Images of sea turtles with ring-pulls around their noses, dead seabirds with their insides full of plastic trash… the year was full of deeply distressing imagery of how our plastic waste was affecting the environment. These images had been around for years but, together with stark warnings from the UN on climate change, the issue of plastic waste came into very sharp focus in 2018. In September California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill aimed at reducing plastic straw waste in the state. Starting the new year, drinks will not be served with straws in California and will be available only if the customer asks for them. Starbucks announced plans to remove all plastic straws from their stores by 2020 while Seattle banned all plastic utensils with San Francisco following suit. Plastic straws themselves won’t make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things but the ban on them does symbolise a sea change in how people think about the plastic waste they create. It’s big news for the food industry that has been party to the creation of waste, as it became clear that in 2018 and going forward, customers don’t want plastic waste created when they buy food.
#MeToo hits restaurants
Like every sector, restaurants suffered their share of scandals. The #MeToo movement is here to stay and you get the sense that what happened in the past will no longer be acceptable any more. It was late 2017 when Natalie Saibel, a long-time server at the Spotted Pig, a West Village restaurant, broke her #MeToo story in the NYT, but the restaurant backlash was inevitable. Mario Batali, John Besh, and Ken Friedman were just some of the chefs to feel the glare of the media relating to their behaviour in their restaurants. 2018 was a year for highlighting the plight of female workers in the restaurant industry and 2019 will be a year of rolling up the sleeves to affect the change that is needed from the inside out. #MeToo is a movement, but also an opportunity, one that can mean a fairer, safer work environment for all.
Romaine a problem
It was like a bug that just wouldn’t go away. Three major E. coli outbreaks were associated with the Caesar Salad ingredient causing nationwide recalls in the United States and warnings from the FDA not to eat it. It reminded us of the intricacies of the supply chain and how food safety is a delicate balancing act. It was thought that the infected lettuce had been grown near to cow pasture and the effluent of cattle had somehow got into the soil. Food safety and food security will continue to make the headlines in 2019.
Jose Andres is nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
The brilliant work of Jose Andres, the chef who created a team of 19,000 volunteer cooks to serve over 3 million meals in Puerto Rico had his work acknowledged when he received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Food is moving front and central to cultural change, becoming a movement in itself. Food’s power to bring people together has never been more necessary, but equally, our food and its supply have never been in greater difficulty. 2018 was the year food became activism, 2019 will be the year cooking as a cause is the main course and not just an afterthought.
Yasuhiro Fujio wins San Pellegrino Young Chef Competition
The worldwide search for the Young Chef winner 2018 came to a climax in Milan, Italy in May when Japanese Yasuhiro Fujio finished in first place. Fujiro also took the Acqua Panna – Taste of Authenticity Award, while South America’s Elizabeth Puquio Landeo took the Fine Dining Lovers People’s Choice Award.
Dominique Crenn’s star shines brightest
Dominique Crenn became the first female chef in the United States to receive the prestigious three-star rating by the world-famous Michelin guidebook. The chef, who runs Atelier Crenn, joined just a handful of women around the world to take the coveted crown of three-stars from Michelin. Crenn, whose relentless search for artistic expression, perfection and gender equality in the industry, was a deserving winner of the accolade.
Bocuse no more
Celebrated master of French cuisine Paul Bocuse passed away at the age of 91 prompting an outpouring of tributes across the world of gastronomy. Bocuse who held three Michelin stars continuously for 50 years was known as the ‘Chef of the Century’. French President Emmanuel Macron described Bocuse as “the incarnation of French cuisine… His name alone sums up French gastronomy; his generosity, his respect for traditions but also his innovation”.
Robuchon joins the great kitchen in the sky
Joël Robuchon, he of the greatest mashed potato in history fame, passed away in Switzerland at the age of 71. In his stunning career he collected more than 30 Michelin stars and altered the course of French cooking turning away from complicated haute cuisine to a simpler, more traditional, butter-filled fare. A true genius, Robuchon was a giant of gastronomy.
Sacha Cohen turns the tables on the critic
He wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last to fall for Cohen’s trickery, but even by the English comic’s standards this was quite the gag. Cohen invited food critic Bill Jilla of dinnerreviews.com to a three-course meal and convinced him that he has eaten human flesh. It’s proper cringeworthy stuff.
Restaurant work is changing
2018 was the year when many in the kitchen said enough is enough. Chefs are looking for better work-life balance and humane working conditions. The four-day week became a major talking point and there were even entire festivals dedicated to the pursuit of better working conditions in the gastronomy. Many top chefs have implemented shorter working weeks in the pursuit of heightened creativity and better staff retention and 2019 will see these projects bear fruit. The world of food is watching.
The Copenhagen restaurant that put Nordic cuisine on the map closed its doors in 2016. However, in February of this year chef René Redzepi rebooted Noma with Noma 2.0. The restaurant is divided into three distinct seasons with the menu changing to reflect the ingredients available. The original Noma won first prize in The World's 50 Best Restaurants four times – in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 and we can expect to see Noma 2.0 competing for the top spot once again.
Death of Jonathan Gold
The food critic of the LA Times passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the first food writer to win a Pulitzer prize which he picked up in 2007, he also made the final again in 2011. What made Jonathan Gold so special? Apart from a free-running style of prose that could invite the reader into the restaurant he was reviewing to take a seat beside him, pick up a fork and start digging into the same dish (metaphorically), Gold had a singularity of purpose to sort the wheat from the chaff in LA’s restaurant scene. He championed always the authentic, family-run restaurant, the simple eatery serving genuine traditional food that made up the fabric of the city. His rapier wit admonished chains and faux authenticity as he worked tirelessly to uncover a culinary authenticity. Gold saw the power of food long before the world did.
Death of Anthony Bourdain
It doesn’t get any easier to write about the late Anthony Bourdain. The chef/journalist had a rare ability. He was able to draw anyone towards him, he was able to share his passion across cultural differences, language barriers, class divides and unify them. Everybody who ever met Bourdain or invited him into their homes through the screen felt like they were his friend and they all miss him terribly.
Should the Michelin Guide continue to award stars to Singapore's hawker stalls? Do Singaporeans really care what the Red Guide says about their favourite street food? Singaporean food writer Evelyn Chen shares her point of view.