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what do you call modern American cuisine/Restaurants?

It's very possible this topic has been hashed over countless times here, but my google/search-fu is failing me.

A friend and I were discussing the recent history of the restaurant scene in America, and we were wondering if there was a generally accepted moniker for this "new"/"modern"/etc American cuisine of the last ~5-10yrs. The rise in local ingredients, "gastronomy", rehashing classic Americana comfort foods into "something greater" (ie the high end grilled cheese sandwich trend), the rise of the "foodies", etc.

or we could just be seeing things on a limited time frame, and things are not really any different than they were 20yrs ago but we're too young to realize?

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  1. awkwardly, it does seem as if many recent developments require at least 3 words to describe a restaurant's goal.

    1. I particularly dislike 'modern' to describe anything other than a period and style of 20th century painting, now long since dead. Modern jazz, modern cuisine, modern architecture. It doesn't mean anything. It just puts me off.

      27 Replies
      1. re: mwhitmore

        <<it doesn't mean anything>>

        you don't see the difference between modern architecture and mediterranean or spanish or tudor?
        it really doesn't mean anything to you?

        you don't see the difference between "modern american" and chinese, sushi, indian, food?
        there is no difference to you between "modern american" and ghormeh sabzi?
        really?

        1. re: westsidegal

          I think the point is: when is something no longer 'modern' meaning new. what was modern in 1965 is now vintage, so where is the reference point using a term like that? contemporary only lasts so long.

          1. re: hill food

            In my view, "modern" and "contemporary" have different meanings. I would apply "modern" as a design/art term to "mod", mid-century (20th), or 1960's type of stuff.
            Whereas "contemporary" means "now."

          2. re: westsidegal

            Much of what is considered 'modern architecture' is now commonly referred to as "mid century" or mid century modern. Even if it wasn't from mid-century. Life was so much easier when everything was referenced to who sat on the throne in London. Victorian, Edwardian, Elizabethan, etc. I don't know how you modify Charles or William. Charlesonian? Willasian?

            As for food now with the locavore and molecular gastronomy angles? Ive heard Nouvelle Cuisine used broadly, although that supposedly is in contrast to classic Haute Cuisine. Fusion cooking is tossed around a lot, although that theoretically involves bringing together two (or more) cultural traditions in cooking. Modern hardly works as my mom's 1952 Better Homes and Gardens makes numerous references to the modern way of doing things. Oft times reference is made to a particular decade, just as fashion is.

            The problem is it is often hard to label ANYTHING until sufficient distance in time or space is achieved to see it as a whole. In short, there is no answer to the OP's question.

            "I went to Kansas City on a Friday
            By Saturday I learned a thing or two
            But up 'till then I didn't have an idea
            Of what the mod'rn world was comin' to. . . ."

            1. re: KaimukiMan

              E, Kaimukiman, Aloha:

              "Our" time is always modern, hiki no? Gets Liholiho cuisine?

              You roasted that moa yet?

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                Byumby Kaleo, I no like imu one moa in my kitchen in Mahoe Mua or Mahoe Hope. Mobettah I wait fo da weddah go cool down yah? Mebbe Welehu or even Makali'i, hiki no? Was about 90 in my hale in da 'auinala today.

                (Later Kaleo, I don't want to roast a chicken in my kitchen in July or August. I think its better if I wait for the weather to cool down don't you think? Maybe September or even October, does that work? It was about 90 in my house in the afternoon today.)

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      I've worked fundraisers doing that. LOL. I know how to grill chicken. Not the same as roasting, ono but yah?

                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                        Hi, KM:

                        IMO, grill (hao hakahaka) ≠ rotisserie (hulihuli) mostly = roast (ʻōhinu/ ʻoma).

                        Gets one of these and extension cord: http://www.ebay.com/itm/FARBERWARE-OP... Can grill and huli. Puts metal box on top = imu.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

            2. re: mwhitmore

              Hi, mwhitmore:

              Yes, we should all giggle when we hear "modern". Such an arrogant and hubris-laden term. Not to mention meaningless.

              And we should all laugh uproariously at "post-modern", directly in the faces of anyone who uses the term.

              IMO.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                Thanks, Kaleo. Giggles and laughs are always good. Aloha.(I visited Hawaii once, but never forgot.)

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  Ok, i'll bite: why do you laugh at the idea of Post-Modernism? I've never really thought about it in regards to food, but maybe it's a good idea now that you mention it.

                  1. re: Steve

                    in architecture it was about accepting that there is no such thing as a blank slate and everything is informed by what came before, try as we mightt to erase the past (it meant different thngs in art and literature I think).

                    so I suppose the move in the last 10 years to re-embrace/re-invent old standards might fit into that classification.

                    1. re: hill food

                      You apparently know much more about the subject than I do. I though it was taking Modernism and making it less boring :-)

                    2. re: Steve

                      Because the idea is absurd. Without resort to etymological gymnastics or secondary meanings, the term's oxymoronic. Is post-post-modern sensible? If so, "modern" means "aged". And it implies a state at the end of time, i.e., the ne plus ultra of progress.

