2016 was not a normal year. 2017 looks to be as unpredictable. Thank god for food.
It’s interesting to observe that as chefs become more cerebral and guard their bottom line, consumers become more discerning. In short, food has improved dramatically in recent years and a more open dialogue between producers, cooks and diners is a contributing factor.
This year we can look forward to an embrace of Mexican street food, more co-operation, a triumph in common sense, a return of real pasta and the re-invention of past masters. That feels like progress to us.
In London, the past half-decade has seen a fascination and embrace of what we call ‘gourmet fast food’. Burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and pizza have all undergone a credible reinvention. The mentality runs that if they’re made by top chefs with quality ingredients then there’s no guilt.
It’s just the latest in a long line of imports from the States and to complete an arbitrary quintet, there are now tacos. Not just any old tacos, but real tacos. The kind you might find, with house-made tortillas from Oaxacan corn, in Mexico City or in New York or LA. The best of the new crop in London is El Pastór, but interesting iterations of Mexican street food can now also be found at Breddos, Corazon, Temper and Bad Sports.
In a new spirit of togetherness, a network of international chefs are collaborating – notionally, intellectually and literally. It represents a departure from the traditional model of fine dining: one that dictated exclusivity, formality, closed-mindedness and an unwavering self-confidence, which not only stymied creativity, but could also suggest a fundamental insecurity manifest as culinary protectionism.
Fraught chefs and stressed cooking made for bad food. A milieu broadly united around the idea that sharing is good and who have crossed paths in the world’s most innovative kitchens – from Noma in Copenhagen to Per Se in New York – are cooking together in short-term residences or at events that place great importance on ingredients, minimal intervention and a keen awareness of time and place.
So where will you find this cross-pollination of cuisines? Head to Lyle’s in London, Hija de Sanchez in Copenhagen, Lysverket in Bergen, Norway, Brae in Birregura, Australia; and Daniel Burns, NYC, USA.
Clean eating backlash
One of the biggest food trends of the past few years has been stopped. The merits of so-called ‘clean eating’ – a lifestyle subscription dominated by green juice and courgetti – has felt the full force of facts by actual doctors.
It might not mean a return to the decadent days of butter-rich and wine sodden preparations, but it will it least caution against the hype that’s overstated the medical benefits of ingredients such as spirulina, virgin coconut oil and goji berries. Even its chief proponents have back-pedaled, distancing themselves from the term ‘clean’.
Unfortunately ‘having a balanced diet’ or ‘eating high welfare meat, sustainably caught fish and seasonal fruit and vegetables’ doesn’t quite have the same neatly packaged potential for marketeers. #KaleMornay, anyone?
Fresh pasta’s elemental beauty and delicious simplicity is being rediscovered. In the UK at Padella – a fantastic and cheap pasta-only counter bar place in London’s Borough Market – and Luca, the follow up ‘Britalian’ restaurant from the team behind The Clove Club.
In the States, as Eater’s Bill Addison observes, a renaissance has taken hold, evidenced in the likes of Brooklyn’s Lilia, Monteverde in Chicago and Storico Fresco Alimentari in Atlanta. The modern sensibilities and best traits of young chefs bring updates and quirky innovations to sauces where cooking is according to the fundamental principles of Italian cuisine as much as it is in the exercise of recreating dishes verbatim.
Big-hitters back in business,
Clare Smyth, Monica Galetti and Claude Bosi are three chefs who we might associate with an outmoded style of cooking in dining rooms from yesteryear. But in London, much in the same way that Philip Howard left The Square to open Elystan Street last year, three icons, from Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Le Gavroche and Hibiscus, respectively, are set to open new restaurants in 2017.
The suspicion is that they will take cues from the world’s most voguish operators: a wholesale realisation that moderating the pomp and ceremony and concentrating on sending out thoughtful and delicious plates to expectant diners might well be sufficient to register as a top restaurant. It will be interesting to monitor the developments by Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Connaught and Tom Kerridge at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower too. Galetti will open Mere; Bosi has taken over Bibendum and Smyth’s restaurant is as yet unnamed.
Adam Coghlan is a food, restaurant and travel writer based in London. He is also the director of content and communications for the annual London Restaurant Festival. You can follow him on twitter and Instagram @AdamCoghlan