|By Greg Morago and Linda Giuca, The
Hartford Courant, Conn.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
March 22, 2007 --Pity the poor chefs who are still drizzling everything with truffle oil. Don't they know it's over?
At least that's what other chefs (perhaps even chefs who helped make it a common restaurant staple) say of the unctuous oil infused with the word's rarest of fungi.
Truffle oil, however, is only the latest victim in a long line of ingredients, spices, foodstuffs and preparations that moved swiftly up the restaurant menu ladder, only to become victims of their own provocative popularity. Remember when it was sun-dried tomato this and blackened that? We've weathered enough seasons of arugula, roasted garlic, balsamic vinegar, free-range chicken, preserved lemons and exotic salts to last a lifetime.
So who's to blame when wonderful foods become so pervasive that we turn our backs on them? Is it the restaurant chef who is eager to be considered hip by championing a trendy product? The zealous consumer, armed with magazine clippings, demanding the new gnudi? The television food personalities who suggest we demand Marcona almonds, Peruvian potatoes, Danish butter, Emilia-Romagna cheeses and Iberico ham? Or the food media machine so quick to tempt readers with the next new thing?
Probably all these forces work to make a foodstuff a hit and then a flop. But as anyone who lives to eat knows, food trends are cyclical. One day we're waxing eloquently about the glories of curried chicken salad, and 10 years later we're rhapsodizing curry-flavored ice cream. One day it's artisanal honey; the next day it's bee pollen. Goodbye, carambola (star fruit); hello, acai (the Brazilian super berry that's loaded with antioxidants).
We began the new year with plenty of predictions from a variety of food sources about what will be hot in 2007 on the restaurant menu and in the shopping aisles. The lists include: locally grown produce, high-end chocolate, flavored sodas and waters, pork belly and other artisanal pig products, better bread and whole-grain bread, molecular gastronomy and exotic mushrooms.
But even the food predictions for 2007 have some been-there/done-that redundancies. Some lists said burger bars and upscale salts would be new trends. In some cities, burger bars have reached a saturation point. And haven't we scoured the world for salt enough already?
Speaking of "enough already," we asked national and local chefs which ingredients they're absolutely tired of seeing in the kitchen. Yes, truffle oil was the first answer from more than one chef. But some of the other foodstuffs might surprise you. Here's what they said when we asked what they're weary of cooking and fed up with on restaurant menus:
* Aaron Sanchez, executive chef of Paladar and Centrico in New York: "Truffle oil. I think it's overused,and it's a distraction. If you're going to use truffle, use the real deal. The oil is like a bad perfume."
* Daisy Martinez, cookbook author and host of "Daisy Cooks!" on public television: "Today it seems like there's an overuse of cilantro and chorizo to make Latin food 'Latin.' Nobody has addressed that there are different types of chorizo that come from Portugal, Spain, Mexico. The chefs who are using those ingredients don't have a connection to it and it shows. And if I never saw another molten chocolate cake, I'd be happy. It's been done already, hello!"
* Roberto Donna, chef/owner of Galileo in Washington, D.C.: "Foam. I hate foam. I don't think foam should be involved in any kind of food. Make a sauce or use the ingredients in their own original taste. I'm against any technique that changes the taste of the ingredient."
* Luis Bollo, chef at Ibiza in New Haven and Meigas in Norwalk: "It doesn't happen that often,but I'm tired of codfish croquettes. Customers love them,but I get tired of them."
* Sean Dutson, executive chef, Hartford Marriott Downtown: "If I never cooked another grilled chicken breast or saw another fried calamari, I'd be happy. The reason for both is that everyone does these dishes. The chicken breast is something I always feel people are getting because it is culinary 'safe': They know how it is going to taste, and although it isn't particularly exciting, it is at least something they are familiar with. As for the calamari ... most places have figured out that if they don't screw it up too bad, it will win praises from their customers, so they offer it. I just don't really like doing it because people migrate toward it and forego some of the less common things we offer ... plus the way I prepare it ... it is a mess to clean up.
* Chris Schlesinger, cookbook author and owner of East Coast Grill & Wine Bar in Cambridge, Mass.: "Tuna tartare and edible flowers. They're ubiquitous -- everyone uses them. Tuna tartare is a way for chefs to use the scraps of tuna, but now everyone does the same thing."
* Noel Jones, chef at the Polytechnic Club in Hartford: "Truffle oil is a good example of something overused. Putting it on microgreens? No. Putting it in an egg custard? Yes. Some chefs think if you give people a lot of truffle oil, you will win them over. I say keep it simple."
* Jimmy Burke, chef/owner of Riva Restaurant in Scituate Harbor, Mass.: "We sell a ton of chicken parmesan. We do it well because we're an Italian restaurant. Our customers expect chicken parm on the menu, but I hate having it on the menu."
* Daniel McManamy, chef at Gabrielle's in the Centerbrook section of Essex: "The first thing that comes to mind is butternut squash. It's ubiquitous because it's cheap and plentiful. People like it, and almost everyone has butternut soup or butternut ravioli. I have butternut risotto [on the menu]."
* Kim Canteenwalla, chef for Elizabeth Blau and Associates in Las Vegas, and partner in Simon LA in Los Angeles: "I like them, but I'm bored with short ribs. They're everywhere, on every menu."
* Louis Lista, chef/owner of the Pond House Caf- at Elizabeth Park, West Hartford: "If I never have to be concerned about someone's carb count again, I would not be upset. This is coming from someone who could happily live on pasta, rice, potatoes and bread."
* Todd English, cookbook author, television personality and owner of multiple restaurants in Boston and New York as well as Tuscany at Mohegan Sun: "White truffle oil. It makes me gag. I had it on caviar, and I was like, 'Whoa! What's going on here?' It's overused."
* Mary Sue Milliken, cookbook author and owner of Border Grill in Santa Monica, Calif., and Las Vegas, and Ciudad in Los Angeles: "Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I look at them in the grocery store and think: 'What are people doing with them?' It's the worst kind of chicken you can have. I hate them. Don't get me wrong: I love chicken -- the whole chicken."
* Jennifer Crescella, chef at Shea's American Bar & Grill, Manchester: "Tiramisu. It's everywhere in every shape, size and color. It's bastardized from the Italian version." Garlic mashed potatoes rub her the wrong way, too. "Let's go back to wholesome, good solid cooking. Simplicity is what I like."
* Sara Molton, executive chef of Gourmet magazine and television food personality: "I have mixed feelings about truffle oil. I like it, but it's been overused. It overwhelms whatever you put on it. Yes, I use it, but it's been overdone."
* Rob Maffucci, chef/owner of Vito's by the Park, Hartford: "My two ideas are unrelated: If I never saw another filet mignon well done, or saw another Olive Garden commercial ... A filet is a beautiful piece of meat; if you're a steak lover, it's the best. [But overcooking] takes an incredibly expensive and delicious piece of meat and turns it into a Salisbury steak. If you're going to order tuna or meat well done, you should probably order the chicken." As for the chain restaurant, Olive Garden spends "millions of dollars convincing you that Grandma is in the kitchen. My mother is in the kitchen [at Vito's restaurants]. When you come to Vito's or any chef-owned restaurant, the best compliment you can give to the chef is: Ask the chef to come out, and ask him what his favorite dish to make is. You'll have the best meal."
Copyright (c) 2007, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
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