                      I have less problem when it comes to labeling art periods and their schools with this pap, but the issue is still there.

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        You haven't explained why you think it's pap.

                        The basic idea is that Modern is a conscious decision to break from tradition in a meaningful way with the purpose of finding new forms. I guess once you've broken tradition, what 's next?

                        Now, in some fields this has been going on for some time. Van Gogh, for instance, painted a long time ago, but he is still known as a Modern artist.

                        Since those days, many modern ideas have been rejected by some very important artists in the path to finding new forms. These newer ideas have been labeled Post-Modern. Of course, it does sound kinda funny, but the ideas are real, and the term is pretty well accepted by people who are a lot smarter than I am. But even for a dolt like me It's hard to ignore the arc of Picasso to Rothko to Lichtenstein. Unless you'd like to invest in 21st Century Cubist painting... i'm afraid it's dead.

                        No doubt labels are just a way to make it easy to talk about a group of things all together. Funny stuff, odd, maybe misleading in some ways, but it is a convenient way to group together some ideas that indeed have a commonality.

                        In relation to Chowhound, the question is: could the same be applied to food? are there previously Modern ideas which some have now rejected, or from which new paths have been added? I have an inkling, a bare one, but I am not Mr. Knowledge or well-read when it comes to this.

                        1. re: Steve

                          Yes Steve, they can! I was going to bid on Saatchi's pickled shark, but I found out that it had been pickled wrong and was deteriorating. For a man eating shark it was dangerous.

                          A guy called Cohen bought it for 6.5 million pounds. It is his punishment: shark isn't kosher. It's OK (I don't mean that it has a certification) if he bought it as a ornament , but I can't believe this for a man who made as much money as it cost.

                          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                            Thanks for the tip. I had never heard of the pickled shark, but I think it's Damien Hirst from my elementary internet sleuthing.

                            I love how knowledge is passed around on Chowhound. You made my day!

                          2. re: Steve

                            Hi, Steve:

                            I believe I have explained the absurdity of calling something "post-modern". That's why it's pap.

                            "...a conscious decision to break from tradition in a meaningful way with the purpose of finding new forms." Well, that *sounds* impressive, but as I pointed out upthread, this has been going on in cuisine since at least 1735. And where in time have you decided the rule applies to art? The break from religious iconography? Linear perspective? 3D printers?

                            Metaphysics aside, humanity has built its world mostly of paradigms, and our history (the interesting bits anyway) is one of paradigm *shifts*. This is to be expected and welcomed, and when it happens (again) with "modern" cuisine, make way for the next label. Hopefully it won't be as lame the next time.

                            Aloha,
                            Kaleo

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              This is how I see it: All new forms seem formless at first.

                              So what happened after the break from religious iconography? Did it seem like a new form, or just a different subject? (I don't know enough to answer this question).

                              I can see the difference between Picasso and Rothko (or Pollack), for example, and not just as a different subject, but as an entirely new form of art.

                              3D printing? I doubt it. The outcome may be no different than anything that came before, but I don't know much about this either.

                              In food, using the microwave oven is not creating a new form, but I am not sure if that is an apt analogy.

                      2. re: kaleokahu

                        'Hubris' seems a pretty big charge for using a word that has come to represent so much as to mean nothing.

                        And 'post-modern'? For food, possibly, but maybe they were conflating that and 'deconstruction'? :)

                        1. re: Lizard

                          and decon is po-mo as it was a revival and refilter of soviet constructivism, just played in reverse.

                          1. re: hill food

                            ....

                            (Too far off topic, but trust me, I probably don't need a lecture, my dear.)

                          2. re: Lizard

                            I think it takes hubris to make Hamburger Helper and call it deconstructionist ravioli.

                            1. re: Steve

                              Damn! And I was totally gonna serve that at my post-ironic dinner party.

                      3. Whatever I am eating right now is modern.

                          1. Usually expensive, ostentatious and divorced from its roots.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              kaleokahu:
                              the "modern american" restaurants i've eaten at this week seem to be "divorced" from:

                              1) canned food,
                              2) frozen premade food,
                              3) food that has been preprocessed and sent to the restaurant in a plastic bag from a processing plant (i.e. no carrots that have been chopped into sections, machine tumbled, and doused with a bleach formula before being bagged up and sold as "baby" carrots)

                              if anything, these "modern American" restaurants seem to be LESS divorced from their roots.
                              and, yes, their food does tend to be more expensive than pot roast made from beef that has been raised on gmo corn, antibiotics, etc. their dairy dishes may be made from milk that comes from cows that are not treated with rbst, so one would expect those dishes to be more expensive than normal, industrial, dairy products.
                              if, to you, trying to avoid "roundup ready" produce is ostentaious, i'll stick with ostentatious food.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                Hi, westsidegal:

                                With respect, you're eating at the wrong pre-"modern" restaurants if you equate them with canned, Sysco, pot roast, etc.

