I love the restaurant industry for so many different reasons. I love it because it is the last great American meritocracy, where nothing matters but what you can do on the job and where hard work, smarts and stamina are truly rewarded. I love it because it provides a creative outlet for so many knuckleheads, thereby giving me a never-ending stream of things to write about. I love it because the work attracts a certain segment of the population with whom I am very comfortable -- the weird, the broken, the insomniac, the adrenaline junkies and grunt artists, the driven, the brilliant and the insane. I love it because it represents, on its extreme ends, in the pho shops, dim sum parlors, taquerias, trendy bistros and temples of haute cuisine, visions of the American appetite that say more about the makeup of this country than any demographer will ever know. I love it because, when it comes to bad ideas, no one has them and flogs them quite like restaurateurs do.
That picture above? That's a toilet restaurant in Taiwan. I'm not making that up. A couple days ago, I posted a piece about bad singular food ideas (chicken alfredo in a waffle cone!) and got a bunch of responses from people offering their own experiences with terrible single dishes.
Today, though, I'm taking a more gestalt view. This story is about terrible ideas on a grand scale -- fads and trends and movements that the food world has seen over the past ten years that have either personally driven me cuckoo-bananas or failed so badly that they've become running gags in the foodie community. These are the worst of the worst -- perfect examples of what an excess of creativity, hubris or
drug investor's money can create when all the governors are pulled off, all reasonable warnings unheeded, and the machine of a kitchen is pushed dangerously past the redline.
So, here we go. In no particular order, the worst food trends of the past decade:
1. Sliders : Sliders of any variety, really, but particularly "clever" sliders because, you know what? A crab cake slider just isn't that clever.
2. Cupcakes Yeah, I get it. You saw a couple TV shows where the ladies ran cupcake shops and it looked like a lot of fun, right? But then you discovered that running a cupcake restaurant is a lot like running an actual restaurant -- what with the health inspectors and dealing with the linen companies and crooked suppliers and bad property owners. You had to get up early, work real hard, learn how to fix your own plumbing, make more than a dozen cupcakes a day. All of a sudden, it wasn't so much fun anymore. Oh, and also? Your cupcakes tasted like crap, and it wasn't until you were already $100 grand in the hole that you realized all your friends were just being polite when they told you how delicious they were. Welcome to the restaurant industry, sweetheart. We've all been there.
3. Small plates: This was a great idea once -- a kind of American take on Spanish tapas. But it quickly spiraled out of control and, for a few months there in the middle of the decade, it was virtually impossible to find any restaurant offering food that wasn't in small plate form. There's a lesson here: any good idea can be ruined by overuse, and even the best ideas can be considered dead the minute they make their way onto the menu at Applebee's.
4. $18 po'boys: Even the dimmest among us can understand irony when it is presented in such a bald form. And the dim? They tend to go for the torches and pitchforks when they realize they're being hoodwinked.
5. $100 gourmet burgers: Sure, it'll get you three minutes in the fourth hour of the Today Show, but while you're smiling along with Kathy Lee in the studio, those fellas who just burned the po'boy joint down the street are headed for your front door. And this time, I'm leading them.
6. Becoming vegetarian because Jonathan Safran Foer told you to: Yeah, I'm talking to you, Natalie Portman.
7. Everything's better with bacon! I love bacon. Everyone (except Natalie Portman, apparently) loves bacon. Bacon is proof that the food gods love us and want us to be happy. But even I don't need bacon-flavored chewing gum.
9. Truffle oil/microgreens/frisee: These were actually trends that died in the last decade. Let them go ferchrissake. You're not fooling anyone.
10. Deconstructionism: It's part of the sophomore year curriculum for a philosophy degree, folks. There's a reason why it ain't in the master's program.
11. Menus that prosthelytize for organic food, all-natural food, farm-to-table cuisine: Unless you own the farm, shut up. Unless you're Dan Barber, shut up. Being able to name the farm or ranch on your menu does not give you the right to jack the price by ten bucks. If you're committed to making the world a better place with your restaurant, have a little class about it. Do good without drawing attention to yourself. Being a decent steward of the environment should not be a marketing hook.
11. Locavores: See above. Novella Carpenter, you get a pass.
12. Michael Pollan-ism: We get it, Michael. Your grandmother was cooler than us. But not everyone in the world is a best-selling author who can spend his days figuring out what best to eat at the farmer's market and casually drop ten bucks on a single tomato that meets with your exacting approval. The world is fucked up. The trick today should be discovering a way to live and eat well in it, not harkening back to some imaginary golden age when everything was perfect and all farmers crapped golden apples.
13. Gastropubs: It's a stupid word for a thing that existed long before someone thought to name it. Get past it and be happy that your neighborhood bar serves a killer plate of pork chops these days.
14. Raw food: Not raw foods themselves, but the Raw Food movement. Leave it to the human race in this day and age to find something wrong with fire.
15. Flavored martinis: A martini is made with gin, gin, gin and an olive. Period. An appletini is not a martini, and a caramel-tini? That ought to just get you punched in the neck by your bartender.
16. Pizzas that are anything but pizzas: Stuffed-crust pizzas. Fruit pizzas. Dessert pizzas. Cracker-crust pizzas and pizzas with salmon on them and microwaveable pizza rolls. Look, the pizza was a brilliant invention centuries ago. The first pizzeria in America was opened by Gennaro Lombardi, in New York City, in 1905. Everything after that has pretty much been all downhill.
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17. Fusion egg rolls/spring rolls: I would've just said fusion in general, but that's been around for more than ten years. Indio-Mexican chicken rajas spring rolls on the other hand? That's a new twist, and not a welcome one.
18. The Food Network: Didn't it used to be about cooking once? Didn't MTV used to show music videos? Dammit, I'm getting old.
19. Flourless chocolate anything: Looks like shit. Tastes like dirt. Done everywhere. It's over.
20. The term "foodie": If you're bothered by the inclusion of this entry on the list, you're part of the problem, friend.