I have a theory. I think that we can judge the collective mental state of a country by its appetite. Yep. The way we think about and consume food reflects something much larger than a passing yen. Sure, sometimes we have the uncontrollable urge to eat Buffalo wings and m-n-ms for no particular reason at all, but repetitive public patterns are undeniably revealing.
Consider my hypothesis on a personal level: when it’s raining and you’re tired and worried and maybe a little sad and having an altogether regrettable day, what do you want to eat? Grilled cheese.
Take a moment to remove yourself from the mental bubble known as life in a restaurant. Turn on the news and call your dad. Figure out what the people around you are thinking. Take the proverbial pulse of your community. Still don’t have a clue what they’re feeling? I’ll tell you: It’s raining and we’re tired and worried and maybe a little sad. The status is not quo, and we want a grilled cheese.
One of the writers over at Zagat online recently dubbed comfort food “one of the 10 most annoying trends of 2011.” Is it annoying to be able to profit from simply prepared, low-cost food items? Ahem. Trend or not, Americans are currently craving comfort food. Fall is here and winter is fast approaching. This is the perfect time to add some comfort foods to your menu. This doesn’t have to be an exercise in monotony. In fact, it presents your chefs with the opportunity to creatively reinvent traditional dishes.
Think meatloaf, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese. Sure, these items may seem pretty mundane, but find a way to make them your own. There’s an upscale restaurant here in Atlanta that is famous for its lobster potpie. It’s not even printed on the menu, but guests who are in the know consistently request it, and piping hot orders fly out of the kitchen at a bewildering pace. They have found a way to make the lowly potpie into something extraordinary, and diners have responded with enthusiasm.
For dessert, another well-known establishment serves up fried peach pies with browned butter ice cream. If that’s not comfort, I don’t know what is. As far as the dessert menu is concerned, simplicity is key: hot cocoa with handmade marshmallows, a slice of buttermilk pound cake.
Think of this as a challenge and an exciting way to reinvent tradition. Chances are that you, too, are in need of a little comfort. Think about the unpretentious foods that you love and find a way to make them shiny and new. Are you too good to make me a grilled cheese? Or will you rise to the occasion and make me the most epic grilled cheese of my life?
As always, I’d love to hear about the ways that you incorporate comfort foods onto your menus. Do you think it’s an annoying trend, or are you excited to make the old new again? Please feel free to comment below!