The first time I witnessed a real breakthrough in the culinary arts was when a fistful of Pop Rocks exploded in my mouth. Not as in, "exploding with flavor!" As in, blew up.
"Taste the Explosion!" the packaging exclaimed. I knew what an explosion tasted like. A firecracker once went off in my mouth. Perhaps I'll tell that story in July.
Because I did not learn a thing from that episode, I opened my mouth and tossed in a handful of the jewel-red Pop Rocks. Like every other kid trying Pop Rocks for the first time, I screamed and spit out the crackling carnage, choking at the sight of my foaming, blood-red spit. Then like every other kid I exclaimed, "Cool!"
Cereal makers lead the creative food charge for kids, turning honeycombs, s'mores and doughnuts into corn-based, primary-colored breakfast that goes down like a spoonful of sugar. But finding more ways to eat sugar isn’t exactly a breakthrough.
For grown-ups, behold the booze asmooch… the amused douche… [pause while I look it up]… the amuse-bouche, a one-bite treat brought to your table by the chef in frillier restaurants. This delicacy is his calling card, meant to sum up his entire culinary philosophy in a single wad of raw salmon or blob of mint foam. The amuse-bouche is technically not an appetizer because it comes before the appetizers and you didn't order it. It's more a thing to admire than a thing to eat. But you eat it anyway. The last one I had tasted like Thanksgiving dinner and dessert at the same time. If anyone is watching, you roll your eyes around thoughtfully as you ponder its slimy, slippery texture. How bold! Bravo! If nobody's watching you, you slide it off your tongue into your napkin.
The urge for creativity has invaded coffee, starting with cheap powdered styrofoam that looks quite like you actually paid $5 for a cappuccino. No more plain powdered non-diary creamer. [Another pause: if it's not dairy and not liquid, why do we still call it cream?] Now you can enjoy additives like Coffee-mate Belgian Chocolate Toffee, Parisian Almond Crème (you know it's really French because it has the accent), or Crème Brûlée (three accents! And no, I'm not making these up). How about Tiramisu Cheesecake? (Okay, I made that one up. Pretty good, huh? Hire me, Coffee-mate!) These powdered miracles are for people who don’t like coffee but drink it anyway.
The real food breakthroughs of the last decade are in food packaging. To make a no-drip ketchup bottle, Heinz developed a tiny sphincter spout that doesn’t leak at all until you squeeze the bottle hard enough until it blows like a zit across your hot dog, over the table and up the mink coat of the woman at the next booth, which is what she deserves if she’s wearing a mink coat in a place that serves ketchup. (If that seems like an odd example, know that it actually happened to me.) Heinz needs to solve the squeeze bottle's tendency to sound like a fart, which inevitably happens within earshot of 8-year-old boys who giggle and repeat that sound for the rest of the day until you send them to bed early.
Frito-Lay has perfected an exploding potato chip bag, which opens everywhere except along the top seam labeled "Open here."
Nature's Harvest reduces waste by putting only 3 ounces of granola in their 16-ounce box, cradled in a little biodegradable plastic bag surrounded by a box of, I presume, fresh, 100% organic country air.
The age-old wax-and-cardboard milk carton now has a plastic spout on top. Convenient! Just 1) unscrew the lid, then 2) dig out the “freshness seal” underneath by pulling the attached ring which 3) breaks off, then 4) dig out the damn thing by stabbing it with a butter knife. This innovation takes three times longer and drips twice as much as the original fold-open spout, which is still part of the carton.
Food trend-setters: if you are short of inspiration, here are three suggestions:
1. create cling wrap that does
2. biscotti-flavored coffee cups
3. make tomatoes out of tomato
Meanwhile, I could go for some more exploding food.
Reprinted from Food & Spirits Magazine, Fall 2012