The 25 Most Important Things That Happened In 2013 For Food Lovers
Cue Paula Deen crying while eating a Cronut™ and the CEO of Taco Bell throwing darts at a copy of Salt, Sugar, Fat.
25. The ongoing threat of a Sriracha shortage loomed.
Huy Fong Foods, the company that manufactures our nation's most beloved hot sauce, moved into a $40 million factory in Irwindale, California, last year so that it could expand production. But when September (chili crushing season) rolled around, city residents complained about burning sensations in their eyes and throats. A judge has ruled that the factory must make changes, which threatens to drive up the price of Sriracha.
24. The San Francisco Chronicle stopped printing a stand-alone food section.
While many newspapers have closed their stand-alone food sections in order to downsize, the Bay Area is particularly known for its food and wine culture — and the Chronicle's food and wine section was considered one of the best in the country and has won many journalism awards. Learn more here.
23. The government shutdown made us think about food safety.
...and everybody was appropriately furious.
Dear Barilla: Either you put the dads from Modern Family in your next campaign, or this relationship is over. Love, everyone.
21. There was Real Talk about eating horses (and dick soup).
Earlier this year, consumers in Europe unknowingly ate horse meat in some supermarket burgers. Everyone freaked out because Mister Ed and Black Beauty and stuff and took to the internet for a lively debate. Then things got dark: A Philadelphia chef received death threats after he announced he would add horse meat to his menu. Obviously horse meat should be labeled as such, but eating it is totally fine, no different than any other non-endangered animal. A few months later, indie food mag Lucky Peach pushed the envelope even further with an article about cooking stag pizzle soup. Why not.
20. Chef Dave Arnold invented and launched production of a handheld broiler.
Dave Arnold, who for six years ran the culinary technology department at New York's French Culinary Institute, has taught sous-vide cooking to thousands of students. He's a big fan of sous-vide because it's the most accurate way to cook, but the method also leaves the surface of food kind of gross. So after he left FCI, Arnold opened Booker and Dax, an experimental cocktail bar in NY that doubles as his research lab where he could obsess over the sous-vide problem (and other food mysteries). Now he says he has solved it with The Searzall, which is basically an attachment that turns a blowtorch into super-charged handheld broiler. While it's hard to imagine the Searzall ending up in most people's home kitchens (since that hasn't even happened with sous-vide machines yet), it could very well become a staple in restaurant kitchens in place of a kitchen torch. It also just blew past its $80,000 Kickstarter goal within two days of launching. Donate $65 to the campaign before Dec. 15 and you too can get one. Learn more here.
19. All of the buns. Bun everything.
Using something other than bread as a hamburger bun isn't new, but wacky buns went way mainstream this year. Whether you waited in an hours-long line at the Brooklyn Flea market for a ramen burger (pictured, upper left) or clicked on a news story when Dunkin' Donuts added a Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich to their menu (upper right), you know what I'm talking about. This was an especially awesome part of 2013.
18. Maker's Mark announced a plan to lower the alcohol content of their bourbon. America didn’t let it happen.
The whiskey producer planned to lower its ABV from 45% to 42% to keep up with growing bourbon demand. The company's chief operating officer wrote and spoke extensively to reassure the public it wouldn't change the taste, but the internet exploded anyway, calling for a boycott. A week later the company announced on its Facebook page that it had reversed its decisions: "While we thought we were doing what's right, this is your brand — and you told us in large numbers to change our decision."
17. Taco Bell continued world domination by wrapping weird shit around its tacos.
The original Doritos-Taco Bell crossbreed, the Nacho Cheese Doritos Taco Loco, which came out in March 2012, was so successful it apparently created 15,000 new jobs. A representative from Taco Bell told BuzzFeed that the two new DLT launches this year combined (Cool Ranch and Fiery) made for the biggest product launches in Taco Bell history. Taco Bell has sold 700 million Doritos Locos Tacos, generating $1 billion in sales. And they're especially fired up about all the social media buzz, so don't expect these things to stop coming.
