The Roles of Food

by Jan

This is a tongue in cheek piece about food trends:

Good morning all. Welcome to the Secret Society of Restaurant Reviewers. You may be aware that this occasion was brought about because there is a palpable need to extend the roles of food in the leisure market. I will give you a few ideas and opinions of my own to start the ball rolling. Then I would like us to break into groups according to the colour on your name tags. We need to discuss the different roles of food, and come up with a SWOT analysis. After our gourmet lunch kindly sponsored by the Shipped Sheep Company, we will develop a marketing plan from your brilliant ideas.

Recently, restaurant critics have dished out their hats for best restaurants in various categories. Best metropolitan, regional, steak house, Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, bistro, café etc. Each year, as you know, some lose a hat and others gain one.

These reviews are dissected according to criteria: décor, ambiance and food, service and wine list. In the annual wrap, there’s usually a mention of current food trends such as the fashion for pork belly, watercress, scallops, Wagyu beef, King Island chickens, king fish, Kipfler potatoes, rhubarb, and rattan chairs. And a quick run-down of openings, closures, resignations and launches of celebrity chefs.

There is sometimes a mention of liberties taken with menu-speak, for example, wild mushrooms which are no more feral than a sack of spuds. And truffle oil which is manufactured rather than extracted from a lump of freshly dug fungus.

It is possible to assert that a few more liberties have been taken with the role of food, beyond the role of food as a hat, as we have seen with the recent restaurant awards. Now, as we all know, these conventional criteria have become habituated and tired. We need new categories, in order to increase the sales of our food guide.

Critics have overlooked the role the following have to play: food as celebrity chef, food as décor etc. A few of us got talking over a bottle of champagne recently and came up with these new categories which we feel need to be put on a more formal footing.

The first one is food as celebrity chef. This can be determined by the number of hats awarded, and how many column inches and photos. We need to be aware of potential allegations of publicity push and puffery. Some diners are only interested in eating ”big names”.

Food as décor. We need to reward those restaurateurs who have spent a lot of capital on fit-outs and décor, as it is obvious that customers appreciate the look and style of the venue. It has been surveyed, albeit somewhat unscientifically, that the punters think it makes the food taste better.

News flash – the latest must-have restaurant furniture are high stools, creating a less formal and chatty milieu. The punters can watch the barman or chef at work and tell them how to do their job, guaranteed to cement cordial customer relations. Restaurateurs like it because it provides more profitable turnover of bums on seats.

Food as work of art. Many chefs understand that customers at the high end of the leisure market appreciate design on their plates. These chefs are painstaking and need to be rewarded for their forensic attention to detail. It’s amazing how various elements of food can be articulated Lego-like on the plate. Diners show their appreciation by snapping it with their brand new digital cameras, knowing that waiters don’t mind having their busy service blocked by an artist at work.

Food as democracy. A few chefs actually like to go out of their way to please their customers. For these chefs, the menu is really a concept so that customers can choose their desired dish, then the sauce and ingredients from another dish on the menu. And they are free to have their fillet steak very well done, in spite of the ruinous effect on the meat. And request a sauce that they used to serve in the Seventies.

Food as television. We feel that when chefs produce food in a restaurant, they need to be given an extra reward for doing it on TV. The viewer has the pleasure of a vicarious meal, which is a bonus when dieting – based on the principle that less is more.

Food as game show. It is a relatively new category which is a derivative concept – inspired by other game shows plus a pinch of foods as hats and food as sport. What we need to do is closely observe “The Iron Chef”, then organise talks with a media company, and toss around a few concepts to our own Australian chefs’ cook-off. We need to support the participants as the pressure is huge. Some have criticized this as professional wrestling dressed up as a cooking show, very hammed up. But look at the opportunities for product placement.

Here’s the latest news flash – this is really exciting – food as a truck: if you are desperately looking for something to eat after a show, walk around town until you find a truck. A lot of restaurants are reluctant to serve late blow-ins, and a bit competition might provide some focus for them. If Asians can serve food from bikes and trailers, then so can we.

Now before we break up into our groups, I suggest we have a coffee break.