Have It Every Which Way: 2012 Year in Review
Merrill Shindler / December 2012
Glamorous hotels towered nearby Lilliputian DIY exposed brick hipster haunts. Whole animals and once plebian vegetables vied for space over hot coals. Charlie Trotter presided over his last supper, the Waldorf Astoria Chicago pulled the plug on Ria, and Alain Ducasse closed Adour in New York City—all adding to the growing casualty list of sedate fine dining restaurants. Yet, a new breed of young chefs anxious to put their training to good use have no problem filling a couple dozen seats or so at a counter and charging prices rivaling Per Se for a long progression of tiny tweezered bites. And yes, others are finding salvation in burgers and pizza—still! Ties and tablecloths give way to beards and rustic woods. Yet there are diners who long for lost civilization and places that accept reservations. One Portland, Oregon, resident was so at a loss to secure a setting to celebrate a special occasion that she flew off to Seattle. And what would Emily Post, let alone Henri Soulé, have to say about millennials who cling to their smart phones as if they were blankies and rapid-fire texts at the drop of a napkin (a paper one)?
In spite of the still-struggling economy, fall saw a flurry of new restaurants and hence jobs—yes, the restaurant industry creates jobs—for chefs, cooks, managers, waitstaff, mixologists, sommeliers, dishwashers, and the occasional beekeeper. Who knew you could make a living as a social media manager?
Styles change, but the restaurant world never stops sprouting and morphing.
And Then Came the Floods
Just when everyone was trying to look on the bright side, Superstorm Sandy took out a huge chunk of the restaurant and hotel business on the Eastern seaboard. Restaurants were destroyed or badly damaged, food spoiled during the extended power outage, revenue was lost, hotel guests were evacuated, and tourism suffered. Danny Meyer was running his restaurant empire out of a makeshift office in a gym bathroom that mysteriously had power. Drew Nieporent estimated losses of $600,000 from lost revenues at three closed restaurants and $30,000 worth of spoiled food. Brad McDonald’s new Governor in Brooklyn’s Dumbo took on five feet of water in the bar and three feet in the kitchen. And now everybody is thinking about backup power and the wisdom of basement storage.
As always, however, the industry rose to the occasion to help feed those in dire need. The New York City Food Truck Association partnered with Jet Blue to serve hot meals in badly damaged areas such as the Rockaways. Skunked NYC marathoners ran supplies to Staten Island. Chefs have launched numerous fund-raising efforts, and food companies are making donations. For more details and updated coverage, go to FoodArts.com.
The New Holy Trinity
Kale, carrots, and quinoa
Would You Like Some San Pellegrino with That Award?
With the grumbles and grousings around the Michelin restaurant ratings growing to a thunderous level, there’s been a shift from rubber to bubbly water, with far more attention being paid to San Pellegrino’s annual list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. This year Noma in Copenhagen again topped the list while America showed up in sixth place with Per Se in New York City. Gunning for next year, NYC’s Eleven Madison Park reconfigured its menu as part of its unbridled ambition to snag the number 1 spot.
McDonald’s announced that it was opening a parallel chain of meatless Mickey Ds in India with the first due to roll out in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, just down from the sacred Golden Temple. The menu will cover the needs of both Hindus (who eat no beef) and Muslims (who eat no pork). Instead, there will be dishes like the McAloo Tikki Burger—a fried spiced potato patty. Another vegetarian McDonald’s is scheduled to open in Katra, near the Hindu pilgrimage site of Vaishno Devi. McDonald’s for the Devout. Meanwhile, McDonald’s just added lamb burgers in Australia and New Zealand.
First Lady Michelle Obama continued her battle against the American epidemic of childhood obesity with her “Let’s Move!” program to encourage schools to serve smaller portions and healthier foods. Schools kicked off the program across America this year. Some had great success, thanks to chefs like Lauren Guy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who mixed fresh produce into every meal, and introduced new tastes like red beans and Chinese barbecued pork—a novelty to many students.
British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver also turned his “Feed Me Better” campaign into a cottage industry, filming his crusade for television—and replacing chips, soda, and candy with fresh veggies and fruit. Susan Feniger and Ming Tsai created recipes such as California avocado tacos, Burmese melon salad, and Asian Sloppy Joes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that overly enthusiastic dietitians lost sight of what kids are willing to eat, with some students rejecting the new healthier options (sorry, quinoa! Sorry, brown rice! Sorry, broccoli!)—dumping them in trash bins and then heading for the nearest 7-Eleven to fill up on sugary/salty/fatty foods. The concept of healthy school lunch remains a work in process.
Artisanal • Bar chef • Bean-to-Bar • Charred • Curate • DIY • Fair trade • Grass-fed • Hand-crafted • Hipster • Ice chef • New Nordic • Playlist • Reclaimed wood • Small batch
New York City Mayor (aka Nanny-in-Chief) Michael Bloomberg passed a bill limiting soft drinks sold in the city to 16 ounces—putting his executive kibosh on super-sized beverages. When asked what people should do if they’re still thirsty after sucking down 16 ounces of Coke or Pepsi, Hizzoner noted that the law didn’t restrict drinkers from getting more than one beverage—just the size of the container. As the year came to an end, the American Beverage Association filed a suit against the city to overturn the law, arguing that the rule “burdens consumers and unfairly harms small businesses.”
