I remember serving chicken satay at a party in the '80s and watching the guests stare at the skewered pieces of chicken, awestruck. "Chicken with peanut butter dip," they were dubbed by the crowd, who after much coaxing admitted they liked them. Thankfully, they did not ask for jelly.
I still serve chicken satay, but it's part of my retro comfort food line, right up there with pigs in a blanket and potato pancakes. (Trust me, honeys, no matter how fancy the event, pigs in a blanket are always the biggest seller. It's part of the human condition: We all like to eat mini hotdogs when we dress up in formal attire.)
It's amazing how fast cutting-edge food becomes mainstream. I remember when the idea of sushi would send anyone who heard about it into fits of nausea. Raw fish! Yecch. Now, fuggedaboudit. There's a sushi place on every other block! Same with Cajun. That was downright avant-garde in the '80s. You'd add a pinch of blackening spice to a piece of fish, and folks would be speechless! These days, I'm looking for McDonald's to offer a McPo'Boy.
Asian was huge, then Asian fusion, then Asian-Latin fusion. We topped stir-fry with plantains, added wasabi to mashed potatoes and pronounced panko crumbs the topping of the gods. HEY, FOLKS, THEY'RE JUST BREAD CRUMBS! CALM DOWN!
Trends aside, what's old is ever-so-new again, a catering motto come to life, when fondue made its 25th comeback, only to be surpassed by bacon-wrapped scallops! Who knew we'd see those greasy little blobs on a passing tray again? Not only did they make a comeback, but bacon anything has ruled the roost lately, rivaled only by kale.
I get that the whole molecular gastronomy thing is super cool, foaming and freezing, dehydrating and adding things like xanthan gum, but not for moi. In this high-tech world, I say simplify and love-ify!
I want to go back to a pre-Facebook, nay, pre-MySpace era of cooking. I'll leave "chemistry" to the chefs who got better grades in science class.
Did you start with a big pot and a wooden spoon? That's where I'm at, honey. I'm feeling old-fashioned food, used in interesting new ways. Tall shots of chicken soup with challah crostini, anyone? Baby waffles topped with down-home barbecue chicken? Yes, indeedy!
I've never tried to stay ahead of food trends, because it's a losing battle. As in fashion, you'll go nuts or broke or both trying to stay ahead of what's hip. You're much better off, finding something timeless and giving a personal spin to it. I like to think of myself as culinary Levi's. Maybe with "Sex Pistols forever" scrawled on the back pocket.
My best advice for cutting-edge cooking is to just be yourself. People get excited when you're excited, and trying to prepare a feast from food you find stifling won't excite anyone.
If I had to put money on the cutting-edge food trend for the new year, I would say, "Who cares what's cutting edge?! Just have FUN!"
Life is rough. The economy is unpredictable. Which political party is in or out is never set in stone. A little fun in the kitchen might be just what the doctor-chef ordered.
My prescription for 2014?
You love mac and cheese? (And who doesn't?) Trying serving it as a mac and cheese martini. A heaping spoonful of gooey, mac and cheese in a martini glass garnished with crispy fried onions; that's what I'm talking about!
Can't resist the trends? Top it with kale chips and bacon.