The real gourmet never goes out of fashion
What we eat punctuates the passage of time and our movement through it so acutely that it can be as revealing and sometimes excruciating to discuss food socially as it can be to talk about art or politics. Yves Saint Laurent once said that he wished he'd invented the blue jean: "The most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant... all I hope for in my clothes." Though great jeans are unlikely to go out of style anytime soon, we live in a world where we like our classics updated, our televisions HD and our jeans with a low rise.
Jeans change with the seasons and so do all trends, though fads and fashion are distinctly different things. It made my skin creep to read a food blogger's impassioned plea for the abolition of food vans everywhere, just because she finds their abundance in her neighbourhood grating. Maybe the notion of overexposure turning a person jaded makes me a little uncomfortable. But just as many of us wouldn't be caught dead in the jeans we wore in high school, we have an amazing propensity for scorning things we once loved after their novelty has cooled.
For some, dining out is affected by a quest for novelty that eclipses the quest for nourishment. Whether it's eaten at home, in a 24-hour diner or in a Michelin-starred restaurant, a perfectly poached fresh organic egg is probably as ethereal, ephemeral and elusive as any other perfectly poached fresh organic egg. These days, it can be easier to find playful and innovative methods of cooking eggs on restaurant menus than to find one place that handles boring old scrambled eggs consistently well.
An obsession with originality, youth and cynicism goes hand in hand with fashion's insidious ability to usurp. Forecasting trends, identifying pioneers and trendsetters, citing sources and exposing inauthenticity and imitation is a big part of the fashion industry - and so it's naturally part of the food industry, too. Consumers have developed an appetite for "sourcing" not just the aesthetics behind our food, but also the ingredients in it.
With a deepening recession and a sobering host of diet-related public health concerns, restaurant culture has never been a more interesting or unsettling study in social stratification, and the UAE's restaurant culture is particularly varied and intriguing. There are very few things that all humans do, and eating is one of them. Unsurprisingly, people can be pretty opinionated about it.
These days, identifying yourself as a food lover carries less of a designation of sophistication or even snobbery than it once did.
Although I can't think of any food trend I'd like to go away, there have been a few good old chestnuts I've seen horribly abused. Whose palate hasn't been victimised by badly done blackening (a modern Cajun technique traditionally applied to redfish and now found suffocating chicken breasts in Caesar salads and low-carb lunch wraps) or liberally doused truffle oil (I appreciate the availability of a low-cost alternative to fresh truffles, but it doesn't improve everything to which it's added, despite what many seem to believe).
There are other good guys whose popularity reached critical mass and whose gradual disappearance from restaurants is a casualty of diner's ennui (tuna tartare, pesto, focaccia). There are budding trends so ingenious that I wish they'd catch on faster (lamb bacon, lamb belly and using wireless swipers to charge restaurant patrons tableside to keep credit card information safe).There are a few trends that confound me, such as the obsession with lily-gilding that brought us deep-fried balls of butter known as "fried butter", unveiled by the Dallas resident Abel Gonzales Jr, the winner of past state fair competitions for his Texas fried Coca-Cola.
Some trends, such as "comfort food", are cyclical rather than endangered. Although we might have noticed a decline in comfort food dishes on restaurant menus, there are just as many people cooking and eating meatloaf and macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes at home as there have ever been, and those dishes are no less likely to become extinct than coffee, tea or oxygen.
Published: November 3, 2010 04:00 AM