The 13 Most Overcooked Food Trends of 2013
Photo: Tejal Rao
Food trends, not unlike fashion and music trends, are strange and fleeting things, often random, more often downright maddening. How exactly does it become the Year of Kale in the first place? For whatever reason, some stuff just takes off -- and then we spend the rest of the year eating and writing about the same thing, over and over again. Or so it seems.
Here are thirteen food trends that all of us across the country are, by now, really, really tired of reading about, of seeing on menus and finding on our plates. Maybe they started out being fun and novel and interesting, but eventually -- like bow ties on barmen -- you just wish they'd go away. Of course, there are a few trends that we still like and hope continue into 2014. (We're not total cynics.) See if you can ID which trends or innovations were welcome additions in 2013.
The Cronut Craze
By his own account, Daniel alum Dominique Ansel opened a bakery because he saw gaps in New York's pastry offerings, and he was eager to expand the sweet horizons of his fellow New Yorkers. After capturing a loyal local following with his freshly baked treats, he began thinking about how to elevate the doughnut; two months of experimentation begot the Cronut, which he unleashed upon the city back in May. Twenty-four hours later, the mania began -- and with it came lines so long you'd think the guy was giving out money. If mimicry is the highest form of flattery, Ansel had fervent admirers: Knockoffs proliferated so quickly he was forced to trademark his invention's name; that fans still flock to his tiny shop daily for one of 450 treats is testament to the staying power of the original. Ansel is a pastry genius, and he's humble about his success -- so we'll happily ride his train until it leads us to the next mania-inducing snack, which will almost certainly come out of his tiny kitchen. As for the knockoffs? We'll be happy to see those die. And we wouldn't mind if the food tourists took interest in some of the baking wizard's other projects, thereby dispensing with the insane wait. -- Laura Shunk
Mark Manger "Put an egg on it!"
This season on Top Chef: New Orleans, editor of Food & Wine magazine Dana Cowin declared that -- along with kale and bacon -- she is completely done with the "eggs over everything" trend. The chefs sighed, heartbroken, while we found ourselves yelling back at the screen "Thank GOD somebody finally said it." We get it, chefs: It looks pretty, the yolk adds a dollop of fat and flavor, and there's a long list of classic dishes that call for a barely cooked egg -- atop pizza and classic steak tartare; dropped in soups, rice bowls, and congees. But it's gotten a little fanatical. Just about anything can be ordered "sunrise" style these days, and eggs are showing up on all three courses of our meal. It's boring us to tears.
With apologies to Dr. Seuss, the extent of our frustration can really only be expressed in rhyme:
"Do you like sunny eggs on ham?"
I do not like them, Sam I am.
I do not like them on my lox.
I think I need an egg detox.
See Sam, this trend, it has to die.
I don't want runny cum on rye.
It's pretty in a picture, true,
But quickly turns a dish to glue.
Just cut it out! This has to stop.
Runny eggs turn food to slop.
I do not like them on a salad,
They are not for every palate.
A salad ought to be refreshing.
Please, God, just give me normal dressing.
Not a la carte or with fixed prix,
We're sick to death of eggs, you see.
'Cause eggs are served not here or there.
Eggs are on everything, everywhere.
-- Jessica Lussenhop
You can almost hear the hipsters groan: "I was into sriracha before sriracha was a thing." But it's true: Sriracha, that spicy stuff we all used to feel mildly smug about having in our stoner-food arsenal (my favorite: Velveeta shells and cheese with sriracha) is now everywhere. There are sriracha-flavored potato chips. There's a sriracha documentary. In Los Angeles and Minneapolis, there are doughnut shops that use sriracha as a topping. When news came down that the factory in California might have to close, people freaked out. Someone is trying to sell a package of sriracha on eBay for $10,000. It's on Subway sandwiches. It's like the hot sauce that ate America.
