By now I suppose you are wishing that I would change the subject already. Haven’t we heard enough about slow food mania? To tell you the truth I am a bit tired of writing about it myself, but every time I think I have heard it all, the next wave of innovation comes along. We all know about the big corporations whose CEO’s have Styrofoam heads or clown faces, jumping on the band wagon by assuring us that their food is not made of plastic after all. But we’re not stupid; the fact that the food is now composed of recyclable cardboard instead, does not escape our pallets.
What does fascinate me, is a new restaurant trend that I see emerging predominantly in the big cities where people are overwhelmed with life and real estate is over the top. In San Francisco for instance, with the minimum wage for waiters is climbing up towards $10.50 per hour and the cooks wages higher than that. Consequently entrepreneurs are rethinking their approaches to owning a food business. Having been saddled with a few businesses myself, I am well aware of what it feels like to be hounded for money by everyone under the sun. Between the needs and demands of local governments, landlords, charities, banks and so-forth, unless you happen to be a financial genius and veritable miser, it is very difficult to make a profit these days.
Because of these factors, the clever business types are struggling to reinvent how we eat, if for no other reason than saving their collective shirts. The reality is that there is a huge group of people in the world with disposable income and very little time to spend it. Sure the best restaurants are often busy, but for those of us with families and large work loads and high mortgages, a meal out on the town is more of a special treat than a weekly reality. As a result, people like me spend most of our money frequenting the pizza and burrito joints of the world, clinging to the hope that our kids brains can still thrive on a diet of black beans and marinara sauce. As a chef, it’s the only choice I have when I cannot cook for them myself. Unless I go to Whole Foods, but there is only so much tofu and vegetable curry a man can take. Not to mention the fact that having been involved in catering for a good part of my career, I have developed a serious aversion to anything that’s been disintegrating in a steam table for hours on end.
Now, if my instincts are correct, this is all about to change and as per usual we can thank many of the more innovative cultures of world for it. You see in Europe and Asia in particular, the notion of serving fresh, healthful foods in a rapid serve environment is traditional. How do you think we glommed on to the pizza, crepe and sushi crazes in the first place. Almost every country I have visited over the years supports a population that is well versed in the art of shopping for great street food or specialty venders. In America however we somehow became addicted to the monotheistic idea that bigger is better. Consequently the small operations were gobbled up and replaced by supermarkets as big as football fields and mega chain restaurants.
This new trend I am speaking of is the down sizing of restaurant concepts towards the vision of serving great food at a reasonable price in a quick serve atmosphere. By great food, I mean everything and anything that can be tweaked to suit the ever expanding desires of a Food Network Nation. From fries, sausages, pizzas, crepes, salads, soups and a plethora of ethic cuisines, it’s all being reformulated to appeal to the discriminating masses. Suddenly our food has to be vibrant, organic and bursting with flavor, texture and color. And it has to be served up in a hip, affordable environment where people can be seen by there peers, if only for the fifteen minutes it takes to eat and run. No more silly clowns, unless Ronald decides to get his nose pierced and no more styrohead, unless Jacks marketing team is willing to take him to new levels of cool.
From now on your fries will be doused with truffle oil and your hot dogs will be made out of wild boar. The pizza will be wood fired once again, until we get around to banning the smoke pollution and hamburgers will be made from beef raised on Beatrix Potter audio tapes and sweet grass. Our nations fine dining establishments will still thrive, but those of us who don’t have the time anymore will revel in the coolness of our new found slowness, while satiating our needs for fastness.
In the meantime, the new breed of restaurant owner will begin to reap some profit once again, along with a few more hours of sleep and a lot less headache with no front of the house staff to worry about.