Fashionable Flavors

  • Roger Grody
  • 12/2/21

Reprinted with permission from go.kw.com

Like cinema, architecture, and fashion design, the culinary arts are constantly subject to whims of capricious consumers and popular culture.

Even those restaurateurs and chefs who proclaim their style of cooking as “timeless” keep an eye on current trends. Specific ingredients, international influences, and presentation styles are constantly rotating in and out of fashion to suit diners’ short attention spans, but the best chefs have the ability to take a trend and make it their own.

Dynamic Dumplings

Dumplings have been an important part of Chinese culture and cuisine for centuries, and Americans have come to appreciate them on excursions to restaurants offering dim sum feasts. Now, creative chefs of all backgrounds are reimagining the steamed or pan-fried staple, creating dumplings with eye-popping colors or filling them with unexpected luxury ingredients.

Celebrity chef Anita Lo was among the first to introduce foie gras-filled dumplings, a soulful fusion of French and Chinese sensibilities. Mott 32, a renowned Hong Kong dim sum temple that has landed on the Las Vegas Strip, experiments with ibérico pork and black truffles. At trendy, lavishly appointed Buddakan in New York, an elegant presentation of edamame dumplings arrives with a shallot-Sauternes broth, alongside smoked salmon dumplings with yuzu aioli.

Food writer Liz Crain — Dumplings Equal Love: Delicious Recipes from Around the World is one of her books — reports a spirit of imagination has infected dumpling makers. “Although most food origins are contested, I’ve never heard an argument against the dawn of dumplings being in China nearly 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty,” says Crain. “That’s a lot of years of filling and forming and experimenting with ingredients and presentation,” she quips.

Crain reports rainbow-colored dumplings have been around for centuries, with Chinese chefs adding various natural ingredients into dough for vibrant color, flavor, and symbolism. “Some of my favorites include bright pink dragon fruit dumpling skins, bright blue butterfly pea flower dumpling skins, rich orange smoked paprika ones, and for dessert dumplings, delicious chocolatey cocoa powder dumpling dough,” reports the food writer.

 

Sustainable Spirits

Wines produced through sustainable practices have been trending for some time, but the spirits industry is now experiencing its own sustainable movement. Unlike wine, where most eco-friendly practices occur in the field, fermentation of alcohol is a resource-intensive process, so reinventing the traditional distillery is a priority.

Emma Janzen, a James Beard Award-nominated author and spirits editor at Imbibe magazine, reports, “I’m seeing distilleries and spirits brands take sustainability more seriously with every passing year.” She adds, “From issues like water conservation and deforestation to recycling production materials and investing in more eco-friendly packaging, there are opportunities for distilleries to adopt more sustainable practices at every junction.” The spirits journalist advises, “It helps when consumers demand sustainable practices from the spirits they support,” she says, noting, “Brands listen!”

“We believe the environment should not be at the mercy of a fabulous cocktail,” is the mantra of Colorado’s Marble Distilling Co. co-founder and head distiller Connie Baker, who believes traditional alcohol production practices are unsustainable. Marble, which produces handcrafted whiskey, vodka, and ginger liquor, recaptures 100 percent of its process water and reused energy harvested from the distillation process, enough to heat a small subdivision.

 

Seoul Food

Americans have fallen in love with one Asian cuisine after another, beginning with the now-dated Chinese-American fare created by newly arrived immigrants a century ago. The cooking of Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam all had their moments, and Korean cooking is now as sizzling as a piece of kalbi on the barbecue.

Korean cuisine resonates with American diners, thanks to its tradition of barbecue, a heavy emphasis on beef, and its generally healthful qualities. Upscale interpretations of Korean cooking, presented at Jungsik and Cote in New York, earn Michelin stars, and casual versions like New York’s Mokbar from Jersey-born chef/owner Esther Choi are winning over converts.

“Part of Korean food’s attraction is its sense of health and wellbeing, with so much focus on vegetables and fermentation,” says Judy Joo, whose books have introduced American home cooks to her family’s native cuisine. 

She notes the confluence of K-pop music, Korean dramas on Netflix, and Korean cosmetics have created a viral moment for Korean culture and cuisine. Proving its widespread appeal is the success of Bori, a Korean steakhouse in Houston, Texas, founded by young Korean-American restaurateur Kevin Koo. He, too, recognizes that pop culture trends have pushed Korean cuisine into the limelight, even in Houston, which lacks a major Korean diaspora. Of course, it never hurts to be a steakhouse, even a Korean one, in the Lone Star State.

 

Trending Tel Aviv

Tourists and food writers have long admired the vibrant Tel Aviv food scene, but very little of it seemed to be landing on American shores until some young chefs began showcasing New Israeli cuisine. The most prominent rock star of the genre is Michael Solomonov, a native Israeli who grew up in Pittsburgh and opened Zahav (“gold” in Hebrew) in Philadelphia in 2008.