Gilding the Cupcake
Bloomsbury’s in The Dubai Mall in beautiful downtown Dubai is offering a cupcake called “The Golden Phoenix”—priced at around $1,000 a pop. What do you get for your grand? A rather pretty cupcake, really, made with Amedei Porcelana cocoa from Italy, Gold Ugandan vanilla beans, organic chocolate-covered strawberries, and a layer of 23 carat edible gold sheet. It’s also served on a 24 carat gold cake stand.
For most of the past decade, beer in bottles and on draft have dominated the beer industry, with craft and artisan beer drinkers preferring to quaff their brew from something other than cans. But in the last year, that trend has reversed itself, with beer in aluminum cans moving up to 53 percent of the market, after years of hovering around 48 percent. The rediscovery of cans by the craft beer industry, has changed the image of canned beer from blue to white collar.
The Return of the Dust Bowl
The ongoing drought across America’s Bread Basket is causing prices to rise radically on corn—up an estimated 60 percent—and the many, many products based around corn. Meanwhile, wholesale food costs rose by 8.1 percent over the past year. Chicken prices were up 5.3 percent. Eggs rocketed to an 18 percent increase. The lack of feed caused a British trade group to cause a mini panic by predicting “a world shortage of pork and bacon.” And as a barometer of where things are going, the cost of a Big Mac has risen in the past year from $4.07 to $4.33.
A Discount Is a Discount…But Still…
The Texas chain called Twisted Root Burger began adding unexpected discounts to their receipts for items like “Best Hair,” “Best Smile,” “Best Eyes,” and “Best Butt.” The discounts amount to just one cent per compliment. But knowing you have the “Best Butt”? Priceless!
Gimme an Old Fashioned
Cocktails made with liquid nitrogen are now off-limits in U.K. bars. This comes in the wake of the near-fatal injury suffered by British teenager Gaby Scanlon on her 18th birthday after drinking cocktails made with liquid nitrogen. Scanlon lived, but her stomach had to be surgically removed.
Vive La France!
French President François Hollande announced plans to fight California’s ban against foie gras, declaring it a “great French product.” France produces 19,500 tons of foie gras, amounting to 80 percent of the world’s production—most of which is consumed in France. Even though the financial effect of the ban is nominal, Hollande expressed concern that it might spread. His plans include a possible French ban on the importation of California wines—and gifts of foie gras sent to American lawmakers—so they can see what a ban would deprive them of.
Our Friend, the Wasp
A study at the University of Florence in Italy determined that the “complexity” of some of the finest wines in the world is owed to Vespa crabro—the European hornet—which spreads the yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (“brewer’s yeast”) to grapes on the vine, beginning the process of fermentation before the grapes are harvested. According to professor of microbiology Duccio Cavalieri, “Wasps are indeed one of wine lovers’ best friends.”
You don’t often hear about the discovery of old cheese—possibly because it has to be disposed of by experts in hazmat suits. But not the venerable cheddar found behind some boxes in the walk-in cooler at Z’s Wisconsin Cheese Store. There were wooden boxes of cheddars dating back 28 years, 34 years, and 40 years—a trove of aged orange cheese, which experts on such things say is the oldest collection of cheese ever discovered. The store has been selling slices by the ounce. Tasters describe it as “a lot sharper” with “character.”
Breathing Your Meals
Harvard scientist and founder of Artscience Labs David Edwards is exploring the wonders of “breathable foods.” He worked with Philippe Starck to develop a mini spray of flavor called WA|HH Quantum Sensations. No need for bothersome items like ice, spirits, mixers, olives, and the like. Just one squirt from what looks like a designerish tube of Chapstick. Each spray delivers 0.075 ml of alcohol—enough to make you feel instantly lightheaded. Then he came up with an aerodynamic chocolate powder called Aeroshot Chocolate and a “breathable” dispenser called Le Whaf—“a virtual eating experience,” in which an ultrasonic generator in a carafe turns certain foods into a low-calorie cloud—Diet Coke, Parmesan, shiitake mushrooms, a very dry Martini. Ain’t science swell?
Wanna Get Married?
Denny’s announced that its soon-to-open 6,400-square-foot 24/7 Las Vegas flagship in the bizarrely named Neonopolis mall and entertainment complex would include its own wedding chapel. Options will include wedding cakes made out of pancakes.
According to the British flavour (their spelling) manufacturing company called Synergy, the hottest flavors of the moment are the ethnic tastes of dishes hawked by street vendors. The flavors they’re trying to re-create for British snack foods (especially “crisps, nuts, and popcorn”) tend to lean toward the Asian side of the spectrum—sweet chile from Indonesia; wasabi from Japan; coconut, yogurt, and mint from India; and lemongrass and coconut from Thailand.
Oh, We Knew That All Along…
According to a study published in the medical journal Hypertension, eating dark chocolate in even moderate amounts can significantly slow the progression of the two main forms of dementia—Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia. And apparently, the more you consume, the less your risk.
