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Food Writers and Experts on What's Hot and What's Over

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Illustration: Eric Lebofsky

After dispensing with the year's best meals, the best dining cities, and untold stories, Eater's survey of 2012 continues with a discussion of what's relevant in restaurants around the world. And what's over. There's plenty of enthusiasm for fermentation, for good sourcing as a given and not a plus, regional cooking, and an emphasis on vegetables. Things that are on their way out — or should be on their way out — include communal tables, fatty food, the obsession with New Nordic Cuisine, and overly-manipulated food. The full results:

Alexandra Forbes, Food Editor of GQ Brazil:

Today's most influential chefs have moved far beyond the farm-to-table cliché. They not only have close relationships with their suppliers, which allow them to get products unlike anybody else's, totally customized, but they also have an in-depth knowledge of how to manipulate these products in uncommon ways, through curing, fermenting, smoking, dry-aging, etc. Alex Atala, in Brazil (restaurant D.O.M.) is experimenting with aging fish, while Magnus Nilsson lets the meat of old dairy cows mature for up to six months at his restaurant Faviken, in Sweden. David Chang, of the Momofuku empire, makes his own katsuobushi with pork instead of bonito, and has been applying his extensive research in microbiology to experiments in fermenting all sorts of foods. Noma's René Redzepi cooks up old carrots grown especially for him that sit in the ground for a year or even longer. Daniel Patterson of San Francisco's COI makes his own garum (fermented fish sauce).

Sustainable meats and fishes are in, including those that are farm-raised organically (American caviar, Scottish salmon), as opposed to carelessly (Thai shrimp farms). What's over in restaurants is putting endangered fish on the menu (Chilean Sea Bass, monkfish, bluefin tuna), although you still see it hapenning a lot, especially in cities without a strong gastronomic scene.

Allecia Vermillion, Food & Drink Editor at Seattle Met:

Here in Seattle everyone is all about wood-fired ovens, Old World-style smoked meats, and insane amounts of insanely good vegetables. And I think we have finally stopped freaking out about pork.

Janice Leung, blogger behind e_ting in Hong Kong:

Relevant: 1) The evolution of Asian food - with restaurants like Mission Chinese Food at the forefront, mashing up different aspects of Asian cuisine and moving it forward into completely new territory. 2) Farms & Producers - restaurants on farms or with their own farms or gardens, and/or very close relationships with farms, all becoming the norm, not a hippy niche. 3) Canelés. 4) Pairing food with a whole range of drinks, not just wine - sake, whisk(e)y, juice.

Over: 1) Extreme food/eating and extreme foodies - eating bugs, kopi luwak, etc. 2) Thoughtless fusion, like adding a bok choi for an "Asian" touch, calling anything on a disc of dough a taco. 3) Bacon, macarons, cupcakes.

Andrew Zimmern, Host of Bizarre Foods:

Health and nutrition are hot, relevant and will be more and more important to diners in coming years. Everyone loves fatty scrumptious BBQ, but as the year progresses, people will be turning torward the Korean model rather than the American one — smaller portions, lots of acidic and fermented foods served with them, etc. Diners will be making smarter and smarter choices as the years progress because there is so much more information available.

What's over? Well, God willing, we won't have to hear more about raw foods, or terms like 'small plates', 'foodies', or 'farm-to-table' experiences. Hopefully New Nordic Cuisine is done — oy vey, it tires me so much. Foods from the Nordic countries is phenomenal and so are many of the chefs/restos, but the media trumpeting of these styles is almost embarrassingly loud.

Bonjwing Lee, photographer and blogger behind the Ulterior Epicure:

A focus on fermenting foods seems to have really taken off in the last year or two, which I find interesting given that it's a shockingly basic and fundamental technique for preserving foods and increasing flavor that is common to many (especially older) cultures. Chefs, now, are fermenting all manner of ingredients, many to great effect. There's a great little shop in Berkeley, California called the Cultured Pickle that is fermenting everything from vegetables to grains and fruits, making miso and kimchi out of the most unlikely ingredients. Chefs also seem to be obsessed with aging meats now too. I think the South is on the rise again (culinarily, of course). And diners are becoming popular again.

I'm not sure that the world is over the whole 'modernist' cooking movement, but I'm over it, more or less. The whole hipster-style service was mildly entertaining for a hot minute; I'm (way) over that too. I guess no one cares about macarons anymore (remember when everyone did?). And the fascination with gastropubs and speak-easies seems to have waned, even in the interior of the country, which is usually a year or two behind the coasts.

