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That's so 80s

On Hell's Kitchen a few nights ago a dish was ridiculed for being too 80s. This has come up on the show before, and each time I look at the dish and wonder what's so wrong with it. Are there characteristics that denote dishes as coming from the 80s (the 90s? the 00s)?

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  1. Not having seen this particular episode, if the dish in question was miniscule in portion, yet somehow stacked vertically and ostentatiously dressed with a mango ginger coulis, it would've been more 80s than Max Headroom. Blackened everything also seemed to be a thing back then.

    20 Replies
    1. re: JungMann

      JungMann, you hit it almost exactly - IIRC it was a stacked crab salad with fruit and avocado and frisee.

      1. re: jujuthomas

        I thought the dish sounded more 70's than 80's..

        1. re: jujuthomas

          Ring mold of stacked crab, avocado, and mango!

        2. re: JungMann

          Hey, JungMann: boy did you nail it. Vertical, miniscule and overdone.

          My eighties representation would be: anything on bruschetta. Of course I know it's been done for much, much longer - every culture has their version - but it seems like it was in the eighties that they just exploded; they were ubiquitous. I'm not saying they weren't good, because they were fine and I make them all the time; just that they were very very very everywhere back in the day. :)
          Sushi isn't TOO eighties, but that's sure when it started to take off. By the nineties? Oh, my word; you could hardly find a restaurant that didn't serve it. Ok, exaggeration; but it seemed like it. And by the oughts, that sushi was being refigured into other cultures' food. Again, not a bad thing; just how it happened.

          1. re: mamachef

            I think that's one of the problems I have with food styling, in that if something is a good presentation one year why not ten years later? I have to think that if presentation changes along with fashion then it was gimmicky presentation to begin with (as opposed to things you can still do, like sushi and bruschetta).

              1. re: ennuisans

                But wasn't that the point of the critique? If you place the styling down to a decade or less, it's a fad. If you can't, it's classic.

                1. re: GH1618

                  aren' t there just some whole dishes that are just kind of 80s or 70s or .. well for want of a better word "no longer fashionable"? perhaps because they were the bees knees in those decades or something. for example - duck a l'orange, shrimp cocktail and canapes. and for me dishes like beef bourguignon, or oddly enough, beef wellington, always feel pompous and 70s/80s to me. thats probably just me of course.

                  1. re: timpani_mimi

                    There are definitely dishes that evoke a certain decade...
                    Rumaki, Fondue...baked Alaska!

                    But, so what?
                    I'd make 'em and serve 'em - even if it wasnt a retro party!

                    If they tasted good in the '70's - they'll still taste good today!

                    1. re: NellyNel

                      Were Steak Diane and Crepes Suzette still around in the 80s, or had that died off by then?

                      1. re: monkeyrotica

                        Steak Diane was a mid to late '70's thing. I was a cook at a high end joint then. We had a 20 something waiter who wore crushed velvet tux's and had the Prince Valiant hair (he was a coke head) His specialty was to prepare Steak Diane "tableside" everyone requested "Alberto" for they're waiter. Especially the older monied widows. Most of us thought he was earning extra income for providing "services". Steak Diane was on it's way out arount '78-'79, along with the big heavy 3ft long peppermills "Fresh pepper for your salad sir?"

                        1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                          I still see the monster pepper mills occasionally. Never understood what was luxurious about having a flunky to grind your pepper for you. I think the custom was invented as a way to stop customers from stealing (normal sized) pepper mills.

                          1. re: emu48

                            Yep, they're definitely still around. Maybe not 3 feet tall, but certainly a foot or more.

                            As for getting that ground pepper onto your food - at one "better dining" place not so long ago my waiter was MIA and I finally walked over to the service station where it and the equally tall salt grinder were prominently placed and grabbed it to grind pepper myself. Of course, my waiter materialized out of thin air (or from wherever he was hiding) then...

                            1. re: huiray

                              Three-foot grinders are still around. Saw one at Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House in Dallas Monday night that looked like a bazooka.