Sriracha is such a trend that the backlash has already begun: In recent months, bloggers have penned such posts as "Sriracha Sauce Is Massively Overrated," "There is Nothing Cool About Sriracha," and "There's Nothing Punk Rock About Sriracha Anymore." Do we hate this trend or love it? It's hard to get worked up about it either way -- it's hot sauce. Just hot sauce. Chill out. -- Besha Rodell
We blame the cupcake and pork years of the late aughts for our present bitter green situation -- we wanted a vegetable on our plates, too, after what felt like eons of butter and animal fat. And while we're still for produce, let's all agree to call a moratorium on the kale salad. Packed with antioxidants as it might be, this joyless pile of greens sports the texture of well-worn shoe leather, and, what's worse, it's usually prepared the same way everywhere, from the reclaimed-wood-bedecked hipster halls to the white-tablecloth-adorned fine-dining temples: That combination of fruit, sharp cheese, nuts, and a light citrus dressing is not as novel as you, dear kale salad-maker, think. And if one more chef tells us that his or her kale salad is exempt because it was the first kale salad in the universe, we're going to squirt lemon vinaigrette right into that smug a-hole's eyeballs. Let it go, our friends. Put your energy into making something new. -- Laura Shunk
In a 2008 episode of his television show Fatherhood, Snoop Dogg took David Beckham to his favorite dining spot, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, for a taste of L.A.'s famous soul food. The tables were formica, the menus were covered in plastic sneeze guards, and a wine pairing meant ordering a Bartles & James from the beverage list. Roscoe's wasn't being ironic. It was just serving honest soul food, smothered in syrup and grease, to those looking for Southern-inspired comfort. Fast-forward five years, and this once humble fried fare has found its way onto the chicest menus in town. Sandwiched somewhere between foie gras and truffles, chicken and waffles has achieved haute status. No longer is simple maple syrup sufficient for such an elite dish. Now highbrow, they come topped with everything from poached quail egg to sriracha aioli. There are online resources dedicated to chicken-and-waffles wine pairings, and even the venerable Thomas Keller has gotten in on it. Granted, some of the world's most notable dishes had humble beginnings -- think cassoulet or pizza -- but this seems like more of a short-lived trend than a permanent fixture on upscale menus. Any excuse to don eveningwear and dig our manicured fingers into a platter of diner food is good by us, but being charged a week's salary for something we can get at IHOP feels a bit like a rip-off. -- Cheryl Baehr
First one to touch their phone during dinner has to foot the bill.
Foodstagramming. The fact that there's now a portmanteau for it makes my skin crawl and my iPhone shut down in protest. The word, which doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, refers, of course, to the trend of photographing everything we eat, and then editing it to make it appear somehow more hip or luxurious. But the fact is no one wants to see what your bowl of cereal looks like when you stick a Kelvin filter on it. We also don't want to see images of gourmet meal after gourmet meal. Let's be honest: It's not about the food anymore; it's about self-promotion and showing other food-lovers (and, you know, the rest of the wired world) what a foie-gras-and-white-truffle-filled life you live while ignoring those around you in favor of getting just the right angle to make that foam not look like spittle. Dr. Oz has even warned consumption of "food porn" signals an unhealthy preoccupation with food. How about we just enjoy the act of eating it and the company around us? Take a deep breath, and put down the phone. Eat your meal, and converse with your friends, because that's what dining is really about. And I promise that hamburger will taste just as good without a Valencia filter. -- Kaitlin Steinberg
Truffle Oil on Everything
Enough with the truffle oil. It's not bacon. It doesn't actually make everything taste better. In fact, it ruins more dishes than it improves. Did macaroni and cheese need to be improved? Was the greasy, salty, crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside glory that is the French fry missing something? No. But add the word "truffle" to the description and an inexpensive side dish doubles or triples in price. Not only does the taste and scent of the truffle oil completely overwhelm the dish it's meant to enhance, but the vast majority of the time, the cloying substance is actually olive or grape-seed oil with a chemical additive. This is not news: A 2007 piece in the New York Times revealed that chefs knew perfectly well that the cheap substance was just olive oil with 2,4-dithiapentane added to it. And how could they not, considering that actual truffles cost somewhere around $60 an ounce? Apparently, however, the restaurant industry is, like, competitive and junk. After all, 2,4-dithiapentane is an odorant found in some truffles, so it really just "democratizes" truffles so we can all "enjoy" their flavor. But, as world-renowned chef Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago told the the New York Times, "It doesn't even taste like truffle." Since most people have never tasted the real thing, a massive fraud continues to be perpetuated on the nonelite eating public who don't know the difference. So, no, that food truck that just charged you $18 for stinky mac and cheese is not investing in fungi rooted up by pedigree pigs being shepherded through the French countryside by men in charming berets. It's just cheap oil made to smell expensive to trick you into paying more for the honor of eating it.