16. We determined the best roast chicken recipe, once and for all.
TOOTING OUR OWN HORN but this was the most fun: BuzzFeed food editors cooked eight famous roast chicken recipes, then pitted them against each other in a bracket-style tournament of blind taste tests. And then Thomas Keller — with his brilliantly simple, gorgeous technique for roasting chicken — won. It was perfect.
15. Anti-grain and Paleo books began to take over cookbook best seller lists.
Those poor bagels :( SO cruelly villainzed. They look delicious.
14. McDonald's killed its Dollar Menu because of climate change.
Cattle-ranching states like Texas and Oklahoma have suffered drought conditions since 2011. To make a long story short: That means fewer, more expensive cattle, which means more expensive ground beef. Ouch.
13. Restaurant chains realized that non-meat-eaters have wallets too.
Chipotle launched a tofu burrito and says that the product now accounts for 4–5% of sales in the stores that offer it. Subway added a vegetarian falafel sandwich to its menu. California Pizza Kitchen started offering gluten-free crusts. Eating restrictions are real, guys, and people who have them are also hungry. Hallelujah!
...and that Americans' attempts to make healthier choices are not going away.
Trying to get ahead of federal menu-labeling requirements, the Starbucks bit the bullet on calorie counts and put them on menus nationwide. Burger King tried to make reduced-calorie French fries happen. Verdict's still out on whether those fries are here to stay (but in, unfortunately, on how they taste).
Which — no joke — caused a worldwide craze.
I'll have to electrocute myself with my computer charger if I write about this thing again. So instead of a recap in this post, please refer to:
11. The Momofuku Culinary Lab let a bunch of food rot.
Chef David Chang launched the Momofuku culinary lab three years ago to learn more about the science behind ingredients his restaurant uses. These days, the lab's head of R&D, Dan Felder, is using the lab to breed bacteria on food, creating what Chang says are strange and wonderful new tastes. New tastes!
As BuzzFeed reported in a story on MSG, that means Chang and Felder have turned mashed pistachios, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes into miso-like pastes Chang calls "hozon" (Korean for "preserved"), and they've created variations on Japanese tamari — a by-product of miso production that's similar to soy sauce — with fermented spelt and rye they call "bonji" ("essence"). Considering the impact Chang's food has had on nationwide restaurant trends in the past, anything happening in his lab is one to keep an eye on. The team hopes to bring the products to the market next year.
10. A team crowdsourced $250,000 — three times what they asked for — to open a new restaurant in Minneapolis.
When Travail restaurant blazed past its $75K funding goal in less than six hours, Food Network's Andrew Zimmerm called it "a sea change in terms of how local restaurants get funded." That's because while other restaurants have received Kickstarter funding, none have had nearly the success or the community support of Travail. (Eater Minneapolis actually live-blogged Travail's Kickstarter the day it went live because local readers were so excited about it.) The crew behind the restaurant says they're democratizing fine dining by not taking money from a small group of investors, which is how most other restaurants get started — they want to "hack" the culture of fancy restaurants that are intimidating or financially out of reach for most people. And through smart use of their compelling and fun social media accounts, the team makes their donors feel like once the restaurants open, they'll be part of the crew, having all the fun, coming to the parties, hanging out with chefs. Learn more in Eater's story on Kickstarter as the future of restaurant financing.
9. Time magazine published an issue on "The Gods of Food" — and included no female chefs.
"When things like this happen, when an international magazine dedicates an issue to chefs and fails to include one woman chef in all of its coverage, it's hard to ignore that the problem is maybe not the lack of female chefs but the ingrained cultural feeling that the things women do are not as important or noteworthy as the things men do," wrote LA Weekly restaurant critic Besha Rodell in response.
Time's cover story and family tree of influential chefs was so glaringly lacking in ladies that it spawned a helpful discourse about gender bias in the kitchen and in food media online, including this great story on Eater.
