Saturday, January 02, 2010
2008 (yes, '08) Food Predictions: A Retrospective
So, now everyone's looking back on 2009 and making their predictions for 2010. I was very lazy in 2009 and didn't make any predictions about what the year in food would look like. I did, however, make a bunch of predictions for 2008 two New Years ago (and maybe I did procrastinate a little and didn't get them posted until well into February). About this time last year, I started a "how did I do" post to revisit and score them, and it's sat in my "Drafts" folder ever since. Clearly my 2010 New Year's resolutions should include something about finishing what I start . . . but I'll get to that later.
After all, it's really better to give yourself two years to look at predictions, because sometimes it takes more than twelve months for nascent trends to gel. And, when your "what's hot" sensors are a finely-tuned as mine, it's quite easy to see things coming a full eighteen months before anyone else notices them. Really.
So, how did I do with my 2008 forecast? Let's run them down one-by-one.
You'll see more chefs planting their own gardens, carving up whole pigs, and making pates, rillets, and terrines.
As I pointed out in the original prediction, this one was pretty much a layup. But, despite the ease with which "farm-to-table" drops from their lips, not that many chefs have dived in neck deep in this. I was surprised to find a charcuterie plate on the menu at Neil Jordan's Steakhouse, which opened in the fall of 2008 way up Highway 17 at the top of Mount Pleasant. That's got to be the farthest from East Bay and Market Street that the word has been uttered (It's farther up to Neil Jordan's than out to the Fat Hen on John's Island--I checked on Google Maps!). A lot of places may have an herb garden or tomato vine, and 2009 newcomers Vespa Pizzeria on Daniel Island (Jon Banta's place) and 17 North in Mount Pleasant (the new comfort food outpost by Brett McKee of Oak fame) both have their own garden plots where they grow (or will grow, once things warm up) fresh produce for their kitchens. Sean Brock at McCrady's, with his John's Island farm, remains the only chef I'm aware of growing vegetables on a really large scale. I guess that on the one hand fresh produce is really tasty but, on the other hand, farming is really hard. 7 points.
I predict you'll see similar changes [using fresh, local and/or heirloom ingredients] in the mid-market chain restaurants, in a dumbed down form. O'Charley's and T.G.I. Friday's will update their menu verbiage to proclaim stuff like "Double-Cut Smithfield Farms American Yorkshire Pork Chop" and start adding a few slices of heirloom tomatoes or Niman Ranch bacon into their chef salads.
Some of the fast-casual chains--like Bennigans and Steak-and-Ale--surprised me altogether not by going local but by going belly up. Of those that are still around, T.G.I. Fridays (which didn't, as far as I am aware, win an award for Most Obnoxious Website Ever but certainly should have) did NOT introduce any heirloom or boutique ingredients to their ridiculously complicated menu, and neither did O'Charley's. O'well.
In my defense, it's important to note that even though T.G.I. Friday's did not adopt my heirloom-ingredient strategy, they certainly should have. Their financials have been flagging for the past two years, according to Research & Markets, because "they lack sufficient differentiation to attract higher-end clientele against a backdrop of increasing niche competition." Rival outlet Applebee's is faring pretty poorly, too. It was acquired by the IHOP folks, who promised to turn things around by remodeling the buildings and sprucing up the menu. As best as I can tell, that means just little tweaks like adding a "quesadilla burger" and panko-breaded calamari.
Of all the mid-market chains, Ruby Tuesday has come closest to my prediction (which, really, when you think about it, is less a prediction than free good advice for struggling restaurant corporations). Founder and CEO Sandy Beall has made a determined effort over the past few years to overhaul the restaurant chain's image, resulting in, as the corporate website proclaims, "No more walls as attic clean-out, not a stained-glass lamp in sight, just fresh, great-tasting food expertly prepared with the highest-quality ingredients." The menu now boasts jumbo lump crab cakes, broiled tilapi, and a bunch of lobster dishes. Alas, same store sales are down 8% over last year.
Not aggressive enough, folks: only Berkshire pork and artisanal cheese can save you now. 1 sympathy point.
