By Charlie Hopper, guest blogger
At last Spring’s NRA Show in Chicago, while browsing that day’s speaker’s schedule and deciding how to allocate my most precious resource—time—I had the luck to choose the “He Said/She Said” town-hall-style education session in which Nancy Kruse, trend expert and president of The Kruse Company, introduced topics for discussion during which Bret Thorn, Senior Food Editor at Nation’s Restaurant News, typically performed a dour but lovable comedy riff at some point.
During the discussion, at one point, building off a discussion kicked off by an audience member’s question on another subject, Nancy posed a question which, if it were anyone but her asking, would have seemed rhetorical: “Where do trends come from?” A moment passed, and she repeated the question, more gently. “Where do trends come from?”
Since she was a professional trend expert, of course, we all assumed she would proceed to tell us.
“Top down?” she continued. She looked around to see if we thought that was a reasonable assumption or not. “Twenty-five years ago, trends moved from the coasts in. Thanks to the culinary revolution, though—” and here she nodded toward Bret, who nodded back in acknowledgment that there had, indeed, been a culinary revolution in the United States that spread all across the map, limited by no artifical boundary but only the imagination and high standards of whomever was doing the cooking and menu-creation (all of which, of course, is merely my interpretation of his acknowledging return-nod)—“thanks to the culinary revolution, trends can pop up anywhere. Chattanooga, Texas… Digital communication spreads the word fast.”
“Who started cauliflower steak? Who started that?” she said.
Everyone chuckled at the inherent outlier nature of cauliflower steak.
“It can even start in supermarkets. Pom, for example,” said Bret, referring to the “POM Wonderful” brand of pomegranate juice. “Pistachios, chia seeds.”
“Or people suddenly excited about a particular diet,” said Nancy.
“Unsalted butter added to coffee!” Bret said. “‘Bulletproof.’ A wonderful concentration, and it actually helps you lose weight.” He turned to Nancy. “I can’t remember the last ‘Fine Dining Down…’”
“Sliders reversed it, from chains to fine dining,” she offered, both supporting his point and expanding the little live-essay-writing the two of them were performing.
And it was here that Bret began to riff. “And …okay. ‘Always Fresh, Never Frozen’ is NOT the best for nutrients. You know?” He went on to explain that the now-common slogan, literally a Wendy’s commercial tag but adopted by many restaurants unofficially, just means, literally, never frozen. “But maybe they should have been,” said Bret. He continued to explain that if you have the same vegetable raw and frozen over a period of days or longer, if you froze it when you harvested, the nutrients are preserved.
Nancy, still in a brainstorming mode, confronted head-on the fact that ‘frozen’ can be perceived negatively. “Romance it on the menu. Say, ‘Freshly prepared in our kitchen.’ Applebee’s ‘Fresh Cut?’ It’s not local. It wasn’t literally just cut from the garden. It’s frozen. But it was frozen soon after it was cut, so they romance it.”
So trends come from all over, is the answer, and then sometimes require a little romancing to catch on.
And as they moved on to another topic, I’ll bet I’m not the only one who wrote in their notes, “Google unsalted butter coffee bullet proof.”