It seems like no time since we faced the millennium, wondering what the 21st century would bring. Now here we are into its second decade. For so many of us it is the future we wondered about.
Technology envelopes our world in almost everything including phones, televisions and refrigerators. Chips — not as in potato but as in those tiny squares that drive everything from cars to washing machines — have become part of our lexicon. My coffeepot even has a mind of its own, demanding for some reason this week that coffee be brewed according to the program timer. Yes, I have unplugged it, but to no avail. I have a percolator in the basement and it is about to be called to duty.
Perhaps the biggest influence on food and cooking has been the Food Network. I call it America’s classroom; even men admit to watching it.
It’s only been around a little more than 20 years, debuting right before Thanksgiving 1993.
But it was the renowned chef Julia Child who brought me to wanting more cooking shows. She proved that cooking can amuse and hold an audience’s interest and in her 50s introduced us to cooking as entertainment.
While it seems some things have been around forever, what we have become accustomed to may be shorter lived than we think.
Sweet potatoes: Adding sweet potatoes to steak menus was a trend that arrived in the late ’90s. The orange spud, which has many nutritional benefits, has grown in popularity, probably never overtaking the baked potato with its butter and sour cream, but offering a healthier alternative to diners. Many restaurants now also offer sweet potato fries.
Kale and spinach: The two leafy greens made their debuts at the turn of the century as well. Whoever thought about adding sautéed spinach as an accompaniment to a steak? Well, smart restaurants did, now along with sautéed kale and kale chips.
Small plates: These tasty dishes came into vogue during the past 10 years as a result of the popular Tapas bars in Spain. Many restaurants now refer to appetizers as small plates.
Organic: The word has swept the nation. Hopefully you recognize it comes not only with a price, but with some caution as well, as there are loopholes for growers and producers.
Bacon: The nutritionists recoiled when Michelle Obama said her family ate bacon for breakfast. Now it’s on every menu and in almost every recipe as a means of adding flavor.
Salt: Like bacon, it has seen a growth in popularity as cooks turn to sea salts, coarse grain kosher salt and learn about black, Himalayan and pink salts and the flavor extractions they bring.
Coffee: It, too, had its naysayers when it came to its possible connection to high blood pressure. That has gone by the wayside as we learned of its antioxidant value and we have seen coffee’s popularity grow into multi-million dollar businesses for coffee shops.
Bourbon: Its popularity came out of nowhere at the turn of the century and people returned to classic cocktails like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. The other factor can be attributed to Frankfort’s own, the recently deceased Elmer T. Lee, who developed Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon. Other distillers followed suit, seeing the valuable market in high-end bourbons.
Here are some trends in food and cooking that I see forthcoming based on articles I have been reading. As in fashion, some have been seen before just with some new labeling.
Let’s start with bourbon. It’s not going anywhere in this decade. The only fear by many is that those high-end bourbons that are in short production and can go for hundreds of dollars are being collected and not shared.
At a bourbon tasting at Red Dot Liquors in Century Plaza, master distiller Chris Roberts brought along the two recent select bourbons produced this year by Woodford Reserve. While a bottle of Woodford Reserve went for about $35, these two one-time only bourbons were about $100.
Kale and spinach may be replaced this year by cauliflower. Look for it in a myriad of colors that are being developed.
Now for organic. The trend now is more locally sourced — buying from local growers where you know the food is raised.
According to my fellow foodie, retired horticulturist Sharon Bale, growing organically comes with more pains and requirements than its worth, nutritionally. The cost on the local market drives the food prices higher and simply keeping it fresh and knowing where it was grown is as smart as buying organic.
Menus now are about locally sourced vegetables and even meats. Stay on that track this year and you’ll be on trend.
Look out coffee shop lovers. Next year the big gift may be tea sets. Tea with its health benefits is seeing a huge uptick in sales and drinkers. Starbucks opened its first teashop last year. Look for more to pop up in this decade.
Bacon and salt are still going to be around for a while in everything from candy to cake icings. As long as fat and salt are flavor enhancers, these two trends aren’t going away any time soon. Plus as more and more people are discovering the perfect pair of chocolate (sweet) and salt, we’ll see more recipes and dishes that promote this flavor combination.
Hopefully we’ll see more items like Fleur de Sel in our local supermarkets along with some of the more gourmet salts.
Vinegars and olive oils will grow in popularity. Infused with a multitude of flavors, these pantry items can change flavor without adding a lot of calories.
For Christmas I received a bottle of balsamic vinegar infused with fig. It is incredibly delicious and could almost be used without even adding oil. The bottle of olive oil I received infused with wild mushroom and sage was almost all the seasoning I needed for a roasted chicken.
Speaking of chicken, watch for it to take a downturn as the industry gropes with all the bad press over conditions of chicken farms.
Also many experts say restaurants don’t exact high enough standards for its preparation from cleaning to cutting boards and knives to the hands that prepare it.
Two other trends are on the rise. Rock star chefs. More and more people are beginning to recognize them and follow them.
Shows like Tremme have created movie stars out of those in New Orleans. Others like those featured in Bravo’s Top Chef and individuals like Bobby Flay and Nigella Lawson have achieved star power status.
Lastly and this should put a smile on every home cook in Frankfort — the rise of popularity in southern food. One pundit said people can’t get enough southern cookbooks or recipes.
From gravy and biscuits to grits and country ham, the food world is currently embracing the flavors that southern cooks achieve. If you add bourbon to it, you too are a rock star in the making.