“Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero
Innovation and food. The socialization of dining has weaved into the very fabric of our society, as new ways of experiencing food are constantly being developed and redefined, giving rise to a series of trends in the global dining circuit. In our modern world, consumers are gravitating towards more creative cooking, healthier dining options, and full-fledged culinary experiences.
Some culinary trends linger on for years, while others fizzle out within a few weeks. Nine months into 2012, here are the top four dining trends that have been witnessed around the world.
1) Underground Dining
Imagine fine dining in a relaxed, casual environment with a group of total strangers. The venue is a stranger’s home, the people are welcoming and easy to talk to, and the food is innovative, fresh, and utterly delectable. That is what the new trend—underground dining—is all about. Sometimes referred to as supper clubs or closed-door restaurants, underground dining is most commonly found in urban centers such as San Francisco, London, and New York, but more recently, has been adopted by smaller cities and incorporated into their food culture. There is no advertising involved or sign outside the venue, yet this slight twist to dining out continues to grow. Many supper clubs are themed meals or broken down by cuisine, while others are wildly experimental and eclectic. It is about the food as much as it is about meeting new people and socializing. Costs are shared amongst the attendees, ranging from $40-$180 for the entire experience. It is only a matter of time until the underground restaurant trend becomes the norm de rigueur.
Recommendations: Cook Here and Now in San Francisco, Leluu in London, and theDiningRoom in Vienna
Contrary to popular belief, vegetarianism is more than just fruits, vegetables, and blandness. The culinary world has experienced a veggie revolution in that vegetarian restaurants offering “meatless meat” are springing up like ninjas in cities all around the globe. It tastes like meat, looks like meat, feels like meat, but it is all 100% vegetarian and plant-based. No matter what your herbivore tendencies stem from, be it religion, love of animals, health, or anything else, you can now sample the “meaty” goodness that carnivores endlessly rave about and devour at every chance. So go on vegetarians, embellish your plate with steak, bacon, and all those carnal delights—all made of soy, of course.
Recommendations: Cookies Cream in Berlin, Veggie Grill in Orange County, and Le Grenier de Notre Dame in Paris
3) Food Trucks
A recession economy has spawned a new kind of high-end dining: food trucks, a form of mobile dining. You can enjoy gourmet experimental meals without paying an arm and a leg for the plush décor and lavish ambiance of restaurants. Food trucks are known for their creative use of ingredients, fresh cuts of meat, and artisan beverages, and enjoy relatively low overhead costs, greater mobility, and a modern connection with technology. A decade ago, food trucks were lowly vendors of donuts and coffee in the urban street-side food culture. But three years ago, an enterprising chef in Los Angeles recognized a deficiency in the dining scene and shrewdly decided to fuse the different international cuisines in an innovative manner, staying true to the “American melting pot” ideology. He combined Korean barbecue with Mexican tacos and drove around Los Angeles in a truck, revealing his next stop solely through Twitter and becoming a social media sensation overnight. Though they gained mainstream acceptance three years ago, food trucks continue to enjoy great popularity today, as new kinds of cuisines and foods are constantly entering the food truck world. Today, food trucks boast a lofty range from the classic comfort foods like mac ‘n’ cheese to the more sophisticated dishes like caviar.
Recommendations: The Burnt Truck, Kogi, and Komodo in Los Angeles
4) Dining in the Dark
A trend that has gained strength in recent years, and is still going strong is blind dining—an experience that involves eating in pitch darkness. Leave your eyesight at home and feel your other senses rise to new, unforeseen heights. It’s a sensory culinary experience like you have never experienced before. You are served by blind or visually-impaired staff members who will only escort you to your seat, and then leave you to figure out how to pour your wine, cut your food, and navigate the table—all in the dark. Before you walk into the room, you request your category of meat: beef, poultry, seafood, or vegetarian, and you are left to decipher what exactly is on your plate through your other senses. Feel the varying textures, taste the rich flavors, and smell the different aromas—you should be able to figure out the dishes, or at least come close. Just don’t be afraid to soil your hands; it’s all part of the experience!
Recommendations: Dans Le Noir in London, Opaque in Los Angeles, and unsicht-Bar in Berlin