The A-Z of food in the Noughties

As we say goodbye to 2010, it seems fitting to take a moment to chart the foibles and frenzies, trends and travesties that marked the decade that was. Fiona Sims takes on the task – and makes a few predictions for next decade.

The A-Z of food in the Noughties

A is for Aunt Bessie’s Mashed Potato

Frozen mash sales doubled when Delia Smith sung its praises in her 2008 book How to Cheat at Cooking. Delia has the Midas touch, powerful enough to transform a business’s fortunes. Another company to receive the ‘golden nod’ in her books was Italian food supplier Fratelli Camisa, for its Martelli pasta. The word ‘Delia’ entered the Collins English Dictionary in 2001.

B is for barbecue

We’re talking low and slow, which means cooking over an indirect heat on a charcoal or gas grill, with the lid on – similar to hot-smoking. This kind of barbecue is big in the USA but is catching fire here – especially now Jamie Oliver has opened new London restaurant Barbecoa. Aficionados claim that cooking fast and hot over a direct heat is fine for burgers, steaks and chicken breasts, but not for roasts, ribs or whole chickens.

Barbecue recipes

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C is for cupcakes

Helped along by Sex and the City (another icon of the decade), the cupcake phenomenon experienced an unstoppable rise – until it was eclipsed by the arrival of the macaroon. Google’s annual zeitgeist list 2008 included cupcakes as the fastest-rising recipe search in the UK.

Recipes for cupcakes

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D is for Dave Lamb

Lamb is the presenter of cult reality cookery show Come Dine with Me. If it weren’t for his hilarious observations, the Channel 4 show would still be hidden away in its daytime slot. Instead, it hogs prime time, as viewers watch a fascinating cross-section of the public compete messily in their kitchens for the £1,000 prize.

E is for enchilada

Mexican restaurants are popping up faster than jumping beans, from Benito’s Hat, Mas Burritos, Chilango and Chipotle, to Chiquito, Tortilla and Wahaca. Says the latter’s owner, MasterChef winner turned restaurateur Thomasina Miers: “I just hope the growing popularity of Mexican food means we’ll soon be able to buy more of the ingredients in supermarkets.”

Chicken enchiladas recipe

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F is for food bloggers

Love them or miss the point of them, it seems they’re here to stay – and they’re even breaking into Hollywood. The film Julie & Julia, based on the book of the same name by food blogger Julie Powell, charted her 2002 challenge to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s first book. With Meryl Streep as Julia, the film was a surprise hit at the box office and, in its wake, food blogs continue to proliferate. It’s a serious business, and there’s no sign of the craze slowing down.

G is for grazing

From Terroirs and Polpo restaurants in London to Graze in Brighton, there’s been a big boom in small plates. “As tasting menus and sharing plates rise in popularity, it’s the death of the three-course meal,” declares the AA Restaurant Guide’s head honcho Simon Numphud.

H is for happy chickens

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall turned the country (okay, the middle classes) against battery farming – he even cried over it on Hugh’s Chicken Run, which aired on Channel 4 in 2008. We love you, Hugh.

I is for ice cream

Real, proper, dairy ice cream made on-site in an ice-cream parlour – mostly by Italians and mostly in London – such as Gino’s Gelato and Gelato Mio. Expect organic milk and top-quality ingredients such as Sicilian pistachios and Belgian chocolate. Firmly off the menu are palm oil, stabilisers and the artificial colourings incorporated into many mass-produced iced dairy confections that are whipped full of air and extruded onto wimpy cones.

How to make ice cream

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J is for Jamie Oliver

Is there no stopping the boy? He’s cracked America now with the TV show Jamie’s Food Revolution USA, and, back at home, he’s conquered teatime TV with Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (Channel 4) to show us how quickly we can knock up a proper dinner without resorting to a ready meal.

K is for knowledge

The knowledge you’ll gain after attending one of the new breed of cookery schools that have popped up around the country, all promising to go the extra mile. One of the best is Thyme at Southrop, in Gloucestershire: “We want to tell the whole story of food, its journey from source to production through to preparation, and the pleasure of serving, eating and drinking,” says the school’s founder and owner Caryn Hibbert.

L is for locally sourced food

Cue the farmers’ market – the foodie phenomenon of the past decade. The pilot was launched in Bath in 1997, and now there’s one in every town. With consumers wanting to know more about the provenance of their food, as well as wanting to limit the food miles of the produce they buy, farmers’ markets are on a roll.

M is for Microplane

At the cutting edge of grater technology and one of the best kitchen gadgets of the decade. The sharp teeth make light work of the toughest foods, from aged Parmesan, to nutmeg, lemon rind and coconut.

