The old restaurant group that I worked for in Melbourne ticked all the boxes when it came to appealing the generation it targeted. From the fit out to the menu to the ‘feel’ of the place, no stone was left unturned in our quest to extract as much spend as we could from our specified demographic.
Whilst I worked within the organization, I often marvelled at how the boss managed to effectively ‘nail-it’ so decisively yet at the same time I had an uneasy feeling that sooner or later our punters would be dying off and with them our offering will seem decidedly old hat.
When it comes to food, I have often wrestled with the notion of what constitutes a ‘timeless’ dish, a dish that transcends fashion and one that always seems to be popular, the dishes that everybody says, ‘Oh that’s a classic, everyone loves this dish’ etc.
I am beginning to believe that this is particularly true of the older generation especially when you consider say: corned beef, or lambs fry etc. These are dishes that are not so commonly eaten these days and it’s not a long bow to suggest that as a result of this they might even be considered passé. Or one could argue that for many of us they are not passé but have been given a modern spin and have morphed into that most ubiquitous of terms used to describe dishes of yesteryear, ‘Comfort food’.
But for the younger generations what are their ‘comfort foods’ as such? Is the food at restaurants these days the ‘classic dishes’ of tomorrow? Will the funky recycled 6 Degrees ‘look’ so common in Melbourne these days be the ‘laced curtain and doily-esque travesty’ of the future? Some people have suggested that fast food is the comfort food of the younger generations and hence many menus where the burger, slider, springy, wonton, dog and taco appear as a homage or also under the moiker of 'Dude Food'.
I know that many people and not just older diners struggle with the splodges, foams, gels, soils, dehydrations and skid marks that make a modern plate these days because to many its nothing they can recognize and to borrow a phrase from AA Gill, ‘It might be something but its certainly not dinner’. Food fashions come and go however some dishes which have been around for Donkeys have stubbornly endured, but why?
If you read the glossy food mags or eat out a bit you’ll be noticing a seismic shift in the way food is cooked and presented. In fact there is definitely a new aesthestic being practiced in kitchen throughout this country and it in essence eschews the notion that what you get put in front of you should be instantly recognisable.
What I also find particularly intriguing is that many of our most lauded hatted restaurants whose stock in trade to date has been premium ingredients with expert technique, are starting to look ‘old hat’ when compared to this new way of cooking and presenting food. As an example, a dish of lamb at one of our celebrated places might have the lamb as the ‘hero’ accompanied by several bit-players, each recognizable and in a way obviously complementary to the lamb. Conversely, the in this new way, the lamb might appear as a repeating motif on the plate, as an essence, a dehydrated soil or maybe as a bit of jelly. The resulting dish is not often something that the diner can identify and say, ‘Oh there’s the lamb bit’.
So when did this happen?
Well it may have had its germination when we started using rectangular, triangular and ovoid plates. The Molecular Posse who disbanded then reformed as ‘Tecno-mocion Cuisine’ have had a lasting impact but when they hooked up with the ‘Foragers’ and ‘Time and Place’ practitioners could have been the moment when food started not to look like dinner as we once knew it.
Having said all this, I am clearly seeing things through the myopia of my own prejudices and culinary influences so I simply might not be capable of understanding this new aesthetic. This doesn’t mean though, that I don’t appreciate it nor ignore its importance in the scheme of our culinary journey.
However the lingering question for me remains: From this bubbling new ferment will there be some long lasting and enduring food combinations that will stand the test of time and will they be the dishes people seek out when needing to be comforted by food?