What’s on your plate in 2018?

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A humorous and much-shared posting on Facebook earlier this year poked fun at the popularity of the latest food trends of both kale and coconut oil. Accompanying a photo of wilted kale in a frying pan poised over a garbage can was advice that simply stated, “Remember to always use coconut oil when sautéing kale; it makes it much easier to scrape into the garbage!” I totally connected with the jab; I guess I like kale well enough, but I don’t want it in a smoothie, and there has been some controversy about whether coconut oil is good for you.

I do think, as Americans, we take food trends too far; witness the gluten-free craze, for example. On a positive note though, I think the introduction of new ingredients, cooking techniques and cuisines does keep our eating world stimulating and our chefs on their creative toes, which both engages us and brings us back for more. So as we head into the great culinary unknown of 2018, I thought it would be interesting to contact some local culinarians who are actually involved in setting trends, and one who writes about them in the media, to see what they predict will be the “in thing” for the coming year. I also asked them to reflect on any concepts they thought were headed out of vogue or any they hoped would appear on the edible horizon. I got some provocative answers.

Cookbook author and Galisteo resident Deborah Madison was the first to reply. Her many cookbooks and food writing are proof that her finger’s on the culinary pulse. Famous as the original chef of the groundbreaking Greens Restaurant in San Francisco in 1979 (certainly ahead of its time then), and known for her fondly remembered time at Café Escalera in Santa Fe, Deborah admitted she’s not actually a fan of trends or very good at them.

She writes, “I hope for a growth  in the grain department––for more non-GMO and older forms of wheat becoming more accessible and better understood. I hope this trend towards the fear of wheat will cease and be replaced by a deeper and more critical thinking about what we’re eating when we eat ordinary wheat-based products—such as 28 kinds of pesticides sprayed on it.” (I’d also love to see a trend in better chicken and meat––not the non-feedlot and huge chicken house varieties. And I’d love to see a trend in more and smaller USDA approved slaughter facilities so that people can enjoy more local, non-industrial meats. I hope the idea of farm-to-table will just be a given so that all those dumb iterations of it can go away. Coconut oil can stay as far as I’m concerned. I like it in curries. I hope ghee will become better known, especially Ancient Organics made with Straus [Family Creamery] butter. Absolutely delicious!”

On the kale craze, she adds, “Maybe we will start cooking kale and discover that it’s pretty bland and that maybe  a more interesting green will replace it, such as mustard greens and collards.”  

(And have you checked out Deborah’s latest cookbook, In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes? It’s loaded with luscious recipes and thoughts on her beliefs about simplicity and purity in food—it’ll make a great holiday gift, too.)

From the recently renovated and renamed restaurant Campo at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm (one of my favorite stay-cation destinations), Chef Jonathon Perno shares a lengthy and thoughtful response that includes wonderful reflections on his personal orientation toward cooking and food trends.

Chef Jonathan says, “I feel that as for trends, people are trying to find a way back to the basic approach to cooking and feeding people. As for ingredients, we sometimes as chefs get so caught up on one or two different ingredients because it’s the newest thing that’s out there and we forget to really focus on the surrounding area we live in and the producers that are right there.

With ingredients, I believe that chefs are really trying to understand how to work more local and leave the smallest carbon footprint as possible, but it takes a full commitment from the chef, the restaurateur and it is not easy to do. I believe that a lot has to do with cost.

I am at a point that I am just cooking and working on staying true to the way I live my life and do my work, which has been since I started cooking at a higher level. I am really lucky to have worked with my peers and chefs, been all the places that my craft has taken me; and in all these settings, we were taught to be true to what we do and always put your best foot forward and treat what we do with the upmost care.”

Chef Jonathan is lucky that many of the ingredients he cooks with in season come right from the working farm at Los Poblanos, and we all know that concept will never go put of style. I strongly encourage you to visit soon.

Chef Charles Dale will have a huge impact on our local scene through his role as culinary director for what will become three new restaurants in the next 12 months, not to mention his well-established Bouche French Bistro. Talk about the ability to set local trends! Of Maize, the first new establishment Charles and Jim and Jennifer Day of New Mexico Fine Dining opened this fall, Chef Charles says, “I think the Indigenous angle at Maize is trending, but we are very conscious of not co-opting local traditions and cultures, lest we be accused of cultural appropriation. Rather, we are inspired by the history of the region and its Indigenous ingredients, which we then incorporate into what we call Modern Southwestern Cuisine.”

