THE YEAR IN FOOD: 2013

It’s late December. Time to look back on that barometer of agrarian society: what happened around food and the food business.

Locally, it was a great year. It was time to say goodbye to a few businesses that incubated here. Goodie Girls hatched and opened not one, but two stores from which to sell their gourmet cupcakes.

Caterer Full Moon Pickles also spread their wings, flew out of the Chefs Center nest and moved into their own space in East L.A.

Raz Tchoboian and his company, Napoleon’s Macarons got into position to open a THIRD store in Santa Barbara.

Artisan, Nary Dairy enjoyed a rapid rise in 2013. They got onto the shelves of Erewhon Market in West Hollywood, Good Eggs LA and the Santa Monica Food Co-Op. They also consistently pleased the palates of parading celebrities at the Hollywood Farmers Market.

In July the Chefs Center surpassed the mark of helping 450 entrepreneurs pursuing the dream of food based business ownership. That’s over one hundred businesses a year making a go of it at the Chefs Center. A good portion of them have either moved on to their own digs or are still comfortably producing spectacular food products at Chefs Center.

A crowd funded feature film, Eat with Me, shot some pivotal scenes in the Chefs Center kitchen as did some TV shows and webisodes such as eHow. Look for all these in 2014. Caterer Camille Renk fed Sir Paul Mcartney.

Seminars at the Chefs Center included two appearances from Whole Foods Market (followed by artisans receiving feedback from WFM foragers) Yelp and the Chefs Centers own Jorge Caughman. Jorge inspired many to get cooking with his seminar on the five entrepreneurial steps.

Many high profile businesses used the Chefs Center as a test kitchen. In 2014, Angelenos will hear from some mind blowing new restaurants that finalized their menus right in the green barn shaped building in Pasadena.

Beyond the exciting and flavorful community of the Chefs Center, the food world had no shortage of interesting events. Here are our ten national headlines:

10. McDonalds

In addition to the Mickey D’s CEO saying “We don’t sell junk food”, the fast food Goliath also bore the brunt of worker’s ire. McDonalds workers staged large protests in major cities. The core of their demands was a living wage. While equitable wages are necessary, this issue also brought to light that head of household adults are now working in jobs that were once reserved for teens as entry level first jobs.

9. “Organic”

In September the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the eight year old Organic Foods Protection Act to allow previously banned substances under the umbrella of the definition of organic. The move was criticized by consumer groups as undermining the spirit of the organic movement.

8. Sriracha

It was the year of Sriracha. When a judge ordered the halting of production at its Irwindale, CA plant, the massive amount of hand wringing on whether or not the pepper sauce would weather the storm betrayed just how much this condiment is loved. The last year also saw the first annual Sriracha festival, a cookbook and a documentary.

7. Paula Deen

While Paula Deen’s diabetes is more of a real story, the 66 year old celebrity chef’s politically incorrect hijinks showed that food celebrties now more than ever are scrutinized as closely as anyone else in the public eye. Paula Deen Enterprises did their best to explain the various major gaffes as a geo-generational phenomenon, suggesting that her colorful language is a carry over from being born in the deep south over sixty years ago. While this might be an admirable attempt at an explanation, it also makes one slowly stop chewing, put their fork down and push away the bowl of grits and greens.

6. Charlie Trotter

On November 5, the famed chef, only 54 years old, passed away far too soon. His death is now being attributed to a stroke. His ground breaking restaurant, Charlie Trotters, opened in 1987 and stayed open and popular for twenty five years. He mainstreamed haute cuisine in the meat and potatoes town of Chicago and changed the face of American dining.

5. The Cronut

On May 15, the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City opened their doors and offered the world the unholy union of croissant and doughnut. On the first day, they sold out and a craze was born. This is year-end list worthy on several levels. First, it suggests that our rapidly evolving food culture and service economy is set up in a way where these cyclical crazes are frequent. They are out there to be had by the aspiring chef.  If someone can promote their particular taste sensation well and be at the right place and the right time, there are lucrative crazes on which to capitalize even as a satellite and not the tastemaker. The Chefs Center will be here and ready for food craze ventures to come.

Secondly, it seems that some of these crazes are knee jerk reactions to our ever increasing understanding of what won’t kill us. While gluten free and fair trade are long haul trends that speak to our desire for health and equality, pork bellies, macarons and cronuts are just a few crazes that suggest that putting your money on American’s propensity for falling off the wagon is a safe bet.

4. New Yorks Ban on Sugary Drinks Fails

In July, the New York appellate court rejected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks sixteen ounces or bigger. According to an article in New York Times, one of the judges in the ban’s march to stalling, called the ban “capricious” and “unconstitutional”. Public health is an odd duck to tackle as a lawmaker. It is a gauntlet that deals with everything from constitutional freedoms to the health care costs. State and local authorities have had an easier time snuffing out cigarettes in public places, while, oddly enough, loosening their grip on marijuana laws. Could there be a connection between legal weed and tankards of Fanta to deal with the munchies?

3. David (farmers) vs. Goliath (Monsanto)

In June, Idaho farmers sued Monsanto claiming that the seed giant’s genetically modified strain of wheat was found in an eastern Oregon wheat field. This caused a disruption in wheat markets, most notably with Japan suspending wheat purchases.

This as an interesting turn around as it is usually Monsanto in the plantiff’s seat in the courtroom, going after small time farmers for using their seed. The suit brought to light the far reach and deep pockets of Monsanto and highlighted the precarious and ongoing battle for the future of the world food supply, GMOs and the eternal difficulty of being a small farmer.

2. Gluten Free Standardization

Gluten is a protein complex found in wheat. For those with celiac disease, avoiding it is the only way to keep negative reactions, such as gastrointestinal issues and skin inflammation to a minimum. Somehow, despite experts claims that a gluten free diet did little or nothing for people who did not suffer from celiac disease, gluten free diets were gradually adopted by many, many people regardless of their celiac status. Before one could say “baguette” a lucrative industry blossomed. Experts project that by 2017, the gluten free industry will account for $6.6 billion. While being a bit late to the party, in 2013 the Food and Drug Administration began their regulation of a trend that’s here to stay.  On August 2nd, 2013 the FDA announced a standard definition of “gluten free” (this includes terms like “free of gluten” and “without gluten”). The main thrust of this definition is that products must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. There will be a year grace period for manufacturers to bring their labels up to date.

1. Food Stamps

The Republican controlled House of Representatives pushed through a bill in 2013 that would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly called food stamps) by $40 billion over a ten year period. According to a November 7th article in the New York Times, food stamps affect one in seven people and this cut, which went into effect in November, affected 47 million people almost instantly. According to the Department of Agriculture, approximately 43 percent of the people receiving food stamps are children.

Forget the tabloids, the gaffes and the crazes, the number one food news story of 2013 is an honest to goodness scandal. Regardless of who is to blame, Republican, Democrat, Al Queada or Miley Cyrus, there are millions…millions of people, many of them children, who don’t have enough food on their table or in their stomachs.

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One comment

  1. Excellent recap! I especially love seeing the small businesses that have grown successfully.

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