Kate Krader, Food & Wine Restaurant Editor:

Has there ever been a better time to eat pasta in the US? Every chef in America seems to have gotten their hands on a pasta extruder and is going crazy. We have supersonic pastas in NYC (Perla, Il Buco, L'Apicio, Battersby, and continually from Del Posto, Torrisi, Locanda, Marea). And now Carbone is coming. I was just in SF and had ridiculous pastas from Michael Tusk at Cotogna and got to taste some of the new dishes that Gerard Craft is doing at Pastaria. This is not the time to be on a low carb diet.

And Mexican food! Alex Stupak! And the other NYC chefs who are mastering tacos: Josh Capon (who makes sure to shout out his dishwashers), April Bloomfield, even the guys at Mission Chinese!

I also love all the burnt ingredients in dishes (my grandmother always burnt her roast chicken – it's nostalgic for me) and how smart people are getting with Scandanavian influences instead of trying (unsuccessfully) to copy dishes they read about from René and Magnus. 

More from the high-carb world: The bakery situation is off the hook. I loved Craftsman & Wolves and Kneaded in SF; euphoric about Bien Cuit expansion.

Jim Meehan and I are working on F&W Cocktails 2013, which this year focuses on new bars, so that's one of my bigger obsessions right now. In NYC, I love Pouring Ribbons and their insane chartreuse collection; also psyched about Dead Rabbit in NYC. And around the country, impatiently waiting on Polite Provisions from Eric Castro in San Diego; in Houston, Julep from Bobby Heugel; Trick Dogs from the Bon Vivant team in SF; Three Dots and a Dash tiki drinks in Chicago; and whatever Eric Alperin and Chris Bostick are going to do in Austin. And yay for the new Broken Shaker in Miami.

I'm super happy that we have the return of the 80s food and drink vibe. Mission Chinese Food says their new liquor license means Sex on the Beach shots.

What's out: I know burgers will never die but I'm happy that I haven't read about a new star chef burger place for a while. Instead, chefs are spotlighting chicken! So psyched about Sean Doty's Bantam + Biddy in ATL, as well as Georgette Farkas's upcoming rotisserie in NYC, and Stephanie Izard's chicken spot in Chicago.

James Casey, Swallow Magazine:

All this heritage/locavore/farm-to-table/artisanal stuff, both in terms of food and design, is over. All for eating ethically, but don't need a reminder of a restaurant's righteousness as I order. Let's also stop cribbing from centuries past, pretending we're all part of some bizarre protestant harvest sect (see Brooklyn).

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg News Restaurant Critic:

I'm really stoked about all the chefs who've been messing around with (apologies) ethnic or regional cuisines these past few years. I'm talking about what chef Alex Raij is doing with at La Vara, with that restaurant's Sephardic and Moorish influences. I'm talking about the good work of Alex Stupak to give a voice to modern Mexican food, and everything that Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi are doing to elevate Italian-American fare. I've never bought into the ridiculous and ethnocentric argument that certain cuisines are meant to be cheap or rustic cuisines. Every cuisine has a right to change, a right to be expensive.

What's over? Entrees. I hate entrees. I always have and I probably always will. They're too big and I get bored too quickly. Small plates and tapas-style portions are the way of the future. Though I don't mind larger shared plates either, because it divorces everyone at the table of the false notion that the dish in front of you belongs to you. It doesn't, son. It belongs to all of us, because either I'm paying, in which case it definitely doesn't belong to you, or we're all splitting the bill equally and there's no way I'm subsidizing your 25-oz steak with my smoked spelt or crab timbale with cilantro dust. Unless, that is, I get a nice size cut of your steak. All of these funny little 'Manhattan people problems' are solved by serving everything family style.

Amanda Kludt, Eater Editorial Director:

This isn't a 'hot' trend like foraging or advanced 'ice programs', but I'm happy to see the continued spread of ambitious projects outside of the expected areas of New York, Chicago, SF, and LA. Those who knew where to look could always find great food across the country but now more than ever you can find very serious, very delicious, at times groundbreaking restaurants in Houston, Nashville, Charleston, Boston, Seattle, and elsewhere.

Over: Pop-ups, burger fetishism, kid chefs. And I'll begin to hope that communal tables will be over by this time next year.

Ian Froeb, St. Louis Riverfront Times Critic:

The era of the slavish devotion to meat, especially pork, seems to be drawing to a close. Vegetables are increasingly taking or at least sharing center-stage — and not simply by the Portlandia-esque virtue of being impeccably sourced. One of the best dishes I ate this year was an inspired pairing at a new St. Louis place called Little Country Gentleman of steak tartare and a daikon consommé.

