- GOT CRABS? If certain culinary fads come west, we'll soon be feeding on invasive species like the Carcinus maenas, above.
In the realm of gastronomy, boundaries are constantly being pushed and new food trends invented. Consider the "invasivore" movement. After realizing the culinary potential of green crabs, a prolific invasive species plaguing the East Coast, New York conservation biologist/foodie Joe Roman created the website Eat the Invaders, designed to help folks fight so-called alien species "one bite at a time."
Combining the fun of foraging with the practicality of environmentalism, "invasivores" are combing their beaches and backyards for abundant edible delights. Invasive species menus are even cropping up in some restaurants.
Local chefs take note: Is there a ragu to be made with Scotch broom? Perhaps a eucalyptus-infused vodka? Though it may take a while for the invasivore trend to make its way to our coast, certain trends have caught on here in the North Bay (hello smoked water and secret supper clubs!) while others are going the way of the Twinkie (so long giant portions and fattened goose liver). On the cusp of 2013, it's time to ask local chefs what they foresee as the year's approaching food trends.
Thanks in part to farmers like Joel Salatin who are fed up with the bureaucratic red tape and high costs of USDA certification, "organic" is no longer the word du jour when it comes to quality food. The growing trend? Local, local, local. "It's back to the land, know your farmer and know your food," says Sheana Davis of Sonoma's Epicurean Connection. Central Market's Tony Najiola agrees, noting that the more you know about the people farming for you, the better. "If a farmer tells me he's not spraying, that's good enough for me," he says.
Of course, the whole "farm-to-table" philosophy is how most people all over the world have eaten for centuries. Instead of being trendy, shouldn't it just be common sense to take advantage of the local abundance of cheese, eggs, wine, apples, meat and vegetables that are produced here in the Bay Area? Indeed, when restaurants tout "farm-to-table," they usually back it up with a slew of local farms from whom they procure their goat cheese or chicken, giving credence to the label. Let's hope that the phrase can be saved from the maws of marketing, which have rendered words like "artisanal" (used by the likes of Burger King and Frito Lay) all but meaningless.
The "snout-to-tail" movement, which promotes making use of the entire animal, is now being applied to fish and veggies. "We try to use everything, including the little things that often get composted," says Ryan Fancher, executive chef at Healdsburg's Barndiva. In this way, filet mignon trimmings and chard stems find their way into burgers and pickling brine. Other chefs note that as far as sustainable practices go, there's always room for improvement. "We need more local slaughterhouses," says Lowell Sheldon, owner of Sebastopol's Peter Lowell's, "so we don't have to ship animals across the state before shipping them back to our county to be eaten."
Some restaurants are even taking the local trend beyond the kitchen. If our food is produced in the next town over, they reason, why not our flatware and plates? "I see restaurants going the custom-made route," says chef Louis Maldonado of Healdsburg's Spoonbar, whose plates, lights and tables are products of local ceramicists, glassblowers and woodworkers. In fact, the whole nondecorating minimalist approach seems to be on its way out. People may enjoy the stripped-down aesthetic of exposed brick walls, but how many painted air ducts can diners gaze at before craving the eye-candy of some black-and-white photography or psychedelic poster art?