5 Years: Food & Drink

Since (614) Magazine printed its first issue five years ago, our fair city has evolved in several facets, perhaps none more so that the Columbus culinary scene, which now lays claims to at least seven microbreweries, two distilleries, a booming food truck community, and a host of inventive chefs and restaurateurs. This month, we assembled a panel of five locals putting their stamp on Columbus to comment on how much our taste has changed in the last half-decade.

Greg Lehman
Co-owner, Watershed Distillery

Biggest food trend of the past five years?
Local and ‘slow food’ movement. The ‘farm-to-fork’ concept has redefined how many people view their dining options. More and more, we’re seeing successful, independent restaurants like The Crest utilize rooftop garden space for growing greens and veggies. Neighborhood farmers markets are redefining the norm for fresh food. People seem to put more thought into the food they buy and many in the industry take advantage of local options to serve top-notch products to the public. It’s win-win.

Trend of the past five years you wish would die a quick death?
Flavored bourbon.

How has the Columbus customer changed in the past 5 years?
We are getting more sophisticated as we learn more about where our food comes from and how it impacts ourselves and our environment. We want all the taste and creativity from around the globe, but we want it done responsibly by people in our neighborhood.

In two sentences, how would you describe the Columbus food scene then, and now?
Food trucks used to be cheap “street meat”, post-bar food – frozen hot dogs, gyros, burgers. Now we’re talking fresh micro-cuisine with flavors from everywhere in the world; there’s no comparison.

How do you feel about the proliferation of diners taking pictures of their food before they eat it?
It’s weird when you think about it, but we’re guilty of it ourselves. Sometimes you wish everyone could be there with you, eating this thing that is so unbelievably delicious; all you can do is snap a photo and share it.

Bill Glover
Executive Chef, Gallerie Bar & Bistro

Biggest food trend of the past five years?
Food trucks. I like the freedom it provides its operator to have the mobility to serve wherever they see fit. I think they enrich our food scene – not compete with it. I have been amazed at how good some of the product can be from a truck-sized kitchen, Ray Ray’s, for instance, is some of the best barbeque I have had anywhere in the country.

What do you see as an upcoming trend in Columbus dining?
Fast casual service restaurants are growing nationally and here also. Northstar and Piada are a few homegrown concepts that are serving well made, quality food with lower overhead and quicker dining times. Technology will also begin to be a part of every dining experience, ordering from cell phones, iPad menus, credit card transactions done table side via hand held devices make for quicker service and more table turns for the operator.

Five years from now, what do you hope we’ll be discussing?
It would be great to see more local chefs being nominated for James Beard awards, and adding Michelin Star caliber restaurants that are capable of being supported by the local audience. Chicago has 25 restaurants with one or more stars; we have none. In my opinion Kihachi would be first in line if they would consider any local restaurant. Chef Mike [Kimura] is incredibly talented.

In two sentences, how would you describe the Columbus food scene then, and now?
Then: Safe and simple approach to dining. Now: A vibrant independent scene full of talent with operators pushing the local diners to expand on their dining experiences.

How do you feel about the proliferation of diners taking pictures of their food before they eat it?
I personally don’t have any problem with a diner taking a photograph and marking a memory about their experience. I recently had a chef visit me at the restaurant for dinner, he has won six Michelin stars, has been nominated for multiple James Beard awards and he took pictures of my food. Flattering yes, but it isn’t just the amateur diners taking these food shots in the dining room. My only thought on this subject is turn your flash off and simply adjust your phones exposure setting in an effort to avoid affecting the other guests’ experience.

Mikey Sorboro
Co-founder/co-owner Mikey’s Late Nite Slice

How has Yelp (internet, blogs) affected the restaurant business?
I feel Yelp is just another vehicle for transparency within the food industry, and it’s a good thing…generally. Just look at the proliferation of open kitchens in restaurants and ingredient labeling. People want to know about what they’re eating, where it comes from and how it’s made. It’s really hard to give bad service and bad food anymore. If you’re bad at what you do, people will find out faster than ever. Is Yelp a pain in the ass sometimes? Absolutely! Especially when you get some a-hole on there that needs to bitch just to justify their own existence pissing and moaning about some tiny ripple in what is generally great service, and write a three-pager about how said ripple was “the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, ever,” and how they will be making it their life’s goal to picket outside your spot until justice is served. Yeah, those guys are on there (I’d give you names, but they’d probably just go Yelp about it); but generally Yelp is a great source of information from people with experience.