                                You realize, I hope, that you're setting an artificially high bar with your litany of requirements, e.g., no corn-fed beef, no veterinary care, no processed produce, etc., etc. Don't get me wrong, I think all those things are good. It's just that few restaurants are pure as the driven snow in these respects, and it doesn't sort neatly between "modern" and pre-.

                                In other words, if you're defining "modern" by your litany, there aren't all that many restos that fit that definition.

                                The ostentation I'm talking about is not the same as price, but oftentimes is a companion to it. Plating and presentation have a lot to do with it, as does sometimes minuscule portions. But the lion's share, IMO, is the *attitude*.

                                We have apparently not yet shaken off the hackles of "nouvelle" cuisine, another largely vapid term. Chefs and those who market them have been pushing "new" and "modern" for nearly 250 years, since at least 1735, when La Chappel's "Cuisiner Moderne" was published.

                                Aloha,
                                Kaleo

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  @kaleokahu: Can you elaborate on the "ostentation" and "attitude"?

                                  1. re: lamb_da_calculus

                                    Hi, l_d_c:

                                    Preface this all with a big IMO...

                                    Well, the overweening sense I get is the show and attitude of preciousness and special--ness, as if, when a prep is described and presented, it's a testament to the importance of the people who made it happen. This can pervade nearly everything (table service, decor, wine service, etc.) and the more things it pervades, the less likely it is the food will get the attention it deserves.

                                    Then there's the equation of different and better. Some wildly-creative preps work, but most do not. In the atmo of "we're special", outlandish things can happen which, while perhaps not abject failures, have little staying power. In many cases, the diner thinks (if s/he is inwardly honest and not her/himself fully invested in the specialness) "I never thought *that* would work, but it was OK." Examples: tobacco gelato and smoked lettuces in verjus-halibut foam.

                                    I say let the food speak for itself, and let the patron decide if it's special. The best preps I've enjoyed have all been simply presented without glorification, even if the making is elaborate, costly and difficult. As in, "It's our food. We hope you like it." THEN, hopefully, there can be glorification that flows from the palate back to the chef.

                                    Aloha,
                                    Kaleo

                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                      @kaleokahu: Thanks for replying. I've been thinking a lot about different approaches to cooking lately, experimental "interesting/unexpected" food (e.g. the tobacco stuff mentiond above) vs. food that is immediately "good" (e.g. a nice bouillabaisse or something).

                                      I increasingly suspect that both do have their place although the former is much easier to screw up. The analogy I've been thinking of is with music, where certain pieces of music are immediately recognizable as catchy/pleasant/fun (e.g. the Beatles) and others may initially be dissonant and chaotic (e.g. prokofiev!) but upon further reflection more interesting.

                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Agreed, K.

                                        The best meals I ever ate were served by places that lived by the motto, "undersell, overdeliver."

                                        Don't ever argue with the Big Dog, because the Big Dog is always right.

                              2. what do you call modern American cuisine/Restaurants?
                                _______________________

                                Expensive.

                                1. I suspect "modern American" is intended to convey much the same as "modern British" or "modern European" does where I am.

                                  Here, it's an increasingly popular and influential style of cooking which, in essence, takes local and seasonal ingredients; cooks them in a style that is recognisable as generally traditional and "of here", but may add in influences from elsewhere round the globe (perhaps taking account of immigration patterns). In a nutshell, it's the food I most often want to eat in restaurants and its the food I cook at home most days.

                                  1. It seems to me that the most common term is 'New American.' There's no universal link among said restaurants - it's a big tent - but there are a few common trends:

                                    - High quality and/or expensive plates in a fairly casual setting.

                                    - Free use of ingredients (especially) and techniques from other cultures' cuisines, notably East Asian cultures.

                                    - Occasional use of ingredients and techniques (especially) from modernist cooking, aka molecular gastronomy.

                                    - Emphasis on high quality ingredients, artisanal or ethical production techniques (whether or not this is actually the case, it is often advertised anyway)

                                    - Still a lot of lingering influence from Nouvelle Cuisine.

                                    - A tendency to reinvent popular American classics, albeit not as drastically as 'molecular' restaurants.

                                    A New American restaurant can be an overpriced, pretentious, and unsatisfying platform for a chef who skipped learning the basics. Or it can be innovative, delightful, delicious, and even a bargain in terms of food quality vs price (the price of those floral arrangements at old school formal restaurants find their way into the check, after all). Depends on the restaurant, and there is a lot of variation. Anyone who hates or loves New American across the board is probably being kinda myopic.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      There's only two kinds of food. Good and not-so-good. The rest doesn't concern me.

                                      1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                        Oh, I get it. Because American food is synonymous with fast food burger chains. Good one.

                                      2. Would post-modern cooking be from the future?

                                        1. They tend to have an old French word in their title, like Bistro or Brasserie.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                                            Yes. Hooters is without pretence, but the new places, Brasseries, try to put one (or two) over on you.