'Tis the season for the trend prophets to release their forecasts for the upcoming year. Last week restaurant consultants Baum & Whiteman, the Nostradamuses of the food world, announced their annual list of 12 food and dining trends for 2010 ( pdf). In a word, it's going to be offal. (I didn't just write that, did I? I should be pun-ished. Can one's journalism degree be revoked?)
A unifying theme was that people are paring down in response to the economic climate (the list itself seemed to be following its own prediction—there was one fewer trend than last year). People's priorities are shifting to the more personal, and they are looking for comfort and a connection with others—what the consultants call, metaphorically, the "campfire experience."
I have already noticed some restaurants moving in the direction of the second item on the list—a greater emphasis on small plates, different portion-size options, and plates for sharing—which they call "putting the focus on the left side of the menu." I heartily welcome the shift to smaller portions; I can rarely finish what's on my plate when I eat out, and I don't always want to carry around leftovers. Why should I pay for $25 worth of food when I'm only hungry for $15?
I'm also happy to note that, according to the list, our palates are becoming more attuned to tartness. Like Michele Hume, who wrote "What's Wrong With Chocolate" at the Atlantic Food Channel, I almost always prefer a tangy lemon dessert to a chocolate one, and I add lemon juice to everything from vegetables to chicken soup. Although the publishers and devotees of the recently rejuvenated bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child might disagree, I concur with the consultants' reasoning that "classic French cookery, based on excesses of butter and cream, is in decline because it puts the taste buds into snooze mode.... We're all getting older and we need more zing in our food." Hear, hear!
And, yes, there was a reason (though probably not a good one) for the offal pun. Baum & Whiteman predict that tongue, trotters, gizzards and other spare animal parts will be showing up on more menus to augment downsized portions of prime meats. This, I assume, has the double benefit of lowering food costs while making diners feel adventurous and in-the-know. I suppose it also cuts down on wastefulness, which is good. I still don't think I can bring myself to eat it, though. When I was about 6, my grandmother, a big fan of tongue, once fed it to me without my knowledge. I liked it—until I found out what it was and couldn't stop picturing myself biting my own tongue.
If organ meat isn't scary enough, the list warns hotels and restaurants that they "no longer control what's said about them." The old "Voices of Authority," such as Gourmet magazine, are disappearing in favor of the "Instant Opinion Makers": bloggers, Twitterers, Facebookers and their ilk, who "broadcast 'buzz' and bad news to a million gullible people in the blink of the eye." I started to feel the slightest bit guilty about the role of blogs such as this one in the demise of quality food magazines, but then I got over myself. First of all, I don't think the editors of Gourmet would agree that they ever allowed restaurants to control what was said about them. And, while I regret the decline of print journalism in general (which, after all, provides the bulk of my livelihood), I don't think what we're doing here at Food & Think is a replacement for the restaurant reviews, recipes and beautiful food photography that such magazines offer.