The multiple James Beard Award winner and author of Israeli Soul and Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, says of his restaurant, “Zahav was our way of bringing Israeli hospitality and the soul of Israeli cooking and dining to the U.S.” Solomonov reports that originally his menu was very literal, concentrating on authentic Israeli dishes. “But now we’ve become more comfortable in this conduit role and the relationship that we have for being a culinary tour guide, implying Israeli food without having to copy-and-paste recipes we see over there,” he explains.

In Los Angeles, chef Ori Menashe and wife Genevieve Gergis have made Israeli and Middle Eastern culinary traditions very fashionable at Bavel. Menashe was born in L.A., but raised in Israel, and collectively the couple has roots in Morocco, Turkey, and Egypt as well, so their Bavel menu is informed by the entire region. “Everyone’s always searching for authenticity, but every day in this world people are creating beautiful new works of art and delicious things to eat while only being authentic to themselves,” says Menashe of his approach.

 

Haute Vegan

Vegan cuisine may have been on a list of hot food trends 20 years ago, but the dynamics have shifted. In recent years, vegan restaurants have shattered those stereotypes as funky holes-in-the-wall catering to struggling artists, thanks to celebrity chefs like Matthew Kenney whose chic restaurants in Miami, Los Angeles, and Boston offer refined plant-based menus. But this year, when New York’s Eleven Madison Park announced it was forfeiting its lavender honey-glazed duck and butter-poached lobster for an entirely plant-based menu, the movement had definitely come of age.

Eleven Madison Park chef/owner Daniel Humm reports, “We’ve always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable.” With the burden of three Michelin stars on his shoulders, Humm states, “It’s time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community.” Sophisticated vegan restaurants were already popping up across the country, but the tectonic shift in Manhattan is sure to accelerate that trend.

 

Lessons from Lima

For globetrotting gastronomes, the South American capital of Lima, Peru has become an unlikely culinary mecca. Thanks to a unique convergence of cultures in Peru — indigenous traditions are blended with Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Italian influences — the nation’s cuisine is one of the world’s most enigmatic. In particular, the hybrid of Peruvian and Japanese traditions known as Nikkei cuisine — credit goes to Japanese immigrants applying their culinary techniques to indigenous Peruvian ingredients — has captured the attention of foodies in the U.S.

Celebrity chef Nobuyuki (“Nobu”) Matsuhisa has long been Los Angeles’ godfather of sushi and an ever-expanding portfolio of Nobu restaurants makes his food accessible around the globe. Much of what made the Japanese-born Matsuhisa such a pioneering force was his time in Lima, experimenting with Peruvian ingredients early in his career.

Chef Gastón Acurio — his culinary empire includes more than 40 restaurants worldwide — reprised his Lima restaurant Tanta in Chicago, along with La Mar in San Francisco and Miami. “Nikkei cuisine in Peru has evolved over the years and is a true celebration of how two cultures have seamlessly blended together, respecting Japanese techniques with the use of Peruvian ingredients,” reports Tanta executive chef Jesus Delgado.

The chef notes that because sushi is so familiar to Chicagoans, Nikkei-style nigiri sushi and maki rolls are ideal vehicles for introducing guests to the cuisine at Tanta, but his menu offers more ambitious creations as well. Japanese and Peruvian traditions are showcased in compositions like salmon ceviche in a smoky dashi-leche de tigre and wagyu beef served over sushi rice in a sauce featuring aji amarillo, a classic Peruvian chili pepper.

 

Vinegars in Vogue

For many years, the gourmet trend of specialty olive oils permeated fine dining establishments and suburban farmers’ markets alike, contributing to an entire industry of artisanal producers to meet demand. Much less has been made of specialty vinegars, whose acidic qualities are equally important in a wide range of dishes.

With so many varieties available, professional and home chefs can obtain a vinegar possessing the exact notes required to perfectly finish a salad, sauce or gastrique. Examples include fig- or chocolate-infused balsamic vinegar, varieties flavored with chilies, maple or citrus fruits, and others produced from Champagne, Cabernet Sauvignon or Banyuls. Meanwhile, apple cider vinegar sales continue to skyrocket, thanks to its celebrity-fueled reputation as a “superfood.”

The ultimate theme park for Italian cuisine enthusiasts is Eataly, whose cavernous marketplaces throughout the nation feature endless varieties of products, from prosciutto to pecorino, pappardelle to Pinot Grigio. At Eataly’s 67,000-square-foot mega-venue in Los Angeles, ample shelf space is devoted to high-quality balsamic vinegars.

Guiseppe Manco, executive chef at Eataly L.A., reports, “As a chef, I like to utilize balsamic vinegar for raw vegetables and also some meats and cheeses,” noting the product’s healthful qualities are attractive to today’s consumers. “People are more educated in what they eat and will spend money for good vinegar, just as they do for extra virgin olive oil,” says Manco. “We all want to use the best products for the best results,” he says.

READ MORE in the Fall 2021 Issue of KW Luxury Magazine

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