                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                Interesting choice of term./ In the 1930's, 1940's, Lucius Beebe was howling about those pepper mills as being "the size of howitzers." His sense of affront was akin to being presented with a bottle of Dom Perignon sealed with a blob of plastic.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  I wasn't affronted, but I was afraid that damned thing was gonna go off!

                    2. re: timpani_mimi

                      Beef bourguignon is a classic dish and not the least bit "pompous." It would only seem trendy if it were overused during a certain period, but will never be considered a passing fad, in my opinion.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Agreed. Made it this past weekend and it was, as usual, very good.

                        1. re: GH1618

                          It's one of those dishes we started cooking in the 80s and still do, now & again.

                2. re: JungMann

                  Yep yep. Now that you put it in those words I can "get" that as a style, but had no idea it started in the 80s. One thing that home cooking books and websites lack is talk about presentation, at least on this level.

                3. Did they serve wine coolers to wash it down?

                  1. Green beans, or in menu-speak, haricots verts

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: BiscuitBoy

                      Oh, now there we go...all those baby, or micro-veg. Yep.

                      1. re: mamachef

                        The late, great, Erma Bombeck mentioned "vegicide" (the murder of baby vegetables) in one of her columns, along with "tiny dabs of food on huge white plates." I was in college in the 80's, and didn't have any money, so I was spared from the trends - thank goodness!

                      1. There was a lot of blow going on in the 80's and the dishes were minimalistic artistically bad food.
                        Wasn't the 'Real men eat quiche' thing going on?

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: Beach Chick

                          Yeah, and "fern bars" and things like being served a glass of white zin while waiting for you're "cut" at the salon. Blow was turning to crack.

                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                            OMG - Is that Cannon, Mrbigshot???
                            LOVE Cannon!

                            1. re: NellyNel

                              Yeah, I was a teenager when it came out and my dad loved the show, I saw some reruns on MeTV and about flipped out, what a great show (sometimes corny)' I bought all the episodes they had at Amazon, really enjoy them and reminice (sp) about the "good old days", I'm really amazed at how quick thinking and intellegent his character was. Bill Conrad was a great actor!

                              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                So cool!
                                I didn't watch it as a kid, sort of vaugely remember it though..and then I caught it on Metv, and I watched it...and now I dvr it each day!
                                I agree, his character is so cool and intelligent, and love the little bits that seem almost ad-libbed..
                                Agree, Bill Conrad was a great actor, and that voice is exraordinary!
                                I was reading his bio, and was surprised to know he was the voice behind that famous Crying Indian anti-pollution campaign: "People start pollution - people can stop it!"
                                Of course - I can hear it now!

                                Thanks for the smile mrbig!

                          2. re: Beach Chick

                            It was "real men don't eat quiche."

                          3. They don't know what the Hell they're talking about. As I recall, the 80's were when the whole "foodie" thing began to take-off. Exotic ingredients were beginning to appear beyond Macy's basement floor(or previously, the City of Paris). Italian food was going beyond the red-checkered tablecloth and spaghetti& meatballs stage with people discovering regional styles, foccacia and risottos, etc. California wines were beginning to win international competitions with previously unknown grape cultivars being planted. Berkeley's gourmet ghetto was becoming noticed internationally. The emphasis upon cuisine authenticity, exotic produce variations and craft foods(cheeses, olive oils, etc.) was being established. Americans were learning there were more than one or two varieties of olive oils and/or mozzarellas. You had the Frugal Gourmet and Martin Yan on TV teaching about unknown cuisines, techniques and ingredients. And as ppl had more $$$ to spend(the booming 80's), food processers, cookbooks and expensive foods were being snapped up by the droves. I see the 80's as the nascent-stage for all that we have now. A happy time!!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: arktos

                              This is what I was thinking, too. We might laugh at baked brie being overdone but we were starting to eat brie and other cheeses. Bruschetta, tiramisu, dim sum, fresh produce/appreciating the simplicity of it, premium ice creams, better pizza. It was expanding our horizon beyond Baskin Robbins and Dominos.

