Jul 09, 2014 10:33AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Each year, we take time to look back and ponder the food and drinks that graced our tables throughout the year. It’s refreshing, reflecting and remembering each tasty nibble of a crostini or each rich gulp of wine. We’ve asked area chefs, restaurateurs, and dining experts to weigh in and tell us what they think was the most “trendy” for the year. And the biggest trend that needs to go is, well, trends. See, it’s not about being trendy or modeling your food to fit into a specific box. Trendy foods are meant to come and go. The real food and drink, the bites and sips that you remember for years, aren’t just about using novelty ingredients like funfetti or cake batter to keep up with what is in at the moment. Feeding people well is about taking good quality ingredients and pairing them with passion, creativity, and originality to make something special. Good food is made not by playing into trends, but from a knowledge of flavors and a desire to create.
Meet our culinary panel who contributed to this year’s question and answer session:
Two Tree Restaurant in Millington, Md. is one of the Eastern Shore’s hidden gems. Run by Dennis Hager, it doesn’t use fancy tricks or smoke and mirrors to please guests—just good, classic food. When made well, using quality ingredients, the classics never go out of style.
Bobby Jones is the chef and co-owner of The Point Crabhouse in Arnold, Md. He’s always had a great philosophy on food. Good quality, great flavors, happy people.
Brian Bolter knows a thing or two about restaurants, considering he’s opened two in the span of a few years. As owner of Red, Red Wine Bar and Dry 85, it would be easy to go crazy with trends. But Bolter manages to keep things down to earth and delicious.
In terms of wine knowledge, Susan Glass of Bin 201 is the go-to gal. She’s has an extensive knowledge of all things wine and even picked grapes in the Beaujolais region of France. So when it comes to wining and dining, we tend to trust her judgment implicitly.
Richard McClure is the general manager of Carrol’s Creek Waterfront restaurant and a native Annapolitan. As someone who has lived in the area for years, he’s got his ear to what people love to eat and drink.
Mark Chew of Marco’s in St. Michael’s has an interesting story. Born in Vietnam, he was recently reunited with his family overseas. He’s got a serious passion for family, food, and good cooking. It is clear through his menu that he isn’t necessarily one to stick with trends, but to serve what tastes good.
Chain restaurants tend to fall directly in line with trendy food. They change their menus frequently to meet the demands of the public, falling into the trap of tossing fad items onto their lists on a whim. But Houlihan’s is not that restaurant. Co-owner Julie Stevens thinks about each and every aspect of the menu, listening to customers’ demands and wishes and incorporating them thoughtfully and deliciously into the Houlihan’s menu.
And now, on to the discussion of dining and food trends:
What culinary trends are you currently tired of?
Dennis Hager: Over use of crab and bacon. Both have great flavor profiles. Either can be lost or over-powering.
Bobby Jones: That’s a loaded question. Trends are always annoying especially when they’re beat to death. I’ve always appreciated new ingredients and new flavors.
Julie Stevens: Small plates—the name alone and the overall concept has become underwhelming in the industry. We find that they are typically associated with higher prices and lower quality and taste.
If you had to take one culinary trend that is overdone and reinvent it, what would you make? For example, what would you do differently with bacon or a poached egg?
Brian Bolter: We’ve created the first ever (that we know of) Bacon Brunch doing essentially what your question implies. Reinventing bacon in interesting, delicious, and savory dishes. It can be as simple as the perfect pairing of bacon and beer in our Hogs 'n Hops dish. Or, completely blowing your mind with a sweet and spicy sausage, applewood ham and Granny Smith apples which are then wrapped in bacon, sliced and served with house-made coffee maple syrup.
Richard McClure: You refer to all of these as trends but a lot of what you are talking about are fads that will disappear as the next one appears. The very bacon [sold in supermarkets] is a watered down version of what bacon was. How can a meat that was cured for preservation now have a use by date or is low sodium or cured free?
How do you try to incorporate culinary trends into your menu?
Mark Chew: We serve sushi, pho, chicken, smoked meats. Competition is tough and you can’t limit yourself to one thing. You have to be more diversified. People now are using sweet breads and are paying $15 for chicken feet in New York City. But dim sum has been around for 15 years! There is just a lot of fusion and everyone is moving things to the next level.
Dennis Hager: Slowly. Amuse bouche.
Bobby Jones: I really try not to. If there is something that I try or see that I haven’t before, I like to analyze and figure it out. I’ll try to replicate/change it, understand it, etc. If something like that ends up becoming trendy, it starts to lose its luster. Classic, simple, high quality ingredients with balanced flavors and interesting textures will never be trendy.
Richard McClure: We look at both traditions and fads, and incorporate them. We now cure some things like bacon, pancetta, tasso ham, and salmon in a traditional manor. Then use them in dishes that are current.
What are some experimental dishes you’d like to try out? Perhaps trends that the foodie may like but that the average eater would consider adventurous?
Julie Stevens: Asian flavors are a huge influence in many of our dishes right now. I’d love to try and experiment more with Asian spices and sauces – they really add a lot of heat/spice or tang to almost any dish.
Bobby Jones: I’ve been interested in the modernist stuff for a while now. I’d love to be able to spend more time learning about it. The whole approach is so different and interesting. The gels and films and emulsions are crazy.
Dennis Hager: I try to grow at least two or three vegetables every year that I have never grown before and use them in the restaurant.
In terms of cocktails and drinks, what is your favorite new trend?
Susan Glass: The Bourbon trend is hot, hot, hot right now. It’s nice to see Bourbon, and American whiskey in general, getting so much attention. Small productions are popping up all over the USA and it’s intriguing to see what master distillers are creating.
Brian Bolter: Back to the basics. Waiting 15 minutes for a hand crafted, hand shaved, hand carved, hand fired, hand smoked cocktail was fun. The first time. Top quality ingredients presented simply and beautifully is where it’s at.
Julie Stevens: We’re seeing a lot of interest in our martini flights right now—it’s aligned with the notion that classic cocktails are currently all the rage and people like to taste and try a little bit of everything before finding ‘the one.’
Is there room in the cocktail/wine world for trends or should we be sticking with more perennial favorites?
Susan Glass: Classics are classics for a reason, and should never be overlooked. I tend not to partake of the trends too heavily, but rather just acknowledge them and service the customers' requests. I prefer to keep a grounded perspective on all things of quality and I respect the wide diversity of the world’s wine regions and fine craftsmanship of boutique spirits—those hard to find, artisanal wines and spirits can be real treats and you’ll miss them if you only focus on what’s popular at the moment. I like to tell customers to explore all options, and try something new, enjoy the experience of being outside of their comfort zone.