Four Culinary Trends for Recipe Writers

Nov 032010
 

Kristine Kidd, former food editor of Bon Appetit magazine

Who better than Kristine Kidd, former food editor at Bon Appétit magazine for 20 years, to tell us what’s hot in the culinary world?

As the former food trends expert at the magazine, she collaborated with celebrity chefs and food writers including Thomas Keller, Suzanne Goin, and Nigella Lawson, helping them shape stories and recipes for the magazine. The dishes she created often appeared on the cover.

Now self-employed and a blogger, Kidd is putting the finishing touches on her sixth cookbook, Williams-Sonoma’s Weeknight Fresh and Fast, available in January at W-S stores, everywhere in March.

On a recent teleconference call through the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Kidd told us first how she keeps up with trends, then detailed what she sees.

To keep up, she’s an exhaustive researcher. She reads:

  • Magazines on food, including those from England, Australia and New Zealand
  • Food sections of major American newspapers
  • The business and lifestyles sections of newspapers and newsweeklies
  • And newsletters from Jessica’s Biscuit, cooking stores, and those from supermarkets and food industries.

Then she leaves her computer and desk. She goes to the cookbook table at her local Barnes & Noble; persuses what’s hot on Amazon; talks to food-obsessed friends; and shops at regular and specialty food markets, cooking stores, and farmers’ markets. She also goes to industry conferences.

She compiles all her notes, printouts, and clippings in a letter-size file box on her desk to spark ideas for new projects.

The barometer for what’s going on with cooking and food, she said, is yourself. As food writers, she said we face the same challenges as other cooks. Here are the four broad trends she listed:

1. Political events. War, the economy, budget concerns and our over-busy lives have led to quick, easy and casual meals on weeknights. On weekends, we focus on back-to-scratch and learning the basics, particularly new cooks. We cook more, we cook together, we go for comfort and braises.

2. Regard for the environment. Local, sustainable and organic are the keywords here. There’s an emphasis on produce as the star of the meal. Farmers’ markets have influenced seasonality, organic meats, and the rise of meatless meals. We’re confused about which seafood is okay to eat (See the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch for guidance). Artisanal products are more available than ever, particularly salts, condiments, cheeses, chocolate and salumi.

3. Focus on health. We want humanely raised meats and we’ve returned to foods previously shunned because of their fat content, particularly eggs and nuts. We’re into whole grains, multi grains, legumes, and specialty diets, especially gluten-free. We try for smaller portions. When we eat dessert, we still like our comfort food, but we’re including more produce.

4. World cuisines at restaurants. Chefs are fascinated by Southeast Asian foods, particularly Vietnamese and Indian. They still love Mediterranean but are including more Turkish and Latin foods. The move is to more casual, less expensive foods, and food carts and street food compete with restaurant dollars. And international flavors influence home cooks as well.

Food writers should focus on what intrigues and excites them, she concluded. She advised food writers to experiment, and write a high quality recipe.

p.s. If you’re curious about the new editor of Bon Appetit, see this profile of Adam Rapoport in the New York Times.

  13 Responses to “Four Culinary Trends for Recipe Writers”

  1. To Diane,
    Thanks for the article! I agree on those 4 trends…unfortunately it can and will lead to low profit for high end restaurants, here in AZ. We are oversaturated. Anyway, if u even read these comments, I want to know how to present myself to newspapers, foodie magazines, even local stuff. I want to be taken serously, I don’t want to be a secret shopper, lol!!
    I do want to get paid to eat – and to still cook, of course. I just turned 35, am currently a personal chef…yet soon to be unemployed, as far as it looks so far….have an interview tommorrow w Chef Eddie Matney-local food star….i hope to god that he sees in me what I do and other Chefs’ have as well as my great clients.
    Basic history- I have a 17 year background in the industry- 7+ in Kitchen Management, Sous, and all the other positions on the line. I have worked for 4 diamond resorts, in the fast upscale casual sector, and some banquets as well as extensive catering. I am family taught and then self trained and then went to Johnson and Wales CI for a bit.
    I learned through food at a young age since I was lucky enough to be exposed to it, i did not learn about it at first. Since I grasped on to my passion at age 16-17, I learn more and more about it- and it’s exciting. As I cook, as I read I can come up w a new idea to try out…
    Serious new idea—become a food critic…wheres the guide for that?- well it seems to be here online, through other critics and countless food bloggers too. Sry so long…WHAT DO U SUGGEST? Thank you- if you got this far! ANY inside tips, info would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hey Allison, nice to hear from you. Yes, you can become a food critic, but you probably won’t do well financially. Most publications pay little for a review, and pay varying amounts for the food you ate. I wrote over 9,000 words on the subject in Will Write for Food. It’s a small investment and will deliver all the info you need to get started.

