The Food Forecast: Culinary Trends To Devour In 2010
by Ruth Tobias
| February 22, 2010
Wood-grilled swordfish at Meritage. Photo by Joel Veak
"The notion of trends makes me uncomfortable," Tony Maws of
Craigie On Main declares. "I don't look in a magazine and go, ‘Wow, that's the
bikini I'm supposed to wear with my food today!' "
Easy for him, as one of Boston's
leading innovators, to say. But this idea was echoed by every culinary expert I
turned to for perspective on dining in the new decade. The fact is, "trend" and
"trendiness" are two different things. Whereas the latter connotes an already
rolling and overcrowded bandwagon, the former involves the simple recognition
that there is such a thing as zeitgeist, one that's shaped by our visionaries
at the stove (or laptop, as the case may be - we're looking at you, Jason
Embodying the philosophies and values we hold dear as a society -
sometimes before we even realize it - today's trends show remarkable overlap.
Take the sustainability movement, which has led to a resurgence of food preservation
techniques such as pickling - which, in turn, links up with a renewed
appreciation for the traditional Jewish deli. Or consider the current
fascination with Southern cuisine. In the words of the Biltmore's Jason Owens,
it's "all about the pork" - and its nose-to-tail cookery brings us full circle,
back to the sustainability movement. The point is this: trends reflect not only
who we are as cooks and consumers, but who we are as citizens and human beings.
So, in 2010, let "You are what you eat" be your rallying cry.
Molecular Cooking Comes Down to Earth
Try it: salted pollock brandade with black-olive powder at
No. 9 Park; updated tiramisu with chicory curd, hazelnut-caramel powder, Meyer
lemon fluid gel, and malt foam at L'Espalier; peanut-butter parfait with HobNob
cookie and banana foam at Craigie On Main;
just about anything at Gargoyles on the Square
The last time you tried to eat a powder, gel, or foam, your
mama probably hauled you off to the ER shrieking. But now that Spanish
gastronomic genius Ferran Adrià is a household name, the chemistry-enhanced
cookery he pioneered doesn't seem so sci-fi. In the new decade, you might not
even notice its full impact. As powerhouse public-relations guru Chris Langley
explains, "Now that chefs have a handle on it, they're doing stuff behind the
scenes that doesn't necessarily parlay into presentation. So it's less theater
and more technique that's proven, be it working with certain ingredients like
agar-agar or working with a centrifuge to separate stuff."
But if you do crave high drama, Gargoyles on the Square sets the
stage. "I just get bored, so I'm sort of on this kick of making food not look
like food," enthuses whiz-bang chef Jason Santos. "Everything's been done
before; it's just a question of manipulating it into something new
presentation-wise. How can you take your milk and dip it into your cookies? If
you want a time-released dirty martini, we can do that. I can make noodles out
of yogurt. How can we make this steak levitate on the plate?" He laughs. "I
feel like I'm really close to Willy Wonka, and I've had to talk myself out of a
lot of things. But I love to watch people put something in their mouths and go,
‘What the hell is this?' before a big smile spreads across their faces."
Sustainability's Newest Frontier
Try it: Kindai tuna at AKA Bistro; organic and biodynamic
wines at Meritage and Parsons Table
"Leaving an imprint is unavoidable. But asking how to mitigate
it is new. [The sustainable approach] really is the only way to do business,"
avows Myers + Chang's Christopher Myers. It's no coincidence that the Slow Food
movement started in Italy: "ethicureanism" is easy if you live down the road
from vineyards in one direction and a fishing village in the other. Conversely,
in a postindustrial urban center like Boston, it requires will and ingenuity -
if not madness, at least when it comes to finding local sources for, say, a
sushi bar or a wine cellar.
But former Uni Sashimi Bar chef Chris Chung, of the soon-to-open
AKA Bistro in Lincoln, doesn't seem crazy, just conscientious. Avoiding
overfished and mercury-riddled species, he'll be the first in Boston to serve
Kindai tuna, farm-raised from eggs. Likewise, he's eschewing wild salmon in
favor of Scottish farm-raised salmon. "Normally, I don't like farm-raised
fish," he admits, "but these have enough space to be active and swim around.