The high-end boys will have to take it up a notch . . . Sean Brock at McCrady's will establish a machine shop where he will assemble vacuum cookers, foam extruders, and other singular kitchen devices of his own design . . . at High Cotton, Anthony Gray . . . will build an on-premise abattoir where he will slaughter cattle . . . Mike Lata will go in a different direction, providing patrons at FIG with hand-woven baskets and handwritten guides to all the secret spots on the Peninsula where they can forage for their own nuts, berries, and edible weeds, which he will prepare for them back at the restaurant in awe-inspiring combinations
Okay, so Sean Brock did not set up the machine shop, and as far as I am aware no one is slaughtering animals on the Peninsula (yet). A bunch of restaurants started buying full sides of beef from grass-fed cows slaughtered right out on Wadmalaw Island. And, Brock did venture out into raising pigs and totally remodeled the McCrady's kitchen, which is enough of an extension of his existing repertoire to qualify as "taking it up a notch." But, most notable of all, Mike Lata was . . . drumroll . . . the guest chef at a FORAGING trip down the May River at Bluffton's Inn at Palmetto Bluff!!! Man, did I call that one. 8 points.
Just as the low-fat diet craze was supplanted by the low-carb diet craze . . . I am officially projecting that the next new health craze will be the low-protein diet. All the sugar and pork fat you can eat, but stay away from lean beef, chicken breasts, and skim milk!
Okay, so I totally blew that one. Turns out there is a low-protein diet out there, but it's really designed for folks with liver disease, kidney failure, or "toxic bowel" (yikes!), not folks who need to lose a pound or ten. But that doesn't mean its time won't come around for the general public, despite the attendant danger of "muscle wasting"--or perhaps because of that: what better way to achieve that gaunt Hollywood look that's so in vogue? I'm leaving it on the list for 2010, but it gets 0 points for this tally.
The next big thing . . . will be the return of grande cuisine. Restaurants will ditch their mismatched chairs and rustic farmhouse decor and buy a truckload of fine old Chippendale furniture and velvet curtains, then triple their waitstaff and put them back in coats with tails. Meals will last six hours with a no fewer than fourteen courses. The hot menu items will be Beef Wellington and Steak Diane and Duck a'la Orange, with a dessert of Baked Alaska followed by brandy and cigars.
Okay, that one's out in left field. But wouldn't it be really cool if it happened? 0 points.
The celebrity chef thing will run its course, too. Diners will grow weary of plunking down 200 bucks for a meal at a restaurant where the supposed "chef" has actually set foot in the building just once . .
I definitely see this in the works, it's just taking a little while longer to unwind itself. Las Vegas is hurting, Dubai is hurting. It's only a matter of time. But, 0 points for now.
Bobby Flay will endorse Spam (it's great on the grill!). Mario Batali will hold out as long as he can, but he'll end up on a nationwide tour of shopping malls whipping up "genuine Italian recipes in 15 minutes" using Rice-a-Roni.
Well, maybe the details aren't right, but the spirit is. So, far, Bobby Flay has endorsed a line of cookware for the Kohl's discount department store. Mario Batali endorses GladWare . Most telling: all these guys are represented by TSE Sports & Entertainment, putting them in the same league of promotion representation as football heroes like Joe Namath and comedians like Billy Crystal. 5 points.
Young cooks will fire their publicists, mothball the chef's table, and take their names off their restaurant's web sites . . . Soon, America's leading chefs will not even have restaurants at all. They'll just show up randomly at various people's houses . . . and cook an unbelievable dinner for their surpised hosts
Okay, so I wasn't even remotely close on this one. Guerilla Cuisine is still going strong, but we haven't seen any imitators crop up. Unless, of course, I actually was right. How would we know about it if the chefs don't have publicists and websites . . . maybe it's actually going on right in our own neighborhoods. You just won't know about it until that knock comes at the down and in bustles a white-jacketed chef with obnoxious puffy patterned pants and a duffel bag full of battered cookware. So, split the middle and call it 5 points, since I MIGHT have been right on here.
Possible points: 80
Points earned: 26
Okay, so that's just a smidge under 33%. But if it was easy telling the future we'd all be rich.
Here's to a prosperous and intriguing 2010. I predict big things are in the works.
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