by Fran Brennan, Managing Editor
Like everyone else, we’ve fallen into the habit of looking back at year’s end to see what all we’ve left behind in the past 12 months. A lot, it turns out, as 2010 was chockful o’ good food and wine stories, outsize personalities, and amazing recipes.
Few personalities this year could compete with that of Jamie Oliver. He took Huntington, W.Va., by storm on the first leg of his journey to reshape America’s lousy eating habits. With a mix of pushy charm, good teaching, and some cold, hard truths, Oliver managed to help the most unhealthy town in America change the way it looks at food. At least temporarily. And while Los Angeles may not be fans of Oliver (their school district rejected his offer to help revamp their eating habits), everyone else seems to be. His new book is currently the fastest-selling non-fiction book ever in the U.K. EVER.
While Oliver used tricks like healthy-cooking flash mobs to further the cause, Michelle Obama fought for legislation that would improve the quality of school lunches. Signed late in the year, it should help continue Obama’s fight to end childhood obesity (work that has resulted in school districts across the country hiring chefs to revamp their lunch programs).
The rest of us applauded their efforts, but we also continued to cling to our just so-so eating habits, cooking up bacon, gobbling up gourmet burgers and greeting the temporary return of the McDonald’s McRib sandwich with giddy excitement more appropriate to a Beatles reunion. Okay, maybe to an ‘N Sync reunion, but still. Much ink was devoted to unearthing the secret ingredients of the beloved McRib, apparently the only McDonald’s menu item not vilified by the food cognoscenti. Even Happy Meals took it on the chin this year as some California cities fought to ban those pesky plastic toys.
Other, less processed, foods got a bad rap, too, as New York issued a salt ban, restaurants were forced to post calorie counts (which we mostly ignored), and a massive egg recall sent ripples of fear across breakfast tables throughout the U.S. On the sunny side (up), the incident helped force legislators to take up the issue of food safety. After much infighting, they even managed to pass some sorely needed reform.
In the wake of the BP oil spill, seafood took a hit as well. Those who worked in the fishing and restaurant industries along the Gulf coast saw their livelihoods dry up, and an essential food culture disappear almost overnight. Assuming the worst, Americans moved to greener pastures in search of protein.
And greener they were. Locavores had reason to rejoice this year, as more young people embraced farming, city dwellers built backyard chicken coops and beehives, and everyone, it seemed, subscribed to a CSA or planted a garden (and blogged about it). When faced with the overwhelming bounty of those gardens, Americans channeled their grandparents and started canning. The trend spawned blogs, cookbooks and countless newspaper and magazine stories. Not to mention some really great recipes.
We weren’t completely retro in 2010, though. Food and wine technology made us app-y, with everyone from Mark Bittman to the Food Network to the venerated Gourmet magazine (it’s back! sort of…) launching apps designed to keep us content in the kitchen. And just to keep us in the kitchen. Many Gourmet fans, still in mourning after the magazine’s untimely 2009 demise, waited with bated breath for its touted new incarnation. Gourmet Live debuted in September, but only for iPad users. It’s iHip and of iHappening, but is it still Gourmet?
The magazine’s parent company, Condé Nast, abruptly announced that same month it would move its surviving food glossy, Bon Appétit, from L.A. to New York – without longtime editor Barbara Fairchild, who chose not to head east. Condé Nast tapped GQ style editor Adam Rapoport to replace her. Rapoport promises no wholesale changes, but many wonder what’s cooking.
And cooking we were, in 2010. People like Laurie David and AP food editor J.M. Hirsch stressed the importance of cooking and eating with our families. Men donned aprons (at least figuratively) in record numbers and headed to the stove or the grill. And teens and tweens hit their kitchens and their keyboards in droves.
There was no shortage of recipes to choose from, either. Beautiful new cookbooks from the likes of Dorie Greenspan, David Lebovitz, and Rene Redzepi among others, lured us all into the bookstore and the kitchen. We baked breads from Tartine, sweets from Flour, and pretty much everything from Good to the Grain.
We embraced Meatless Mondays, gluten-free living, foraging and nose-to-tail eating. We watched as food allergies rose in number, picky eating became a disorder, and a college professor ate nothing but Twinkies for 10 months.
We reeled at the news that El Bulli would close permanently in 2012, even though many of us would never get the chance to eat there anyway. Maybe we’ll make it to Copenhagen, home of NOMA, newly crowned the world’s best restaurant. Or to the UK, where ‘chef of the decade’ Blumenthal presides over the Fat Duck. But maybe we’ll just continue to flock to food trucks for gourmet fare or to follow rock-star chefs like Ludo Lefebvre to their pop-up restaurants.
It wasn't all about the young upstarts in food this year. The culinary world lost many of its stalwarts, including Rose Gray, a co-founder of London's iconic River Cafe (where a young and green Jaime Oliver got his start), influential food editor Michael Batterberry, and New York dining legend Elaine Kaufmann, whose eponymous Upper East Side restaurant was a celebrity magnet for decades.
Wherever we’re eating, it’s more likely we’ll be ordering our wine from an iPad, as many restaurants began loading their entire lists onto the tiny tablet – a welcome change from those massive, leather-bound volumes many of us could barely lift. The wine world saw much action in 2010, not all thanks to Steve Jobs. The Chinese love affair with wine grew into, well, a love affair. Chilean vineyards reeled from the effects of an earthquake. South African wines got a much-needed boost from their country’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup. Pennsylvania began selling wine in vending machines. And in New Zealand, a glut of sauvignon blanc took the blush off that country’s MVG (most valuable grape).
While breweries vied to create world's strongest beer, drinkers and legislators went a little loco over Four Loko, the now-banned caffeine/alcohol combo; and a team of Kiwis unearthed cases of long-buried whiskey from the ice outside Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic hut. When asked how it tasted, they answered, “Cold.”
In 2010, food and wine blogging continued apace, as did our reading of food and wine blogs. Bloggers took their cameras everywhere, sparking some backlash from restaurateurs and chefs, not to mention more than a little media attention. They showed their compassion in their response to the Haitian earthquake and their solidarity in their response to an online magazine’s unauthorized – and uncompensated – use of a blogger’s work. Cook’s Source ultimately shut down as a result of the backlash.
Many bloggers swam into the mainstream with book deals and publications. Last year’s surprise cookbook hit, The Pioneer Woman Cooks, became this year’s surprise movie deal (with no less than Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon signed on to play the lead).
Will 2010’s breakout, Ruth Bourdain, become next year’s mainstream darling? The Twitter celeb mixes the poetic musings of former Gourmet chief and soon-to-be Random House editor Ruth Reichl with the expletive-replete snark of chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain. All to great comic effect. The recent news that he/she would begin writing a column for CHOW makes us wonder: Can a book deal be far behind?
While we can’t even pretend to predict the coming year, we can only hope RuBo will keep the funny coming, chefs will continue to bring us incredible restaurants and cookbooks, and the great food and wine writing never ends. We’ll be eating it up.