Food Trends: Taking the Pulse

I’m not naming names, you know who you are, and for those in the dark just look at a menu before taking a seat.

The big trends in the big city are:

• More focus on restaurants that serve one thing, whether it’s pasta, ramen soups, raw fish, or chicken.  There are fewer ingredients, all around, and the result, when it’s successful, is intense flavor and a kitchen that uses its limitations to create delicious, memorable food.

• Japanese restaurants–using, again, focus and few ingredients to create plates of food that please the eye and have depth.

• Italian restaurants—simple and attentive care paid to a few elements.

In contrast to this effort to extract flavor from a few things, we have chefs still lumbering around like T-Rex’s by trying to demonstrate their prowess by using as many ingredients as possible on a plate.  High fat, lots of salt, combining “surprising” ingredients to dazzle rather than delight, and taking cheap cuts of meat (tails, noses, hooves, offal) to market stuff that has far less flavor than a small plate of fish, vegetables, or pasta.  Wait and see: by no later than 2019, these chefs will be thought of as the lava lamps of the kitchen.

Meanwhile have a look at places that are ahead of the curve.

The Biggest Food So Far of 2014

You might think that the biggest story is the news of which restaurant made this year’s, “Best 50 Restaurants,” in the world, which was announced a mere 48 hours ago.  Sure, your plans will change based on the list as you try to score a table for the privilege of dropping a minimum of $500 a couple to eat strange, cool, delicious stuff.

It’s all in good fun, and San Pellegrino, the event sponsor, must be pleased by all the media attention the event got.  On that subject, do you think that paying $8 for a liter bottle of that water in a restaurant is worth it?

Speaking of money, if you want the story, follow the money.

The biggest story.

Just 24 house ago, a vote against the minimum wage took place in the U.S. Senate. With massive lobbying by the National Restaurant Association, the wage increase was voted down.  In the service industry, this means that the prep guys, line cooks, delivery people, and front of house staff will continue to make low wages.

Look, these are people I know who live four to a 2BR apartment, are deep in debt, can’t afford co-pays, and certainly cannot save for the future.

From the world’s best 50 chefs?  Not a word.  And why should they say anything?  Isn’t it smarter to talk about sustainability, seasonality, local, GMO, humane, etc.  Doesn’t cost them a dime.

But why not do both?  Why not think about food and appreciate what it is and does while at the same time making it possible for the people who prepare it to earn decent money?

Raising the minimum wage cuts into their profits, but job satisfaction among employees increases productivity and profitability.

The thing is: Most people in the restaurant industry don’t think ahead.  The industry is so far behind the curve in terms of health that being behind the curve on payroll makes sense.