Thursday, April 2, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: New Food And Dining Trends

There are many new restaurants in the Twin Cities this year,
and most of them are centered around the now-expanding
chef culture and an entrepreneurial  restaurant “conglomerate”
owner class. There is also a lot of menu imitation, trendy
cooking styles, and dining room design copycatting. Menu
prices are once again on the rise, with the prices of soups,
appetizers, side salads, a la carte side dishes and desserts
making an evening, or even a lunch, of dining out more and
more costly and no longer tied much to value.

Truly inimitable restaurants are rare, and one by one, the
older originals are closing their doors.

There is much positive news, too, including the embrace in
virtually all serious new restaurant kitchens of higher quality
and fresher meats, poultry, produce and cooking ingredients.
Although there are a few high-end seafood restaurants, the
location of Minnesota, for example, makes the serving of truly
fresh fish and seafood  (including sushi and other uncooked fish
dishes) problematic, and the choices smaller than a diner might
find on or near either coast. Many menus are disappointingly
unoriginal, but the quality of cooking and preparation has
noticeably risen in recent years as a larger and larger number
of well-trained cooking personnel have made urban areas their

The restaurant business is a very tough business. Food and labor
costs are rising. Wine and beer no longer are sufficient in many
cases to help pay the bills, and a new wave of cocktailing (at very
high prices) has swept many larger new and old restaurants. (It
seems expensive cocktails are “in,” and beer and cheaper wines are
“out” for the moment.)

The best news is that the overall dining public has become much
more knowledgeable about food, and more demanding. The same
public, when I first landed in Minnesota many decades ago for
example, had little knowledge of various major and ethnic cuisines.
The menus of area dining rooms reflected this. Organic and truly
fresh produce was largely unknown in most kitchens, and culinary
creativity limited to a few well-known local restaurants.

In the late 1970s, throughout the 80s and 90s, the food culture in
Minnesota, and the rest of the nation, changed dramatically. Great
food was (prior to that) usually only available in the very largest
cities, and those cities with a long culinary tradition, i.e., New York
City, Chicago. Los Angeles, San Francisco, New Orleans and South
Florida, but it now made its  way into virtually all the cities of
America. Top chefs were paid more and more. Newspapers and
magazines devoted more and more space to food and restaurant
criticism and promotion. Fine food and cooking were the subject of
national TV and radio shows; chefs with stand-out personalities
became stars and celebrities.

At the same time, worldwide food distribution made fresh fruit and
vegetables available year-round in places which had cold winters
and limited growing seasons. Transportation innovations enabled
relatively fresh fish to be available far from sea and ocean coasts,
and fish farming made popular fish more available. Exotic fruits,
vegetables, meats and condiments not only appeared on restaurant
menus, but were available in local specialty grocery stores for

The problem now might be that our food culture has become
overbuilt and overhyped. There are several outstanding, original,
creative, and exciting new restaurants, but prices are often now so
high, and menus so esoteric that going out to eat has become not
only an economic class question, but a feature of a food culture
class that is often preoccupied with cult fashion, hype and elitism.

Good food, fine cooking and adventurous dining is, of course, much
older than just the recent explosion of the new restaurant culture.
With care of our natural resources and better understanding of the
realities of food production, the interest in what we eat should
continue to grow. The best news is that more and more persons are
becoming aware of their culinary choices, and accompanying this, is
an apparent increased awareness of the key link between what we eat
and good health. Men and women who are not professional chefs,
but who take the time to learn cooking skills, can also provide
themselves, their families and friends with outstanding meals at a
fraction of the cost of dining out.

The Prairie Editor will soon be sending out  
directly to subscribers only his latest list
of recommended new restaurants in the Twin Cities, 
Chicago, Washington, DC and other locations.]

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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