Gael and Matt know their shit. Not trying to call them out on anything. It's their job to report trends and identify them, they do it well. They didn't determine the way Americans and to a certain extent post-modern foodies around the world dine. This is just how they found it. You may think, Eddie, why would you care if razor clams are a trend or not? Let em eat razor clams! It's not that simple.
From Skate to pork belly to razor clams, there's always something that's priced reasonably, previously ignored, and able to fill a role on a menu. That's where these things start. Your purveyor comes to you with a new product, say, Mangalitsa Pork and asks you to try it. It was almost extinct in Hungary as a lard animal but now they want you to experiment with it. There's an introductory rate. The pig really isn't good for anything but lard, yet, you can charge a premium for the experience and novelty. Call it kobe pork! While the purveyor is showing it to you, he's showing it to 5 other chefs in your neighborhood, boom. We have a trend.
The Mangalitsa isn't a bad product. It's interesting. I'd like to spend some time with it, slowly integrate it, and figure out how to deliver it at a fair, sustainable price so it isn't here today/gone tomorrow on my menu. Am I selling a trend or selling a good dish? By the time you cycle through those thoughts, Mangalista prices go up for a summer, then they level out. But by the time it levels out, the eating public is bored. They just paid $30+ for a mangalitsa experience that doesn't really out-do your average berkshire. With pork, the problem has never been marbling. With the loin, YES, the Mangalitsa has an advantage there, but in terms of the rest of the animal, especially belly or butt, I doubt the berkshire lacks marbling. On top of that, chefs are coming up with specials and pushing trends before truly understanding the product because they don't have to. The novelty sells itself.
It's a disservice to the product and the eating public. I'm sure Batali knows exactly what to do with cannolicchi (razor clam) and ditto for April Bloomfield with Mangalitsa, but they aren't the problem. It's the copy cats. They produce cheap knock-off interpretations or worse yet, drop razor clams on some shitty farm-to-table-to-bedford ave restaurant that thinks cooking simply involves buying a new locally sourced ingredient and putting some pink sea salt on it. There's no craft. Just taste the simplicity, the essence, the natural flavor. No asshole, COOK it.
Razor clams aren't a trend. You've been able to find them all around Chinatown or Italian neighborhoods for decades. Just look at the search results for "razor clams" on yelp, it's a who's who of Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Eater Top 38 restaurants. They are on lowly Chinese diner type menus such as Wo-Hop, but once the P.A.C. (People Above Canal) play it out, the price goes up and you may see it disappear from certain menus never to come back. You have to realize, it may only take New Yorkers 5 months to cycle through a food trend like Mangalitsa or razor clams, but that's just the beginning. For the next year, you'll find it in DC, Philly, Boston, Miami, Seattle, Portland, Austin... God, and at some point dare I say, it'll be in Orlando. Just like "the man" took the black eyed peas from the underground and sold them back to us auto-tuned with a chick that should have been in the WWF, we are going to be buying back razor clams at $20 a pop in chinatown soon. But after a year or two, someone will announce that razor clams are endangered and that it'll take another 20 years to repair the beating they took during the "trend". Which sucks, because those consuming it as a trend couldn't care less that it's gone. But for the rest of us, it isn't a trend, it's a staple.
It is better for food culture if we are slower to absorb new ingredients into the canon so that they have staying power. I understand that the foodielution in America is only about 15 to 20 years old, but this isn't a trend either. I STILL somehow end up on dates with birds who only eat chicken (canibals) and don't eat bone meat. There's a lot of work to do and we aren't even close. On the flip side are line cooks from 2 or 3 star restaurants who hang out at Baohaus measuring cocks. "Oh, dude, pork belly is so played out!" "Yeah, fuck foie gras, Mugatu is so hot right now." You guys are a bunch of Zoolanders. People "in the scene" (puke) need to dig their heads out of their asses and understand that the rest of the nation still subsists primarily on 80/20 ground beef and chicken breasts.
I'm not saying we should serve burgers and chicken breast, but if we look like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off running from new ingredient to new ingredient and the public can't follow, well, then this whole exercise is just intellectual masturbation cause there is no lasting effect on national eating habits. Maybe that isn't our concern, but again, everything is everything. If we can't affect the rest of America, then all this sustainable talk is for nothing because they're going to eat McDonald's ground beef until it kills us. We may go down with Mangalitsa saddle bags, but we're going down nevertheless. The rate of consumption during these trends is unsustainable for most products. They need to be given time to grow and meet demand slowly. We also have to manage demand so that people don't dismiss our products with only a surface understanding. I am somewhat passionate about this cause I saw it happen to street wear. We thought we were the epicenter in New York, boutiques were busy, and certain brands were selling across the nation, but we were packaged as a "trend". People didn't understand what we were trying to say, they just recognized a common aesthetic between certain designers and stigmas formed. People bought the "look" not the message or the actual soul of what was going on. When that happens, you have no longevity. As soon as the recession hit, every one went down. There was no customer loyalty because they hadn't bought into the culture.
Beyond taking an item out of the price point where ethnic restaurants can deliver consistently, there's a level of disrespect. I've never been a respectful guy myself, but I do believe in a nod to the Gods. Whether it's French, Italian, Chinese, or the clam diggers in Long Beach, Washington, l try to peep the history before I talk about trends or innovations and then proceed to credit the proper Iron Chef. I couldn't find out who was first in razor clams, but from my research it's common all over Italy, the Pacific Northwest, and China. Just looking at Chinese history, razor clams have been harvested for over 500 years in Fujian and Zhejiang, which is why you see them more in Manhattan Chinatown as opposed to Flushing: more Fukienese people. As Chefs, don't we have a responsibility to educate? As writers, is it enough to just identify the trend? Spend the extra 30 minutes and shout-out the OG's. That's all I'm saying, that's all Kool Herc wants, and if Jay-Z can oblige Kool Herc during Home and Home, then we can too.
As consumable art, food lends itself to competition, but why are we in such a rush? Does it really matter if you were first in line? As eaters, it makes sense if you are more concerned with understanding the food, experiencing it, and soaking it in. There is no need to run around town eating, dismissing, and checking things off a list. One of my favorite things is to take a train to a neighborhood I don't know and just collect menus representing a certain style of cuisine, perhaps Eastern European in Brighton Beach or Coney Island. I'll look at them all and try something new, then I'll go back in a month and try something else in the same vein. I keep going back trying the same food item at different places until I develop a foundation and frame of reference. I remember my first piroshky in Seattle (Piroshky Piroshky). I told every one about it, how awesome piroshky was, but I didn't realize how dope that first hit was until I started eating it more. It's really fucking hard to make a good piroshky. Now, imagine the inverse if all I had were horrible Brooklyn Piroshky? I never would have given the one in Seattle a shot. It's for your own good to eat slowly. There's only so much you can glean in one sitting. As my mother always said, chew slowly and eat every grain of rice cause anything you leave will be a freckle on your baby mama's face.
P.S. it didn't fit in the flow of the post, so I didn't mention, but I am guilty of selling a trend as well. people wanted cheeto fried chicken from the blog, a lot of people were mashing up Asian-Down Home American, so I got caught up in a trend and introduced some really shitty items at Xiao Ye. I didn't intentionally sell shitty items, they were just shitty because I didn't take the time. It happens. No one's perfect. Live and learn.