The highlight of the American sporting calendar, yesterday’s Super bowl marks an unofficial holiday for vast swathes of the US. Second only in the food consumption stakes to Thanksgiving, the annual spectacle that accompanies the climax to the season for America’s No1. Sport is, however, more than just a celebration of athletic prowess and incredibly tight shorts. With the average American ingesting 2,500 calories during the 4-5 hour game period, Super bowl Sunday represents a binge eating marathon of goliath proportions. Yesterday Americans consumed 1.25 billion chicken wings. To put that number in perspective, that is 3 Chicken wings for every person living in the US. Alternatively, if you laid down every one of those chicken wings end to end they would stretch across America from Seattle to New England’s stadiums 55 times. Factor in the 14,500 tonnes of crisps, and 1,100 tonnes of nuts that were consumed, and you’ve got yourself a nationwide Super bowl party.* With American football growing quickly in popularity, and talk of a UK franchise on the cards, the ferocious appetite to join in with indulgent festivities was seen across the UK as the bountiful purveyors of American cuisine capitalised on the annual pig out that accompanies the Super bowl. However, with murmurs that 2015 marks the demise of the dude food revolution, and the fleeting nature of food trends, can the popularity of American cuisine keep up the pace beyond the ‘greatest show on earth’, or has the whistle blown on it?
It would appear to be the former, as an Allegra report indicates that 44% of all new restaurant openings in 2014 were serving American cuisine. Surely then the food industry will be awash with sliders, pulled pork, and hot dogs, with consumers quickly tiring of a saturated market full of samey dude food offerings. As the middle class squeeze continues and the hangover of the recession continues to make consumers more value conscious with their money, producers of American food are wising up. Let’s not forgot, the reason why American cuisine is so popular is because it tastes so damn good. More often than not it will knock a few months off the old life expectancy, but all that fat equates to a whole lot of flavour. Now the UK public has such a penchant for dude food, yet a more discerning palette for it, consumers will no longer accept a Wimpy burger- they want the real deal.
The traditional fast food old guard, churning out mediocre stateside fare, are being challenged by a number of high quality, mid-priced new kids on the block. With Five Guys, and Byron popping up across the country like zits on a burger flippers face, the imminent arrival of Shake Shack, whose premium burger offerings have been unsettling McDonalds perch atop the US fast food market, hints that the future of American food lies in premiumisation. With a trend for informal indulgence across the food industry plain to see, and the economy on the up, consumers are wanting a laid back dining experience, and are willing to pay a little extra for top quality food. With American food now very much engrained into the everyday British diet, there are a number of innovators in the industry who are reinventing it using new techniques, quality ingredients and bold flavour combinations to make it tastier than your average Big Mac.
Bubbledogs represents a star spangled example of the premiumisation of dude food. Pairing champagne with deluxe authentic New York wieners, classic American hot dog combinations like chilli and sauerkraut sit side by side with Malaysian satay and pickled cucumber. Bobo Social is offering burgers from rare breed beef farmers in Yorkshire, Essex and Kent, and enhancing their inherent flavours by cooking them over a single species of wood in a charcoal Kopa oven. Bobo’s experimental approach to the burger also sees it incorporate kangaroo, alligator, and ostrich onto its menu. Whilst you won’t be getting much change from a £20 note for these hot dogs and burgers, you will be getting something far more satisfying than a Big Mac. The likes of Almost Famous, Hache and Honest are all similarly innovating with novel fusion flavours and quality ingredients to produce a burger that is a cut above the rest.
No other ingredient defines the shift towards premiumisation better than Lobster, and as Burger and Lobster democratised the steak of the sea for all to enjoy, a number of Lobster roll offerings have followed suit by making it yet more affordable. Fraq’s and Lobster Kitchen have been joined by Smack Deli, whose Lobster Chowder is said to be the best this side of Maine. The entrance of these New England classics indicates that consumers are demanding greater authenticity and regionality from American offerings.
With whispers of Creole food, and its melting pot of fusion flavours, taking precedence in the regional food rankings in America, it might not be long before the UK public is chowing down on Bayou Wings – otherwise known as Buffalo style frogs legs. However, no other type of stateside cuisine demands regional authenticity more than pit barbeque. Red’s True Barbeque is, in their own words, ‘saving the British public from a plague of sad sausage and rodent sized ribs’ and ‘cleansing their souls with smoked offerings’. Partaking in an annual pilgrimage across the Deep South, Red’s founders are not the only ones going out of their way to make regional authenticity a benchmark. Delancey & Co. is giving a true taste of the big apple in Shoreditch, with hot Reuben sandwiches loaded with succulent salt beef and dining experience that transports you to the Katz Deli on the Lower East Side. Even Tesco are getting in on the act with Fred’s Food Construction, as they plan to roll out this new deli concept serving jumbo hot subs across their larger stores. Similarly in retail, the success GBK’s burger packs, as well as growing regional distinctions like that of Waitrose’s South Carolina Pork Belly, serves as testimony to that fact that even in home, shoppers want the real deal when it comes to American food.
With such a vast and diverse country as the US, the opportunities for captivated food lovers to delve into the many distinctions of all 50 states are copious to say the least. Pond in Dalston is teaching us that we still have much to learn about US culinary variations, as it’s been making a name for Hawaiian food with surprisingly delightful Pacific dishes like spam nigiri or Maui charcoal avocado. Therefore with all this rich diversity to occupy ourselves with, the American food trend doesn’t seem to be passing. Maybe then we should ask ourselves if American food is trend at all? Neil Rankin of Islington’s The Smokehouse, seems not to think so. For him ‘barbecue is a cuisine, not a trend’ and it will have longevity as long as ‘people keep doing it properly’. His perception is that the reason why American food has become ‘trendy’ is because we’ve merely started to get better at cooking it, and in essence these are foods and flavours that people will never tire of if done well. ** It’s hard to disagree with Rankin, and as the UK palette for American food becomes increasingly sophisticated, only the best purveyors of this oh so flavoursome cuisine will make the cut. So judging from the tour de feast that occurred on Super bowl Sunday across the pond, the UK might not be able to compete on quantity, but it’s clearly making significant inroads quality.
**The Guardian- December 2014