Food. We're obsessed by it. Just take a look at any number of daily Instagram posts and there are, shot after loving shot, all kinds of meals, preparation, plated dishes, and primed desserts. When we're not taking images of it, we're thinking about the general make-up of the ingredients. Gluten-free? Grass-fed? Genetically modified? Perhaps we're spending so much time on such things that we barely even have time to cook. This need gave way to the recent explosion of of chic meal home-delivery offering made as easy as click of the mouse. Complete with content that sometime even includes tarot card readings and fashion runway reports, these businesses filled a void for the busy, urban mogul-to-be. But now we are about to enter an entirely new dimension in food trends that is perfectly reflective of shifting dynamics in American culture. And your palate may never be the same. Get ready for luxury food infusions.
In a world where the wealth gap is widening, catering to tastes of the "have's" on that scale is a new business in and of itself. Never before has America seen the amount of wealth that we now boast. In fact, according to the market research and consulting firm Spectrem Group, there are now 10.1 million households in the U.S. with $1 million or more in investable assets. That's up from 9.6 million in 2013. And many in this demographic are interested in new experiences, new tastes, and revivals of luxury staples. Indeed, according to caviaremptor.org, from 1989 to 1997, the U.S. imported an average of 59 metric tons of caviar per year at an annual average value of $6.6 million, and ranked third in overall caviar imports.
"But now the caviar market has completely changed," managing director of Petrossian, Alexandre Petrossian, who is the grandson of one of the company's co-founders recently said. "It's really exploded." Growth is abundant and competition abounds. In, of all places, the Missouri Ozarks last year one center produced and sold approximately 15,000 pounds of paddlefish caviar. A number like that can bring in up to $2 million annually. Even this indicator alone seems to demonstrate that the luxury food arena seems to be a quickly growing phenomenon that will only get bigger. Leading this new trend is someone who many years ago would have seemed an unlikely candidate. Enter chef JR Robinson.
Primed at the helm of a brand new restaurant and lounge in the heart of Washington, DC named Odessa, Chef Robinson plans to position the establishment at peak of the luxury food trend. "Most people don't even really know all the intricacies around caviar," Robinson explains, "but I'm about to offer a menu centered around this - and other luxury food items - and make it totally different. We're going to pair these delicacies with soul-food inspired, Asian-fusion blends. It's about making luxury pop and provide something completely new and different so that you're mouth doesn't get bored." Robinson has, for example, ingeniously taken a red vinegar concept base, typically used for oysters and caviar, and expanded upon some of the red vinegar base utilized in special Jamaican sauces on fish as part of one dish. "It's just like that Jay Z lyric, " explains Robinson, " 'you made it a hot line, I made it a hot song.' It's about taking a specific note in food and expanding it for this venture."
One might expect a certain level of creativity of this sort from a recent "Hell's Kitchen" winner but winning was not always so obvious to Chef Robinson. "I grew up in Harlem. I guess I kind of inspired myself. My grandmother made it very clear that once I hit a certain age, I was on my own so I got serious real quick." He followed his love for cooking and graduated from a college for culinary arts. But it was the skill mixed with hustle that created his foundation. He literally volunteered to work in the kitchens in the restaurants in all the 5 boroughs for quite some time and began honing his craft. He also began building his knowledge and his connections. This lead to introductions to people affiliated with "Hell's Kitchen," and the rest, as they say is history. He's also the go-to for key names in music from Wale to Janelle Monae to Jamie Foxx.
However, not one to forget the other side of the wealth inequality gap, Robinson plans to flip the typical do-good Thanksgiving turkey drive in on its head as well. "I am going to take all my celebrity and luxury experience as apply it during this way we're giving back at Odessa for Thanksgiving. This will be luxury dining for the homeless, " he explains. That's what the holidays are really about anyway, going beyond the daily. I'll have to start days before on this, but will be worth it, and I know this is the way I want to go."
Seems like Robinson's drive and intuitive connection just may be right on the money all the way around. According to Baume+Whiteman, one of the largest food and consulting firms in the world, luxury is fast-returning to in food, and redefining trends in the hotel and restaurant business. Post-recession dining is seems to be going opulence -- high-priced tasting menus, exotic custom spices, and much, much more. It should also be noted that Millennials spent upwards of $90 billion on food service in the past year, alone, according to Food Trends Index. The intersection of these two lines could be very, very powerful. Only the savvy and alert, will be able to capture market share, however.
"I'm ready to take it to the next level. As a chef you gotta be ready for anything," says Robinson. That's my everyday motto."