Midway through the month, the deluge of emails and articles about what we can look forward to in the food world is finally slowing to a trickle. The predictions industry swells every year and now begins in November, peaking around December 10. On current trends, eventually there’ll only be predictions of what is going to happen and nothing will ever be given the chance to happen.
You can see why the crystal ball is tempting. For people with new restaurants or products to flog, it is easier if you can create the impression of a tide. An individual restaurant or vodka brand is not the sort of thing to get the media juices going. But if you can say you are part of a trend, editors start to salivate and hold the presses. As Wilde would have said, one Tex-Mex restaurant is a misfortune, three is a double-page spread.
Sadly, this means that certain things are brought out again and again, like a cow that nobody will buy. Some are no-hopers. Based on a decade of observation, these are the forever trends…
Every list since the 1980s has predicted that soon we will all be forced to start eating insects for protein. They are cheap, abundant and tasty, we are told. I have eaten insects in a high style, as part of a Noma lunch, and I have eaten them low, in a cone off the Khao San Road in Bangkok. I am not in a hurry to repeat either experience. (Same with jellyfish.)
It is the year of the martini, apparently. Dry, wet, dirty, straight up, on the rocks, twist or olives, big or small. They’re right, it is the year of the martini, just as it has been every year for a century.
Countless stories in 2023 detailed how the bottom had fallen out of the alternative meats market. Start-ups were going bust, while sales from established brands were in freefall. These synthesised burgers and fish fingers all fell foul of the new witch-hunt against processed foods. Still the adverts come.
There may come a time when chefs once again feel emboldened to advertise the breadth and non-specificity of their cooking. ‘This is a mishmash from all over Asia, really.’ But not yet. For now, as Calvin Trillin identified in a satirical poem in 2016, ‘there is always another province’.
The alternatives to Champagne rotate constantly, according to fashion. We are in a cremant moment, but the wheel will turn soon. In the short term this system must be annoying for the manufacturers, who must endure whimsical dips in demand. But in the long run it works for everyone because you can always say, with confidence, that your product is either ‘hot’ or ‘about to be hot’ (ie not hot).
Like self-driving cars or fusion power, English wine is always a few years from being a safe bet or cost effective – with some notable exceptions. Given the global overproduction of wine, and the slump in prices, the EWIP (English Wine Inflection Point) looks further away than ever.
Soup is a safe thing to put on lists of things that are cool, because soup will never be cool.
Lists of eternal trends
Reviewing my columns in 2023, I note that I wrote a handy guide to eternal trends last year, too. Expect another one next January.