Biggest food trend of the past five years?
Inspired Street food. Not just food trucks, but pop-up kitchens, carts, gastropubs. Food trucks, carts and bars having available kitchens have really opened the gates for people with ideas to enter into the restaurant industry rather easily. If you have a desire to make food for people, no longer do you have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. Find a food truck. Find a bar with a closed kitchen. Do a pop-up restaurant. Go to a craft show or flea market and make food. It’s very accessible.

Trend of the past five years you wish would die a quick death?
I hate the word “gastropub.” Especially if it’s not used correctly, which happens often, because it’s so subjective. There are no rules to become a gastropub so anyone who claims to have watched all nine seasons of No Reservations can open a kitchen and call it a gastropub. I think it’s a fad, not a trend. Fads die quick, trends stick around longer. I’m hoping for the former.

Five years from now, what do you hope we’ll be discussing?
How Columbus is the new Portland.

In two sentences, how would you describe the Columbus food scene then, and now?
They say, “the older you get, the more like yourself you become” and the Columbus food scene is doing just that. Growing into itself.

Gavin Meyers
Co-owner, North High Brewing Co.

How has Yelp (internet, blogs) affected the restaurant business?
Yelp and other online forums are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they provide a platform for informed customers to share their experiences with a wide audience, in turn helping new customers discover a business. On the other hand, there is little accountability as to the accuracy of an experience. I often see negative reviews of businesses where the reviewer did not even experience the service, but merely is commenting on appearance or customers or how busy the place is. In the end, I see these forums as a net positive, and as incentive for business owners to treat all customers as critics.

Trend of the past five years you wish would die a quick death?
Chain restaurants. No personality, no local appeal, no innovation = please die.

Five years from now, what do you hope we’ll be discussing?

Five years from now, hopefully we’ll be discussing which local brewery owner has the largest collection of exotic automobiles…but seriously, with the kind of talent and innovation that we’re seeing, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Michelin star or two pop up in the coming few years.

In 2012, William Deresiewicz of the New York Times opined that “food has replaced art as high culture.” Thoughts?
Food will never “replace” art as high culture, but why not share the limelight?

How do you feel about the proliferation of diners taking pictures of their food before they eat it?
I think that the very fact that the pictures are being taken is a testament to the kind of pride that chefs take in the multidimensional experience that their diners are enjoying. Snap away!

Angela Theado
Former Dining Editor, (614) Magazine
Owner, The Coop food truck

Biggest food trend of the past five years?
In the last five years local farm-to-table trends have been very popular and I believe that this trend will continue to gain wind. In fact, I’m betting on it.

Trend of the past five years you wish would die a quick death?
There are too many trends that I want dead to pick just one. I am also afraid that people will come at me with pitchforks and torches if I mention those I want dead, so I plead the fifth on that one. I do see a trend in Columbus with chefs taking more risks. This is one that I stand behind whether these risks become successful or fail miserably. It’s inspiring to see so much possibility in this city.

Five years from now, what do you hope we’ll be discussing?
Five years from now I hope we’ll be discussing the death of factory farms and food.

How have food trucks impacted the eating scene?
Food trucks have impacted the eating scene by alleviating some of the risk in opening a new eatery. It doesn’t take a huge investment and you’re not tied to a location. You can take more risks with the food you want to present and find an audience who appreciates it, rather than having to cast a wide net with crowd pleasing favorites in order to pay your overhead.

In 2012, William Deresiewicz of the New York Times opined that “food has replaced art as high culture.” Thoughts?
I don’t know if it’s high culture, but it is definitely a counterculture. Factory farms and foods, with their monocultures and questionable nutritional value, have left us feeling food repressed. We all have to eat every day, and our health depends on what we eat, not to mention our quality of life simply from a pleasure standpoint. It is therefore a natural and very inclusive platform on which to begin to rebel against the consumer culture that has brought so much anxiety. High culture insinuates a culture that belongs to the elites, food culture belongs to everyone.

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