In his new book Burn the Ice, Kevin Alexander surveys the last 12 years of culinary revolution across America, from the explosion and appropriation of local cuisines like Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville to the iconoclastic influence of Portland’s Le Pigeon. What follows is an adapted introduction from Alexander’s testament to the industry’s latest boom–and bust.
The United States of America is no stranger to revolution. For the better part of 400 years, it’s stubbornly refused to stand still. Perhaps more than any other nation in history, it’s constantly in a state of reinvention, and nowhere is this truer than when it comes to what, where, and how we eat. But for the last 12 years, the change has accelerated, reaching previously unseen speeds, and it has been incredible, a — perhaps the — golden age of American dining. And it may already be over.
But God, was it glorious: chefs bringing extinct crops back from the dead; bartenders finding ancient cocktail tomes in haunted attics and recreating the recipes found within; tiny farms and distilleries and breweries blossoming from Montgomery to Montpelier; food trucks run by French-trained chefs creating singular, perfect foodstuffs; cheeseburgers becoming fancy and then purposefully not fancy again; a Vietnamese immigrant’s small hot sauce company threatening ketchup’s place as condiment king while spending zero money on advertising; obscure cuts of meat becoming celebrated by butchers; butchers becoming celebrities in their own right; hotel bars and restaurants turning into genuine destinations rather than necessities; regional pizza styles (Detroit!) becoming national icons; bars making everything with fresh juices and better ingredients; third-wave coffee shops reshaping coffee’s identity into something to be savored; airport food becoming palatable and, in some cases, downright good; new delivery companies increasing the quality and scope of food you can get at home; European-style food halls flourishing in every city; more diverse cuisines being celebrated and reimagined to take their place in the culinary mainstream; bakers merging together croissants and donuts.