Photo above is from Chef Achatz' Alinea restaurant in Chicago
CHEFS SHIFT MENUS FROM "FORMAL TO FUN"
Today's diners want to be enticed, energized and entertained during their dining experience. Over the past five years, we have many factors that have shaped today's dining scene. If we look closely, we can pinpoint several factors, from the economy and lax dress codes, to food-related television shows and social media. Dining preferences have shifted with a heightened interest in foods, exotic flavors and quality ingredients, all while demanding an unforgettable experience.
Chefs and restaurateurs have responded with innovative menus and quirky menu descriptions.
This has proven to be invigorating for visionary chefs and mixologists, who are having the time of their lives crafting and naming unique menu items, whether simple or complex.
What was old is now new and a lot more fun, with the ingredients center stage.
HERE ARE A FEW OF FOODPOWER'S FAVORITE IDEAS RIGHT NOW...
Jose Andres' riff on Bagels & Lox
SMALL PLATES, BIG IMPACT
At FoodPower, we credit the start of the menu movement to the shift to small plates and the introduction of new, innovative methods of cooking.
We think it began with Jose Andres, disciple of Ferran Adria of Ebulli fame. The two taught at Harvard together, and I had the pleasure of dining with Chef Andres at The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. I also had the honor of hearing him speak at UCLA, where he shared his experience of introducing Americans to Spanish Tapas, which triggered our small plate revolution. At the same time, he was the first to introduce us to the fun world of molecular gastonomy: using liquid nitrogen to freeze liquids tableside, adding flavor to salmon with a smoking gun, deconstructing recipes (as the photo above depicts), creating foams, and serving foie gras as cotton candy.
One of the principle elements of his cuisine is "it should be fun as well as delicious and beautiful."
BIG PLATES WITH A NEW SPIN
And while small plates became all the rage, David Chang, a Korean American who grew up in Virginia, created the Momofuku (Lucky Peach) Restaurant Group in New York, one restaurant at a time. First was the Noodle Bar and the concept spread rapidly, with his prized steamed buns leading the way for restaurants like Din Tai Fung from Taiwan that is coming to Orange County's South Coast Plaza.
But most notorious at this moment are his Big Plates of Fried Chicken. The Special Order for 6 or more contains two whole fried chickens -- one Southern style and the other Korean style complete with mu shu pancakes, four sauces and assorted vegetables. This is fusion at its best.
At his second restaurant, Ssam Bar, he serves a whole pork butt or a whole rotisserie duck - special order of course. And at the Milk Bar, the "Crack Pie" attracts attention with a quirky title that sells. Needless to say it is a challenge to get a seat or reservation at any of his restaurants especially his latest, Ko, which only has 10 seats. It's on my bucket list.
TRUCK TO BRICK & MORTAR: A LOVE STORY
Orange County is home to Slapfish, a modern seafood shack founded by Chef Andrew Gruel and Jethro Naude. They started out on a food truck, and redefined fast food by utilizing quality ingredients and the most sustainable fresh fish. Once they saved enough money, they moved into a small space in Huntington Beach - it only took them one year to do it, so you know they were doing things right. Now, they are looking for a second location.
The name was inspired by the idea that the fish was so fresh you could slap it! The tagline is: "ridiculously fresh - refreshingly responsible," and his ocean-fresh menu emphasizes bibb-worthy dishes and bold flavors.
What Slapfish knew from early on was that folks had their cell phone in one hand, leaving only one free hand for food. He introduced a series of "handhelds," small plates with the quality of fine dining, but the convenience of fast food.
Their goal at Slapfish is to change the way people think about and choose their seafood, and they're on their way.