                              1. re: chowser

                                +1- people started to expand their culinary horizons around then, and there started being more fantastic appliances available to home cooks, and like arktos said, things were actually happening, cuisine-wise.. I think it was a fabulous time for food. In the early '80s, there was ONE sushi bar in my entire city. Now, I can count at least eight of them within five miles of my home, and I live in the same neighborhood I did then. That's progress to me, if it's "too eighties", it's also very subjective. A lot of those things are still wonderful to me.

                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  I don't think the term "so 80s" refers to classics which were discovered by a new generation of foodies in the 80s, but to innovations which were introduced in the 80s, but which had no staying power.

                                  1. re: EWSflash

                                    Yeah, but how many of those eight sushi bars are any good? In the 1970s, there were THREE places to get sushi in Washington, DC. They were all run by Japanese and they were all excellent. There are now dozens of mediocre sushi places downtown, but still only three places that serve truly outstanding sushi. Still, it's always good for people to expand their horizons, and the rise of cheap, mediocre, trendy food only makes people look that much harder for the good stuff.

                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                      Well, in Tucson we dojn't get Tokyo-quality sushi ever, probably, but i've been to all of them and been satisfied, which is one hell of an endorsement, I'm not that easy to please. I think there's a peer-pressure quality competition going on here in general. I think that Tokyo Rrestaurant, the original here, had the best, mostly because they had things you don't see here any more, like giant clam. I'm not sure why Tokyo closed down. It was a sad day for me, though.
                                      I wouldn't call any of the restaurants near me cheap or mediocre, with the possibilty of one.

                                2. re: arktos

                                  Just because a dish is "very 80's" doesn't mean they are totally slamming the whole decade from a culinary standpoint, it simply means that the dish had a lot of elements that were very trendy in a certain time period. 30 years from now if someone serves a bacon cupcake, people will say "thats so 2000's" etc. Certain styles of presentation are often pretty easy to date.

                                3. I remember "Pasta Bars"

                                  1. Perhaps this view of food only belonging to certain decade pertains to signature dishes or something like that. A lot of other food eaten by "the masses" is basically the same. Besides, coulis, or frisee, etc... are terms I didn't hear of until around 2000+. Besides, it seems that the "restaurant trends" (I think that's what this is about) are more or less the same still. What's going on now basically started in the 80s. Besides, what's up with calling food "80s" or "20s" for that matter? Food is food. You like to eat what you like to eat. Or is American culture so flighty?

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Wawsanham

                                      By that note you could say that "clothes are clothes" and "music is music," but that obviously doesn't even scratch the surface. Restaurant and dining trends are as much a part of pop culture as fashion and music, and like those things examples come along and define the era. Those that are great live on and become icons, and others so obviously typify something fleeting or superficial and become either quickly forgotten or laughed at by future generations.

                                      1. re: d8200

                                        Yet that doesn't really answer Wawsanham's query. I would say that pop culture and "fashion" defined as inclusive of food, even "fine dining", is more pronounced in the US than elsewhere. I happen to agree with Wawsanham and others here that such pooh-pooing of something like food arranged in a way that reminds one of a certain era is nonsensical and puzzling. Good food is good food. In my mind saying "That's so 80s!!!" even conveys a sense in some cases of a mindset that skates close to saying "That's so gay!!" and other such phrases.

                                        Others here mention another "That's so 80s!!" characteristic of minuscule portions on enormous white platters. Hmm, isn't that still done by many, many fine dining restaurants throughout the US and elsewhere too? You would have to call a place like The French Laundry - or Per Se - or one of any number of other places - as a place stuck in the 80s, then... And don't they still "stack" their teeny bits of food in piles here and there in some dishes too?

                                        1. re: huiray

                                          Instead of miniscule portions on enormous white platters, the trend now is miniscule portions on small plates. It creates the illusion that the miniscule portions are somehow less miniscule.