Et Tu, Tea?
Who knew the venerable tradition of afternoon tea in England would change. The new breed of modern teahouse serves green tea–infused scones, herb-marinated feta squares, or tea-smoked salmon squares with yuzu mayonnaise, along with modern cocktails like a tamarillo Caipirinha, and galangal-infused vodka mixed with apple lemonade—found at hot spots like the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, The Delaunay in Covent Garden, and The Modern Pantry in St. John’s Square—where the chef, Anna Hansen, trained under Fergus Henderson.
Lobster for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?
Thanks to an unusually warm winter (Global Warming Alert!), lobsters were overly abundant in the Atlantic lobster fisheries off the coast of Maine, dropping the price of lobster to as low as $1.25 a pound, down around 70 percent from the usual price, and a 30 year low for lobster prices. The result: Lobster boats stayed in harbor, with fishermen refusing to go out for prices that low. And thanks to the cost of shipping the lobster, diners across the country weren’t treated to low prices. Instead, prices stayed the same—and even went up.
The Niagara Regional Police Service recently announced the arrest of three men—including one current and one former police officer—for smuggling cheese across the border between Canada and the United States for an estimated profit of more than $168,000. This caused some confusion among restaurateurs who had purchased the cheese, one of whom said, “We thought it was a joke…smuggled cheese?”
Proof That There’s a Thaw Beginning Under Kim Jong-un
For 13 years, Kenji Fujimoto, who goes by an alias, was the personal chef to Kim Jong-il, who apparently had a taste for rare cuts of sushi washed down with well-aged Bordeaux. In 2001, Fujimoto fled to Japan, ostensibly to go shopping for sushi ingredients, and never came back, living under an assumed name in disguise. But now, after an invitation from his successor, Kim Jong-un, Fujimoto has returned. His visit, he said, showed him that North Korea had made some progress since Kim Jong-un’s rule. “People in the streets looked cheerful,” he said.
Bacon fever continues unabated. In London, Shaka Zulu opened a “meat bar,” serving a cocktail called the Bloody Bacon, made with bacon-flavored vodka topped with crispy smoked bacon. Nashville’s Patterson House infuses Bourbon with Benton bacon for a Bacon Old Fashioned. Burger King launched a bacon sundae—vanilla ice cream topped with fudge sauce, caramel, and bacon. The Bacon Boys announced they were in development to create a reality show built around bacon. (Perfect for Snooki!) Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, put on its second annual Camp Bacon, a weekend dedicated to the joys of. And, of course, the Archie McPhee website continued to offer an abundance of bacon products.
Pickup Line of the Year
I’d love to roast some carrots for you.
Pizza Done Your Way
It all started on the West Coast—pizza places where you walk the line, picking out your ingredients, then have it custom-baked for you at superhigh temps in a minute or so. It’s popped up at places with names like 800 Degrees, Pieology, Project Pie, Blaze Pizza, PizzaRev, MOD Pizza (pictured), Pie Five, Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, and Top That! Pizza.
New Flavor of the Year
The Brooklyn pickle company called Brooklyn Brine joined with Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Milton, Delaware, to create the Hop-Pickle—a cucumber marinated in beer brine with caramelized onions and Cascade hop oil. Jars of the Hop-Pickles are available at Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma. And they join other Brooklyn Brine products like Maple Bourbon Bread & Butter Pickles, and Whiskey Sour Pickles.
What Would Nora Say About Kale?
The late Nora Ephron once summed up the “history of the past 40 years from the point of view of lettuce,” writing “this was right around the time arugula was discovered, which was followed by radicchio, which was followed by frisée, which was followed by the three Ms—mesclun, mache, and micro greens.” And now the signature salad is kale.
The Hot List
baba au rum • bacon in desserts, candied bacon • black cod • black garlic • bourbon-infused/glazed • brioche desserts • broccoli raab • buckwheat • burrata • capers • caramelized onions • cheese curds • cipollini onions • cobia • crab cakes • cranberries • crêpes Suzettes • crumbles or crumbs • crustless chocolate “tartes” • custards • dulce de leche • egg creams • fermented everything • figs • fish faces—fish cheeks, cod throats • gnudi • golden raisins • green garlic • grilled corn • grilled octopus • head cheese, pig’s head, etc… • ice cream sandwiches • ice creams with too little sugar • lardo • lemon tartes • lime • lingonberries • Little Gem lettuce • lobster pasta • mussels • nettles • Nutella • octopus on purees • olive oil in ice cream, cake • olive oil poaching • parsnip • pea soups (split & not) • petrale sole • pigeon • poached “farm” eggs in soup, etc. • polenta with mushrooms • pork jowl, shoulder • potato rolls • puntarelle • rabbit • red cabbage • rhubarb • root vegetables • salads of Brussels sprout leaves • salsify • salted caramel • sausage pastas • savory granolas • Scotch eggs • sea vegetables • seared lettuces • smoked everything • stuffed eggs • sunchokes, roasted to oblivion • tortellini with soft boiled egg • trout • turnip • uni • whey • wild mushrooms • yogurt as a sauce • yuzu kosho