I'm concerned about quality, but also about nature."
Although an all-Massachusetts wine list would be a joke, serious
oenophiles are increasingly promoting sustainable labels. As a longtime
supporter of the trend toward minimal intervention in the winemaking process,
Meritage's Daniel Bruce praises American vintners for learning how to "cut back
on man-made chemicals, [stop] draining water supplies, and use cover crops."
Other restaurateurs are taking notice too: at his new venture, Parsons Table,
Chris Parsons of Catch is creating an entirely sustainable wine list - from
organic French brut rosés to biodynamic California Zins. Who'd have thought you
could save the environment by getting trashed?
Biltmore Bar & Grille. Photo by Joel Veak
Try it: at Biltmore Bar & Grille, Hungry Mother,
Tupelo, and Trina's Starlite Lounge
When Hungry Mother opened in 2007, recalls Virginia-born
chef-partner Barry Maiden, "Every menu I looked at in Boston had the same 10
items on it - steak frites, mussels." What little Southern-influenced food
there was on menus was "good for here," according to native Tennessean and
Biltmore chef-owner Jason Owens. "But why do you have to be ‘good for here'?
Why can't you be good for anywhere?"
So, like Maiden, Owens has made it his mission to bring heirloom
grits, pork rinds, catfish, and fried okra "somewhere it could be appreciated,
like Boston." Take his chicken and waffles. "It's a Southern thing, but it
really took off in Harlem's jazz clubs, where they'd play until the wee hours
of the morning and serve it between dinner and breakfast. So the dish is an
education, too; people are learning while they eat."
But why is the Southern influence so prominent now? Owens
laughingly credits Johnny Cash for "breaking the barrier" between cultures. But
Chris Langley notes more seriously, "You gotta thank someone like Paula Deen.
As glorified as she may seem, she's opened the eyes of the everyday diner to
this very authentically American cuisine."
Try it: burger on challah at Lord Hobo; corned beef
brisket at Franklin Café; house-smoked pastrami-salmon at Henrietta's Table
Mark my words: between the "scene" that hip New York
upstart, Delicatessen, has become, according to Chris Langley, with its "plays
on old faves," and the success of David Sax's bestselling cultural history Save
the Deli, the renaissance of the Jewish deli is nigh. If, a year
hence, you aren't seeing funky twists on kishka, kreplach, and matzoh brei,
I'll eat my hat. (Make that my dear old zayde's yarmulke.)
Smoking: It's Not
Just for Meats, Fish, or Juvenile Delinquents Anymore
Try it: Vermont chicken with smoked root vegetables at
T.W. Food; pumpkin bisque with smoked nuts and fromage blanc at Gaslight
Brasserie du Coin; smoked risotto with eggplant, ricotta, and salmon at Bin 26
At No. 9 Park, Barbara Lynch is tossing smoked kale with
handmade pappardelle and andouille sausage. Ana Sortun smokes cinnamon to
flavor aioli for Oleana's chickpea crêpe. And Jason Santos? Well,
true to character, he'll smoke anything. Oh, stop snickering - we're talking
about buttermilk, Dr Pepper, and two-hour eggs.
Pickling, Fermenting, and Otherwise Preserving
Try it: wild boar with fermented Concord grape-lavender
mosto at Erbaluce; seared foie gras with pickled walnuts at Coppa; steamed
clams in a fermented black-bean sauce at Myers + Chang; hoisin-glazed pork
belly with kimchi at Highland Kitchen
Food preservation is, of course, as ancient as civilization
itself. Yet, for decades, as processed pantry staples replaced home-canned
goods, white-bread America increasingly lost touch with these traditional
provisions, but for the occasional kosher dill spear. Until
now, that is, as new eco-practices such as "urban homesteading" are becoming
mainstream. Factor in our ever-increasing exposure to world cuisines, in which
preserved ingredients figure prominently, and it's no wonder chefs are suddenly
experimenting with everything from pickled peanuts and raisins to leek kimchi
to fermented-juice-based sauces like those Charles Draghi is concocting at
Erbaluce. "I don't use any butter or cream in any of my savory dishes; I'm
trying to get cleaner, fresher, and truer flavors," he says. From lightly
fermented cherries, apples, strawberries, and more, he's able to create mostos
(to use his term) that maintain "the taste and aroma of great ripe fruit, but
finish dry, nutty, and somewhat herbal, similar to wine."