                                          1. re: huiray

                                            Thanks for getting me huiray! I absolutely understand that there are trends in "stuff"--obviously. It's just that food seems a bit morer basic to our whole being--especially since we need it to live--than "typcial trend stuff" like clothes and music. I firmly believe that in other countries, where they also have trends in music and clothes, their trends are not as pronounced in food. Of course, if you compare centuries or millennia, then that would be a whole different picture.

                                            1. re: huiray

                                              I'm thinking now part of the distinction is between the part of food service that is serving food, vs the part that is serving entertainment. I can imagine a progression where a chef serves a fantastic 2 inch wide puck of deliciousness that everyone goes crazy for, followed by dozens of imitators doing it because "Hey, people will pay 50 bucks for that!" - followed by people realizing they are getting fleeced, leaving those restaurants and the "style" goes out of fashion.

                                              If we find ourselves paying through the nose for ragged frisee or defrosted ramps, those will become outdated as well when people stop ordering them. What that comes down to is a food or style being promoted, then consumed, for the wrong reasons.

                                        2. The Dorsia Restaurant in American Psycho is the perfect example of '80s upscale dining: tall food and people just starting to go crazy with the squirt bottles.


                                          1. The '80s was when every new restaurant had to serve something "blackened." I think this was their way of getting rid of sub par meat by burning the hell out of it.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                              Blackened redfish was so popular in the 80's that a single dish almost led to the extinction of an entire species. Seriously.

                                            2. Quiche

                                              Anything described as "Nouvelle Cuisine"

                                              Any tiny portion that someone forgot to describe as "Nouvelle Cuisine"

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Harters

                                                of course, it was the recenty departed nora ephron who famously saidi that pesto is the quicheof the 80s...

                                              2. For 90's trends, that's when northern Italian, Greek, Asian fusion, and Southwestern finally hit the suburbs. Balsamic vinegar, sundried tomatoes, basil pesto, and feta (and goat cheese in general) became ubiquitous and were often found tossed together in the same pasta or stuffed into portobello mushrooms. Kalamata olives blew peoples minds who previously thought there were only two types, black and green. Spring mix became a go-to bed for every appetizer. Americans started to be seduced by anything spicy- jalapenos became available at grocery stores in WASP neighborhoods and chipotle flavor found its way into barbecue sauces, and chunky store-bought salsas to be dipped into by blue corn chips...even though no one seemed to know what a "chipotle" was (I would add chipotle aioli to that list, but aioli in general deserves its place in the 2000's trends). Oh, and three syllables: wa-sa-bi.

                                                13 Replies
                                                1. re: d8200

                                                  hehe. do you think that foam will be the new "so 2010s" thing in 5 years' time?

                                                  1. re: timpani_mimi

                                                    I think for the most part the foam thing was part of the 2000's. Not seeing nearly as much foam as I was a few years ago..

                                                    Basalmic vinagrette was another great one d8200, it got so popular so fast!

                                                    1. re: twyst

                                                      Happy happy happy that foam appears to be receding.
                                                      Ruth Reichl "discovered" Balsamic vinegar in the mid-eighties and wrote about it then in the book where she chronicles her life in Berkeley and her move to L. A.

                                                      1. re: mamachef

                                                        "Happy happy happy that foam appears to be receding."

                                                        I don't know if you intended that as a play on words, mama, but I laughed all the same. :)

                                                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                          I completely meant it, PK. Glad you got it.

                                                          1. re: mamachef

                                                            I HATE FOAM.

                                                            At least the type that "decorates" fancy-schmancy plates of teeny bits of stuff on huge plates.

                                                            (No tirades about whipped cream or ice cream or bread technically being foams also, please)

                                                            1. re: huiray

                                                              Clearly I've always liked you and we've gotten along nicely, but now I'm pretty sure I love you, w/ all due respect to your S. O. :)

                                                        2. re: mamachef

                                                          I don't think foam is going away any time soon. It's since been replaced by "air" (lime air, cucumber air, etc). Same overworked technique, higher pricetag.

