Arresting Dialogues: Year in Review 2013
Merrill Shindler, Food Arts Staff - December 2013
Innovation, communication, education, edification—all were on display in the gastronomic nation. A look at this year’s highs, lows, and in-betweens. Compiled by Merrill Shindler and Food Arts.
I COOK, THEREFORE I THINK
Chefs are the new thinkers. So it was proclaimed at the Dan Barber–hosted conference “Seeds: Cultivating the Future of Flavor” at the bucolic Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, this fall. Every month, it seems, the philosopher chefs are jetting off to conferences around the world to ponder and discuss the inner meaning of food.
It was the year when cooking went deeply cerebral, at global confabs with names like Cook It Raw (Charleston, SC), Madrid Fusión, Mesamérica Cumbre Gastrónomica de México, Mistura (Peru), and MAD (Denmark). And this conference’s attendees also seem to be that conference’s attendees: the Adrià brothers, René Redzepi, Alex Atala, Daniel Patterson, Sean Brock, Massimo Bottura, Claude Bosi, Magnus Nilsson, Gastón Accurio, Enrique Olvera—the list of golden names goes on. The phenomenon inspires criticism: Are they ever in their kitchens? Jealousy: “How come I’ve never been invited to one of these things?” Gabrielle Hamilton asked Patterson when she recently interviewed him on stage at New York City’s 92nd Street Y; “Are there chicks at these things?” And mostly admiration: These really are cool guys who believe they can change the world, and the conferences both inspire them and give them the opportunity to meet their like-minded peers and spread their gospels.
MOVE OVER, MEAT
Vegetables are heading to center plate.
2013 HOT LIST
anise • Asian pear • borage • brisket • candied olives • cauliflower • chamomile • chicken liver • clafoutis • cold pea soup • daikon • dates • Easter Egg radish • figs and fig jam • flatiron steaks • frog’s legs • garlic, green and black • goat • grains • harissa • honey • hot cakes in pots • house-made flavored misos • Ibérico ham • lime • marrow • nasturtium flowers • nopales • oats • oyster mushrooms • pickled everything • pig’s ears and tails • pimento cheese • pistachios • poached eggs • pomegranate • pork osso buco • pork shoulder • poutine • pretzel rolls • raw Brussels sprout leaves • raw scallops and shrimp • savory • schmaltz • shrimp and grits • smoked flavors • soft serve • sole, Dover sole meunière • sorrel • sticky toffee pudding • summer truffles • sunchokes • tapenade • toasted hazelnuts • tongue
FAST FOOD ON STRIKE
In late August, more than a thousand fast-food outlets in an estimated 60 cities across the country were shut down by workers—backed by the Service Employees International Union—demanding their wages be raised to a minimum of $15 per hour. As one protester said, “The economy is doing poorly. Everything is expensive. With high taxes, we’re not going to be able to pay rent.” The National Retail Federation dismissed the protests as “a publicity stunt…further proof that the labor movement is not only facing depleted membership rolls, they have abdicated their role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce.” To which a managing partner at the labor law firm of Carothers DiSante & Freudenberger added, “I can’t see the federal minimum wage rising to anywhere near $15 an hour. It would have a devastating effect on the economy.” Not long after, during an address to the Union League Club in Chicago, McDonald’s president Jeff Stratton was confronted by workers, one of whom, a single mother, asked him if he thought it was right that she was paid $8.25 an hour after 10 years of working for the chain. Stratton’s response was a terse, “I’ve been there for 40 years.” A bit of verbal apples and oranges went viral soon after. And, in the middle of October, a study was released by the National Employment Law Project at the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrating that low wage, no benefit fast-food jobs force workers to rely on public assistance programs, costing taxpayers an estimated $7 billion a year, with McDonald’s accounting for $1.2 billion.
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CUISINE
Danish visionary Claus Meyer, co-owner of Noma, is a busy guy. This year, the man who sparked the new Nordic movement exported his philosophy to La Paz, Bolivia. There he opened a gastronomic restaurant called Gustu and a cooking school with the ambition of elevating the culinary standing of an entire country and, while he’s at it, educating and providing employment for impoverished youth. And for good measure, he opened another restaurant and jazz club in Copenhagen. (Read Claus Meyer’s Silver Spoon Award.)
