There are certain foods that come into our lives and we wonder how we ever lived without them. All of a sudden everyone is talking about them, serving them, altering them, wrecking them, and serving them again. Fad foods and food trends, they’re like child stars. We love them briefly, then we just want them to go away or grow up. This is a completely subjective topic, and I would like to defend some of these foods and rip a few others to shreds.
Remember when goat cheese was chevre and it was everywhere? Balsamic vinegar became ubiquitous, being used not just in salads, but on peaches and strawberries, drizzled over grilled vegetables, getting reduced into a glaze to be Jackson Pollocked all over your plate. Well, these are two delicious things that I still embrace, love, serve — and find myself defending. However, if you present me with a watermelon and feta cheese salad or Nutella crepes I will run the other way. Fruit and cheese pairings are marvelous but this one grosses me out. Nutella crepes are just lazy restaurant desserts.
Raspberry vinegar, arugula, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, blackened redfish, pasta salads, bran muffins, edamame, cupcakes. Some of these have come and gone, some endure. There is nothing better than a well-made, fresh pesto. But have you ever, ever had a good bran muffin? My friend and fellow chef Deena Chafetz says “I’m still haunted by the pesto years . . . where a perfectly good sauce was used in cruel and unusual ways . . . pesto mayonnaise, pesto cream sauces, and it overlapped with the blackening of anything that would hold still, blackened chicken sandwich with pesto aioli.”
Pork belly (and bacon in everything) is still in vogue, a delicious and dangerous fad. I recently saw some cupcakes that had been sliced through and two crisp bacon strips were crisscrossed through their waistline. Is it supposed to be a snack? A dessert? A secret weapon for Lipitor?
Red velvet cake has experienced a resurgence in popularity and I just don’t get it. Why would you choose a cake full of red dye over a real chocolate cake made with cocoa powder? Red velvet cake came about out of necessity because of the food rationing during World War II. Some bakers used beet juice to add color and make up for lack of chocolate. The Adams Extract Company of Texas is credited with marketing the dreadful dye as a cocoa powder substitute, enhancing the cake’s color but most certainly not its flavor.
Lollipop foods, acai, pomegranate-infused this ’n’ that, elderberry flower cocktails, paninis, wraps, baby vegetables, towering Frank Gehry desserts. Again, some of these have come and gone; some have staying power. Paninis are genius; panini presses unnecessary. Wraps always seem to be 90 percent moist flour tortilla with mysterious ingredients being suffocated inside. Vegetable embryos are cute . . . but tiresome. I’d rather wash and slice two medium zucchini than manicure 23 tiny ones just to feed two people.
My friend Lanie Goodman, who sadly has to live in Nice, France, tells me that the trend of weird ice cream flavors has not abated. She has recently tried foie gras ice cream, grand cru de vin ice cream, Amaretti peach, and Guinness sorbet. Barbara recently toured Paris looking for the best quiche. Now that’s a delicious fad food that deserves a comeback. Properly made, quiche is a classic French example of how to use up leftovers in a labor-intensive way.
A lot of people mentioned 1980s food fads and nobody knows more about these than my friend Ellen who was the chef of the Silver Palate. She is pining for those miniature meatballs swimming in a grape jelly gravy of the 1950s, Mad Men food. “The Silver Palate Good Times” cookbook, published in 1984, is a treasure trove of goat cheese, raspberry vinegar, and pink peppercorn recipes. It’s so old school, some of the recipes are labeled “Oriental.”
Going back in time, TV dinners were once a popular fad. Aspics, Jello molds, and fondues were hostess go-tos in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Remember bread loaves hollowed out and filled with dips or soups?
A lot of people would like to see deviled eggs make a comeback. Pigs in blankets certainly have. A trend I shall love forever is salted caramel. Bring it on!
Cupcake shops have had their 15 minutes. The latest fad to drive people bonkers is the cronut. Yes, it is what it sounds like, a super healthy, low-fat (not!) hybrid designer confection combining the buttery, flaky deliciousness of a croissant deep-fried like a donut and topped or filled with some creamy stuff. It is the invention of pastry chef Dominique Ansel and is sold at his bakery in SoHo. People wait in line for hours, are limited to two, and they have been rumored to be sold by scalpers for $100 each. I predict the fad will subside when Dunkin’ Donuts starts selling them and changes the name of its over 2,900 locations worldwide to “Crunkin’ Cronuts” and plays Outkast and Lil Jon on its sound systems. That’s a little crunk humor.
A lot of my male friends lament the current craze for kale and quinoa. Sorry, guys, I kinda like this stuff. Consider quinoa a condiment and you’ll get it down. If someone offers you a kale chip, just make sure you’ve got a glass of water nearby.
As for the molecular gastronomy movement, is it over? I wouldn’t know because I have never been able to afford any restaurants that serve, as I like to call it, “spit, foam, ash, pollen, and dust.” And if duck crackling dust or lobster tomalley air or sea buckthorn essence ever show up on my Rowdy burger, I’ll cry uncle.
As I said at the beginning, this is a completely subjective column. I intend to defend my little bottle of truffle oil and excessive fondness for microplaning lemon zest on everything. And I will forever scoff at coconut water, chia pets, I mean seeds, and bulgogi, kimchi tacos, the latest Korean-Mexican fusion mash-up.
Here are some recipes to make you feel nostalgic, gullible, glad it’s not the ’80s anymore, or perhaps just plain grateful that we have so many choices.