Culinary trends come and go, but the class of 2010 shows great promise, from taco trucks gaining cult status and artisan cocktails going mainstream to a continued commitment to going local, sustainable and green. We particularly hope the evolution of our growing interest and consciousness about the way we eat and drink—and where it comes from—is here to stay.
A Farm-to-Table Fixation
There's nary a top-tier restaurant in this country that hasn't jumped on some part of the farm-to-table, market-fresh, organic, locavore, sustainable bandwagon. Alice Waters must be proud. While environmental concerns are certainly a factor, the movement also stems from a need to focus on the quality of the food we are putting into our own bodies, to know where it's grown and how it's grown.
Going beyond merely listing the names of the farms and ranches from which their food is sourced, more and more restaurants are starting to grow their own vegetables and herbs and are expanding such programs into their communities. Even the White House has its own vegetable garden, feeding not just the First Family but visiting dignitaries.
Two examples from our Top 40 list are Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, which helped establish a local farmers market in Atlanta, and Arrows in rural Maine, where their garden supplies 90 percent of its produce needs. On our list of Top 10 New Restaurants, Ninety Acres at Sir Richard Branson's Natirar in pastoral Somerset County sources most of its ingredients from its own farm.
Keep on Truckin': Mobile Food Trucks Go Mainstream
Kogi Korean BBQ Truck
Food trucks and mobile carts have long been a part of dining culture in urban centers. A mix of convenience and affordability ensure their continuing success. Quality was often less of a factor, but this is changing. A far cry from old-school 'roach coaches,' mobile dining 2.0 is very different. Some of these operations have become local cult classics, with more than 50,000 fans 'following' them on Twitter. The variety of food served by these vendors is astounding, everything from Korean tacos to French delicacies. Take a ride through our list of the Top 5 Food Trucks in the U.S.
Food: A Celebrity in Its Own Right
"Julie & Julia"
With growing interest from the mainstream in organic and sustainable food and eating well in general, there's also a new curiosity about the history of food, as evidenced in cinema, books and on TV. One of the most prominent films about chefs was the 2009 hit movie "Julie & Julia," which celebrates the parallels between the lives of culinary legend Julia Child and a New York-based food blogger who set out to slice and dice her way through the chef's decisive tome, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In the documentary world, "Food Inc." explored (often in scary ways) America's relationship with junk food, a path that was paved almost a decade ago with Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (made into a movie in 2006) and continued in 2005 with Skinny Bitch. As to TV, more and more kitchens are getting their own soundstages, with Bravo's Top Chef being widely praised in its sixth year (2009) for producing its strongest season ever, with an increasingly professional impressive line up-of culinary talent.
The focus isn't just on food, but has also spread to beverage programs. Of course, wine has always been a celebrated pairing for food. But beer and sake are increasingly popular as well. Small-production brews are popping out in hipster bars and restaurants around the country, and so are artisan cocktails such as pomegranate margaritas or açaí martinis. New York "speakeasy" Milk & Honey opened in 2000. At the time, it was revolutionary: a bar that made all of its drinks from scratch, using pre-Prohibition ingredients and techniques. But today, just as many people are apt to visit Mark Peel's The Tar Pit and Charles Phan's Heaven's Dog for drinks as they are for food. They're there to enjoy the work of the 'liquid chefs.' Finally, there's a renewed interest—perhaps in small part due to the popularity of the five-martini-lunchers in the TV series "Mad Men"—in old-school cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or Gin Martini.