Indeed, the general association of pickled and fermented foods
with pungency isn't always accurate, according to Tony Maws. "The art of
pickling isn't necessarily about strong flavors. It's a way of preserving
texture; there's a crispness that comes with pickling. Or it's a balancing
component; pickles cut the fat of a burger." So, getting yourself in a pickle
isn't such a bad thing after all.
Even More Offal
Try it: spaghetti with cracklings at Scampo; callos a la
Madrileña with tripe, trotter, and morcilla at Estragon; minestrone with beef
tongue at BiNA Osteria
Though he gives all the credit to Lydia Shire's seminal '90s
eatery, Biba, it's Jamie Bissonnette who, during his tenure at Eastern
Standard, put heart, brains, and sweetbreads on the map for most Bostonians.
But even he has had to proceed with care: "Three years ago, if I'd tried to put
blood-sausage shepherd's pie on a menu, people would have said, ‘You're stupid.'
So what broke the dam to release this flood of pigs' ears and
oxtails? Muses Bissonnette, "[Renowned California chef] Thomas Keller said
something like this recently: in the late '80s, even in New York, if you said,
‘Let's go eat raw fish,' most people would say no way. Beyond the coasts, you
couldn't even get sushi-quality fish, so it seemed a lot more exotic. Now that
it's completely accessible everywhere, Keller says tripe's the new sushi. It's
becoming popular because more chefs are learning where to get it and how to
make it taste good."
But, he adds, "It's not just that people are more open-minded
about food. It's also [the introduction of] small plates. People don't have to
commit so much. For instance, when Coppa opened, we were making cheese ravioli
and moving five a night. I changed it to prosciutto and mortadella - six a
night. Then I made calf's-brain ravioli, which I'd wanted to do in the first
place but thought people would find it too strange, and we're selling 20 a
night. At $12, it's just accessible enough."
Pork Belly in a Vacuum at Gargoyles on the Square
Try it: Hawaiian-style tuna poke with nori oil (which also
contains squid ink) at Gargoyles on the Square; smelts with pickled peppers and
squid-ink anchoïade at Craigie On Main;
grilled octopus with squid-ink couscous at Sorellina
Think it's just a pasta color? Think again, says Tony Maws.
"It's got an iodine quality, it's a little sweet, and it's really got this
essence of the sea. One of our go-to sauces is a squid-ink dashi. We add rice
wine, ginger, chili, butter, and finish it with the ink, and it's a really sexy
Try It: wood-grilled swordfish in coconut water, ginger,
and carrot broth at Meritage; honey-hoisin glazed duck confit with sticky rice,
mango, and coconut water at Gargoyles on the Square
With coconut water making headlines as sports drink to the
stars, it's trickling down onto menus as well - and for good reason: as Jason
Santos explains, "You get essentially the same flavor without the heaviness of
Try it: sea urchin panini with mostarda at Coppa; crab and
sea urchin tagliarini at Dante; slow-roasted salmon with uni-saffron emulsion
at Radius; sea urchin toast with yuzu and jalapeño at Market
Leave it to a genius like Ken Oringer to show us our uni
from our elbows, naming his sashimi bar after the funky little echinoderm years
before it started scooting its way onto menus across town.
The list goes on, from hand-foraged mushrooms and black garlic to
gluten-free breweries and urban wineries. But isn't it about time to stop
reading - and start experiencing? After all, we're only 10 months away from
2011. And you can, of course, expect another trendy installment from us then.