Now that Hostess has a new owner, Twinkies are back, with an announcement on the box that this is “The Sweetest Comeback in the History of Ever.” The born-again Twinkies are the same—but with a curious twist. According to a Hostess spokesperson, the company will now ship a percentage of their Twinkies frozen, so that stores can use them as needed, extending the shelf life of the much-loved cream-filled yellow cake snacks. Hostess says freezing has “no impact on the quality or taste.” The big surprise is discovering that Twinkies have a shelf life of 45 days due to their revised recipe. We thought they were eternal.
WILL YOU HAVE FRENCH FRIES ON THAT?
In the endless competition for offering something new and unique in the world of fast food, Burger King introduced its French Fry Burger. Which is exactly what it sounds like—a beef patty topped with four French fries. The good news is, the French Fry Burger goes for just $1—coincidentally the same price as the items on McDonald’s Dollar Menu.
HOLD THE PLAYPLACE, BRING ON THE SPUDS
The hottest fast-food trend in Japan and Korea—where fast-food trends are born faster than a sushi robot can turn out spicy tuna rolls—is Potato Parties, held at branches of McDonald’s. Groups of students show up to order hundreds of dollars’ worth of French fries—which they spread across numerous tables, then consume until every last morsel is gone. One group in Japan purchased an astounding 60 large orders of fries (that’s 30,000 calories worth!). In Korea, a group became so crazed during the party, they were thrown out of the restaurant.
WHAT? NO SUSHI?
The Japanese Pizza Little Party chain upped the fast-food ante with a Megaburgerpizza, which is exactly what it sounds like—and more. It’s a 2.65-pound critter consisting of several beef patties sandwiched between two 11-inch pizzas, slathered with pizza sauce and cheese, ketchup and mustard, pickles and onions. It goes for Y2,580 ($26). And feeds…goodness knows how many.
AND SPEAKING OF PIZZA...
The Country Inn & Suites By Carlson in Niagara Falls, Ontario, has installed an extra special button on its in-room phones. Along with being able to summon maid service and the front desk for a wake-up call, if you press the button—which has a pizza slice icon on it—it connects you with a local pizza joint that delivers pies to the hotel. (And it makes us wonder what icons are on the phones at hotels in Las Vegas. Just sayin’…)
AND SPEAKING OF MORE JAPANESE FOOD TRENDS...
A Japanese snack food company introduced a bagged treat called Frito Lay Cheetos x Pepsi Shuwa Shuwa Cola Corn Snack—aka Pepsi-flavored Cheetos. Tasters report that when you bite into the Cheeto-wannabes, you get a heavy hit of lemon and a hint of fizziness in your mouth. No word on whether there’ll be a Diet Pepsi version as well.
MAYBE SHE SHOULD CUT BACK ON THE CAFFEINE?
A Dunkin’ Donuts employee in Lauderhill, Florida, was beaten and pistol-whipped by a female customer’s obliging husband when the employee mistakenly gave her an iced caramel coffee instead of the iced vanilla she had ordered while driving through. The employee offered to remake the coffee, but the incensed customer instead parked her car, came in with her husband, cursing and kicking, and telling her armed spouse (a security guard) to shoot the employee. Good thing he didn’t give them the wrong doughnut.
DROP THE ONIONS AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP!
Alert policemen in India thwarted a truckload of desperados transporting stolen onions from Jaipur to New Delhi. Alerted to the theft of a lorry of onions, they set up roadblocks to finally intercept the fragrant cargo. The onion nappers managed to escape, leaving the highjacked driver to continue on his way to market. Jack Webb would have been proud.
DROP THE KALE AND PUT YOUR HANDS UP!
In August, a SWAT team raided the small Garden of Eden organic farm in Arlington, Texas, searching the property for 10 hours while handcuffing the workers suspected of marijuana growing and holding them at gunpoint for a half-hour. They seized “17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants…native grasses, and sunflowers.” No drug-related violations were found. Citations were issued for “grass that was too tall, bushes growing too close to the street, a couch and piano in the yard, chopped wood not properly stacked, and a piece of siding that was missing from the side of the house…” According to owner Shellie Smith: “They destroyed everything. There were sunflowers for our bees and gifting, lots of okra, and a sweet potato patch.”
WOULD YOU LIKE SOME OVALTINE IN YOUR VODKA?
