By Suzy Badaracco, Foodable Contributor
Now is not the time for “comfort food,” nor is it time for full tilt fusion. However, the baby steps toward fusion have been laid, and at the right pace, during a fearful economic time.
A recession is characterized by the influx of comfort food while an economic recovery is signaled by the return of fusion, deconstructed plates, molecular gastronomy, and other extremes. The appearance of hybrids, mashups, and stuffed foods are the tipping point of experimental food returning to the plate. Their arrival signals a move back toward economic recovery and playful food trends.
A Food Trend is Born
There are several birth patterns in existence, each with a different parentage. Here we are looking at a Courier birth, which is characterized by having a parent that shuttles the trend in from a neighboring industry or focus. The only way to identify a Courier birth is to be looking outside the industry it is born into. In other words, if you are looking for a food trend with this birth pattern, don’t look in the food industry. The Courier parent in this case was the economic recovery itself.
The road to fusion began with “comfort fusion,” which manifested as Hybrids and Mashups in the bakery category. Instead of fusing two unfamiliar or global cuisines, comfort fusion takes two common or familiar items and puts them together. The poster child was the Cronut, a cross between a croissant and donut. Although the Cronut took the spotlight for a time, it quickly gave way to other bakery hybrids including the Wookie, a waffle and cookie; Brookie, a brownie and cookie; Scuffin, a scone and muffin, etc. Notice their births were in sweet bakery, which directly supported the comfort element of the creations. Next on deck were their savory cousins, also in the bakery category, such as the Cragel, a croissant and bagel hybrid. The bakery segment was the least threatening place for fusion to be reborn and fits the pattern seen in a drawn-out economic recovery. We have to crawl before we walk.
Two Become One
From here, another phenomenon took place called a Ricochet, which occurs when a trend jumps tracts. In this case, hybrids made a lateral move to entrees, and more recently, to the beverage segment. ABC News reported on Chinese–Peruvian blends; Bon Appetit examined Australian-Asian cooking; the Village Voice looked at pastry chefs infusing desserts with Japanese flavors; and The New York Times looked at Mexican-Taiwanese, where salsa and Bok Choy hook up.
Since the original trend was birthed by an outside parent, it exhibits fewer boundaries than other birth patterns. A Morph occurred next, which is when a cousin to the trend — in this case, hybrids — steals the spotlight. The difference between a Morph and a trend death is that the newest cousin doesn’t kill off the older cousins. In other words, all the cousins remain in play at the same time. The newest cousin entering the spotlight is Molecular Gastronomy. For example, the company Tzar Caviar in Russia produced a caviar substitute made from fish bouillon that mimics the taste and texture of standard caviar. And New York company Black Diamond Caviar started marketing a kosher caviar substitute made from the kosher bowfin fish.
When a Morph occurs, all cousins remain on the playing field, which explains why the sweet and savory bakery hybrids are seen during the same time period as their more complex Molecular Gastronomy cousins. A Morph also signals that a food company doesn’t have to exit and re-enter a trend, it can launch multiple products along the spectrum and have products representing more than one cousin at a time.
While hybrids began with two similar foods being put together, the trend of stuffed foods is a Ricochet that birthed almost at the same time. Stuffed foods combine two or more foods, but in this case, the foods keep their individual identities. Therefore, it is not a merging of the foods like with the Cronut, but an entrapment of one food by another. The birth of Stuffed Foods also occurred in the bakery category with the return of the Twinkie as their poster child. Other filled pastries took their place alongside the Twinkie before another cousin showed up exhibiting a physical twist. Filled pastries quickly began taking on non-traditional formats, such as pie on a stick, which was previously reserved for cake pops.
Filled foods then moved to the savory categories and have shown up as global comfort foods. These are foods that are considered comfort foods in their native countries, but are slightly less familiar to Americans — hence, they are called global comfort. The poster children here would be calzones, arancini, ravioli, éclairs, pierogies and others.
Next up: Expect more deconstructed plates, restaurant theater and tableside prep at restaurants, and if an item can be turned into smoke, foam, lit on fire or frozen with liquid nitrogen, just think of the re-launch of the Twinkie and say, Oh please, I saw that coming.