N is for Noma

The much-lauded Copenhagen restaurant, opened by chef René Redzepi in 2003, was named best in the world at the annual S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards in 2010. Noma’s effect has been far-reaching. It has encouraged chefs around the world to rethink how they source and cook ingredients – focusing on the truly local and seasonal, and teaming up with foragers.

René Redzepi interview

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O is for organic

Organic food caught on in a big way in the early part of the decade, but when the recession hit, sales suffered, with only organic milk bucking the trend.

P is for pub

This has been the decade of the gastropub – the biggest food revolution the country has seen since ready meals emerged in the 1970s. Ten years ago, not a single pub in the UK had a Michelin star. Now there are 10 of them. The Stagg Inn, Titley, Herefordshire, was the first to get the accolade in 2001, and The Harwood Arms the most recent – the first star for a London pub.

Q is for Queen Bee

Her kingdom is in disarray, as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) continues to threaten our honeybees – and the planet, if you believe the doom merchants.

Show me the honey

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R is for ready meals

Okay, so they make life easier, but those hidden calories contribute to our ever-expanding waistlines, not to mention them taking the blame for our lack of skill in the kitchen. The over-packaged shortcuts have become more sophisticated in the past few years, though, with many supermarkets launching ‘ready to cook’ meals that are a step above the bog-standard offering (and often healthier, too).

S is for sustainability

We’re into the s-word now, and restaurants have made it part of their ethos. Barny Haughton, founder of Bordeaux Quay restaurant in Bristol (which has a ‘gold’ from the Soil Association’s sustainable catering scheme), puts it this way: “Caring about sustainability is the restaurant world’s way of saying it can do better in taking responsibility for energy consumption, food miles, water and waste. Concern for the future of farming systems, animal welfare, food education and the environment should be the prerequisite for all good restaurants.”

T is for trotters

And other cheap cuts of meat, such as the now in-vogue pork belly. Recession has seen a return to the bits our grandparents used to eat, as we rediscover slower cooking methods that transform tougher cuts.

U is for the underground restaurant

The rise of the private supper club and pop-up restaurant has been another phenomenon, with home cooks opening up their living rooms to strangers. At times, the pros got in on the action too… After a stint in El Bulli, Portuguese-born chef Nuno Mendes ran The Loft Project from his home, before opening Viajante  in London’s East End. Chef Stevie Parle ran a supper club called The Dock Kitchen in northwest London’s Paddington Docks, before it became a permanent restaurant. At the other end of the spectrum, big-name chefs set up shop, pop-up style, for limited engagements in the unlikeliest of places – the most notable being Pierre Koffmann’s revival of La Tante Claire on the roof of Selfridges in London.

V is for venison

And other game meat. It’s healthy, sustainable and delicious, and sales have soared in recent years. The likes of pheasant, partridge, rabbit and hare are getting easier to find in supermarkets and farmers’ markets as Brits lose their squeamishness for the wild stuff.

Venison recipes

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W is for whoopie pies

A rival to the macaroon for the cupcake’s crown, this upstart of a cake is a cross between a pair of chocolate cookies and a cake sandwich. Legend has it that the whoopie pie, or BFO (Big Fat Oreo), was originally a treat baked by an Amish farmer’s wife for her husband’s lunchbox. He – allegedly – shouted, “Whoopie!” when he saw its irresistible contents. Hmmmm… New York’s famous Magnolia Bakery put the whoopie pie on the map two years ago, and now they’re popping up everywhere. The delicious. verdict? This is a trend we’d like to fade away – the lighter texture and flavours of macaroons whoop whoopies hands down.

X is for xanthan gum

You can thank Heston Blumenthal for this one, and for the liquid nitrogen he uses to ‘cook’ his bacon and egg ice cream at the table of his three-Michelin-starred restaurant, The Fat Duck. Actually syrup made from bacteria (mmm, yum), it can take the place of cornstarch and is used frequently in dairy products as a thickening agent and as a stabiliser in gluten-free baking. Blumenthal likes the gel-like quality it gives to certain ingredients.

Y is for yeast

Wild yeast, that is, destined for posh loaves, de rigueur throughout the Noughties. The poshest of all is a Poilâne sourdough loaf at nearly £10 a pop, created from a secret recipe by baker Pierre Poilâne in 1932. Devotees include Robert de Niro and Catherine Deneuve.

Z is for zucchini

Okay, so we say courgettes, but the River Café uses the American term, zucchini, and what the River Café says rules. The influence of its founders, Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, was (and still is) enormous. Their books remain on the bestseller lists, and the restaurant, recently given a makeover, continues to pack in the punters, despite its awkward location.

Courgette recipes

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