Food is fashion, with restaurants serving as the runway for menu innovations that come in and out of style.
When you consider all the new ideas that have paraded through the restaurant industry in recent years, it would be hard to name one that has had a more lasting or ubiquitous adoption than the movement to farm-to-table cuisine.
In fact, farm to table has become a restaurant genre in its own right, and usually with positive results: The food is fresh and inventive, the atmosphere is typically comfortable, and the dining experience is just upscale enough to let guests know there’s some serious cooking in the kitchen.
But too much farm on the table can be a problem—like when I ordered a pilsner on a recent visit to the newly opened Farm Table restaurant in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and it arrived in a mason jar.
Understand, this wasn’t the first time I’ve imbibed from a mason jar. I was raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and sipping moonshine from a jar was simply life in the hills. It made sense (as much sense as sipping moonshine can make).
But serving beer—especially one that has a tall, slender glass designed specifically for its service—in a mason jar is a classic “what not to wear” moment. Clearly the restaurant wanted to carry its farm theme throughout every touchpoint in the dining experience, but it did the opposite of enhancing the moment. It made the meal seem contrived, less authentic.
Farm to table is all about authenticity, and increasingly it has become synonymous with fresh and simple—a natural evolution from local sourcing and a commitment to cooking techniques that profile the natural flavors of the ingredients.
Fresh and simple may be the fashion trend that tops the 2015 list. On the menu, fresh speaks to all those attributes that have been steadily gaining traction: healthy, organic, seasonal. In practice, the concept of fresh and simple helps focus the diner’s attention on the moment at hand.
This was certainly the case with the menu at Farm Table, where the vegetable casserole, defined by the produce that comes in the door each day, was an earthy combination of turnips, carrots, and onions served in a simple broth—nothing fancy, just fine dining.
The menu did a nice job of playing to other fashionable trends as well: The cranberry lemon cheesecake was deliciously sweet and sour, with just a hint of bitter tang. Check out the story on page 75 to learn more about how bitter is on the rise: In field greens, vinegars, or cocktails, bitter’s the taste that bites back a bit.
Here’s to a year of food fashion that makes memorable statements.