Take a look at any major publication or food blog at the beginning of the year, and you might notice they all have one thing in common: everyone is offering their predictions on the latest trends in the food world. For years now, I’ve been asked to share my thoughts with journalists, champing at the bit to write about the next hot thing, but it wasn’t until recently that I asked myself: “Do trends matter?”
Before answering that, it was important to acknowledge that what most people were referring to as trends were actually fads. Even I had been confusing the two until I forced myself to delve deeper. The important distinguishing characteristic of a trend — and what ultimately helped me answer my question — is that a trend signifies a long-term, cultural shift in tastes, whereas a fad is a flash in the pan (no pun intended), a fleeting moment of gastronomic obsession. In other words, while the gimmickry found in molecular gastronomy is a fad that has come and gone, the use of modern cooking techniques and equipment to improve the flavour and texture of food is a lasting trend.
After identifying these important differences, it became clear to me that trends are, in fact, important. I must say it was a tough thing to admit. Ask any chef worth his salt if he/she pays attention to trends and you’re likely to hear a resounding “No”.
But what that chef really means is that he’s not likely to put a matcha cheesecake on his menu just because everyone else is (which, as we’ve determined, is actually a fad). In reality, though, nearly every aspect of modern dining, from napkins to silverware, is a trend that has stood the test of time.
For those of us in the food industry, trends offer us insight about the consumer. They give us a pulse on the current social, cultural, and economic climate. Given the volatility and precariousness of the restaurant business, not to mention the high overheads and low margins, trends can help us make sound decisions. This is not to say that we shouldn’t take risks. After all, it is because of those who think outside of the box that trends start in the first place. Still, a trend is a sort of gastronomic barometer, allowing us to set sail in the right direction.
Of course, I’d be remiss not to offer a word of caution to those who chase fads, looking to make a quick buck: copying what others have been successful at does not guarantee that you will also find success. In our industry, nothing can make up for dedication, consistency, and hard work. I always knew I would grow up to be a chef. But my success didn’t come from nostalgia, it came from a genuine love for my chosen profession, and that is a feeling no cronut can replace.
Sanchez is executive chef at The Table, Colaba, and Magazine St Kitchen, Byculla. He has previously worked at Eleven Madison Park, New York