The Year in Food 2008

The Year in Food 2008

Stuff We Ate

A Long, Haute Country Summer

Jelly jars, communal picnic tables, seasonal-local blah blah, and pork, pork, and more pork: The haute barnyard restaurant trend won’t quit. New York magazine’s Adam Platt coined the term a few years ago to describe the seasonal/local pioneers Craft and Peasant. But he noted how self-conscious the trend had gotten in an August review of Hundred Acres and Forge, where free-range chicken nuggets made a menu appearance. A competing term, monk chic, appeared in an Eater LA story about soon-to-open Los Angeles restaurant Libre. Get ready for “lots of slow cooked this and brick oven that … raw woods, beeswax candles, very natural.” Hair shirt gets you a seat near the sexy people. —Lessley Anderson

The Milky Way

Things started out good for milk. Momofuku’s Bakery & Milk Bar became the latest in a string of fancy New York milk bars. And the number of people interested in the health benefits of raw milk grew. But tainted milk was discovered in China, and dioxin-laced buffalo mozzarella in Italy. And after a Swiss chef announced he’d use human breast milk for 75 percent of his restaurant’s dairy needs, PETA wrote a letter asking Ben & Jerry’s to do the same. No plans for a Mother’s Cookies and Cream flavor have been announced.
—James Norton

Alert the Paparazzi

Like the cast of Gossip Girl or Angelina Jolie’s breasts, certain ingredients were everywhere this year. 2008’s list of “It” foods in cocktails, on menus, and adorning grocery store circulars was as follows: richer, thicker Greek yogurt; Green Goddess dressing; fried chicken; and probiotics. And quinoa. Everywhere quinoa. On the horizon: yacón root syrup. It’s going to be the new agave nectar. —James Norton

That’s How Crème Brûlée Rolls

Remember how much you used to love the ice cream man? Turns out a lot of people still do, judging by the success of chefs who took their Belgian waffles and tofu wraps on the road this year, giving the old roach coach a makeover. Fine-dining operations inside trucks opened up in Seattle, LA, San Francisco, and New York. Even Jerome Chang from Le Cirque got into the act. Truck-side dining makes perfect sense in a recession: Chefs save on overhead, and customers save too. Plus, the latter get to eat with their fingers and drink malt liquor out of a paper bag if they choose. —Michele Foley

All Pray to the Coffee God

We needed to be extra caffeinated in order to keep up with the pace of coffee news this year. New York saw beans from high-end roasters like Stumptown, Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, and Ritual make their way to the city. And new serious coffee shops opened, like Abraço. Customers and wannabe coffee sommeliers learned how to detect notes of cassis and tobacco in single-origin brews through advanced “cupping” sessions, and more places offered double-digit-priced cups of coffee made with high-tech brewing equipment like the $20,000 Siphon. Starbucks, even though it acquired the company that makes the Clover (the must-have coffee maker before the Siphon hit the scene), could never hope to be this cool. Early this year, Chairman Howard Schultz announced that Starbucks would shutter 8 percent of its stores, and its stock price nosedived. And now that the stock market has generally tanked, it’ll take more than strong espresso to perk things up again. —Lessley Anderson

Alpine Elves Beat Out the Green Fairies

Some trends just have “novelty” written all over them. Case in point: Overtaking absinthe as the must-have liqueur of 2008, St-Germain was poured, displayed, and mixed at every notable bar by anyone audacious enough to call himself a mixologist. Fans like the elderflower liqueur because it’s subtle and complex, slightly sweet, and works well with just about any spirit, from champagne to gin. St-Germain derives its citrus-inflected flavor from the tiny, pale flowers of the elderflower plant, harvested in the Alpine foothills of France. But the liqueur owes a lot of its popularity to its beautiful vintage-inspired art nouveau bottle. —Michele Foley