As I feed Brussel sprouts into my food processor I can't help to wonder what makes a food trendy. Haven't Brussel sprouts always been this delicious? So why, all of a sudden, are they such a hot ingredient? And they are not alone: kale, pork belly, quinoa; I'm talking to you. We are certainly in the middle of a food renaissance which coincides with the age of information and technology. Could those two factors have accelerated food trends? One would have to think so. The moment a delicious plate of sautéed Brussel sprouts with house cured bacon lardons hits the table, the patron is able to share that delectable concoction with the world via Twitter, Instagram or any number of social media apps. In a matter of seconds that dish can be viewed around the entire world.
So who decides what becomes a food trend? I think we all do. But it most certainly begins with chefs, right? We're the ones who create these animals after all. We are constantly thinking of ways to reinvent an ingredient, how to use vegetables from another time, underutilized pieces of meat, and ancient grains from foreign lands. And it ends with the customer. If they don't like it, then there is no chance of a trend. We rely on media and our guests to help spread the word. Today they're one in the same.
When I develop new recipes the first thing that I ask is "does it taste good?" And second, is my clientele the right target audience. Is this what people want? For example, a few years ago I was able to convince my fishmonger to sell me tuna collars. When you separate the head from the body of a fish, the collar is the small amount leftover behind the gills. It's popular in Asian cuisine but here they were throwing it away so I got it dirt cheap, win win. It has a really intense flavor because of where it sits on the body so you have to be mindful of that fact. Many people would call it "fishy." I call it "intense." That being the case, I put it in a brine to keep it moist and to introduce some other flavors. I smoked it and served it as a taco with a vinegary corn salsa. It was amazing! Not only was it a crazy food cost (less than 10%) it was fresh and different. Instant trend, right? Well, it only took a few weeks for me to realize that it wasn't going to catch on. People couldn't understand that this was, in fact, tuna. Really good tuna! It was just a different cut and flavor than they were used to. It was very disappointing, but I learned a valuable lesson. Even though the taste was there, I didn't have the audience.
So, are trends made by trial and error? Try and be creative and hope for the best? The way I see it, it's a combination of many factors. But you can't stand on the sidelines.