Cupcakes and Pork Belly: What's The Next Big Thing?


Okay, so this one is just for you serious, hardcore, eating-out-every-night kind of grubniks in the crowd. It's a question based in gluttony, in excess--meant for those who live for this stuff, who'd rather lose a foot to gout than give up their foie gras and bacon sandwiches for even one single day.

Can you remember back when pork belly was something special? When it wasn't being served on every single menu, at every single restaurant in the entire country? Or even just the days when it was used on just one plate, rather than three or four or five?

Can you remember when not every streetcorner in every neighborhood boasted a cupcake shop? Can you remember the days before Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives made every casual weekend baker or PTA fundraising queen think that she could take out an unsecured small business loan and make a minor fortune off pushing over-frosted mint chocolate chip cupcakes on her friends and neighbors?

I've been thinking a lot lately about things in the food world that are just plain overdone--fads that have passed, hot objets du jour that have cooled, trends that have been humped raw and culinary territories despoiled by those in a position not to break new ground, but to tromp all over ground already well-trod while wearing big iron boots. What put me in this frame of mind was looking at menus--mostly brilliantly original menus, highly personal and lovingly crafted--and seeing in nearly all of them at least one (if not two or three) worn-out old tropes still hanging lifelessly to the board. What inspired me to write this post was wondering what could come next.

So we're going to play a little game. I'm going to name a dead trend and I want you--the dedicated gastronomists in the crowd, the serious students of the composed plate--to tell me where someone is doing something similar, but better. Got me? Here's an example from, say, 1999:

A then-26-year-old me, still working the line, pumping out wholly uninspired hotel ballroom grub for million-dollar weddings and snack trays for real estate con men trying to talk yuppies into investing in crumbling riverside condos, has finally had enough of his lazy, shiftless, Betty Crocker-loving pastry chef. One day he turns to said patissiere and says, in a not terribly friendly tone...

"I swear to fucking god, Johnny. You hand me one more set-up sheet that has 200 motherfucking mini chocolate lava cakes on it and I am going to stab you in the neck with a hot fork. I don't care how much your mother loves them. I don't care that the people want them. Just get your brain-damaged ass into the office, open that Payard book on the shelf and discover yourself a new goddamn dessert before I kill you."

So what does Johnny do? He makes a flourless chocolate torte, which was cool for about fifteen minutes because it didn't take as long to either prep or ready for service. After the flourless chocolate torte came the cupcake--even easier to make, ripe with more creative potential, cool for about two weeks. But now the cupcake, too, is far beyond played out. So what's next? Gourmet beignets? Retro fruit pies? Hand-crafted Twinkies? That's my question to the crowd. (And don't say s'mores because those have been done to death, too.)

We'll start the game with three easy ones--trends that hit huge and have lately begun to wither on the vine. All I ask of you is to guess at what will supplant them in highly temporary awesomeness, and to explain why.

1) Cupcakes, as detailed above

2) From artisan bacon to pork belly in everything to outdoor pig roasts to...what? (I'm guessing a return to the love of guanciale, but want to hear your thoughts and who is doing interesting things with pigs)

3) In less than ten years, appetizer menus have seen a wicked pendulum swing from crudos to ahi tuna tartare to ceviche to fusion sashimi and then back to crudos. Assuming that the pattern is not just going to repeat itself, where do you think raw fish will go next and who is already taking it there?

Okay, so that's three. Sound off in the comments section with your favorite chefs, favorite restaurants and favorite groundbreaking dishes. Or, if you feel like expanding the game a bit, let everyone know which dishes or trends you feel are completely played out and should finally be retired. Everyone ready?


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