-- Rebecca Dittmar
Nanette Gonzales Ikemen's ramen burger at the Los Angeles Ramen Yokocho Fest.
In the modern era of the food mashup, crowbarring one dish into another has become a kind of performance art, like competitive eating recalibrated from quantity to thought piece: your dinner as a Jeff Koons balloon. Some of these mashups work; some of them should be banned by the FDA. But a rare few of them are genius, not so much edible cultural fusion as a rip in the space-time continuum. The ramen burger is one of the latter -- very silly, but genius nonetheless. It's pretty self-explanatory: a bun woven from ramen noodles and pan-fried, a burger made with chashu or beef, scallions, and all kinds of special sauce. Sure, that sound you hear is purists screaming, but they scream a lot. This high-concept take on lowbrow food was dreamed up by Keizo Shimamoto, a computer programmer turned food blogger (aren't we all), who then brought his dream to the public. A large public. When he popped up with his burgers in a south Los Angeles food court, 1,000 people waited in line, starting at dawn, like the dish was a K-pop band. It has since turned up at food festivals and L.A. ramen shops, made by ramen chefs alongside their repeating bowls of tonkotsu. There are even rumors of a ramen burger shop coming to Hollywood. Will a ramen burger be as ubiquitous as gyoza and takoyaki on ramen shop menus? Highly doubtful. But it will be a very fun ride. -- Amy Scattergood
Let's relegate the kitchen towel to where it belongs: the kitchen bucket.
When our most forward-thinking restaurateurs began putting kitchen towels on tables instead of napkins, it was endearing. Restaurants had been cautiously making a move toward a more casual presentation ever since the recession made spending a car payment on an ounce of caviar seem crass and insensitive. Bow-tied waiters and starched linens were out; approachable service and the warm comfort of casual dishtowels tied with butcher's twine were in. If the towels had remained an intermittent occurrence they might have maintained their initial appeal, but within just a few years they've appeared on the tables of every gastropub, farm-to-table restaurant, and any other establishment that serves craft cocktails or brunch. They're everywhere. And many of them are beginning to look a little threadbare, as if they've been in service since the trend began. If daubing your face with unsightly linens doesn't affront you, consider the lint. All towels aren't created equally, and as they've grown in popularity, restaurants have increasingly come to rely on lower-quality fabric. Draped across the legs these inferior linens have an effect not unlike an unkempt Persian cat, leaving a fine veil of fuzz that requires half a roll of masking tape to remove. Certainly we'll get back to the white linen standard eventually -- even the good trends fade. Let's relegate the kitchen towel to where it belongs: the kitchen bucket. -- Scott Reitz
Time was when tequila was nothing more than a punchline to country songs, a requisite at sorority parties, and the fuel for too many frozen margarita headaches to remember. And Corona, of course, invented Cinco de Mayo and spring break. But Mexican alcohol's reputation in the United States has irrevocably changed for the better -- and that's not necessarily good. Now, everyone from Justin Timberlake to Carlos Santana is hawking tequila, and hipsters and bros alike throw around phrases like "triple-distilled 100 percent blue Webber agave" as if trying to resurrect Jose Cuervo himself. And even mescal, the moonshine of Mexico and a drink reserved there for the lushes of lushes, is a craft cocktail fave, commanding upward of $20 a shot and $40 a bottle -- and that's when you find it cheap. The results? More tequila is being produced than ever before -- but most of it is going to gabachos in the U.S., and it's put the tequila industry in such a precarious position that scientists told Businessweek that the agave plants from which tequila and mescal comes originates could disappear forever if just one infestation hits the crop. Poor Mexico: so far from God, so close to tequila-loving pendejos. -- Gustavo Arellano
