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2013 Year in Food: From A to Z(agat)

By Zagat Staff
December 17, 2013

2013 was a year full of surprises, both culinary and otherwise as we've documented in our year-end photo-booth-style video above, and A to Z list below. We're counting down everything memorable about the last year one letter at a time - from Cronuts and sriracha candy canes to celeb-chef scandals - check out the slide show below for the full rundown.

-Kelly Dobkin and Jenny Miller

  • Asian Amps Up

    This wasn't just the year everyone became obsessed with ramen (more on that later), but also the year many of us tried certain lesser-known Asian cuisines for the first time. Macanese hit Chicago with Fat Rice, and Iron Chef Marc Forgione (along with Laos-born chef Soulayphet "Phet" Schwader) brought Laotian to New York in the form of Khe-Yo.  Also, call it Pok Pok-itis, as everybody suddenly got obsessed with the larb, khaoi soi and other spicy fare of Northern Thailand. It was also a year for blurring the boundaries, geographic and otherwise, with this continent's great cuisines: everywhere from Mission Chinese to Naomi Pomeroy's Expatriate in Portland suddenly felt no hesitation in mixing things up with dishes like Kung Pao Pastrami or Chinese-sausage hot dogs - and diners have been eating it up.

  • Bowien

    Chinese-food wizard Danny Bowien had a year filled with ups and downs... but mostly ups. He opened a second restaurant in NYC, Mission Cantina, to some early critical acclaim. He snagged a James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef and made appearances in national magazines and on late-night TV. His Mission Chinese in NYC even rolled out citywide delivery - but unfortunately had to shut down temporarily due to building code issues (but will likely reopen in early 2014). Regardless, Bowien was probably the most important chef of 2013 (next to Cronut-inventor Dominique Ansel. More on that in the next slide). He proved you can present high-brow ingredients in an approachable, friendly fashion (allowing for substitutions) and redefine people’s perception of a cuisine in the process.

  • Cronut

    NYC pastry chef Dominique Ansel achieved total world domination with this viral creation - half croissant and half donut. What followed was fame, fortune, copycats and a continually growing obsession with hybrid foods from chefs around the country (and the world). But Ansel actually has the goods to back up his success - his master pastry chef technique (honed at restaurants like Daniel, among others) makes his bizarre creations just as tasty as they are whimsical. 2013 was the year of the Cronut. Need we say any more?

  • Deen

    Paula Deen’s butter-soaked empire crumbled to pieces this year after she was accused of being a racist in a scandal over the summer. Deen lost sponsorship deals with dozens of companies, her Food Network contract, and, well, most of her dignity after making a viral apology video and then appearing on the Today show in another botched attempt at redemption. Will Paula Deen return in 2014? Hey y’all, America loves a comeback.

  • Extra-Large Sodas

    Was the Big Gulp the ultimate countercultural statement of 2013? Sounds unlikely, but when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a law banning sales of any soda over 16 fl. oz., even avowed junk-food-eschewers were suddenly clinging to their giant beverages - or other people's rights to drink them - as a matter of principle. The food fight came to a head over the summer, and it's still not over; in October, New York State's Court of Appeals announced it will consider the case next year. Until then: bottoms up!

  • Fires

    Fires devastated some major restaurants this year including the legendary Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA, and Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove Bistro in Fort Worth, TX. Chez Panisse was closed for 3.5 months recovering from the fire. We’ll never forget watching chef/founder (and legend) Alice Waters in tears telling local news what had happened that fateful morning. But we’re happy to report that both Chez Panisse and Lonesome Dove are reopened and better than ever. Check out our first look inside the new Panisse here.

    Pictured: Alice Waters

  • Government Shutdown

    The food world was not immune to October's two-weeklong government shutdown. Some restaurants inside national parks were forced to close entirely, and others in or near federal buildings suffered from a drop in clientele. But worse yet, the FDA - you know, that government body meant to keep us all from dying of food-borne plagues - had to stop inspecting produce amid the congressional paralysis. Which, ironically, probably just led to more people needing the services of the public health care system whose opponents started this whole thing in the first place.

  • Hybrid Foods

    Chefs went hybrid-crazy this year, fusing cuisines that seemingly have no business getting mixed up together: Japanese + Jewish, Korean + Puerto Rican and more. Maybe it was the Cronut effect? Aside from bizarre cuisine pairings, restaurants saw inventions like the cuffin (half cookie half muffin), the fried lasagna burger and more as a result of hybrid mania. Prediction: hybridizing foods will only amp up more in 2014.

  • Instagram

    If there's one social media service that really seems made for food obsessives, it's Instagram, which only seemed to grow in popularity among tastemakers after Facebook purchased the photo-blogging app in 2012. In 2013, it felt like no meal really counted until it had been Insta-documented. Regular use leads to lots of serendipitous "Oh hey, you're here too?" scenarios, if you're sneaky enough to check it in the middle of dinner. Many chefs and restaurants also use Instagram to announce specials and generally connect with and entice diners. As a bonus, it's also an excellent outlet for bragging about travel-food adventures - or just drooling over a friend's alfresco Vietnamese noodles when it's 30 degrees out. Here are our picks for 30 food accounts to follow.