  2. Thanks, Dianne and Kristine. If you have a moment, will you talk about translating trends into book proposals and article pitches with book list and editorial calendars in mind? In other words, if I’m observing a trend today, how do I know if it makes sense to craft an idea around it to pitch to a house or magazine that is operating a year or more ahead? By the time the story or book prints, the trend could be considered saturated, done, dissolved. Any advice or a crystal ball gauge that can help differentiate lasting trends from fleeting fads?

    • That’s the secret sauce, isn’t it. You have to come up with a trend idea that is sustaining. You have already done that with your book, Tara, so certainly, you are extremely capable.

      Trend pieces do better in newspapers than magazines with a 6-month lead time. Certainly you can apply trends to magazine editorial calendars, which are built often to attract advertisers.

  3. A terrific reminder that success comes in part from keeping up with your homework. Nice piece.

  4. Great article Dianne.

    As Anastasia said, it’s a wonderful reminder that keeping up with your research is crucial to stay ahead.

    I am still navigating my way into the food world and have yet to do much cooking or experiment with many recipes. With a new challenge before me trying to take control of my weight once and for all, my blog is centered around healthy eating, my struggles with eating, and various other food related topics as well.

    One thing I definitely agree with is that no matter what, we have to focus on what is interesting and exciting to us as food writers. If we give in to the masses and only write what others want, the quality of the writing will drop. If we put our passion into it and write what we enjoy while also understanding our readers’ feedback, we can thrive and become successful.

    • Definitely, Kim, there’s no point in focusing on a trend if your heart’s not in it. Healthy eating is never going to go out of style.

  5. Dianne -
    Once again you have led us on another exciting session of Mental Gymnastics. I think Tara has a good point in that none of us can really know beforehand how long a trend will be trending. And if we each examine our own personal repertoire of recipe exercises, do we see any evidence of current or past trends? Maybe we should consider not just the trends but which of their aspects we incorporate into our own routines. And is there a noticeable difference between fads and trends in foods and food writing? Or even in food writers? I think I am getting a brain-cramp about now from all this thinking out loud….must be time to take a break and read some good trendy cookbooks.
    Karen

  6. Great and informative piece, Dianne (and Kristine). Many thanks!

    As a private chef, I see so many of these trends through the requests of my, typically food-savvy, clients. Over the past couple years, comfort and simplicity have become the norm. Living in northern CA with my primary focus on healthy, organic/local food, sustainability is also a common concern. People want to know which farmers I support and they certainly have their opinions on which ones are best.

    Finally, I’m amazed at how many people know what a tagine or cassoulet is and love experimenting with rare spice blends and unique flavor combinations.

    Guess it’s all that great food writing!

    • I’m amazed that your clients want to know which farmers you support, and know what a tagine or cassoulet is, but then again, maybe you seek out clients who fit with your own culinary goals. Maybe they watch food TV and read food-based magazines as well. What a hoot!

  7. Dianne, thanks so much for sharing Kristine Kidd with us. I had the wonderful opportunity to hear her speak a few months ago at Camp Blogaway in LA. She is a smart woman who is fueled with passion and desire. I thrive on a similar energy. There are not enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want to do in the super exciting culinary world.
    From recipe development to food styling, photography and mingling/social networking on the web – I would stay up round the clock if only I could :)
    These trends are very interesting & I have noticed many from the reading I do daily.
    I hope to join you all in the IACP soon, I am working on saving some dollars to attend Austin in 2011.
    xo

    • You are most welcome, Marla. I’m definitely amazed by how she’s still so passionate about recipe writing after all these years.

      Yes, we have the same problem. Not enough hours in the day. That’s what Twitter is for. It’s a timesaver, right?

      Hope to see you at IACP in Austin next year.

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