Frankly, January can be a depressing month for the poor old stomach. So, instead of looking down at it in horror, look ahead; 2016 is still a shiny, fresh year, full of food fads just waiting to be scoffed down. Or scoffed at.
Anyone racked with regret over ditching that diet will be pleased to know that last year’s obsession with healthy eating has more impressive staying power. Vegetable-centred dining is spreading like spinach in a grow-bag as chefs realise what plants can do for both their profile and their profits – though the overhyped kale seems to have been replaced as the it-veg du jour by the far humbler cauliflower.
If you feel like you’ve had enough of cauliflower, wood-roasted or not, may I suggest a soupçon of seaweed to tempt your jaded palate, because it’s going to be washing up everywhere in the next few months (and not just the “crispy stuff found in a Chinese takeaway, but the whole slimy shebang” as the Great British Chefs website declares, rather less than enticingly).
M&S already stocks seaweed biscuits, Waitrose carries three different flavours of seaweed snack, and Tesco has dipped its toe in sea spaghetti – which sounds positively appetising compared to the world’s first plant-based burger, now in beta testing in California, and expected to hit the market this year. Made from plant proteins and nutrients arranged to be “indistinguishable in taste from real beef”, it even “bleeds” like meat, as its creator, Impossible Foods, boasts. Shudder.
Call me a Luddite, but I’m more excited about two underappreciated foodstuffs we’ll be seeing lot more of in 2016. The first is fat: now that sugar has usurped the role of nutritional bogeyman, fat is back on the menu, and not just the hipster coconut stuff; a traditionally made butcher’s beef dripping from Ireland scooped the top prize in last year’s Great Taste Awards.
The second is goat, a meat that already enjoys great popularity in many parts of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, and played a starring role in the final of last year’s Great British Menu. Since then, Jamie Oliver has been spotted cooking kid burgers and Ocado has begun stocking meat from Cabrito, a Devon-based supplier of the by-products of a burgeoning dairy industry.
For all the noise about vegetables, goat is unlikely to be the only meat on the menu this summer, when the Rio Olympics are guaranteed to put Brazilian food on Britain’s culinary map. Get ready for an invasion of meaty bean stews and chargrilled chicken hearts. Japanese food is also tipped to enjoy a moment in the sun, and, of course, the Ottolenghi effect continues, with more modern Middle Eastern than you could shake a skewer at.
We might not even have to leave the house to enjoy these treats, given the expansion plans of many restaurant delivery businesses. The London-based Deliveroo has its eye on the rest of the UK, and US businesses, including UberEats (delivered by taxi, naturally) are sizing us all up, making this the year the takeaway goes gourmet.
But best of all, several prominent female chefs will open their own places in 2016, including Michel Roux Jr’s senior sous-turned-MasterChef judge, Monica Galetti, and Clare Smyth, the first British woman to hold and retain three Michelin stars at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. In an industry still overwhelmingly dominated by men (according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2013 only 14 per cent of Britain’s 153,000 full-time chefs were women), this is even more cheering news than discovering a last mini Mars down the back of the sofa.
This article appears in the 20 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Middle East's 30 years war