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In July, California became the first state to ban foie gras, the fattened liver of a goose or duck resulting from force-feeding the bird through a tube. Of course, one animal-rights advocate's victory is another gastronome's defeat. As soon as the ban to sell foie gras took effect, many restaurants embraced the "BYOF" loophole: if you supply it, some chefs will cook it, giving rise to the term "foie-kage" fee.
No longer relegated to the shameful status of garnish, kale has finally found its rightful place on the plate, thanks in part to its ability to be harnessed into that favorite American snack food, the chip. But with more iron than beef and more calcium than milk per calorie, this easy-to-grow antioxidant- and fiber-rich "future food" surely deserves the hype. "I put a baby kale salad on my menu," says Mark Miller, head chef at the Underwood Bar and Bistro in Graton, "because they're everywhere." Everywhere, including the White House's Thanksgiving dinner this year, which served the greens harvested straight from Michelle Obama's garden.
While most chefs celebrate kale's ascendance, not everyone is so smitten with bacon's stronghold. As Maldonado tells me, "The pork craze is just ridiculous." It's not that there's anything wrong with bacon per se. It's just that, as Jason Sheehan of the Seattle Weekly put it, "bacon has not merely jumped the shark. Bacon has taken all the sharks, stuffed them with cupcakes, ice cream, sausage, lipstick, alarm clocks and mayonnaise, wrapped them in bacon, deep-fried them, then jumped that. Using a ramp made of bacon."
Most chefs have due reverence for the salty slab, yet within reason. "Bacon is food crack," says Jason Denton, chef du cuisine at Jackson's Bar & Oven, "but that doesn't mean it needs to show up in a latte." Jack Mitchell, chef and owner of Jack and Tony's, echoes the sentiment. "I would never serve bacon ice cream," he tells me, "but a classic like the BLT can't be beat." Sheehan is right: "We need to let bacon be bacon once again."
Gluten continues to be the scarlet letter of ingredients, forcing some restaurants, like Graffiti in Petaluma, to create a gluten-free version of their menu. Bad news for bread, but good news for rice, which is the main grain in most Asian food, currently poised to steal the culinary show in the coming year. "People want authentic Asian food," Miller tells me, echoing a popular contention, "not just Americanized kung pao chicken."
No matter what food captures the Zeitgeist, people will always need to quench their thirst. While "mixologists" continue to garner plenty of attention, gimmicky fads are on their way out, especially after an 18-year-old British woman lost her stomach—literally—after imbibing a cocktail made with liquid nitrogen. "I see a return to the classics, like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned," says the Underwood's Frank Dice. "For your last drink on earth, you probably want a mixologist," he laughs, "but if you're looking to cut up on a Friday night, you need a bartender."
So will the cake-pop unseat the cupcake as the queen of frosting? Will people really use pork-flavored lubricant? Are invasivores destined to become the new insectivores? As 2013 arrives, one thing is certain: the coming year will surely raise new gastronomical questions, and they'll probably still be deep-fried and wrapped in bacon.