From prawn cocktails and cappuccinos to foams and cupcakes, food, like fashion, is a trend-driven affair.
Food and fashion. You know that both are inextricably linked when the likes of Lady Gaga turn up on the red carpet wearing dresses made of meat. Though this may be a step too far for most of us, there's no denying food has become a fashion statement for many. Like fashion, food has an image to maintain - it needs to be seen to change and evolve with the times, reinventing itself each new season, or risk ending up in the compost. We're tempted by magazine spreads depicting luscious ingredients and cafes and restaurants are billed as the new "It" places to be seen in.
Growing your own produce is in, eating out of season is out and these days dinner parties are more likely to resemble a cooking master class, such is the standard of cuisine being served from designer kitchens with their double ovens, icecream churns and endless metres of stainless steel.
My earliest memory of food being "in fashion" was in the mid-70s. A friend of my mother's had introduced us to these strange, oblong, green objects. They were to be the next new thing. Turns out they were avocados and we weren't quite sure what to do with them. There were no food magazines, specialty food stores, or Google to guide us. We ate them rock hard, we ate them soft and mottled. We scooped out the pip and stuffed them with shrimps and I am ashamed to admit it but I even roasted them with chicken and brie one time. Oh dear, what a fashion faux pas. But make no mistake, they were the height of food fashion and to be seen to include them on a menu was considered de rigueur.
The 70s were also a time for all things French, in an attempt to introduce some sophistication to our meals. There were crepe suzettes and scallops St Jacques, home-made pate and coq au vin being served all over the suburbs. We embraced Chinese cuisine with sweet and sour pork and chow mein appearing on menus and let's face it, we've never looked back - New Zealanders have an ever-lasting love affair with Asian-inspired cuisine.
In the 80s we saw the rise of Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine and you'd better have started drinking your coffee from a bowl by then too. When cafes began serving lattes and cappuccinos in the early-mid 80s, it hailed a new era of "cool", though not literally. In those days, cappuccino was invariably served scaldingly hot and with an insipid head of detergent-like froth on top. Oh, the anticipation as the barista asked that vital question - "chocolate or cinnamon?". Our coffee culture well and truly blossomed, so much so, that I recall an old hippie friend of mine complaining at not being able to find a decent cup of instant coffee anywhere in Auckland. Now there are those proclaiming "single origin beans/syphon/cold drip filter" is the only way to go. It might take off, you never know. It's quieter for starters.
By the 90s, if you hadn't developed a taste for wizened, oily, intensely flavoured sun-dried tomatoes then you may as well have given up trying to be a food fashionista. The craze for anything with Italian or Spanish origins was huge, and remains so. Olive oil became so commonplace menus referred to it as "EVOO" - extra virgin olive oil.
The mid-90s saw the Atkins diet evolve from a diet to a fully-fledged food revolution that saw, in LA at least, bakeries go bust while bacon and cheese producers boomed. Suddenly carbs were out, and lard was in. Here in New Zealand we were dieting in a different way. Food was served in minuscule portions and height was what we aspired to. Meals came as towering architectural structures, with nearly everything splashed in balsamic vinegar.
As the new millennium ticked over, molecular madness took hold and since then we've seen a trend for foams and powders, gels and powders. We may tire of this style of cuisine as we hanker after, if not comfort food, (because let's face it, we've had our fill of that too), at least food that satisfies our hunger for honest produce and more straightforward cooking techniques.
Trends in food seem to churn faster with every passing season. But like ponchos and flannel PJs, there are those items that, though deeply unfashionable, we can't quite give them up. We may be embarrassed if our foodie friends discover the condensed milk or canned beetroot in our pantries but then again, they've probably got some creamed corn and reduced cream in theirs. Like fashion, the best approach is to feel comfortable and find your own style. There's no point in being a slave to the latest trend. Take cupcakes. I can't stand them but queues for these frosted fantasies still snake around the block in New York City. I much prefer the more waif-like macaron, but perhaps they are nothing more than a pastel-coloured puff of air. Only time will tell.
Whatever lies around the corner in the fashion of food, the fun lies in continuing to be surprised and delighted by new and old ingredients and styles, all designed to sate our appetites in the most delicious fashion.
New "It" ingredients and trends
1. Freekah - smoked young green wheat or barley from the Middle East. Set to overtake quinoa (probably because it's easier to pronounce).
2. Gourmet iceblocks - sugar snap and ginger, kaffir lime and mint.
3. Restaurants with their own beehives and rooftop/car park gardens.
4. Watch as the world discovers what we have always known, the pie is the little black dress of food. Dressed up or down, it is good for all occasions.
5. Macaroni cheese, but it's likely to be made with English vintage cheddar and home-made pasta.
6. A comeback for the iceberg lettuce.
My favourite food faux pas
1. Pronouncing "quinoa" as though it is a large jib on a sailing yacht.
2. Mistaking the horseradish for hummus on a buffet and scooping it up with my cracker - nearly blew my head off with the first bite.
3. Pretending to know that edamame beans are not to be eaten "pod and all" on a first date but claiming, in an attempt to be cool, that "I prefer them that way". Lots of chewing involved, making conversation nearly impossible.
4. Sophie's choice - oysters. The one and only time I met and dined with the sexy Sam Neill, I was faced with the terrible dilemma of either a) accepting the proffered platter of raw oysters knowing I'd gag if I tried to eat them, or b) declining and appearing like a culinary pariah.
5. Watching a friend wrestle with an Alaskan crab claw at Euro earlier this year, nearly spraining her wrist in the process, to extract a minuscule amount of flesh was hilarious.