                                                      2. re: timpani_mimi

                                                        I'm going to guess: Molecular Gastronomy, savory ice creams/sorbets, food unnecessarily-on-a-stick, and gourmet foods-that-aren't-gormet (i.e. Kobe hotdogs, ground filet burgers, $10 doughbuts, etc.). Hopefully unnecessarily organic things as well.

                                                      3. re: d8200

                                                        Gods above, you just reminded me. A beloved coworker said the other day that he'd never had good beef tacos here- in TUCSON for god's sake. He's been here for 6-7 years, having come from Lansing Michigan, which everybody know to be the ultimate mecca for all kinds of Mexican food. I had to try to explain to him how he was in a different area, with REAL MEXICANS LIVING AND COOKING HERE, and trying to not slap him was kind of hard, only because I really like him was I able to not kick him in the yarbles and call him a dilettante pinhead.

                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                          Whenever I'm in town I'm always amazed when I drive by "On the Border" on Broadway.
                                                          The place is packed every night. Un frikken believable!

                                                          1. re: EWSflash

                                                            Sadly, I've never experienced decent Mexican food (defined loosely) north of the Red River. And it's not for lack of trying!

                                                        2. Hmmm. Every dish decorated with a generous dash of coke?

                                                          1. check it out! i was just watching a recent episode of My kitchen rules (an Australian cooking reality show) and one of the contestants exclaimed in criticism about a competitor who was making seafood mornay:

                                                            "Seafood mornay? How 80s is that!"

                                                            .. and then later - "they really need to bring it into the 21st century.."

                                                            just another TV reference to that phrase for this thread. so exactly how 80s is seafood mornay?

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: timpani_mimi

                                                              And what's so superior about the 21st century?

                                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                beats me.. maybe the fact that they would cover their seafood with foam of mornay?

                                                              2. re: timpani_mimi

                                                                I think that another part of the food trend thing is not just what was eaten, but where and how it was eaten. Following the Great Depression and WWII era mentality of scrimping, saving, and rationing, restaurants started to serve food that was becoming bigger (portions and prices), more rich, and grandiose. In the mid to late 80's the health craze kicked in and was in full swing by the 90's, so a rich, decadent dish like seafood mornay pinpoints an exact time and place when cream-laden overly caloric food was chic. A restaurant that serves that dish probably has a massive chandelier in the center of the dining room and waitstaff in tuxedos...which directly contrasts the "upscale casual" vibe that dominates the dining scene these days.

                                                                It's not unlike how until about the mid 90's anything imported was seen as automatically superior to domestic products. Slowly people started jumping on the "buy local, farm to table" bandwagon and now places like Bumbleflip, Wyoming have a farmer's market on the weekend.

                                                                So, that 21st century seafood mornay would have to utilize locally caught, sustainable seafood options and fresh, local organic dairy cream harvested from hormone-free grass-fed cattle obtained by bartering for a bag of granola at a co-op just this morning.

                                                                  1. re: d8200

                                                                    Was the granola bag made from recycled hemp and unicorn tears?

                                                                  2. The '80's were the kingdom of Martha Stewart "Entertaining" came out in '82....

                                                                    And The Silver Palate duo; "Good Times", published in '83, and updated in '85!

                                                                    Those ladies SURE affected good home cooks and hostesess all over America, and sure changed what people expected from catered events, dinner parties, and cocktail snacks FOR SURE.

                                                                    I know; I was a catering chef from '82-85, and in the '90's was in catering sales..... May I never see another stuffed, sliced, pinwheel chicken breast again, among'st several other items best retired permanently.

                                                                    On the other hand, a lot of great foods were championed by Ms. Gebhardt, Lukins, and Rosso; great imported cheeses (and the few great American ones back then as well), good bread, pesto, al dente pasta, creative settings and menus for buffets, hors d'oeuvres, and more use of really good veggies.

                                                                    A lot of had our palate's expanded greatly in the '80's!