There was a time in my life that I didn’t like green olives (August 1979 – January 1999). That all changed when I heard some great words of wisdom from my roommate’s brother-in-law on an impromptu road trip to Key West. He asked me why I didn’t like green olives and I couldn’t give him one good reason, other than the fact that it was engrained in me that I didn’t like them. “Just accept them as a new flavor” he said, probably believing I would still shun the olives as my prejudices were deep rooted. But it stuck with me and is still a mantra I preach to anyone who will listen. I can safely say that today there are no foods that I don’t like. However, I have yet to find my understudy.
This “talent” comes in handy at restaurants as it opens up the entire menu, but menu items seem hopelessly limited these days; a victim of a decade of trends. Spinach and Artichoke dip was the trend of 10 years ago and is rarely found outside of a Cheesecake Factory menu today. Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola cheeses in salads have become a staple without signs of slowing down. Combining them with beets and walnuts is still accepted as new and exciting, though it’s challenging to find a contemporary restaurant without these on the menu. Broccoli rabe and gnocchi have been on the rise for the past few years giving waitresses an added pronunciation challenge. Arancini seems to be a rising star; so new that the WordPress spellcheck can’t even guess what I meant to say.
I enjoy all of these and I am perfectly content if they never lose their current trendiness. What has peaked too fast however is truffle oil. The first time I had truffle oil on french fries I was hooked. It was something I had never tasted before and sounded so fancy I was mentally planning my child-to-be’s royal wedding. In the past year I’ve noticed truffle oil is now used all the time; on risotto, vegetables, pizza, potatoes, etc. While I still accept the flavor I can’t help but feel it’s lost its thrill. I’d go as far as saying I’m a bit sick of it and the smell can make me a bit nauseous. This is most likely due to the fact that most truffle oil doesn’t actually contain truffles but instead is olive oil flavored with 2,4-dithiapentane. It’s the diet Coke of olive oils; flavored in the laboratory.
Why then is truffle oil still so expensive? I didn’t realize truffle oil contained no truffles so I imagine I’m not alone. If everyone perceives a truffle as rare and expensive, and assumes truffle oils contain true truffles, then the price point makes sense. Truffle oil makers and sellers can get away with charging $8 for 2 ounces of oil olive flavored with a very cheap and organic compound. Bottles that are found in the store still have very misleading ingredients including “Natural Truffle Flavors”, which essentially means “things that taste like truffles”. Here’s a quote from a New York Times article from 2007 where chefs began learning they weren’t really working with the real thing…
Mr. L’Hommedieu’s recollection involved the late chef Jean-Louis Palladin, with whom he worked at Palladin, a Manhattan restaurant that is now closed. Returning from a trip out of town, Mr. Palladin was enraged to walk into the kitchen and find that in his absence bottles of truffle oil had cropped up everywhere. Grabbing two of them, he called the staff out to the alley behind the restaurant where the garbage was held. He hurled the oil at the side of the building, smashing the glass bottles against the wall. “It’s full of chemicals,” he screamed at his confused and frightened staff members, who scrambled back to the kitchen through the gathering scent of truffle oil mingled with the fetid air of the alley. “No more!”
I’m going on record now as saying the truffle oil trend will begin a downward spiral sooner than later. Chefs are over using it to overpower their dishes with a perceived luxury while killing all subtleties in their original dish. It’s our generation’s MSG.