|David Sax, photo by Christopher Farber|
David Sax is the author most recently of The Tastemakers: Why We're Crazy for Cupcakes But Fed Up With Fondue. He also has written the book Save the Deli, and his work appears in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Saveur. He lives in Toronto.
Q: Cupcakes and fondue are two trends, current and past, that you chose to include in your subtitle. What about those two food trends did you find especially important?
A: They both represent how trends can and have evolved. Cupcakes are very much the trend that defined food trends in the 21st century...the viral, internet enabled, global trend that represents the aspirations of the new global middle class as much as it does buttercream frosting.
Someone buying cupcakes in Paraguay or Rwanda today is doing so because they want that same sense of decadence that early fans of cupcakes in New York did when they associated it with Sex and the City.
Fondue is the flip side: a trend that once dominated and defined an era, and has now passed on into almost a joke. That doesn't make fondue taste any less delicious (and it is very tasty), but it shows how trends evolve past their lifespan, and eventually fade into the background. Fondue is a symbol. A sacrificial lamb.
Q: You write, “As for the cupcake itself, I believe it will slowly revert to the kid-friendly birthday treat I recall from my youth, which is its logical end.” How long does a food trend generally last?
A: It's tough to say. Often it's a decade or more, which is certainly the case for the cupcake, but as more trends emerge, and grow quicker, thanks to the internet and global chef and food culture, the process is being sped up. Something can get very big now within weeks, and be done and over within months. The whole culture of trends is on fast forward.
Q: Of the many food trends you discuss in the book, are there some that were especially fascinating to research, and why?
A: I was really fascinated with ethnic trends and the story of Indian food's struggle to become part of the North American mainstream. It requires such a perfect confluence of factors, from flavors and the right individuals, to cultural cues like travel, movies, and even wars to make foods go from foreign to familiar, and it's impossible to predict or engineer.
Indian food is terrific (I had dosas for lunch today), but it's complex and fascinating nature is what makes it so challenging to bring to the masses. It's not a sandwich, that's for sure. But one day, we'll all be eating dosas for lunch, if we're lucky.
Q: What do you see as some possible upcoming food trends?
A: Some things, like Indian food in fast food, or black rice, are trends I saw early signs of when I was writing The Tastemakers, but others, like wood fired Argentine style BBQ, hipster dim sum, and the return of the muffin are ones I have seen signs of, or just have a gut feeling about. That's the thing with trends, usually when you can see them, they're already there.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've begun researching a book called The Revenge of Analog, which has nothing to do with food, and a lot to do with vinyl records, film cameras and other old technologies that are coming back these days. I'm trying to find a way to squeeze food in there though.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb