What funny food trends have marked the last decade? And what innovations do we hope carry us into the middle ages of the millennium? Here are a few things that have kept our tongues wagging.
Innovation: Molecular Gastronomy Molecular gastronomy seeks to use scientific principles to understand and improve food preparation. While major cities around the nation play with the genre in jaw-dropping ways, Houston's only true mad scientist is Randy Rucker of the private Tenacity supper club. Rucker plays with ingredients and cooking methods to create outrageously picturesque dishes that taste even better than they look. Much like NASA, however, molecular gastronomy demands an exorbitant budget and is not for the faint of pocketbook. Perhaps the next decade will see us innovate a more accessible method, because food + science = fun.
Trend: Superfoods Americans like shortcuts. So when someone claimed that there's a set of "superfoods" out there that are strong enough to help you lower cholesterol, reduce your risk of cancer, and improve your mood, we jumped right on board. Turns out the alternate name of this movement is "eating healthy," and it's been around for centuries. We're certainly not knocking the health benefits of the so-called superfoods; in fact, we're happy to add blueberries, sweet potatoes, and dark chocolate to our diets. Rather, we're disagreeing with a moniker that uses these foods as a cure-all. Much like pretending your fork is an airplane to get your child to eat, doesn't this seem a little like a bait-and-switch for the general public?
Innovation: Sous Vide Cooking French for "under vacuum," sous vide is a cooking method designed to maintain the integrity of ingredients by sealing the ingredients and heating them for an extended time period at relatively low temperatures. High-end restaurants around town -- like Rainbow Lodge and Textile -- have been experimenting with this style for years to the smiles of clients and critics alike. VOICE, for example, features a lamb cooked sous vide for 24 hours that will melt even the most skeptical of hearts. The method seemingly alters the texture of the meat, but allows the crazylicious flavor to shine. We're certain this is the gateway to an even cooler cooking method; we're just not sure what that is yet.
Trend: Deconstructed Food For a while it seemed like every high-end restaurant you went into had something "deconstructed" on the menu: ahi tuna rolls, Caesar salad, tacos, and more. While the deconstruction trend began as a method of satisfying curiosity -- after all, a tasty dish is the sum of its delicious parts -- it has become code for "put it together yourself, fool." While this trend makes for a beautiful presentation, it can also mean a confused (and sometimes angry) diner. Thankfully, it's in the downward spiral, and we have a new phase to look forward to: reconstruction and the industrial revolution.
Innovation: Slow Food Simply put, slow food is the antithesis of fast food. The movement seeks to bolster our interest in the food we eat: how it tastes, where it comes from, and how it affects us. Rather than mindlessly ordering a No. 2 combo from Whataburger -- prepared and packed in four minutes or less -- think about how the meal will affect your body and consider opting for fresh vegetables and sustainable meats. Championed by celebrity chefs, this innovation parallels the global activism movement, telling you to be good to your planet *and* to yourself. We love it -- but we also love Whataburger. [Sigh.]
Trend: Raw Food Ironically speaking, the Raw Food Movement is Slow Food on steroids. It's a lifestyle promoting the consumption of uncooked, unprocessed foods as a means of improving health, healing the body, guarding against chronic disease, and safeguarding longevity. While the term "raw" may have certain connotations, the actual movement is much less sexier than it sounds and is often closely tied to veganism. This lifestyle calls for an almost completely sustainable way of being, plus exceptional willpower. We remain awed by and thankful for those of you who leave the French fries and pizza for us.
Innovation: Organic Food Organic foods are so called because they're made according to certain production standards without pesticides or chemicals. Experts attribute the decline in food quality to the rise in food allergies, citing fun facts like "Did you know that if you consumed an average apple you would be eating over 30 pesticides, even after you have washed it?" The organic food movement has exploded over the past decade, encouraging us to take a second to look at how we grow and sustain our food. And while the higher price tag on organic food often keeps it out of our grocery carts, more and more vendors are entering the ring, which will bring the price back toward Earth. Eventually.
Trend: Funky Fresh French Fries MOTO (master of the obvious) statement of the day: Americans love French fries. From curly to garlic to sweet potato, French fries have a nearly universal appeal that spans ethnicities and age. The trend lies in the ever-emerging new forms. The only major setback in recent times has been 2002's appalling Ore-Ida Funky Fries, chocolate-flavored, cinnamon-flavored, and blue-colored French fries aimed at the I'll-try-anything-once crowd. While the Funky Fries were dishonorably discharged in 2003, they blazed a trail of French fry innovation, and today you'll find non-traditional crisps on low-end menus, high-end mahoganies, and everywhere in between.
Innovation: Food Blogging Let's be honest: Who *doesn't* have a food blog these days? The rise of the "Web log" over the past decade puts the power of critique in everyone's hands. Consumers love the ease in which we can access restaurant reviews from around the world; restaurants are peeved that a single unflattering incident can lead to slanderous remarks which are passed around faster than an STD. Ahem, anyone been to The Daily Grind lately? Finger-pointing notwithstanding, blogging does hold restaurants accountable for quality and service -- if only we could find a far-reaching seminar on patience, impartiality and fair judgment.
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Trend: Energy Drinks As the first mainstream blood pumper, Red Bull first entered American markets in 1997, but really hit its stride circa 2001. Today there's an energy drink for every day of the month, all with cleverly aggressive names: Monster, Rockstar, Hype, Amp and more. While energy drinks were once the stalwart of maxed out college kids, today they have become the accessory of choice for high school students and douche bags alike, two populations that could use decidedly less energy. One of these days -- if we're lucky -- Microsoft will buy out all these energy drinks and create a super energy drink monopoly to stabilize the market. Pfffft! Energy drinks?! In my day we used Mountain Dew.
What do you think the next decade has in store?