Recurring Memes, Themes, and Schemes
Let's take a stroll down memory lane.
Pie Is the New Cupcake
Pie has been sitting back, gaining momentum for a while, waiting for cupcakes to get over themselves. We saw pie all over menus this year, well before Thanksgivingtime. Sweet and savory; minis and normal-sized; graham cracker, pretzel, butter and leaf lard crusts; in a milkshake or on a stick. At Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls, Texas, they have an afternoon pie happy hour, where you can score a slice and a drink for $3. Hill Country Chicken, which opened this year in Manhattan, does it too.
Purist pie mavens might be scrunching their eyebrows at all the artisanal fillings turning up—over in Brooklyn, the pie shop Four and Twenty Blackbirds makes a double-crusted strawberry balsamic and grapefruit custard. But whether they're age-old recipes or newfangled ones, pie is always a happy-maker. Step off, cupcakes.
Buying your tomatoes from a farm just 40 miles away, sure that's nice and all, but very 2009 of you. Grow them yourself! This year was marked by a GIY (grow it yourself) attitude. Being able to grow your own produce and herbs became trendy, as if gardens were something that popped out of thin air. While it's good to see more people getting dirt under their fingernails and feeling closer to their food, it reached some levels of eye-rolling. "Sorry the tomatoes you grew in a pot of miracle grow on your fire escape really kind of suck. And your neighbors are all hoping your backyard chickens will not survive the winter," joked VerasTastyFreeze in this Talk thread.
Designer Ice Cubes
Even though it's just frozen water, serious bartenders are hand-chipping ice to order with shiny chisels. It's becoming part of the behind-the-bar craftsmanship, right up there with the alcohol itself. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Thad Vogler, the owner of Bar Agricole in the Bay Area, spent about $4,500 on a Kold-Draft machine, which makes about 650 pounds of the rock-solid one-inch cubes a day. The Kold-Draft forms bigger cubes so the drink chills faster and dilutes less quickly. Vogler also purchased the Norlake ice crusher for about $2,000 to make those smaller pellets.
The Cooking Channel
Food Network launched a second cable channel in May that aimed to be the newer, edgier baby. The programs targeted "a hipper crowd interested in the grassroots of food culture," according to the New York Times. Paula Deen, for one, does not have a time slot on the channel. But three young guys from Canada who build taco vending machines do (they're on a show called Food Jammers). It must have clicked with Food Network that some of us are disenchanted with the glitz and glamor of current programming, with the exception of Alton Brown and a few other hosts.
Since the Kogi truck started roaming the streets of Los Angeles in early 2009, it has inspired a cult following. Many trucks across the country have adopted the Kogi model, including Marination Mobile in Seattle and KOi in Portland. The idea of Korean tacos isn't technically new—Koreans have been wrapping kalbi in lettuce leaves, in a taco-like fashion, for a while. But now people are actually calling them Korean tacos. Pork bulgogi and short rib topped with shredded cabbage and cilantro...they're popping up on menus all over, including non-trucks, like the brick-and-mortar Seoul Station in NYC.
Coffee Toys and Cuppings
Mr. Coffee and even his friend the French Press are getting pushed aside for gadgets like the Aeropress (a pressurized space-age-looking tube), Clever Dripper (cone dripper that uses a gravity valve) and Chemex (stylish blown glass that uses the pourover method). We even hipped up and got a Chemex for the office! Former New York Times dining critic Frank Bruni got one too, but apparently encountered eye-splattering issues.
The coffee culture is expanding, looking more and more like that of wine. It's no longer just a caffeine delivery system, but something to savor and sip. Ooh, notes of cranberries and dank moss! (There are no wrong answers, right?) Coffee growers, traders, and roasters taste varieties side-by-side in a ritual known as cuppings, which even lay drinkers are getting into now and attending like wine tastings.
Food Media Shifts
The big news in 2009 of course was the shuttering of Gourmet. This year, Condé Nast announced a brave new digital extension of the beloved food glossy. Gourmet resurrected? Well, sorta. But just for iPad owners, at least for right now. In September, the Gourmet Live iPad app launched as a free download offering new content—new recipes and those pulled from the archives, videos, photos, and articles from all sorts of food writers (we're contributing too!).
Another biggie in the Condé Nast world, Bon Appetit named Adam Rapoport, formerly GQ's style editor, the editor-in-chief to replace Barbara Fairchild. He said he expected to make “some tweaks” but not “some major overhaul wipe-the-slate-clean thing.”
Sandra Lee Becomes New York's First Lady, Sorta
When Andrew Cuomo was elected New York state governor in November, that meant his semi-scary Semi-Homemade Food Network star girlfriend Sandra Lee semi-became First Lady of the state. You may remember the little lasagna scuffle back in June between Sandra and Andrew's mom Matilda Cuomo. "That's not the way you make lasagna," Matilda said of Sandra's spin, which calls for Campbell's tomato soup and cottage cheese. While we're on the subject, can we talk about her Hanukkah cake? And Queen Elizabeth I costume in her Halloween special? Oh, Sandra.
Using salt is nothing new, of course. But using non-table-salts and showing them off as ingredients—salted caramel ice cream, smoked salt on sardines, and just recently Wendy's introduced natural-cut fries with sea salt. This year, selmelier (pretty cool title, right?) Mark Bitterman came out with a book called Salted, a salt encyclopedia on its origins, customs, and recipes. Bitterman runs a shop with his wife in Portland, Oregon, called The Meadow that sells a library of finishing salts, and they just opened a sister shop in Manhattan. Are we turning into salt snobs? Or is it about time we started paying more attention to the pantry staple? And does pepper have a PR rep yet?
The Rise and Fall of Four Loko
In November, the New York State Liquor Authority made an agreement with major beer distributors to stop shipping Four Loko out, which had already been banned in several other states. What's all the fuss?
Each 23.5-ounce can has 12.0% ABV (that's as much alcohol as some six-packs of beer) and twice as much caffeine as a small Red Bull. Basically it makes people go bonkers. But can't you go just as berserk-wacky when mixing vodka with Red Bull? Or just drinking too much in general? We polled readers, and 69% of you said that no, Four Loko should not be banned. New York chef Eddie Huang agreed, and was so passionate that he kept serving it at his restaurant Xiao Ye even after the ban. Turns out, oops, that was illegal and the restaurant closed soon after. Our cocktails columnist Paul Clarke offered ideas for other caffeinated cocktails in this post-Four Loko world.