Trends without end, round six: liquid assets, flesh and fine-dining elitism
Mark DeNittis, founder, Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat
On flesh: I think we'll see more old-world butcher/meat-driven eatery/market concepts. A rise in the growth of this movement came over the past few years with Primal Cuts: Cooking With America's Best Butchers, by Marissa Guggiana. It's a great book that also helped form the Butcher's Guild, meat communities such as meatcuttersclub.com, and interest in professional butchery classes, including Denver's own Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat: Foundations in Meat Fabrication, which I founded. Interest, both locally and nationally, has the professional program running twice a year at Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in LoDo. The number of non-accredited recreational butchery classes has grown considerably, too, as have chef-driven meat-product lines.
On lamb and pig: I think that lamb belly may become the new pork. I was part of the Meat Buyer's Guide lamb section revision team in 2008 and 2009, where we identified cuts considered to be value-focused, profitable and different, and the belly kept coming up because of its great versatility, be it bone-in short-rib applications or boneless options with a variety of cooking techniques. Chefs will also continue to flex their nose-to-tail prowess, including charcuterie- and salumi-driven menu offerings.
Jonathan Greschler, wine director, Old Major (spring of 2013)
On the grape vine: We'll hopefully see a strong push for staff education and wine programs with a clarity of vision and a sense of purpose. Hell, I may do an all-pinot/all-Riesling list for a while, just to show it can be done in Denver. Wine lists can be creative, eclectic and funky only if there's training for the staff behind it. Lists can be geeky and dorky, too, but too many restaurants don't -- or can't invest in -- proper training for their staff, and that leads to one person being the sole juice gateway, which is bad, bad, bad. The great thing that's happening for wine in Denver restaurants is the slow disintegration of the three-to-four-times markup, which used to be standard in our industry, being replaced by a 2.2-to-two times model. This means the best values on most lists aren't the $5 to $7 glasses (which cost $5 to $7 a bottle, by the way), but the $30 to $40 bottles that, just three years ago, were $45 to $75 a bottle.
On fine-dining elitism: I'm putting my foot down and stating my allegiance as an enemy of fine dining. Fine dining is elitist and classist and a holdover from when the help didn't speak. And from a straight-up sense of grace, there are very few places that do true fine dining well, if at all, in this country. Aside from that, it's unappreciated by most of the foodie populace and insanely difficult to teach -- plus, if we had a real fine-dining restaurant in Denver, who would come? And, frankly, we'd have to import fine-dining servers. Is there a server in Denver that still has to do the marble exercise? (No, pervs, not that. Marbles are placed on multiple plates while you train to serve, and they can't make noise or spill. Try it; it's fun.) Fine dining implies so much: multiple courses, metal trays, cushioned tables, virtually silent service, and it all seems so...frigid. And it's something that needs to die, if for no other reason than it can re-emerge as something else.
On service: Service styles are based on knowledge and training, but also warmth and a sense of giving. Short of stripping, no other profession requires so much perversion of self as service. Egos in fine dining are to be subjugated to the needs of the guest? Fuck that. The goal should be the experience of the guest, not their desires. Our goal should be to make sure people leave, to quote Anthony Bourdain, "full, drunk, and hopefully, getting laid." I'd love to see a situation where fine-dining servers work with all their trade skills, but in an environment where it seems like they're hosting their own party -- dress, music, table settings, glassware, cocktails, wine lists and menus all in harmony, seeming to come from one person who has the night off and invited you into their home. Form should follow function - nothing more -- and training is key, training until service becomes a graceful, innate skill. When service is based on skill, and not just looks or personality, it becomes something that can be improved -- something at which a server can excel. That's when dining will become really fine, because all of those cute, cool people we have working in the industry will become really good at what they do.
See our final installment of "Trends Without End" here tomorrow.