Oh boy, what a decade it’s been. Take a seat and let us talk you through the high and low points of the past ten years in the world of food.
The Skinny turns ten this month. Woo, go us, let’s have a party etc etc. Of course, anniversaries like this one aren’t just about celebration and congratulation; they’re also an ideal opportunity for recrimination and the airing of grievances.
With that in mind, we thought we’d take a non-exhaustive look at the food and drink trends we’ve successfully vanquished over the past ten years, and the few that survived to become genuine elements of the food landscape.
Molecular Gastronomy and Street Food
Let's journey back to 2005. Molecular gastronomy was in vogue – Heston Blumenthal, fresh from bagging three Michelin stars at The Fat Duck but not yet in full-on ‘celeb chef’ mode, was on the telly talking about protein strand separation and making his own processed-style cheese.
Sous vide was no longer just something you couldn’t pronounce – now it was something you couldn’t pronounce or understand the appeal of – and liquid nitrogen was genuinely being touted as a cooking aid.
In many ways, it was the trend that set the tone for the decade to follow – intensive technique and rigour applied to dishes, a focus on pairings that defied sense until you actually tried them, and a sense of pantomime that turned dinner into an edifying but terrifying event.
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Of course, trends are a bit like shooting stars – if you can only spot one at a time, chances are you’re not really looking hard enough. As all that faffing about with dry ice was going on in one corner, the other overarching trend of the past ten years – the rise of street food – was kicking off elsewhere.
The appeal of the street food movement lay in both its simplicity – a lack of frills and fussing would come in handy when all the money got deleted at the turn of the decade – and the ability to focus on a few things and do them well. Only do steamed buns, or fried chicken? Fine by us, as long as they’re really, really nice.
Taking these two into account, a lot of the other food trends we’ve seen make a bit more sense. Take, for example, the evolution of baking from ‘old ladies’ pastime’ to ‘all-consuming task which requires a cupboard full of specialist equipment’.
When the foodies on TV are going full out with the contents of a science classroom, and the guys at the local outdoor market can tell you the shoe size of the cow that was best friends with the one you’re currently gnawing through, you'd feel inspired and/or goaded into a response.
You’re (presumably) no Michelin-starred chef, but you certainly feel like one when you’re using an oversized syringe to pump jam directly into the heart of your doughnuts. You made them with your own sourdough starter, because of course you did.
Artisanal coffee, craft beer, barbecuing and slow-smoking any and every thing that will fit on a tray – all examples of our decade’s predilection with taking small details to the nth degree. Focussing on one thing, and getting it absolutely right, then doing it over and over until it can’t be improved upon.
Maybe we’ve all been inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that true expertise comes after 10,000 hours of practice, or conditioned by professional sport to believe that marginal gains in performance all add up in the end.
Or maybe modern communication’s knack for only showing us things we already believe in has sent us all in an endless loop – ‘Of course devoting all your spare time to meringue is a good idea, look at all those retweets!’ – but the real impact of these macro trends won’t be clear for a few years yet. For now, we can revel in our pricey but delicious flat whites, spending our weekends getting the smell of home-smoked fish out of the curtains.
If the big picture was all about pushing boundaries and refining techniques, many of the small-scale trends of the last ten years seemed to be about making sure everyone’s bullshit detectors were still working.
Goji berries, coconut water, quinoa – ‘superfoods’ flew in and out of fashion throughout the past decade, and often didn’t make much of an improvement on what came before, not least because nobody really seemed to know why they were there.
Take coconut water as an example. Coconut water has solid celebrity backing and a vaguely scientific and sporty air, but guess what? Not only are you not a Michelin-star chef, but you ain’t no sportsperson neither.
You’re about as likely to need a quick release of electrolytes as you are to need your hooves reshoed – have a glass of water and save yourself a few quid, or have a coffee and ride that caffeine wave through the next few spreadsheets. Plus, coconut water looks like ectoplasm, your love of quinoa often slaps it out of the hands of the farmers who make it, and goji berries are… well, they’re just berries.
"Just put food on a plate"
We’ve seen restaurants, bars and cafes embrace a number of design trends – log cabin chic, distressed warehouse vibes and Orient Express-style chandelier-mageddon all spring to mind – and we’ve had plenty of time to check those details out thanks to the now-routine wait at a ‘no reservations’ venue with about 15 seats inside.
But the one trend which cannot be ignored is the refusal of chefs, proprietors and general foodists to just put food on a flipping plate.
No-one has ever sat down to a meal and said: “You know what? This looks nice, but I wish it looked more like prison food, or that there was some kind of miniature furniture involved in its presentation.” This one started with the molecular gastronomy crew putting foams on everything and serving main courses with musical accompaniments, but those chefs can get away with it because they are great visionaries for whom it’s part of the act.
John P Anychef, trying to emulate them by serving a chocolate cake on a piece of slate, isn’t being clever; he just thinks he is. Chips served in plant pots, meals served on steel trays, and high tea presented on scale-model picnic benches – all of it can, and we believe this is how the expression goes, get right to fuck.
And that, in a nutshell, was the past ten years, minus anything we’ve forgotten or run out of time for (sorry sriracha, we’ll have to discuss your brilliance at a later date). Trends, styles and fads come and go but the food scene is as vibrant and exciting as ever; just keep putting food on plates – plates! – and the next decade should be just fine.