As to the overall concept of the four-restaurant group, Chef Charles shares, “I believe each of our restaurants, by dint of their small size, is ushering in a trend away from large, loud, impersonal dining venues, and back to the finer standard of intimate rooms and thoughtful cooking, with attentive service.” Watch for the opening of Trattoria A Mano on Dec. 8.

I was recently introduced to mustard oil that Chef Noela Figueroa drizzled around a delicious tomato salad at her popular Bodega Prime restaurant. I was intrigued by its pronounced flavor, and always notice new and unique dishes and ingredients on her ever-changing menu. I thought she would be a good candidate to query. She alluded to what she felt was a change in the restaurant industry, and opined how she and her staff weather it.

Chef Noela says, “Frankly, the food industry is what is currently under scrutiny, as we are at a cross roads between old ideas about how kitchens are run, where and how people learn, professional standards and equal opportunity. And that probably most closely zeroes in on what I believe is one of my passions as a chef/owner of a small restaurant: sustainability within the resources of my crew.

In the pursuit for the next great thing, we most often burn through and neglect the very people who are responsible for creating and serving it. A well-run establishment should make it look effortless, and easy, and this may be a true detriment to the longevity of our industry. Already, we are experiencing an honest decline in the professional pool, high levels of burn out, fatigue and depression. Instead of acknowledging the very real pressures and hard work that goes in to getting people fed, we’ve glamorized the drama and laugh at the jocularity and fall out.

While I may not have the answer, I am seeking to break the mold in small ways by conducting my business in ways that are incrementally different: closing for holidays and occasionally throughout the year to acknowledge the necessity of personal time, making personal care a priority, cultivating an open communication between me and my crew, engendering a sense of true ownership amongst the people who work extremely hard in my establishment, acknowledging that life happens. While we have to show up as professionals, we also need to make room for the bumpy bits, which can quickly derail us when we are overworked, over tired and not treated like real people with lives. It remains to be a bit of an experiment (and it may not fly in the long run), but I believe that ultimately, good food (and the trends that I believe in with food) are rooted in the people that are most intimately involved in it, and what they put in to it.”

Meanwhile, food writers and bloggers around the country have been weighing in on the future of how and what we eat. An organization that predicts trends recently convened a panel of food-business related experts who put together a list of things they thought we would be eating and cooking with next year. They included some crazy ones, but most sounded provocative.

According to these experts, more plant-based foods, including algae, will become meat substitutes. To promote less food wastage, companies will, it’s predicted, start to use scraps and normally discarded parts of ingredients in production (i.e. pressed juice made from imperfect fruit, chips made from fruit pulp, and snack bars made from the spent grain leftover from beer making). Filipino cuisine is predicted to be the next hot Asian restaurant craze.

Now that wildly colored food has become passé (rainbow bagels), look for black food using activated charcoal—produced by heating coconut shells to extremely high temperatures until they are carbonized. Have you tried The Anasazi Restaurant Chef Edgar Beas’ black bread rolls—yum! (Yep, we’ve come full circle to coconuts, here.)

And the list of alternative sweeteners is still growing. Syrups made from dates, sorghum,Yacón root and sun root will keep our foods sweeter just as they boast a lower glycemic index. Watch for marijuana-laced foods to go mainstream—Entenmann’s Pot Brownies, anyone? (I know some Santa Feans who will love that.) Healthy Middle Eastern foods continue to gain popularity—Persian (have you been to Milad on Canyon Road, yet?), Israeli, Moroccan, Syrian and Lebanese—delish. And real bread is back––Halleluiah!

These food experts also mention some new products we’ll be consuming, including collagen-infused foods; new superfood moringa, a flowering plant from Africa and Asia; more fermented foods; and banana and cricket flour. Cricket flour, as in Jiminy Cricket? Not if Pinocchio has any say in it. Happy Holidays and a happy (and hopefully) delicious New Year!

Story by Chef Johnny Vee


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