (this prediction is largely based on Starbucks having opened a tea bar this year, and the belief that tea is, by and large, a healthy food choice, but Starbucks has all but ruined coffee, so fuck that).
So what about us?
My nominees for WNY food trends in 2014 are entirely unscientific, just hunches.
Last year Korea’s spicy gochujang was on several national trend lists, and I think it—along with kimche—will be found on Buffalo menus with more regularity in 2014. We already love chicken wings coated in spicy sauce and fermented cabbage (in the form of sauerkraut), so both of these full-flavor Korean condiments seem like an obvious choice.
Which leads us directly to the next trend I think we’ll see hit its stride in 2014: fermented foods. From your classic pickle to high-end housemade yogurt, not only will more chefs ferment things for their restaurant menus, but the growing understanding of how important fermented foods are to our overall health and well-being should increase consumer demand. If you want to learn more about fermented foods, check out Sandor Katz. I was first introduced to his work almost ten years ago, and he’s both brilliant and easy to read.
Remember we talked about the Fast Casual restaurant segment at the beginning of this article? Well, it’s not just for national chains. Locally Rocco’s, Pi Craft, and Crust—all pizza joints, coincidentally—have employed the Fast Casual segment with early signs of success. Expect to see more local owners embrace the idea and its potential for great profitability in the coming months.
Here we go with my riskiest prediction of the them all. I never thought it would be possible for one person in WNY to share an idea that might actually stick and turn into a trend, but in this instance it is still early days. Chef Edward Forster (formerly of Mike A @ Hotel Lafayette, currently of The Workshop) wrote a blog post a month or so ago, detailing his new project of making custom bitters and using them not only in cocktails, but also in the kitchen. Since then, I’ve overheard at least half a dozen conversations among other chefs and bartenders, all of whom are toying with the idea. Seasoning food with bitters might just be the next hottest thing to happen to Buffalo’s food scene.