By turning reality TV upside down, blowing up the Internet, and doing little to help the stereotype of ladies with cats, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of the now-infamous Amy's Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, managed to do to Western civility what the KFC Double Down did to sandwiches. In May, the high-strung couple and their restaurant were featured -- none too positively -- on the season finale of Kitchen Nightmares, during which incredulous viewers watched chef Gordon Ramsay do something he hadn't done in the series' more than 80 episodes: walk away. After the episode aired, the Bouzaglos took to the Internet, where a social media meltdown of epic proportions took place in the form of trading insults with commenters, then claiming their sites had been hacked, then launching a grand re-opening campaign to little fanfare. Following news of Samy's possible deportation to Israel, and just when the country (and, by now, certain parts of the world) thought the curtain had finally closed on the Amy's Baking Company shit-show, the Bouzaglos announced a second act: their own reality TV series. Our eyeballs are scratched forever. Meow. -- Laura Hahnefeld
Overpriced, Pretentious Wine/Beer Pairings
I enjoy tasting menus, long lunches, and dinners that give a kitchen staff ample opportunity to demonstrate its inventiveness and technique. Of course, wine is a must with such meals. Often, a lot of wine. A table of four can easily empty three or four bottles during the course of a tasting menu. And it is fun to peruse a good list and select a bottle or two. I prefer to find a wine that originated near the restaurant in which I am dining. At Arzak, I drank Basque wines and one from Rioja. In this manner, one can locate value wines and bottles that, more often than not, sing with the food. (And at Arzak, I was not even told about the wine pairings, but was, with grace and respect, allowed to read it on the menu all by myself.)
Lately, however, I have noticed something extremely annoying: an overabundance of overpriced wine and beer pairings that are "curated" and pushed on diners in an aggressive and pretentious manner. A recent example: A bar that serves food put on a beer dinner that included a six-course dinner paired with six beers and charged people $130. For bar food. On another recent evening I sat down to an eight-course tasting menu and, before I could even unfold my napkin, was forced to sit through a lengthy explanation of the restaurant's wine program, and told that only by ordering the pairings (at $110) would I be able to fully appreciate the food. Listening to this somm (which is how I imagine he refers to himself), I got the impression that the food was playing second fiddle to his magnificent selections. After politely enduring the presentation, I ordered bottles of white and red, selections that I knew to be of good value. The meal was fine, and I was able to enjoy a few hours of stimulating conversation, all uninterrupted by the incessant switching-out of wine glasses and dissertations on terroir and the merits of biodynamic agriculture. I hope, for the sake of knowledgeable diners everywhere, that this trend is short-lived. -- James Brock
As of this writing, there are nearly 300 results for "restaurant" on Kickstarter.
Although giving a leg up to fledgling restaurants can mean great things for chefs and diners alike, 2013 was the year Kickstarter became fair game for just about anyone with enough time and ideas. Home cooks turning their baking chops into bakeshops, a band of enterprising dumpster-divers planning a "freegan" cafe -- all found themselves but a few keystrokes away from no-strings-attached financing. Sure, many (many) Kickstarter campaigns failed, but some succeeded: to the tune of $180,000 above the goal amount in the case of Travail Kitchen in Minneapolis. In just under six hours, Travail's loyal fans blew the initial $75,000 fundraising goal out of the water, emptying their wallets with an enthusiasm to make any struggling nonprofit squirm. It turns out diners will throw down boatloads of money for cool kickbacks like line-skipping privileges and private dinners for contributors. And the awards only got cooler, and weirder, from there: Travail offered up a "2014 Travail Sexy Chef" calendar for backers of $50 or more; Commonwealth in Cambridge, Massachusetts, promised a rooftop pig roast for contributors in the $10,000 range; and a SoCal cereal restaurant advertised that, for $2,500, contributors would get "a mural of a cheetah with a unicorn horn, a cereal party for 20, and a live music performance." If dropping $2,500 on a cereal restaurant seems silly to you, welcome to the wild world of Kickstarter. Still, we'll take it, if it means more talented chefs in the kitchen and more good food on the table -- but we reserve the right to roll our eyes at the rest. -- Hannah Sayle
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