Vermonters aren't known for being trendy. Last month, the National Restaurant Association proclaimed that serving Scandinavian dishes and topping food with edible flowers were quickly becoming passé, but this earth-shattering pronouncement barely registered in the Green Mountain State. Why? Because we'd never been on board in the first place. In 2006, not a single local restaurant teased our palates with cold reindeer tongue or lutefisk. Indifferent chefs statewide garnished their plates with chopped herbs, buttered crostini and liberal drizzles of truffle oil instead of geranium petals or violets.
The onset of 2007 brought with it a whole new crop of predictions, most of which will probably never influence eating in Vermont. Dana Cowin, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, insisted that Scandinavian food will still be hot in the upcoming months. And celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain predicts we'll eat more offal in the coming year. To our credit, we did anticipate that one . . .
We've decided to compile our own list of upcoming food trends that may actually influence Vermonters. But as you read, keep in mind that at Seven Days, our favorite dish is "tongue in cheek."
Limit Yourself More as a Neighborhoodvore
Last summer saw the "Localvore Challenge," but with the support of area farmers and businesses, dining on all-Vermont products has become, less, well, challenging.
In 2007, some of the most dedicated members of the movement will further restrict their horizons by becoming "neighborhoodvores." Ethical to the extreme, these "hoodies" will create their own foodsheds within 10 blocks of their homes. Fancy a fat, roasted squirrel with unidentified fungus sauce, acorn meal mush and a dandelion green and wood sorrel salad? Who wouldn't?
The best part is, in winter, most roadside greens come pre-oiled and liberally coated in salt. For those who aren't ready to commit 100 percent, an Ethan Allen exception can be made to include any food that would have been available to the historic Vermont hero.
One-Word Menu Descriptions
Vermonters like to keep things unpretentious, but in 2006, menu descriptions got a wee bit out of control. What the heck is "locally milled hard red wheat lovingly blended with spring water and airborne micro-organisms, baked, sliced, spread with an alliaceous lipid concoction and toasted?" It's garlic bread, for Pete's sake!
In 2007, restaurants will get back to basics with menu descriptions that capture the essence of each dish. Look for entrées with refreshingly short names such as "beef," "tofu" and "chicken." So what if you don't know how your meat is cooked or the ingredients in the sauce? It's the chef's job to worry about that stuff - not yours.
Destination Vacation: Dairy Farmer for a Day
Aging baby-boomers have really gotten down with the idea of paying to do somebody else's work, and the trend seems to be catching on in Vermont. At Three Owl's Farm in Granville, you can shell out $235 to be a "cheesemaker for a day." And for $350, you can be a "chef for a day" at Hemingway's restaurant in Killington. Plenty of people already pay to chop onions at the state's sole culinary institute.
In 2007, the newly retired will find several more ways to experience Vermont life. They'll particularly dig authentic new "dairy farmer for the day" vacation packages. Nothing beats spending your vacation frolicking with livestock on a Vermont farm.
The day begins at 4 a.m., just in time for morning milking. After milking each cow by hand and applying bag balm to a few chapped udders, it'll be time to have fun in the barn - how often do you get to shoot the shit and shovel it, all at the same time?
Various chores will occupy the rest of your day, and may include chopping firewood, making hay or tidying up the farmhouse. Not an animal lover? How about "Food co-op employee for a day"? Paper or plastic?
CSAs: Community Supported Agribusiness
Farmers kept agribusiness bigwigs on their toes in 2006 by selling directly to consumers at markets and through CSA shares. But in 2007, the CEOs will fight back with their own, corporate-style "CSAs." For just a few hundred dollars each year, Vermonters can have boxes of their favorite processed foods delivered to their doorsteps. Although every package will look a little different, you can be sure that corn and potato chips, hyper-sweet cereals, canned vegetables and fruit-like juices will always be included.
The items will be trucked directly to the buyer from various factories in the Midwest and are guaranteed to be fresh - not that it really matters. Fueling the transaction? All-American petroleum from the pristine wilds of Alaska, of course.
For decades, the U.S. government has promoted "fortification" of foods to increase their healthy qualities. Cereal flakes are sprayed with vitamins, plenty of orange juice brands provide a slug of calcium in their juice, and Vitamin D is almost always added to milk. More recently, health-food products have been pumped up with nutritional powerhouses such as wheatgrass juice, bee pollen and algae.
But the move towards "superfoods" hasn't come without a backlash. Angry libertarians, tired of being coerced into eating healthily by the "food police," will lead the march towards nonfunctional foods in 2007. They'll champion products that are free of fiber, vitamins and minerals, but filled with sweeteners, trans-fats and salt. Luckily for them, the shelves of local supermarkets will provide loads of options. Margarine, doughnuts and packaged gravy are sure to be big hits with these freedom fighters.
The Semi-Cooked Food Diet
In 2007, consumers confused over conflicting information about health and nutrition will drop their complicated diets and head for the coziness of middle ground. Nowhere will this be more evident than in the move away from the radical raw-food diet. Former proponents of raw will begin to revel in the simplicity of the "semi-cooked food diet," which doesn't require any fancy equipment or complicated steps. Just follow a recipe as usual, cut the cooking time in half and enjoy a meal that's sure to be chock-full of something healthy.
Indulgences will include super-al dente pasta with half-raw meatballs and rosy chicken legs with crunchy risotto and almost-wilted chard. Dessert? Try a healthy scoop of moderately cooked chocolate cake topped with a dollop of nearly whipped cream. Now, that's a half-baked idea I can live with!
Single-Origin Corn Syrup
Last year, visitors to Lake Champlain Chocolates stores could buy flavorful single-origin bars made with cacao beans from Saõ Thome, Grenada or Tanzania. Thanks to the folks at Shelburne Farms and a few local professors, it was also the year we learned that the flavor of maple syrup is affected by the soil in which the trees grow.
This year, big-name cola brands will pick up on the "terroir" trend by pioneering the use of single-origin corn syrup. Does that bottle of Coke contain the sickly sweet fluid made from Iowan corn, or might it feature the viscous but less cloying variety from the fields of Kansas? Just read the label to find out.