Friday August 9, 2013
If you've spent more than 10 minutes on the internet in the past couple of months, you've more than likely come across the term "Cronut." This croissant/donut hybrid is the invention of James Beard-nominated pastry chef Dominique Ansel, whose eponymous bakery has scores of New Yorkers lined up outside its doors as early as 6 am every morning (it opens at 8 am). In addition to the ludicrously long lines, Cronuts seem to have been crammed into every last nook and cranny of the internet and social media worlds, with Instagram users boasting of their hard-earned breakfast, and news of knockoffs popping up everywhere — Ansel was wise to get an international trademark on the term.
The lines for Cronuts won't be dissipating anytime soon, but the hybrid food hype machine is moving on to the next big thing already: the Shoyu Ramen Burger. A burger that's sandwiched between compacted fried ramen noodle patties in lieu of a bun, the Ramen Burger is the creation of chef Keizo Shimamoto. Though it knows no home as of yet, the Ramen Burger debuted at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg, and unsurprisingly, it resulted in huge lines and ended up selling out (only 150 were available). Much like the inevitable Christmas craze over the must-have children's toy of the year, the strategy of releasing a limited amount seems to whip people into a frenzy. For those interested (and patient), you'll have another shot at trying one at Smorgasburg tomorrow.
The Cronut and Ramen Burger may represent the higher end of hybrid foods, deemed worthy of praise from food publications and the admiration of food-trend-following cool kids. But we've seen the fast food world trot out some attention-grabbing unholy combinations in recent years as well, with the KFC Double Down, Dunkin' Donuts donut sandwiches, and Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Tacos — admittedly, the 17-year old in me demanded I try the latter out (the Cool Ranch wins but is still plenty weird). Perhaps more so than with the boutique hybrid foods, these fast-food creations rely on shock value and are absurdly unhealthy, which is part of the novelty. Not that a Cronut is part of a well-balanced breakfast exactly, but it's not cheese and bacon sandwiched between fried chicken patties either. Other hybrid foods capturing the public's imagination and stomachs of late include Korean tacos — perhaps the greatest success story among food amalgamations — and spaghetti tacos in the home kitchen (sigh ... kids these days).
Everyone's asking "What's next?", but perhaps a better question is how far will this thing go? Nothing against creativity in the kitchen or restaurants succeeding with something new — it's a tough business. There's definitely some admirable innovation going on with these foods, but it seems that the internet hype, the long lines, and the limited supply are driving the mania. It also could be culturally problematic that the act of smashing seemingly incongruous foods together is being treated with the same excitement and reverance as a scientific breakthrough or technological achievement. As far as restaurants go, one potential concern with the hybrid food craze is that soon we'll see more restaurants focusing on outrageous food combinations backed by shrewd marketing teams. Restaurants might try to catch lightning in a bottle and spend more resources on creating the groundswell than actually running their restaurants well. And even if they succeed, the food media and hipster foodies will eventually move on to the next buzzed-about thing. How many people today do you think would admit to/be proud of having waited an hour for cupcakes five or six years ago? Time will tell if these hybrids end up being the new cupcakes. Or maybe New Yorkers just have a higher tolerance for waiting in lines, so long as they can say they did. But I digress. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go secure a trademark for my pumpkin-pancake-battered corn dogs (Halloweenies?).