  • Photo by: Pressed Juicery

    Juice

    Like the coffee craze, the cold-pressed fruit- and vegetable-juice trend shows no sign of abating. In fact, it only ramped up in 2013, with a slew of juice-bar openings around the country - and in just about every neighborhood in New York City. You can now get juice delivered to your home, in cocktails, at Starbucks or endorsed by your favorite juicing celebrity (and we don’t mean Jack Lalanne). When something's this healthy and touted as a "lifestyle" (the fresher and more purely organic the better), people tend to get hooked. Plus, who wants to eat a huge plate of salad (so much chewing) when you could just drink it on the go?

  • Kale

    The question on every food editor's lips in 2013 was, "Is [blank vegetable/baked good/condiment/beauty product/dog breed] the new kale?" And the answer was always: "Sigh, nope." Kale is the new kale. Like the zombies so prevalent in pop culture these days, kale has shown a remarkable capacity for rebirth, popping up in some new form just when we all thought we were completely sick of it. Over firing up your oven for homemade kale chips? No worries, just mix a kale smoothie in your blender! Done with every restaurant serving kale salads? Don't fret, an all-kale sub is coming soon to the Subway near your office! Not really.

  • Lab-Grown Meat

    The burger craze may have peaked a few years ago, but the lab-grown burger craze is just beginning. So nascent is this high-tech-sounding trend that a single patty, which was unveiled this summer, took three months and $330,000 to create by allowing 20,000 cow muscle fibers to "grow" in a petri dish. The result reportedly tasted like normal, albeit very lean, beef. Scientists estimate that it may take 10 to 20 years for so-called “cultured beef” to hit supermarkets. But the seeds have been planted... so cue the dystopian-future novels.

  • Marcella Hazan

    The sad passing of cookbook author and "Godmother of Italian Cooking" Marcella Hazan at 89 earlier this year was met with an outpouring of emotion from folks in all parts of the food industry. Hazan brought real Italian recipes to mainstream America, eschewing Italian-American techniques of the '50s and '60s (mushy pasta, canned sauce) and enlightening the food world with her six cookbooks. In the same way Julia Child brought French cuisine to the American masses, Hazan was that pioneer for Italian cuisine. Her culinary legacy will live on long after 2013.

  • Photo by: Bravo

    NOLA

    The Big Easy is 2013’s hottest food city and here’s why. 1) It’s the most buzzed-about food city in the country right now with restaurants like Boucherie, Cochon Butcher and Pizza Delicious. 2) Top Chef took place there this year, only further solidifying its status as a top food town. 3) Post-Katrina, the revitalization of the metropolitan has made way for small-business owners (read: restaurants) to come in and experiment with flavors and concepts. And 4) it’s a cocktail mecca - spots like Cure, Cane & Table and SoBou are on the cutting-edge of libation innovation.

  • Ottolenghi

    Ever since the London-based chef and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi released his smash cookbook Jerusalem in 2012, we've detected his influence everywhere from SoHo to Venice Beach. That emerging Israeli-food trend? Ottolenghi definitely had something to do with that. And via his clean, bright, produce-driven cooking, the Israeli-born chef has emerged as the next evangelist for the humble vegetable, now seeing a renaissance on high-end tasting menus like the $500 one at Napa's Restaurant at Meadowood. Even Jean-Georges is going to further veggie extremes, with the recent announcement that he's planning a 100% raw, vegan concept for his ABC brand.

  • Pumpkin

    What wasn’t flavored with pumpkin in 2013? From lattes, beers and candy bars, to, well, just about anything, pumpkin was the flavor du jour. Although in most cases, pumpkin-flavored foods have about as much pumpkin in them as a steak does. In other words: none. (Check out this hilarious mock PSA about the American pumpkin obsession.) Even chefs got in on the pumpkin mania - incorporating the viral gourd into dishes like gnocchi, soup, salads and more.

  • Quinoa

    Yet another one of those health foods that just won't quit, quinoa has become too popular for its own good (it even got its own movie). U.S. demand for the tasty, high-protein grain has risen so precipitously over the past few years that Andean-based suppliers found it difficult to keep up, sending prices spiking and leading to shortages over the summer. Since quinoa devotees are generally also into yoga, everyone tried to breathe and be really Zen about the super-food shortage. Doing a lot of shots of quinoa vodka probably helped as well.

