The writer Mark Twain once said that “cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” If this is true, then perhaps that hard-earned degree is finally paying off.
“Everyone is having fun with cauliflower,” says Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants executive Alex Taylor. For the past few years, San Francisco–based Kimpton has conducted a poll of the chefs, sommeliers and bartenders at its nearly 70 locations to provide a timely snapshot of food and beverage trends across some 30 cities nationwide. The latest report suggests a significant coup in the cruciferous department: “Kimpton chefs agree that cauliflower is the new kale.”
Kimpton announced these and other findings (gin is in!) at a recent cocktail party in the penthouse suite of its Ink48 hotel property in New York City, hosted by Taylor, the company’s senior vice president for restaurants and bars, and other execs. Hors d’oeuvres included cauliflower croquettes (what else?) served with a zippy dipping sauce. At the party, Taylor praised the white-headed vegetable for its multidimensional abilities. “It’s really a palette vegetable,” he says. “Almost like the risotto of vegetables. You can use it to really highlight other things. You can have it take whatever shape you want.”
Taylor describes cauliflower’s inevitable ascension in the context of other once-widely-despised produce, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, that has seen renewed interest from today’s creative and increasingly vegetal-focused chefs. “Kale was decorating salad bars until six or seven years ago,” he says. “It’s all about what’s old is new again.”
Why cauliflower? Why now? Even high-ranking hospitality executives, it seems, have difficulty explaining these sudden spikes in a given foodstuff’s popularity. “I can’t tell you why cauliflower is uniquely better than rutabaga to make a comeback,” says Taylor. “Maybe in three years I will be telling you that rutabaga is the new cauliflower,” he laughs.
Other findings in Kimpton’s 2016 report: tartare, ancient grains, plant-based entreés and open-fire roasting are hot themes in the kitchen, while house-carbonated spirits, mismatched vintage glassware and unique ice cubes are keeping it interesting at the bar. The report also predicts that meatloaf and the classic bamboo cocktail are poised for a comeback.
“It’s interesting because what’s cool is not what’s in, and what’s in is not what’s cool,” Taylor says. “All this stuff is in right now, but it’s not what’s cool. Because what’s cool, it’s not a trend.” He points to now-tired fads like bao buns and lettuce wraps — “even Applebee’s is doing lettuce wraps,” he says — that became trendy long after they were first cool.
“That’s not to say that it’s not great to be in,” Taylor adds. “Trendy is what makes money; trendy is what people want.”
So what does all of this mean for our cruciferous dish du jour: Is cauliflower cool? Or is it just trending?
“Cauliflower is trending,” Taylor says. “Rutabaga might be cool.”