A Year of Culinary Contrasts
The year 2014 saw brunch menus soaked in almond milk and saturated with coconut everything, raw desserts battling it out with doughnuts and trendsetters drinking green smoothie breakfasts before downing fried chicken dinners. It’s been a year of juxtaposition in the food world and as we approach the end of 2014, I see Indian, urban booze and upscale comfort food on the horizon.
At this time of year the average person panics about unbought Christmas presents. In my world, people start talking food trends. What will be hot in 2015? What did we eat in 2014? What will it take to banish pulled pork to a dark cave in Middle Earth? Like fashion, technology and art, food is driven by fads.
Let’s not forget that foodies are the minority here. While we tend to eat out with like-minded people, the edible trends we subscribe to – including our appetite for free-range this and no-waste that – do not extend to the entire population. Most of Melbourne is content with Domino’s Pizza on their doorstep and coffee from 7/11. Self-proclaimed foodies are on the rise, but many would sooner defrost dinner than read this blog post.
As Jay Rayner recently wrote in The Guardian, “Food fashions are no different to any other. They aren’t a mark of increasing sophistication. The whirligig merely turns... Here then, is my prediction for 2015. There will be food. Some of it will be horrible. Some of it will be really nice.”
I agree with him. Defrosted dinners aside, people are undeniably interested in food. One of the reasons I adore eating is because humans have taken a basic survival requirement and turned it into something utterly gratifying. Freud would blame it on the ‘id’, the force that drives our pleasure-seeking instincts. It’s for this reason that I encourage discussion of food trends present and past, rather than take an eloquently sarcastic stance like Mr. Rayner.
Last week I popped into ABC Studios to record a segment on food trends with RN First Bite. It airs this Saturday at 9.30am in what will unfortunately be the last instalment of the program in response to Federal budget cuts that have affected the ABC. Jill Dupleix and I talked trends with presenter Michael Mackenzie for half an hour. When we were done, I was barely a bullet point into my notes. Thanks to the power of self-publishing, I can continue that conversation here. The remainder of this blog post is a personal, educated wrap-up of food trends in 2014, followed by 2015 food trend predictions.
If there’s one thing I learnt in 2014, it’s that there’s no such thing as too much fried chicken. At the other end of the scale, we bought into superfood smoothies and raw food concepts, perhaps in a subconscious attempt to balance the grease. Maybe George Calombaris opened Mastic, his health food café in Kew, to counter all of those souvas at Jimmy Grants? Almond milk laughed in the face of dairy while the word ‘coconut’ was written on so many brunch menus I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d single-handedly destroyed a tropical habitat somewhere offshore.
Thankfully the trend to locally source and seasonally serve looks like it’s here to stay, which means we’re increasingly eating in a way that supports nearby producers and lessens food miles. But offer me caviar and Champagne imported from France and I wouldn’t hesitate – eating is relative. In restaurant kitchens everything was made in house, by hand – gravlax, chilli sauce, protein bliss balls, bacon, sausages – and will be again in 2015. BBQ isn’t quite done with us yet, nor is smoking and fermenting.
Those with Italian roots helped Melburnians to get over the fro-yo frenzy and come to terms with the fact that nothing beats proper gelato. In fact Italian popped up all over town, from cafes such as 5 Lire and pasta bars like Tipo 00, to Gradi at Crown, Artusi in Southgate and Heartattack and Vine on Lygon Street. Aussies are taking to aperitivo more than ever (any excuse for a Negroni before dinner).
Food trucks stepped it up and refined their offerings in 2014. There’s no more room for burgers and Mexican on wheels, but the same can’t be said for jaffles and ice cream sandwiches. The transition from pop-up to permanency is also trending. Concepts such as Place Holder, Milkman Café, Pop-Up Scrolls and Mr. Claws are all testing the waters with plans to stick around if all goes well. While eateries were popping up, top chefs were toning down. Fine diners have undergone segregation –for example, The Press Club into a smaller version of itself and Gazi – and will continue to do so in 2015, starting with Scott Pickett’s Estelle.
As we leave 2014 behind, some food trends will be left behind with it. Diets such as paleo will give way to more wholesome eating with a focus on balance and pleasure (as opposed to sadness and starvation); sliders, bao and pulled pork will disappear; Mexican and Korean have had their fifteen minutes of fame; people will realise that kale isn’t actually seasonal 12 months of the year and that broccoli is more beneficial for the body; and doughnuts can’t get much tastier or OTT than those at Doughboys, so why bother?
Now for the fun bit: the predictions. First up, craft beer will reach a new level in 2015 with urban breweries (and wineries) setting up in town as young brewers and winemakers demand an urban lifestyle to complement a traditionally rural trade. Beverages will become artisan, starting with booze and seeping through to syrups. In terms of cuisines, Southern American food will make way for South American food (think Peruvian, Argentinean, Brazilian) and Indian will be the Korean of 2015.
Upscale comfort food will debut in the form of upmarket steakhouses and rotisserie chicken, while more restaurants will see the value in delivery service, and offer it accordingly. Chefs will continue to locally source and seasonally serve, but aesthetics will give way to more rustic, wholesome presentation that enables premium produce to speak for itself.
If 2014 was the year of Southern American concepts (po’boys and fried chicken) then 2015 will be the year of the deli. Expect bagels and all the glorious fillings that accompany them. Brunchers will continue to have their smashed avo and eat it too, but cafés will begin to cater for those who have learned that no one does smashed avo like Bluebird Café in Collingwood, anyway, so impress me with something unique.
Good riddance to Scandinavian and industrial décor. Spurred by oversaturation, new establishments in 2015 will strive to differentiate themselves based on appearance. Operationally, restaurants and cafes with space and funding will continue to invest in environmentally conscious waste solutions, from industrial composting machines to innovative relationships with suppliers. Restaurant staff will become savvier when it comes to the new EFTPOS system (where tips are awkwardly and electronically entered) driven by a lack of tips, while more restaurants will embrace the ticketed booking system, like Prix Fixe.
Finally, Melburnians’ ever-insatiable appetites will see the rise of culinary tourism, where vacations are organised around dining out and food experiences as opposed to traditional sight-seeing and cultural activities. This will stem from home soil, where restaurants – through introducing people to new cuisines and hosting special events – will educate customers and inspire ‘hungerlust’ (it’s like wanderlust, but for food).
The above predictions are based on educated guesses and discussions with professionals in the food and beverage industry. It is by no means to be taken as gospel, but don’t be surprised if it comes to light.
If you’re reading this, chances are you have an interest in food. So tell me, what do you think we’ll see in 2015, and what are you happy to leave behind?