This list is based on everything that I know about the food universe today, and where it’s headed in the coming year. It’s plain that 2008 will go down in history as one of the most fascinating (and troubling) in American and perhaps global history, down there with 1929. Let’s hope 2009 isn’t as dreadful as 1930, or the decade of the ’30s. The food world changes at an alarming rate, but that doesn’t mean that these things that I see happening in L.A. will trickle down to the rest of the country. Still, I see 10 things hitting the overall market with greater force and influence in 2009.
1. The Downfall of Multi-course Dining
I’ve never had a spectacular multi-course meal that numbered above 8 courses. Perhaps I haven’t gone to some of the city’s best, but I doubt that the prices that these meals command cannot continue in the mainstream. Well-thought and executed restaurants such as XIV and Providence will not remain relevant in the coming year. Why? Because in times of economic hardship, no one really wants to hear about how they can drain the money they don’t have. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely correct. People will certainly continue to read blogs such as KevinEats, but I don’t think that they will be entertaining themselves with similar meals in light of a recession. When it comes to a recession, comfort is king.
2. More reasonably priced Prix Fixe Meals
In Europe, the growing trend is set meals, or prix fixe. You pick the dishes among a select few. The restaurant wins by not having to plan as large a menu and you win by having a decent choice and not having to break the bank for it. This is already really popular among restaurants that are open for lunch in New York, and I expect similar action in L.A. to fill tables.
3. Charcuterie: Rillettes, Pates, Sausages, etc.
While America was introduced to the fantastically delicious (and expensive) jamon iberico in 2008, we’ll see more of the classic bistro charcuterie in 2009 such as rillettes, pates, sausages, confits, and other preparations. They’re economical, have decent margin, and satisfy even in smaller portions. Palate Food + Wine does this well with a nice selection of these products, but I hope other restaurants follow suit. Instead of shrimp cocktails and tuna tartares, expect pork rillettes, housemade salumi, and country pates.
4. Self-Serve Restaurants
I saw a lot of this in Europe and New Zealand. Restaurants save by not having to staff servers; diners save by not having to pay tips. I always loved this concept. You can’t complain about the service if there isn’t any! Plus the food is often cheaper at these places. The one drawback is that often much of the food is prepared ahead of time, so you don’t get things a la minute or fresh. Still, in a receding economy, diners will find this a welcome sign (and a boon to thin wallets). Imagine getting a 15%-20% discount at every restaurant you go to?
5. Another Food Channel
I desperately hope the last semblance of foodie-ism on Food Network dies away and turns into another Food Channel. I’ve always wanted Gourmet Magazine to start a channel after their stellar show “Diaries of a Foodie” was a regular fixation for my Saturdays after my delightful DVR captured nearly the entire season. Public television has been producing amazingly high quality food programming such as Ming Tsai’s Simply Ming, Lidia Bastianich, Jacques Pepin (well, who can doubt that guy), José Andrés, Mario Batali/Gwyneth Paltrow’s show, even that weird barbeque guy has a fascinating show about grilling. Once I get DVR again, I need to start recording all of these shows and reserving my Sunday mornings for their enjoyment. Foodies need a cable network that steals Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain while meshing bloggers and other internet foodies for the boobtube. Oh, and steal away Jamie Oliver, Giada (her actual cooking show), Ina Garten (for those moms that cook at home) and maybe even Emeril for his solid daytime show. By having a fully interactive website with real-time video, we’ll hit food media nirvana. The pieces are there – someone needs to just put it all together. The same advertisers that support PBS can come over to the “Gourmet Channel”, such as All-Clad and Kikkoman. The fast food and frozen food can go to Food Network, but the real foodie products can show on Gourmet Channel. Dialing Ruth Reichl…
6. The Rise of Bloggers
Yes there were bloggers in existence between 2008. The first “guard” of food bloggers in Los Angeles are hanging their full-time blogging hats, having children, and raising families, all of which is very respectable. The new guard is still going out and finding the best new (or already existing) restaurants for the general public. They’re quicker and more relevant than traditional media. The writing isn’t as good, but the news is faster and often backed by a personable character behind it. Bloggers are just ordinary people who like to eat and write about it. They don’t usually have their meals comped or expensed. They’re spending their own time to make a product available for the general public (or their readership). For that, they’re more savvy and flexible than traditional media and should garner more exposure (and publicity) in the coming year. Yelp and Chowhound are too impersonal or unpredictable in their ability to steer diners in the right direction. With blogs, you usually have lucid photos (though not always top-quality, which is fine) and to-the-point prose (except for my “flowery” writing, which I’m trying to reduce). Give your blogs some brownie points and hit them up a few times a day. A nice thousand hits here and there won’t hurt. In due time, they will be media forces to recon with, like Serious Eats is in New York. Count one for Food GPS, this very blog. Watch out in 2009.
