Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cultural Replication of Food Trends: Next Big Thing

My institutional theorist professors would appreciate the global cultural replication of culture as evidenced by trends in fine dinnig. For better or worse, food trends in fine dining restaurants around the world seem to follow the same playbook, (perhaps just delayed by 1-20 years depending on restaurant and location). For better or worse, I've sat down in restaurants ranging from Vietnam to Budapest to Istanbul that all served menus that could easily have come off a Jean-George spinoff from the late 90's.

In my brief experience 15 years eating at fancy places, it started with the new international paradigm, (e.g. rare wasabi encrusted ahi tuna steak), that gradually shifted to farm to table (as pioneered by Chez Panisse), had a brief fling with molecular gastronomy (as pioneered by El Bulli) with such extravagant gestures like Moto's edible menu and laser vaporized orange peel, before those foams and liquid nitrogen shattered edible soils, got synthesized into the mainstream farm to table style that prizes locavore sourcing and parochial cultural authenticity which seems to be the existing dominant fine dining paradigm.

There has been rumblings of a new Kuhnian shift recently in the food world though, as heralded by Noma in Copenhagen ascension to the top of world league charts, that I hadn't quite been able to put a name to, until now, with all the buzz around Dan Barber's new Third Plate book. Barber, whose Blue Hill at Stone Barns is perhaps the apotheosis of farm to table, by literally being on a farm, calls farm to table 2nd plate, the new thing is 3rd plate.

I think of this as an off shoot of the Farm to Table idea of Nose to Tail, Snout to Hoof (e.g. fergus henderson). But instead of limited by all parts of an animal, instead we eat all parts of an eco-system (Fungus to Flora perhaps you could call it). Noma Redzepi's favors local fungi, wild roots, multi-year cured meats. Barber has been advocating eating what's good for the ecosystem, eating what is traditionally seen as weeds or animal feed, rather than eating foods based on habit or tradition, that developed at a time with different technologies and agricultural circumstances. Both hearken a bit to even earlier traditions, of hunting and gathering and somehow being in harmony with the environment.

I'm sort of excited. Farm to table has gotten a bit old. It's also neat to see paradigm shifts and cultural replication in action. As an economist, I'm a little bit skeptical of Barber's efficiency logic behind the third plate, but as an eater, I'm excited at the new prospects.

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