Foodies Clock in on Culinary Trends
October 29, 2015,
NEW YORK—African cuisine, the anticipated death of kale, the locavore movement and the recent World Health Organization report on processed and red meat were among the topics discussed at the recent panel, The Next Big Bite, hosted by Les Dames D’Escoffier’s New York chapter.
The panel consisted of some of the industry’s leading experts: Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of award-winning vegetable restaurant Dirt Candy; Amanda Hesser, noted food writer and CEO of the website Food52; Marion Nestle, the renown food advocate, prize-winning author—most recently of “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (And Winning)”—and professor; and Mimi Sheraton, the pioneering food writer whose newest book is “1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life.” Chef, author and James Beard Award winner Rozanne Gold was the moderator for the event, which took place at the Institute of Culinary Education’s new facility at Brookfield Place downtown.
“Food is our new common language,” said Gold. “Once upon a time, it was everyone’s dream to be in show business—now everyone wants to be in the food business.”
And younger chefs have more opportunities to express themselves, such as through food trucks, said Hesser. “It’s the death of elitism ... But there’s still work to do.”
Cohen’s restaurant was one of the first to implement a no-tipping rule, opting to charge customers 20 percent more before taxes to pay both her front- and back-of-the-house staff better. (Restaurateur Danny Meyer had recently announced how there will be no tipping at his restaurants in favor of higher prices.)
New York is an expensive place to live, Cohen said, and it’s hard to find good cooks that will take low pay. And in instances such as blizzards, when there are fewer customers, servers still have to come in even though they don’t get paid. Tipping is “an archaic system,” she said.
“I don’t think workers should be paid $2 an hour,” Nestle added. “So many workers in restaurants are on food stamps.”
The panel also was held on the day that the World Health Organization released its report that eating processed and red meat raises cancer risk considerably. It’s not news, Nestle said, as it’s been talked about since the 1970s. The difference is that “it was much more clearly stated than ever.” However, the “commission didn’t say what to do about it.” (Sheraton added that day she ate bacon for breakfast and liverwurst for lunch. “I won’t die young,” she added.)
Among the food trends Sheraton sees for next year is the emergence of West African cuisine. When researching her latest book, she ate at restaurants in Harlem and the food reminded her of Louisiana. Exotic food also has to have “a touch of the familiar, so that people will try it.” She also hoped next year will be the end of kale.
“It’s trendy to say ‘vegetables are cool,’” said Cohen, but they’re still seen mostly served as sides or appetizers. Vegetables “have still not moved to the center of the plate.” It’s more than saying no to meat, she said, but yes to vegetables. “I would serve meat or fish if I found one that made the veggies taste better.” But she hasn’t yet.
Restaurants are opening at a faster pace, Sheraton said, though she finds them “terribly uncomfortable now,” as they’re noisy, sometimes don’t take reservations and people have to sit on high stools. However, “it may be generational.” (Sheraton will be 90 years old on her next birthday.)
“Food is getting noisy” and overcomplicated, said Sheraton. “How many burnt carrots with flower petals can you look at? People need more stimulus now.” And, ironically, most people “watch food shows and then order food out.”
But the panel overall felt positive about where the industry is headed. “The wonderful thing about cooking is that it’s always evolving,” said Hesser. “I’m a different cook than I was five years ago, 10 years ago.”