Food Trends

by Jan

Trendy Restaurant characteristics

Right when I’m half way through writing this piece another feast of novelties arrives: the launch of the SMH Good Food Guide 2015.  I greeted it with alacrity; it’s always good to know what sounds exciting enough to try. Or, have confirmed that a critic has had the sense to reward a hardworking chef’s efforts, handiwork and creativity.

What are these? Brown bread ice cream, SDTs, balsamic vinegar, rocket, sticky date pudding, Thai curries, smoothies, wraps, Tex/Mex, tapas, bush tucker, lambs’ shanks, osso buco, beef cheeks, retro food (late 90s eg. prawn cocktails, surf and turf), chorizo, belly pork, sushi, sashimi, wontons, sui mai and dumplings, Brussel sprouts, beetroot, salted caramel, cauliflower puree, macaroons, deep fried chicken, goji berries, kale, fermentation and pickling.


They are, or have been, the must-have fashion items of the food world. Most of these foods are delicious and they were, and are trendy.


“What’s your food trend at the moment, Kylie/Jason?”

“Oh, I’m trending towards kale chips”

“What’s that?”

“It’s the latest thing – I saw it in a food newspaper recently – some restaurants are doing it”.

“Hey, that’s so cool”.


You get the idea; then it’s all over social media. Recently [Winter 2014] in a Sydney newspaper Brussel sprouts and kale chips were pronounced as “trending”. Pour old Brussel sprouts were given some PR spin:  “That childhood nasty is now a chic ingredient in exclusive menus”.  I’ve always loved them and bought them when available, not because they were trendy, but because they are delicious, without being garnished by hype.


It seems that the only way Ken and Barbie will eat a Brussel sprout is if a celebrity chef cooks it on television, or writes a column on the subject. Without the imprimatur of a celebrity chef, these vegetables could become rare heritage breeds.


Remember when beetroot arrived on menus a couple of years ago? Doesn’t that stuff come out of a can? Sadly, that’s was not an unrealistic question, because almost no-one cooked this beautiful vegetable at home.


However, if you look at some French menus in Sydney, you can find such items as fromage de tête (brawn), or a similar dish, jambon persillé. It never seemed like a trend or fashion victim; it was always part of French cuisine. It was never popularised into something desirable, like multi-coloured macaroons, creating a media buzz by bloggers who seem to know only about IT and photography. No opinionista has ever pronounced it dead, like Monty Python’s dead parrot.


In the 90s there was the trend of Bush Tucker. A few restaurants put dishes with native flora and fauna on their menus. But a few years later a food writer, along with a celebrity chef or two, pronounced that Bush Tucker was not really a goer. So it died. Right or wrong, that’s the power of opinion leaders. Then other restaurateurs and critics fell meekly into line. More significantly, there goes an attempt at Australia having an identifiable cuisine of its own.


So if food writers and chefs have to promote the virtues of these lovely vegetables, what have people been eating to date? A pretty narrow repertoire it seems, which suggests people are so alienated from nature and the source of their food, that it’s laughable. Did these vegetables really not exist before television?


It’s not just foods; it’s also food styles. In the late 90s in Sydney retro food was touted as the must-have menu style eg. ironic prawn cocktails, surf and turf, and steak Diane. More recently, rustic peasant food which may be based in a particular cuisine, eg. Italian, Spanish, French etc.


Who makes these pronouncements that a particular food is trendy?  Self-styled opinion makers?  These can be chefs, food media, or high profile food writers.


Canadian food anthropologist, Margaret Visser explains that this is:


…. food imperialism. It is the middle classes which have now taken over the traditional food of the poor. Where ‘peasant food’ becomes ever so chic, and becomes the property not of peasants, but of the rich and the educated.


Cooking real food has now become a middle class leisure activity especially at weekends, along with dining out.


This perpetual novelty could seem almost pathological. How did it happen?


“Today’s trash is tomorrow’s art”. That sounds like the sort of thing someone famous said. So, if Masterchef is trash TV, can it produce culinary artists?  Maybe.


But by watching the contestants we didn’t actually learn anything about what they were cooking. Nothing about the ingredients or techniques, but a lot about the TV interaction and drama, hype and, importantly, for commercial reasons, what’s in the ad break. Some see it as very frustrating and a turn-off; some adore it and wouldn’t miss it.


I wanted Gordon Ramsay to walk into the Masterchef set and shout at them to just get on with it. In Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, he was seemingly always right, and it was good television.


With meat, the slow-cooked comfort food cuts started several years ago with lambs’ shanks, now it’s beef cheeks, black pudding and oxtail. And after Masterchef, casserole meat has increased in demand. Farmers will have to breed more casseroles.


Ken and Barbie, instead of being dedicated followers of fashion, could actually learn about the products they eat, watch on TV, and photograph in restaurants.


Here are some opinions from food writers/opinion makers on the subject of trends:


Weber Shandwick’s produce an annual food trend report Food Forward ™:

Food Forward™ 2013 is an annual trend report which reveals sentiment about Australian food culture from more than 1,000 consumers and leading taste-makers from around the country including food editors, chefs, food bloggers and nutritionists.

