Thursday, March 3, 2016

From Frenzy to Fatigue

Call it foodie fatigue.

My mother was dining recently, and rankled and confused by the menu filled with fancy ingredients, she said, "Can't I just have a good pasta with some broccoli?"

While overall restaurant food quality has gone up, Americans once enthralled by the wave of excitement brought about by the Food Network and Iron Chef are now more reticent to open the newest celebrity cookbook with the same kind of enthusiasm.  Maybe it was Pete Wells' takedown of Guy Fieri (or Thomas Keller?), or maybe it is just market saturation, but I don't see the same kind of appetites for the "next new thing", whether it be a food truck or a donut shop.  Maybe we are so overstimulated by our phones that even gourmandism has been segmented and pushed to the margins.

Yes, I still love food, and yes I am still trying the new restaurants and following the blogs and tweets and pins, but restaurant food of now is focused on 1) multiple fresh ingredient components 2) saucing 3) clean and artistic presentation. What will be the next step forward, if there is a next step?  Will it be a live bowl of Asian food, like Pok Pok or Mission Chinese?

We are now living in a post-Eleven Madison Park world, a post-Noma world, a post-Faviken world where destination dining is not new, entrees can easily go for 50% more than they might have ten years ago, and listing "farm-to-fork" on a menu sounds trite.

At Ninth Street, we try to make real food without a lot of preciousness.  Which is great, because hearty, flavorful food is the food that folks actually eat on a daily basis, for calories, to do stuff, like work. You can't run your whole day on raw halibut with yuzu and a Clif bar.

To have the food movement continue to move forward, we need to think beyond the plate, beyond fundraisers, and think about what kind of businesses we are leading and where we are taking both the employees and the customers.  Will the future be more participatory?  What kind of space does the customer want to interact in?  How to we bring in minority populations?  Are we ignoring stratification and poverty or providing choices at every income level?  Given the spotlight that food has in our culture, I look to local food entrepreneurs to lead, rather than follow on these issues.  In 2015, NSB gave over $20,000 in cash, in-kind donations, and gift cards to charitable organizations.  What kind of impact can we have on Durham in 2016 that moves beyond charitable giving?

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