  • Photo by: Yusho

    Ramen

    In 2013, Ramen went from being a niche food enjoyed by students and Japanophiles, to the SOUP THAT WAS SUDDENLY EVERYWHERE - in every neighborhood of New York, and in Austin (konnichiwa, Ramen Tatsu-Ya), DC (hey, Toki Underground!), Portland ('sup, Boxer Ramen?) and even Oklahoma City (howdy, Kaiteki Ramen). We've slurped through so many bowls of tonkatsu, chicken broth, miso stock, wavy and straight noodles, ramen omakases and even ramen without any broth (so-called mazemen-style) that our glasses are fogged over. It even got turned into a bun for a burger. But you know what? We're still not sick of the stuff.

  • Sriracha

    Kale might not have reached Subway's dens of low-cost sandwichery - yet - but sriracha has. The chain recently began offering customers the option of sriracha mayo, thereby ruining the condiment for respectable eaters everywhere. Okay, not really. Because "rooster sauce" (as a character on hit show Orange Is the New Black referred to it) has become so firmly rooted in the American diet that we now have sriracha candy canes, sriracha vodka and even a sriracha movie. Amid all this, there's a pending sriracha shortage! The LA plant that makes the stuff has halted shipments until mid-January; it seems their supplies are exhausted following a court order last month to partially cease operations after nearby residents complained of runny noses, headaches and nosebleeds (wimps!). Even restaurants won't be able to restock until early 2014, which bodes terribly for spicy tuna rolls and other sriracha-dependent staples. Better stock up now!

  • Trotter

    The tragic and sudden passing of 54-year-old Chicago chef Charlie Trotter rocked the food world in 2013. His famed namesake restaurant opened in Lincoln Park in 1987 and closed in late 2012. During its 25-year run, Trotter won 11 James Beard Foundation awards, including Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Chef and Humanitarian of the Year. He was widely regarded as a forefather of fine dining in America, helping to put not only the Chicago culinary scene on the map, but also forging the way for a new wave of American chefs. Trotter helped launch the careers of chefs around the world, including David Myers, Graham Elliot, Matthias Merges and more. Charlie, you’ll certainly be missed.

  • Photo by: Gabi Porter

    Umami Burger

    Since opening in Los Angeles in 2009, Umami has been on fire, but 2013 was the biggest year yet for the chain, which saw its first locations debut outside of California - Miami Beach and New York City's Greenwich Village. (A second Big Apple location is expected imminently in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.) The fifth-taste-celebrating burger chain also thrust itself on the culinary consciousness - for better or for worse - by offering the most expensive burger in town (make that several towns): a $65 designer Wagyu patty topped with freshly shaved white truffles that's being served for a limited time at the New York, Los Angeles Broadway and San Francisco SoMa locations. In New York, you can make it a $75 burger by adding foie gras. Cough, publicity stunt! Oh sorry: we choked on a truffle.

  • Vegas

    While we all know it’s better to be born lucky than rich, chefs from all over the country flocked to Vegas to do just that in 2013 (i.e. get rich or sell out tryin’). And we’re not just talking about the run-of-the-mill celebrity chefs. A new caliber of celebrity chef is moving in to Sin City - from Giada De Laurentiis’ first-ever spot, Giada’s (opening early 2014), to Tom Colicchio’s Heritage Steak and Ludo Lefebvre’s plans for an oyster bar, Vegas was hotter than ever in 2013. Which chefs will roll the dice in Sin City in 2014? Stay tuned.

  • Williamsburg 3.0

    This year, the “Brooklynization” of the American restaurant was hard to ignore. We saw everything from mason-jar-laden tables to menus loaded with shishito peppers, canned beer and pulled pork sandwiches galore. Restaurants are aligning with certain hipster trends and seeing big business as a result, and the upside is that many of these eateries are putting a focus on quality ingredients - even if it takes an on-site rooftop farm to do so. 2013 was the year that restaurants “put a bird on it.”

  • Photo by: Mad

    Xanthan Gum for the Masses

    This year, the modernist movement went mainstream. Molecular-minded chefs opened up more casual restaurants like Wylie Dufresne’s Alder and Daniel Patterson’s Alta CA, and the mugs of chefs like Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala graced the cover of Time. There’s no hiding it anymore: xanthan gum (a thickener beloved by the test-tube-chef crowd) is at Whole Foods, and the modernist movement is practically water-cooler fodder.

    Pictured: Alex Atala

  • Young Chefs Get... Younger

    The kiddie-chef meme blew up in 2013 with the debut of two competing-child-based food-TV reality shows - MasterChef Junior and Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cookoff. We’re all for equality in the kitchen, and the kiddie cheftestants on both shows were insanely impressive (especially MasterChef Junior), but we’re still a little bit nervous letting tikes wield so many sharp knives under that much pressure. We’re hoping this is a trend that gets a “time out” in 2014.

  • Zagat

    So we’re not going to end this brilliant list on a self-promotional note, but c’mon, Z has to be for Zagat. (Plus we already spoiled it in the headline. Oops.)

    Zagat is all about YOU, so tell us your thoughts on this list and the 2013 year in food in general in the comments.

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