From nominating the top food news stories of the year, to culinary trends that will shape our food experiences in the coming 12 months, survey participants were asked to share their insights and predictions about the food culture of Australia. The top insights revealed five trend clusters – commonalities between individual trends – which are predicted to shape the 2013 food preference, purchase and consumption of Australia.


For example, in-house artisan butchers and bakers as part of the large duopoly, Coles and Woolworths.


This is from The Taste of Tomorrow by Josh Schonwald [p 222]:


Food trends follow a cycle of diffusion. The start with the epicures and the urban hipsters, and then slowly progress to the middle of the roaders, and then –years later – they could get embraced by people who still eat white bread (laggards).


The CCD (Center for Culinary Development, a San Francisco-based food research and development organisations) developed a 5Trend Mapping stages as a way of explaining to clients where trends fist happened and how to capitalize on them.


CCD’s 5 Trend Mapping Stages:

Stage 1:  The ingredient, dish, and/or cooking technique appears at upscale dining establishments, ethnic and popular independent restaurants blessed with creative chefs and diners with adventurous palates.


Stage 2:  The item is featured in specialty consumer-oriented food channels such as Bon Appetit and Food Network, and retail stores such as Sur la Table that target culinary professionals and serious home chefs.


Stage 3:  The item begins to appear in mainstream chain restaurants – Applebee’s or Chili’s- as well as retail stores such as Williams-Sonoma that target recreational cooks.


Stage 4:  The women’s magazines and family-oriented publications – Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens – pick up the buzz.


Stage 5:  Finally, the trend makes its way to quick-service restaurant menus and is either starting to appear or is having an increased presence on grocery store shelves.



Finally, this is a quote from French gastronomer Benedict Beauge:


Today, favouritism being set aside (though this is not always easy, despite the words of de Tarde), the current state of cuisine and its capacity for innovation take precedence over country of origin. The proof is in the continual circulation of ideas, which shows no attention to national borders. Although cuisine is now multifaceted in many different countries and in different parts of the world, there still exists no small number of common points: a sort of homogenization/differentiation can be observed, which is in fact one of the characteristics of globalisation in general. Many of the same trends may be found in Paris and New York, in Barcelona and Copenhagen, in Sydney and London. More than ever, cuisine is affected by fashion, but this also is now globalised. This totally new situation – autonomy of chefs and a global cooking field – translates into a number of phenomena, which are a part of and an influence on the idea of novelty.


First what Ferguson (2004) called ‘ostentation’, which conceals all participating resources by valuing the person of the chef rather than his food; second, the ever exacerbated competition among chefs, kept in place by several new institutions such as international gastronomy festivals or awards like the Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants and in which a certain ‘false’ novelty can be found; and finally the frenzied consumption of signs, which punish both the chefs and their public and which are also tied to ‘false’ novelty. The three phenomena work together with the media (in the grand sense) to support diverse and multiple relationships to which we would pay careful attention.


Whatever it may be, the very concept of novelty has today changed: until Nouvelle Cuisine it had obeyed to demands. Now it obeys to what is offered: it is the chefs who decide and they impose their fantasies on us. Globalization and new forms of media make sure that this fantasy is immediately known (and copied) from one end of the planet to the other, and that it is very quickly obsolete. At the same time, the loss of the sense of history has made landmarks disappear and thus it is easier and easier to pass off a false novelty as a true one. Regarding the loss of memory, it leads to a dictatorship of the moment in which the very idea of novelty loses all meaning: how can there be novelty when there is no past and no future? All gets reduced to a twinkling, which only serves to maintain the idea of movement.   (excerpt from On the Idea of Novelty in Cuisine; A Brief Historical Insight 2011).


This appears to be the most intelligent explanation of trends and how they happen.


I love the delicious irony of when old is pronounced as new again, as if it has just been invented. This is the ‘false’ novelty referred to above.


The chefs and opinion leaders who start trends are perceived as the avant garde. They recontextualize old recipes and borrow from other subcultures such as vegetarian, or an ethnic cuisine, thereby giving themselves publicity.


The moment a food fashion becomes processed and available in large retailers, it is a ‘convenience’ food produced by industry, and seen as inauthentic versions of the ‘real thing’. They are then critiqued, and die like Monty Python’s dead parrot.


So the avant garde is busy re-creating the next trend, ie. another opportunity to express identity in the public sphere, and increase revenue. And the cycle begins again.


Even when television is just a stream of trivia, it’s the trivia that rules our lives. It’s no longer possible to make the distinction between television and real life……If television has any real negative power, it’s only over people who don’t know how to read its codes and messages.


Luckily we’re free to ignore it all, and eat what we like when we like. But it’s good to see some old favourites pop up on new menus – it’s interesting to try. But what is more interesting is that we’ve probably seen it before, and understand how it’s been tweaked.