8. A discrimination lawsuit against Paula Deen resulted in the crumbling of her empire.
In a deposition during a discrimination lawsuit brought by a former employee, Paula Deen admitted to using the n-word and other pretty horrifying stuff. The scandal blew up, spawning as many trending Twitter hashtags as there are calories in her recipes. Food Network canceled her contract; and companies like Walmart, Sears, Target, QVC, and Smithfield Ham ended their relationships with Deen. She apologized on the Today show. The scandal even ate away at her sons' TV ratings.
Her supporters fought back (with butter), and some public figures (Jimmy Carter?!) urged the country to forgive her. Eventually the judge threw out racial claims and the lawsuit was dismissed in a settlement. But lordy, the damage was done.
7. Big food quietly spent millions of dollars to prevent GMO labeling...
When legislation was introduced in Washington state that would require manufacturers to "clearly and conspicuously" display labels on foods made with genetically modified ingredients, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé quietly spent millions of dollars to defeat it. That's because the vast majority of the country's corn and soy crops — used to make crackers, cookies, juice, cereal, and tons of other packaged foods — are grown with genetically modified seeds. Many studies show GMO foods to be safe for human consumption, but labeling proponents are more concerned with transparency. A recent poll conducted by The New York Times showed that this is information consumers want: 93% of the American public thinks foods containing GMO ingredients should be identified. Here's more info.
...and it worked. Sort of.
6. The New York Times restaurant critic said we should all stop tipping.
Tipping is "irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory," wrote New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells in an article listing dozens of reasons the custom is outdated and unfair. "The people who take care of us in restaurants deserve a better system, and so do we." This was one of many dispatches this year on the complicated question of how best to pay service workers in the food industry. Read the piece here.
5. We lost chef Charlie Trotter...
The unexpected death in November of this trailblazing 54-year-old Chicago chef — a mentor to so many of the country's best — was a huge loss for the food community. The cause of death was later revealed as a stroke. As our culture continues to elevate chefs to celebrity status, Trotter's passing will serve as a reminder of the tolls of maintaining that kind of success, both mental and physical.
...cookbook author Marcella Hazan...
...and chef Judy Rodgers.
Rodger's Zuni Cafe in San Francisco has been around since 1979, but is still one of the best — and certainly most beloved — restaurants in the city. "Judy Rodgers was California cooking and everything it stands for — local, seasonal, unfussy, simple, and refreshing," wrote Bon Appétit editor Andrew Knowlton in a moving tribute to the San Francisco chef. She was a hero and mentor to many chefs and will be missed.
4. Masterchef Junior was born.
3. The FDA proposed a ban on trans fats.
Citing the risk of heart disease and waving clogged arteries in the air. I mean...it's time. Learn more.
2. Thanksgiving was on the first day of Hanukkah.
And together, the two merged to become a magical feast named Thanksgivukkah. Just think — we might have never known the transcendent flavors of Manischewitz-brined turkey or Sweet Potato-Bourbon Noodle Kugel if Hanukkah hadn't fallen freakishly early this year, coinciding with our nation's most delicious holiday. And it won't happen again for more than 70,000 years! WHAT A MIRACLE. Well done, 2013.
1. Online farmers' markets that deliver finally happened.
Good Eggs is not a CSA. It is more like FreshDirect, but with local food from local producers, transparency about sourcing, and a stated commitment to sustainable agriculture and animal welfare. Currently the service is only available in San Francisco, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. But as The New York Times' Jenna Wortham points out in a review of the service, a similar service could be available near you soon, since the trend toward ordering local groceries online is growing. Even Amazon is getting in on the action: AmazonFresh, which was formerly a Seattle-only same-day grocery delivery service, just expanded to Los Angeles and is also working with local farmers. This is exciting because somewhere down the line, services like these could provide the infrastructure to empower conscientious local farmers and make buying real food even more convenient than a trip to Kroger or Albertson's.