Top Ten Emerging Food Trends: 10-6
This is the first in a two-part series looking at ten emerging food trends around the country.
In a city like Nashville, and in cities like it around the country, you can’t escape the trendiness of food. It comes here on wheels and sticks, in boxes and bags, disguised, renamed, reinvented, resurrected. It’s a game here: how can we make it different, appealing, new, and enticing?
We’ve lived in Nashville for over a year now. Along the way we’ve gotten to know who is doing food right and who is breaking new ground; who is setting the trends and who is following them. But this isn’t just about Nashville—these trends are nationwide, and today we’re looking at ten that are either raging full steam right now in the food industry, or, if our little Southern city, with all the progressiveness it wants to achieve in the kitchen, is any indication, are headed that way.
A call for transparency in the food industry is nothing new. For decades, a small, invested portion of America has wanted to know where its food came from and how it got there. Now, however, that portion is growing.
Call it the Food, Inc. effect. The 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary, which shed an unwelcome light on corporate agribusiness, spurred definite change. Growing numbers of consumers have taken the step now of wanting to know what they’re eating to knowing how it got to the plate. Earlier this year, the Sustainable Foods Summit, which included 200 food executives, called for more transparency and accountability from the food industry. Even pet owners want to know what their animals are eating now.
Recently, the cries have been even louder. Remember the Taco Bell lawsuit earlier this year? People demanded to know what they were eating and in doing so forced Taco Bell to respond—to the tune of $4 million spent by the restaurant chain in counter marketing. Just five days ago here in Nashville, the director of regulatory services for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture wrote an editorial in The Tennessean about public health scores and how the TDA does its work.
“All we want is transparency and a good conversation about these things,” Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner once said about his film. Thankfully, it looks like he’s getting his wish.
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9. An ethnic health craze
I actually think we’re past the point in society where demanding healthier food options is a “health craze.” The Atkins Diet was a health craze. Installing vegan cafeterias on major college campuses is a culture change. Recently that culture change has looked overseas for its inspiration, and some of the world’s most ethnic foods are beginning to influence the way we eat, too.
Made anything with quinoa lately? The whole grain is lowering diabetes and heart disease, and it’s catching on. We can thank the Incas for that. Bulgur wheat has more fiber and protein than white rice, and the USDA is recommending it along with other whole grains. A tip of the cap to our Middle Eastern friends for that one. And who can forget the Acai berry? A walk down the aisle of any supermarket will show you dozens of variations of Acai juice, which is native to Central and South America. When you think about it, it makes sense that a culture as unhealthy as its ever been in its history would look outside its borders for help, right?
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8. Cake pops
Call it the cupcake 2.0. Cake pops have arrived.
We first noticed Cake Pops at the Taste of Music City event earlier this spring, when they were being showcased at a local booth. Desserts are undeniably trendy—cupcake shops have sprung up around the country like oil change places—and it may be time to look ahead to the next sweet trend to step on to the cupcake’s throne. Locally, the king of the stick is Nashville Cake Pops, a fledgling company that sells them in two locations in the city and makes no bones about its desire to dethrone King Cupcake. The first sentence of its website? “Move over cupcake, there’s a new dessert in town.”
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This one goes hand-in-hand with a couple others on the list, and while it speaks to the earlier trend of transparency, this one goes a little deeper. Gastronomy is an all-encompassing study of food and how it affects our bodies and lives—how we discover it, taste it, experience it, research it, digest it, and even write about it.
One of the most popular arms of gastronomic understanding is molecular gastronomy, which gets to the chemistry and biology of what makes up our food at a sometimes-microscopic level. This often comes out in a new-age style of cooking, with emulsions and foams and all that cool stuff. TV food nerd Alton Brown has long been a proponent of understanding what we eat through his chemisty-focused show Good Eats, but that isn’t to say he’s such a proponent of molecular gastronomy and its recent rise.
Recently he spoke against the perils of focusing heavily on molecular gastronomy in the kitchen, primarily among young chefs, on his blog:
Although there is indeed value in learning the ways of the white powders (xanthan gum makes it in to most of my dressings), so much emphasis has been put into and on it in the last few years that many young cooks are attempting to jump over the basics and go straight to methylcellulose, sodium alginate, various polysaccharides, gums, and even transglutaminase, which can make some very interesting sausage when properly applied. But ask them to sauté a mushroom or bake a meringue and many turn up their noses or simply lose interest.
Does this mean that chefs who are heavily invested in culinary chemicals bad cooks? Heck no. Great chefs tend to be great because they are great and most have a skill set that is as wide as it is deep. The molecular way has allowed several of these craftsmen and artists to express themselves in new and flat out amazing ways. They are blazing new frontiers in taste and flavor and I admire and applaud their bright rising stars.
But please remember food fans…all food is molecular and there is as much magic (and science) in a properly poached egg as there is in an edible paper pouch full of lavender smoke, powdered goat butter, and licorice caviar. With saffron foam no less.
Ah, but so goes the debate between trendy and old-fashioned food. Which brings us to number six…
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6. Modernist cuisine
If you want to know anything about modernist cuisine, it just became a little harder to Google it, thanks to a six-volume, 2438-page set of cookbooks by the same name that is taking kitchens by storm around the country.
Modernist Cuisine is easily the most visually beautiful cookbook ever made, with its groundbreaking photography and inventive styling, so maybe this entry should be called “6. Modernist Cuisine,” and look instead at how it’s changing the way we cook. But the modernist cuisine movement goes beyond just one book, and I have to think it will only get bigger as exposure to it becomes more widespread.
Take a look at Top Chef, one of the most popular reality shows on television, regardless of genre. Modernist cuisine permeates almost every episode. Or even look at Food Network and its more high-end competitions, where the techniques have even found their way on. Young chefs are attracted to it, like Alton said, because it’s cool, it’s new, it’s fun, and it’s different.
But is modernist cuisine really making waves outside, say, New York or Los Angeles? Earlier this year we took in a shrimp and grits cook-off in downtown Nashville, where a dozen of the city’s brightest chefs showcased their takes on the basic dish. There were lots of varieties, and each was great in its own way. The most daring came from chef Brandon Frohne, who we profiled here earlier this summer—a highly modernist take of one shrimp and a likker crumb shooter that was barely recognizable as shrimp and grits at all. It was good, but out there, and I didn’t give it much of a chance with that crowd. In the end, it took home the people’s choice award and second place overall from a panel of James Beard award-winning judges. Yeah. I’d say this city is ready for it.
For Part Two, trends 5-1, click here.