Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Bacon as Metaphor: the Lifecycle of a Culinary Trend
I first heard about it on KPBS in the morning. They announced it as filler between news items of bigger importance--Burger King put a bacon sundae on the menu. The news brief was meant for levity, but for me it was serious stuff. This seemingly small decision by BK was actually a long time coming.
Consider fairly recent history: four years ago I was working at a trendy bistro in an upscale neighborhood. The kitchen was staffed with young people. Almost all of us were under thirty, even the chef. We would all try just about anything. I'd been hearing about people sneaking bacon into dessert, so I decided to make a chocolate bacon cupcake. It was delicious, but even in a hip neighborhood people were appalled by it. While I was in the middle of developing a recipe for a bacon cannoli, I got the cease and desist order from the restaurant's owner and that was the end of that.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I'm working in a super trendy place once again. By that point, it was almost taken as given that we'd have a bacon dessert on the menu. Dipping crispy strips of bacon in burnt sugar quickly became an irritation more than a thrill. After all, everybody was doing it by that point.
Then it was this week and NPR was announcing the arrival of a bacon themed dessert at one of the biggest fast food chains in the world.
Things had come full circle. Bacon dessert, a thing that started out as an expansion of the culinary cutting edge, had officially become as mainstream as it is possible to get. Once an item is on the menu at a major fast food outlet, it's safe to say that any avant garde qualities have been wrung out. It's like when a new band comes out and only the hippest hipsters know about it, but sooner or later that band's t-shirts are on the wall at Hot Topic. If that's degree zero for music culture, BK's drive-thru is degree zero for food culture.
So, how do I feel about this? In part, it's kind of depressing because bacon dessert was (and is) my single favorite food trend ever. Watching it go from something exciting to something perfectly pedestrian is like watching Mel Gibson go from the Road Warrior to anti-Semitic super-kook. Candied bacon just isn't badass anymore, no matter how badly I want it to be.
On the other hand, I feel truly validated. I'd like to be able to go back in time a bit and show that bistro owner just how huge of a trend bacon dessert was going to be. I bet things would have gone differently with the bacon cannoli then (because, seriously, that thing was going to be awesome). Plus, its reassuring to see that the industry's wheels are still turning and that, sooner or later, the next big thing will come along that excites me just as much as bacon for dessert did.
Here's to the future!
Not that it was ever really the point of this whole exercise, but in case you were wondering, the BK bacon sundae is actually pretty good. It tastes like fake food, but it's got that magic combo of salty-sweetness. Also, you get 500 calories for $2.50, so it's horrifyingly efficient in terms of pure energy.