7. Smaller Portions, or more Precise Portions
When restaurants have to tighten their budgets, they tighten the portions. My cook-friend recently told me that they’ve made portions at Craft a little smaller in light of the sagging economy. Restaurants will find new ways to stack food or use smaller plates to make it seem like you’re the same portion as you did in the past. Do not distress if you see this. Just make sure that restaurants aren’t being unreasonable. Besides, I’m sure most of our American bellies could use a little calorie reduction.
8. Vietnamese Cuisine, Izakayas, Korean Tacos, Chinese Dumplings/Noodle Soup, Food Trucks
No real explanation except that I’ve been hitting up these things and I hope that others follow suit. We need more food trucks in L.A. like Kogi. I was thinking about starting a pork belly bao truck with my friend (think the pork buns at Momofuku or Take a Bao). Chinese Dumplings? They’re cheap, delicious, and satisfying.
More starches, grains, and bread. The year of anti-carbs. Meats and veggies are expensive in comparison so restaurants will find ways to fill you up with these. ALSO, restaurants will not offer bread service unless specifically requested. I’ve seen this trend in a number of restaurants, where we don’t get bread until we ask for it. Breads are cheaper, more filling, and more easily acquired than produce or meat. If BREADBAR was a publicly traded company, I’d buy its stock. La Brea Bakery? Well I can’t vouch for their utter ubiquity (such as Costco), but it sure beats generic stuff. Or does it? I recently had some loaves from Ralphs and Vons and they were great. Did I mention pasta? Expect a ton of the stuff to fill hungry stomachs in 2009.
10. Coffee over Wine
Move over vino. You had a few good years in the spotlight. Time for something a little more reasonable, but equally fascinating it its production and flavor profiles. You can enjoy coffee with anything, just like wine. Okay, scratch that, because I’d rather have a cup of coffee over dessert than a fine Sauternes. I’m noticing more and more roasters in this city that are producing top quality beans and pulling fine espresso shots. Throw in a few ceramic cone filters to replace $11,000 Clover machines and you’ve got a sturdy group of coffee outlets that can battle out your local Starbucks or Coffee Bean in the personality quotient. Support these shops, buy their fresh roasted beans, and drink lots of coffee. Brew at your desk like I do with my $3 Melitta cone filter and #2 unbleached filters. It’s cheap, fun, and hugely flavorful over your standard Starbucks drip.
My last food trend isn’t really one that’s going to happen overall, but for me personally. We all have resolutions and this one is mine: spend less on food and more on wine, coffee, and home-cooking. Not to brag, but I used to be a mean home-cook when I was college and still have some characteristic skills in the kitchen. But I can’t chop vegetables like I used to, even though my knives are still razor sharp. My All-Clads, cast iron skillet, grill, and roasting pans need some mileage and my wallet needs a break from paying premiums at restaurants. This won’t stop me from eating out, this mentality will help me reduce what I’ve been spending overall at restaurants.
Also, my mother has been helping me by packing me lunch nearly every day. She was in Korea for over four months and had to cook quite a bit to feed herself and picked up some new recipes. She’s feeding me ultra-healthy (but still delicious) Korean food that I wolf down every day at my desk to make time for blogging at the office. That helps with not only spending, but eating healthier. I’ve gained at least 10 pounds this year, and I’m still over about 35 pounds since my early college days. And those “early” college days weren’t that long ago. I could care less about personal appearance, I just want to be healthy so I can live to eat another day.
Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you stay safe, but have a wonderful time. If you’re not driving, have extra glass of Champagne for me (personally I’m drinking Henri Abele Brut).