It’s a New Year, dumplings, and it’s time to bid goodbye to the fads and fetishes of the previous year in favor of an entirely new set of transitory whims. No self-respecting foodie wants to be the last one squeezing Sriracha on their quinoa burger while those in the know are dousing their queso con loroco pupusas with piri-piri sauce.
But how, exactly, is one expected to discover the Next Big Thing in the foodie universe, you may ask. Relax. Your Own Personal Genius is ever vigilant, staying abreast of the very latest in culinary crazes so that you don’t have to try to keep up with whatever obscure grain is hot at the moment (farro is the new quinoa. You read it here first).
In: Tiny, crustless tea sandwiches.
Those in fashion will salute 2014 with their pinkies in the air, while nibbling on little cucumber and watercress sandwiches. As a result, all those leftover cupcake shops still sadly clinging to 2010 will rebrand themselves as tea rooms (which, especially in the South, were once the only place where a respectable lady could be seen dining without male company). Stock up on Earl Grey, haul out your best lace gloves and your favorite shrimp salad recipe, and get ready to party like it’s 1939!
Out: René Redzepi
In: Mrs. Delia R. Prater.
2014 will be the Year of the Home Cook, justly celebrating the accomplishments of those who put a quality meal on the table single-handedly night after night. To that end, the cult of chef worship will turn their attention from mad scientist ingredient-obsessive loca-philiacs and focus on the cooks who can make magic out of a basketful of Wal-Mart commodities.
The first celebrated home cook of the new annum will be Mrs. Prater, a 48 year-old mother of three from New Bern, NC. Not only is her macaroni salad one of the most anticipated dishes at the First Presbyterian Church Homecoming covered dish supper, she manages to produce “the finest meatloaf in the Triad” (Ashley Cornwall, New Bern Weekly Shopper). And she does so while still ensuring that Dave’s suits get picked up from the cleaners, Kevin gets home from football practice, Penny gets to Taco Bell for her evening shift and Jeffrey does his homework before he gets his allotted 45 minutes of Xbox. Let’s see Danish super chef Redzepi do all that, and still have enough energy left to fulfill his marital duties after the kids are in bed.
Oh, rooster sauce, we hardly knew ye. Rarely in recent history has a food fad reached critical mass so quickly, going from obscure condiment to Subway® ingredient faster than Paula Deen’s career implosion. Even for a hot sauce aficionado like myself, who has had a rarely-used bottle of Sriracha in his cupboard for years, I never quite got the allure. I don’t care for the underlying sweetness, and the heat level barely registers on my habañero-scorched tongue. My saliva has a higher Scoville rating. It was as though the arbiters of taste just picked some random, exotic-looking condiment off the shelf and decided to give it a Warholian fifteen minutes.
Enter piri-piri sauce. The Portuguese concoction, made with South African bird’s eye peppers and a variety of herbs and spices, brings both heat and complexity with a bright citric acidity. Plus, it generally comes in a small bottle that is absolutely perfect for the cutting-edge hipster to carry with them and bring out triumphantly at the proper moment after the laggards have already slathered everything on their plate with that leftover relic from the unenlightened days of 2013.
Pabst Blue Ribbon carried both an element of blue collar kitsch and a healthy dollop of hipster irony amid a renaissance of the craft brewer’s art. But irony is only ironic as long as it is contrary to or in mockery of the expected, and PBR is now de rigueur among the fake nerd glasses-wearing, thrift-store attired cultural vanguard.
Enter Michelob. Growing up in a small working class town in the South, Michelob was considered an ultra-premium beer among the bluer collars and redder necks. Thirty years ago, before the widespread advent of microbrews and craft beers, it was the Heineken of the lower middle class. It allowed people from similar socio-economic circumstances to look down their noses at the Budweiser-swilling heathens, who themselves looked down upon the poor bastards who could only afford Old Milwaukee.
Thus, Michelob allows the hipster to return to a state of ironic harmony by drinking a watery, mass-produced brew that actual working-class people once considered to be aspirational. And, unlike PBR, it has the added benefit of not tasting like it was brewed from the stuff that was swept up off the brewery floor at the end of the day.
In: Nashville hot chicken.
Now that Yankees have effectively douched up one of our most beloved Southern institutions with their blueberry-chipotle sauces and vegan tempeh “ribs,” it’s time for them to return to Dixie for another of our regional delicacies to adopt as their own and then completely ruin by turning into something unrecognizable. And now in the on-deck circle is Nashville hot chicken.
In its purest form, Nashville hot chicken is a well-seasoned deep fried chicken that is dipped before serving in a coating of three parts cayenne to one part lard. Intensely flavorful, joyously messy to eat, and oh-so authentic, Yankees will line in rows for the experience.
Then, they will set about busily “innovating,” putting their own stamp on the dish. High end joints will replace the lard with duck fat, menus will proclaim the humanely-raised vegetarian-fed 100% organic heritage breed chicken used in the preparation, and someone will inevitably put a modernist spin on it by turning it into a panko-crusted flash-fried nugget topped with a cube of pure lardo in which there is suspended a single drop of rotary-evaporated cayenne reconstituted in pure chicken consommé.
Fortunately, this will allow barbecue to return home to recover from the ordeal. Pork prices, particularly the shoulders and spareribs, will return to pre-craze levels now that we aren’t competing with faddists willing to pay two prices for the parts of the hog once consigned to the low-rent end of the meat case with the feet, brains and chitlins. And the old rule of thumb concerning Barbecue joints will remain true: the skeevier a place looks on the outside, the better the food will be.
There you have it, pumpkins, all the info you need to be ahead of the curve in 2014. So don’t come crying to me if you get ridiculed for ordering branzino when everyone who’s anyone is having the porgy.