DESIGNED 'TO TASTE'
At the bottom of each family recipe, in her adorable little cursive handwriting, my grandmother would write-in one final instruction... 'to taste'. 'Uh, Gramma, I love you... but what does that even mean?!?'
To this day the family debates what it means – more salt, more pepper, more sugar, more vinegar, more butter – it always makes for colorful, spirited holidays. Each of us have our own (strong) opinions and personal interpretation – there are winners and losers in these battles, but most importantly there are no wrong answers. So we test, we taste, we tweak, we debate, we try different combinations, we taste again and each culinary adventure inherently becomes unique. I feel like she was ahead of her time on this... understanding that tastes are incredibly subjective and that allowing for flexibility and change is key. For me, I find this in food 'taste' as well as design 'taste'. It is that moment where the two come together that I find myself dreaming about the possibilities. Creating something delicious– but also beautiful, personalized, and unique is a huge passion of mine.
I don't believe in static solutions or doing the same thing twice. Each solution needs to be 'on brand' - and represent whatever that means to the recipient of the design. Identifying that unique attribute is the challenge AND design-sugar-rush all at the same time! So, with that in mind, I dream... of ways to make fondant structural, shape sugar origami, curl rice paper into feathers, imagine internally illuminated layers, integrate moving pieces, add details that delight, create edible typography as texture, whip sugar into ethereal bubbles, shape flexible edible lace that match a Bride's dress, assemble creatures from the imagination, and fashion things that shimmer and shine... the possibilities are only limited by the imagination!
P.S... you will never go wrong with adding more butter.
YOUR EYES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR STOMACH
If you ask "foodies" what makes for great food they will tell you quality, freshness and taste. All of these are absolutely vital, however they usually are not the most important factors in terms of success...just ask Pepsi. After years of consistently winning The Pepsi Challenge against Coca-Cola, Pepsi still comes in a distant 3rd place to Coke and Diet Coke in terms of sales - by a large margin. Looking at the restaurant category, the landscape is full of companies who know that they make a superior product, yet they trail the competition in terms of preference, awareness and growth.
The truth is that people make their food choices the same way they make their clothing, car or consumer product choices...by brand first. Before they ever taste or even see the product, they make decisions about it based on the brand (logo, store design, uniforms, etc.) Across the food and restaurant industry you will find very similar menus and flavor profiles, which can create parody, customer confusion and indifference (the casual dining category is currently the best example of this). If you want to rise above and separate yourself from the competition you must pay as much attention to your brand as your food. A brand is the most valuable and differentiating asset you have and how you choose to bring it to life, inside and outside the store or restaurant, makes all the difference in the world.
Make no mistake about it, Coke's brand is what drives their success... otherwise the 80's might be remembered for The Coke Challenge...rather than New Coke.
IS OUR FAST FOOD NATION SLOWING DOWN?
Food stories always looks good on Facebook... friends sharing an exciting restaurant experience, testing out a new cocktail recipe, the pride of a unique, self-created dish. Not to mention food at unforgettable cultural experiences: sampling a great local craft beer, grilling fresh fish caught during an afternoon fishing-trip, a romantic table setting captured for an anniversary dinner. The list goes on, but there is always one common thread…the food always feels "special".
Exposure, consumer interest and viewership for mainstream TV shows and other social media, like Facebook, have changed the perception about how we, as a culture, think about the food we eat. Things that were once considered "just another meal" are taken to a new level of importance, like the making, source and presentation of food.
Do we really eat differently than we did ten years ago? Are we still a fast food nation? Are we still eating based on what's economical and available? Based on what I see people posting on Facebook, that is no longer the case. Yes, there's a Facebook page for McDonald's, KFC and White Castle, however the focus goes beyond convenience.
Beyond Facebook, what else is taking place? Stores like Whole Foods are thriving from a business perspective. Have you ever gone to Cultivate Festival in Chicago, sponsored by Chipotle? It is definitely not a glamorized fast food sponsored event. Likewise, I'm impressed with the McDonald's Farmer Campaign, which showcases the humanity behind the corporation. More and more the term "fast casual" seems to be taking the place of "fast-food"... is the glorification of Facebook's "life is good" theme shifting our mind set? In the age of "The Biggest Loser", "The Taste" and "Top Chef", our culture has become accepting, if not encouraging, of showcasing your perfectly presented organic dinner as a Facebook status.
As people eat healthier, they will require more transparency and sense of responsibility from where their food is sourced. As people get more adventurous in dining, they demand variety in what they eat. This so called "movement" is a crucial point of view for a brand's business strategy.
Is a "slower" food nation on the horizon? What will things look like in the next 5 years? Will they be sourced local? Will they go gourmet? How would the customer react to it? A lot of people will be eagerly watching – regardless, I am sure Chef Alice Waters is smiling!