Matt Buchanan, BuzzFeed FWD Editor:

Well, cocktails seem hot. What's over? For me, meat is over. New American/Southern/Brooklyn is over. I want something different, pleeeease. Being from the South, it's remarkable how much of what's happening in food, still — still! — draws on Southern food as a bedrock and I'm so utterly bored with it. Let's find a new American tradition to build on, hmm?

Mike Thelin, Feast PDX Festival Co-Organizer:

Regional American: This is why the South is so right hot right now. In younger cities, you see folks reviving skills and techniques. In a lot of the South, they never stopped. The best boudin blanc I've tried is sold at a gas station in Louisiana. And look at how popular Benton's ham has become. Our country's excitement for food has come full circle, and with it, an appreciation for American vernacular that we had forgot about. So right now, there's nothing more relevant than regional American.

Edmund Tijerina, San Antonio Express-News Restaurant Critic:

Authenticity. The most exciting places I have visited are those that either reflect a chef's particular taste and personality, or that bring a sense that the people cooking and managing truly care about what they're doing.

What's over? Too many damn ingredients or techniques on a plate that don't make sense together. I know that's been over for years, but some places still haven't received the memo.

Helen Rosner, Saveur Senior Web Editor:

It's not so much that I think seasonal cuisine is over. But I do basically think it's a given, at a certain level and style of restaurant, and chefs should no longer get extra credit for revising their menus three times a year. That doesn't make you market-driven, it just makes you not Applebee's.

This sounds silly, but I'm serious: we're having kind of a condiment moment right now. I love seeing chefs set aside their egos and outsourcing some of their culinary creativity to specialists, and then showing off their good taste in collaborators: proudly advertising that they serve McClure's pickles, or use Bittercube bitters, or Lior Lev Sercarz's spice blends. It's not just farmers who get pride of place on the menu anymore. I think that's only going to grow as the boom in artisanal, small-batch, commercially-available condiments keeps on booming.

Amber Ambrose, Writer and Former Editor of Eater Houston:

Hot/relevant:
Non-traditionally segmented menus. Instead of appetizers, entrees, soups, salads, etc., more restaurants are moving to a format that allows diners to order whatever they want, whenever they want. Tasting menus, at least here in Houston. Within one year Uchi, Triniti, Oxheart, and "The Pass" part of dual-concept restaurant The Pass & Provisions opened, and all are tasting menu-heavy if not tasting menu-only. Craft beer has hit a saturation point, not that I'm complaining. You know it's mainstream when the Chili's out in the suburbs is hosting rare beer tappings. No, seriously, that's happening here.

What's over: maybe they're over, maybe they're not, but I wouldn't mind if 'fancy' foams went the way of the dinosaurs. Along those lines, the term and the practice of molecular gastronomy seems to be evolving in a positive way. More maturity, more thoughtfulness, less shock value, better technique. It's not over, it's just changing, and for the better.

Regina Schrambling, Food Writer:

Trite as it sounds, sourcing seems more important than ever. I don't want to risk beef or pork unless I know it's been raised right, or salmon if it's just chicken of the sea. Even eggs in restaurants scare me unless the menu lists where they come from; they're too often rentals. With more and more farms threatened by fracking (the Nation took a great look at it), too, people need to constantly think about where their food comes from and maybe do something about keeping it safe.

I also hope chefs working for big names and then going back to their hometowns to elevate the food scene will become a big deal. (As Dante Boccuzzi apparently has in the Cleveland area.) You don't have to just make it in New York.

As for over, I can only wish for an end to the small plates/big prices nonsense and to the burgers blighting every menu and every corner. Also, too, to the din in dinner. I can't remember a thing I ate at my last meal at Tertulia, only that I never heard a word. Show some respect for your food.

Sharlee Gibb, Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Organizer:

Hot: provenance of ingredients, chefs shopping at farmers markets, Less worked food that shows the true taste, sustainable suppliers, choose your own adventure — restaurants that break away from the entrée, main and dessert format and let guests eat how and how much they please.

Adrian Moore, Mandarin Oriental Paris Concierge and Food Writer:

One of the hottest things in Paris at the moment is probably the Anglo influence in new French restaurants. Daniel Rose at Spring got the ball rolling a few years back with his tiny table in a forgotten part of the 9th and now has a gorgeous drawing jet setting foodies for his delicious surprise tasting menu. His very hard work and perseverance made it easier for others such as Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian's Verjus to open. Others of note are, of course, Gregory Marchand, whose bistro Frenchie has a month's long waiting list, James Henry, a young Australian who skyrocketed Le Passage to Parisian foodie fame with his simple, creative market cuisine and who will soon be opening Bones, a restaurant specializing in old school products (organ meats, etc). Le Bal's Alice Quillet and Anna Trattles have brought modern British cooking to a brand new photographic center in seedy Clichy with classic recipes and a modern approach (FYI best brunch in town, and Ferrandi-school-trained Kristin Frederick brought the food truck to town with artisanal burgers at Le Camion qui Fume

Ben Leventhal, Eater Co-Founder:

Grapefruit, anything pickled, New Southern. Grapefruit.

Per-Anders and Lotta Jorgensen, Editors of Fool Magazine:

Chefs creating independently rather than anxiously looking at what others do. Great examples of truly creative forces are Christian Puglisi (Relæ, Copenhagen), Nicolaus Balla (Bar Tartine, San Francisco) and Angel Leon (Aponiente, El Puerto del Santa Maria). We also love the growing interest in fine tuning/exploring coffee and tea, as well as innovative alcohol-free pairings.

When René Redzepi tweets 'None of the guests today for lunch had their smartphone out - what a bunch of freaks!' is that the start of a new dawn?

Kat Kinsman, CNN Eatocracy:

I'm intrigued by the rise of the mini-empire: people like Dale Talde, Ashley Christensen, Linton Hopkins — all of whom have have been able to open multiple venues, with each with a distinct point of view, and maintain control over the execution at each.

I also cannot bang the drum loudly enough for heirloom Southern products — sorghum, field peas, hominy, rice grits, cane syrup, etc. If NYC and other Northeast cities are going to be capitalizing on Southern dishes, they might as well do their damndest to source well. (Rob Newton at Seersucker does this better than anyone in NYC.)

Charlotte Druckman, WSJ writer and Skirt Steak author:

I'm over all of it. I might have a change of 'tude if more restaurants started coming up with creative ways to give back. The Mission Chinese mission is inspiring and a great model to look to, and there are others attempting to implement likeminded strategies.

The Gurgling Cod:

I think the pendulum of savory desserts will swing back toward more savories appropriating dessert techniques, along the lines of the marrow bread pudding at the Macintosh in Charleston, SC. Look for apps along the lines of a flan spiked with house-made Worcestershire.

I think we are very close to banh mi saturation, in that folks are putting whatever between two slices of french bread and calling it banh mi. I fear that non-Vietnamese eaters will stop going to classic banh mi spots, and some of those places might suffer as a result.

Robbie Swinnerton, Japan Times columnist and Tokyo Food File blogger:

In Tokyo, pop-ups and collaborations (involving visiting chefs from other countries) are in. For example, Esben H. Bang from Maaemo (Oslo) pop-up at Fuglen; Dan Cox from L'Enclume/Aulis (UK) pop-up with Libushi; Thorsten Schmidt (Malling & Schmidt, Århus, Denmark) collaboration with Yoshihiro Narisawa. Also hot: Craft beer; Japanese wine; premium sake (nihonshu). Younger diners are rediscovering a taste for sake.

What's over? Over-adulation of things foreign; wine with everything.

Adam Goldberg, blogger behind A Life Worth Eating:

I think we're seeing more of a focus on intensifying an ingredient's natural flavors without the use of fats. At Saison, Chef Skenes uses his open hearth to add a subtle element of fire and smoke to his ingredients — sometimes barely perceptible — to maximize the flavor. In the US, we're seeing more of a focus on our own products. Sean Brock and Curtis Duffy, for example, are using bourbon and its distillate barrels to age things. I think, or at least I hope, that trendy restaurants with fatty food, bad service, and loud 90s rap music are on the way out.

Katie Parla, food writer and Parla Food blogger:

In Rome, polyfunction is hot and in the past year a number of places that do everything from breakfast pastries to late night cocktails have cropped up. These places are, in general, terrible and I suspect some of them exist purely for money laundering purposes. This trend needs to die. Also so-called gourmet burgers (devoid of fat and flavor) are in in Rome; this pointless trend has been going on for a couple of years now and shows no sign of letting up in spite of how profoundly boring it is. Much more relevant is an improved fine dining scene in Rome, with places like Metamorfosi and Pipero al Rex serving well crafted, creative food in the land of tradition. A growing craft beer and natural wine scene in Rome is welcome and overdue!

· All Year in Eater 2012 Coverage [-E-]

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