Samantha Bennett: It’s a fad, fad, fad, food world

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I love living in an age of food trends that arrive fresh from the kitchen, fly off the shelves for a few months, and then pass their sell-by date and become the target of dismissive eye-rolling as the nibbling classes discover something new.

And by new, we often mean old. Foods that used to be unremarkable staples, like doughnuts or meatloaf, fade into obscurity as we discover foreign cuisines and exotic ingredients, become downright embarrassing (you can’t have a dinner party and serve MEATLOAF!), then undergo the mysterious alchemy that transforms “dated” into “retro.” They are reincarnated with quirky new ingredients — at $8 a serving.

Suddenly, it’s free-range organic bison meatloaf with tomatillo chutney and caramelized chia sprouts you wouldn’t dream of wasting on an 8-year-old.

But these trends whiz by so fast … you have to stay on top of them or risk looking like the sort of dinosaur who still gets excited about pretzel buns. (Hint: If it’s made its way into the fast-food world, where you can eat it in your car for $3, it is clearly no longer cool. Asiago, I’m looking at you.)

So put down your sriracha cupcake (soooo 2012) and jump aboard the 2014 food truck of amazing dining, where comfort food is upcycled into extravagance and no combination is too laughably weird to make it onto menus.

1. Artisanal toast. This is already big in San Francisco, and it’s catching on in New York. Good ol’ squishy white bread has been losing ground for decades to less processed peasant loafs made with whole grains and nut meals and yard waste, so it makes sense to then toast these rough-hewn slices, perhaps over mesquite twigs, hickory chips or peat.

You can’t just slather margarine and maybe grape jelly over such a masterpiece; what you want is hand-churned local goat’s milk butter and saffron-infused almond-quince compote. No wonder restaurants offering artisan toast are getting up to $4 a slice for it. But you can make your own if you have a good-quality bread machine and a stump grinder.

2. Local everything. It used to be that poor people had to eat what they could grow or buy locally, and rich people could dine lavishly on delicacies imported from faraway places. Now you pay twice as much for the products of a bush or a chicken you passed on the way to the restaurant as you will for fruit flown from a different season.

In Pittsburgh, we are lucky to be close to farms. If we want fresh dairy, fresh meat or fresh eggs, we are hooked up! Unfortunately, it’s winter for about half of every year. To continue to eat local produce, we can either dry or preserve the harvest, or we’ll need new and creative ways to prepare fresh local tree bark, pine cones and snow. (I like mine groomed coarse and granular, with a crust of smoked salt.)

As for local seafood … I guess we’ll be enjoying Lake Erie zebra mussels, Mon carp and whatever it is they’re pulling from the Allegheny. I’ll probably pass on that.

3. Mashups. You’ve got the cronut (croissant + doughnut), the cragel (croissant + bagel), the pretzel bun, hamburgers on doughnuts … the possibilities are endless! I’ve already come up with so many ideas for trendy new combos. The pancrake! Sushizza! Nutellasagna! Baclamva!

And two old favorites due for an upgrade could be married into chicken wing ice cream sandwiches — gluten free, of course. I’m ready to quit my job, buy a food truck and name it Umami Dearest.

I’m going to stop writing now so I can sit down with a nice pork belly biscuit and Mexican chocolate milk and start working on my menu.

When life gives you artisan toast, make artisan croutons.

Samantha Bennett, freelance writer: sambennett412@gmail.com.


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