British dairy farmer James Barber was so inspired by a TV documentary on Siberians making vodka from yak milk, he started fermenting and triple-distilling milk from his 250 dairy cows into Black Cow Vodka—said to have a “creamy texture.” Fans include Elizabeth Hurley and Daniel Craig. James Bond drinks milk vodka?
IS IT A SUGARY CRU SUPERIEUX?
Cola flavored wine? From France? Has it really come to this? The firm Haussmann Famille, part of Châteaux en Bordeaux, has introduced Rouge Sucette Cola (“Red Lollipop”)a wine drink made of grapes, with the rest a mix of water, sugar, and cola flavor. It sells for a nominal price in France, where the intention is to market the stuff to a younger demographic. Who, apparently, are not worried about having their teeth falling out. Yet.
STRANGEST NEW BEER FLAVOR
Avocado Ale, from Angel City Brewery in Los Angeles, made with, well, avocados. It follows in the footsteps of Angel City’s briney Pickle Weisse and their au jus–inspired French Sip.
Anthony Weiner may have faded into Punchline Purgatory, but his alter ego, Carlos Danger, lives on, thanks to an enterprising hot dog distributor who has put out a line of Carlos Danger Beef Weiners—“The Brand That’s on Everyone’s Lips!” Their line includes “The Big One” and “The Giant Weiner Party Pack”—while T-shirts say, “Ask to See My Weiner.”
A BACON A DAY…
When Pearl Cantrell of Richland Springs, Texas, turned 105 this past year, she was, of course, asked the secret of her longevity. Her answer: “Hard work and bacon. I love bacon. I eat it every day. It’s got to be crispy.” So, to honor Pearl—and her love of bacon—the Oscar Mayer company sent their Wienermobile to Richland Springs to give her a birthday ride through the town (population 336). And how much does she eat? At least two slices for lunch, and another two for dinner. And no, she’ll never run out—Oscar Mayer also presented Pearl with a lifetime supply.
AND SPEAKING OF BACON…
Chef David Burke (of David Burke’s Primehouse) opened a new restaurant built around bacon in The James Hotel in Chicago called Burke’s Bacon Bar, serving four types of bacon (including Goose Island Matilda Beer Bacon and Benton’s Tennessee), along with nine signature “handwiches,” eight of which are made with bacon, with one for the rare vegan who wanders in by mistake. And yes, there are bacon/chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
DOES MICHAEL BLOOMBERG KNOW ABOUT THIS?
In a gentler effort to match New York City mayor Bloomberg’s nanny laws, the City of Philadelphia has introduced the Healthy Chinese Take-Out Initiative, recruiting more than 200 Chinese restaurants in the City of Brotherly Love to commit to reducing the salt content of their food by 10 to 15 percent.
SAGGY PIZZA VERSUS SAGGY PANTS
You may (or may not) be served soggy pizza at Giulio’s Pizzeria in Dunellen, New Jersey. But whatever you’re served, you’ll eat it wearing pants that are properly pulled up. After a youthful customer in sagging jeans refused to pull up his trousers, stating there was no sign on the door, the owners posted one reading: “Saggy Pants Prohibited on These Premises!” Said the owner, “We’re a family business. We’re all about the food. We don’t like saggy pants in here.” And they’re not alone. During the summer, the town of Wildwood, New Jersey, cracked down on pants exposing one’s derrière. And Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana approved an ordinance fining $50 for these low-ridin’ pants.
WORST SQUIRREL RECIPE OF THE YEAR
An apartment complex in Holland Charter Township in southwest Michigan burned to the ground, leaving dozens homeless after a resident tried to cook a squirrel with a propane torch on his patio and apparently lost control of the dish. Flames spread to the roof, damaging several apartments.
ALL JIMMY CAGNEY DID WAS BANG HIS CUP ON THE BARS
Back in August, a prison brawl broke out at New York’s Rikers Island facility, thanks to a disagreement between two jailhouse gangs over use of the hot plate to cook grilled cheese sandwiches. According to reports, it seems the Trinitarians, a Dominican gang, thought the Crips were hogging the hot plate. More than 50 inmates were involved, throwing chairs, whacking each other with brooms, leaving 11 people injured, slashed, or stabbed in the hour-long fight. No word on what cheese the gangs are partial to—and whether they’ll be getting a panini grill as well.
AND, YES, PLEASE LET THE DOOR HIT YOU IN THE BUTT AS YOU LEAVE!
Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, whose world-class meltdown on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares led Gordo to walk out of their Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, continue to find success in madness, adding hats and T-shirts that say, variously, “I SPEAK FELINE MEOW!” and “HERE’S YOUR PIZZA GO F**K YOURSELF!” Word on the street is that she’s spent a year in jail for fraud and he’s banned from entering France and Germany. Ah, Amy and Samy, going through life, making friends…
AND SPEAKING OF MAKING FRIENDS
A fan of Domino’s Pizza recently posted a compliment on the pizza chain’s Facebook page, tossing out an enthused “Best Pizza Ever! Pan Pizza * Keep up the good work guys!” Apparently, the Facebook page’s auto-reply algorithm wasn’t used to words of praise, responding with a sorrowful: “So sorry about that! Please share some additional information with us at…so we can have this addressed.”
FRIES ON THE FLY
Remember that pizza vending machine made in Northern Italy called Let’s Pizza, that came and went a year ago? Well, now there’s a company in Belgium that has introduced a pommes frites vending machine spitting out sizzling hot fries in 95 seconds into a paper cup, accompanied by your choice of mayo, ketchup, or samurai sauce. The cost is around $3.36 an order. And if the machine is situated near a Champagne Vending Machine (found in Berlin) or a Beer Vending Machine (in Bulgaria), you’ve got yourself a party.
A RESTAURANT FOR TWO
The name Solo Per Due translates as “Just for Two”—and that’s exactly what this miniscule restaurant in Vacone, Italy, is—a restaurant that holds just two diners at a time, two for lunch and two for dinner, who pay €250 ($335) per person for a meal in, what owner Remo De Claudio claims, is the “world’s smallest restaurant.” Guests are welcome to enjoy the gardens and stay overnight in the villa housing the restaurant (€90/night), once owned by the ancient Roman poet Horace.
YES, NO, GMO
One side claims it will save the world, feeding millions; the other warns of consequences, medical and economic. 2013 saw no abatement in the GMO war among scientists, agriculturalists, doctors, politicians, economists, and more. It even cropped up in a woman’s fashion magazine, Elle, when writer Caitlin Shetterly documented her struggle with a severe and long-term allergic reaction to GMO corn in “The Bad Seed: The Health Risks of Genetically Modified Corn.” Her allergist, Dr. Paris Mansmann, claimed that genetically modifying corn results in changes to its DNA that are “expressed as proteins,” to which certain people are allergic. Forbes countered by noting that the piece was “a classic example of misleading reporting” and that Elle had “waded into the GMO debate so irresponsibly.” For now, the U.S. and E.U. remain on opposite sides of the fence: the former in favor, the latter opposed. Although that’s up for debate.
UNDER WATER, UP IN FLAMES
It may seem forever ago that Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast. Yet more than a year later, restaurants along the Manhattan shore, Queens, Staten Island, and throughout the Jersey Shore continue to struggle to rebuild. Dozens missed the lucrative summer tourism season, while unfortunate proprietors in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, New Jersey—who saw their businesses literally go underwater last fall—watched their rebuilt shops go up in flames when a fire in September consumed an estimated 50 eateries, including Kohr’s Frozen Custard, where the fire is believed to have started. One glimmer of hope: Manhattan’s Water Club reopened in October and Brooklyn’s River Café reopened this month, once again offering one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline. The September flooding in and around Boulder, Colorado, led to the closing of some two dozen restaurants, including Curd, Basta, Black Cat, Flagstaff House, and Chatauqua Dining Hall—and the cancellation of the Civic Center Eats Festival.
WOULD YOU LIKE ARTIFICIAL BACON WITH THOSE ARTIFICIAL EGGS?
The Whole Foods chain began selling artificial eggs, called Beyond Eggs, made from ingredients taken from some 12 different plants. The product, designed to help feed a hungry world, is backed by Paypal founder Peter Thiel and Microsoft creator Bill Gates. The initial intention is that the artificial eggs will replace real eggs in baking and mayonnaise, with an egg real enough to be scrambled still in the works.
DRINK OF THE YEAR
Gin & Tonic
Beets, Kale, Octopus, Rooftop bees
Batch cocktails • Charred • Coffee program • Craft • Ethically sourced • House-made bitters • Paleo • Pickled • Small batch • Tonic program • Vegan • Wood-fired