Transition is such a mild word to describe tumultuous, pivotal events in our lives. It’s tough moving forward to embrace new, unknown things while leaving behind the familiar. If there were a poster child for transition years, 2016 would be it across all fronts – socially, economically, politically, et al. For me, mainly because of the election cycle, 2016 will go down in the annals (pun barely averted) as a year which, if it comes up in future conversation, might elicit a knowing glance, nod of the head or, perhaps, a grimace. But, there won’t be much conversation. I may never have the right words to accurately express my view of the politics and resulting chaotic frenzy of 2016.
Yet, through the noise, for those that were paying attention, 2016 was the year that might also be known as the Great San Diego Food Scene Transition. It was the beginning stages of a metamorphosis. When articles were written, shows produced, “best of” lists compiled and competitions held featuring some of the best food, restaurants and chefs in the country and the world, San Diego was mentioned. The San Diego food scene burst out of its cocoon, began to shed its small town persona and is looking forward finding its niche in the wide world of international food echelons. It hasn’t always been like that. Now, there’s a cohesive message. There’s a food scene. San Diego has a chance to do something with and through its food that the rest of the world might actually care about.
But, maybe not in the way you think. In case you’ve never been here before, welcome to the Ground Floor. Here’s what it looks like…
The San Diego food message goes beyond fresh food and local sourcing. It’s mostly about ethics, which includes plenty of other topics; GMO’s, sustainability, conservation, recycling. It’s about keeping the food chain short, just a couple of links, and extracting every last usable calorie out of the bounty of ingredients we have available to plate right now, same day, as it comes out of the ground, air or water. It’s about using our ingredients in new and unique ways, utilizing flavors and cuisines from all over the globe, familiar because of our diverse demographics, with maximum efficiency. If we don’t have it, we don’t need it and whatever we make with it will likely be better than the original.
I love that level of independence and innovation in our food. It’s a message worth spreading…to the right people. Those people would be the chefs, the restaurateurs, the purveyors, the vendors and the other players in the food industry. To them, I say, LISTEN! Or, you’re gonna get beat up, worn down and ruthlessly cajoled until you do. It’s important stuff…to the right people.
But, here’s where I think the San Diego food scene has matured and what I look forward to in 2017. There are signs that the heart and soul of our local restaurant industry, the sole proprietor, Mom & Pop, single location, artisan restaurant has learned that the restaurant business is just like any other business. It has to be about the economics first. Artistry and lofty goals aside, if they can’t keep their doors open, they can’t influence anyone in any fashion. Money may not buy happiness, but it’s sure hard to be happy without it, even more so when you’re running a business.
What’s changing, slowly, but inexorably, is that the San Diego food scene has started to realize that the diner, the customer, the person paying the bills, doesn’t need to be beat over the head with “the message.” People don’t want to pay for the message. They don’t need to be lectured about their food or told how to eat it. Let’s face it, how many beliefs and philosophies can you heap onto a plate of food before we all lose our appetite? No appetite, no need to eat out. It’s a real thing.
Most people who pay for the privilege of being served really only have one question. Is the food great? There’s only one correct answer. It’s the answer that will have people traveling to San Diego from all over the globe…yeah, I know, they already do that. But, they’ll have extra things on their “must do” list, now or, rather, on their “must eat” list. If they can get that great food served with a genuine smile, even better. And all the money that comes into the San Diego food scene and decides to stay… Yeah. You see where I’m going with this.
San Diego has been built on imports for the last century. Military, tourism, tech, education, medicine. We attract world class talent in all those fields. To join the same lofty ranks in the food world, we’ll need to exercise the same focus, discipline and effort. Make our home feel like their home. It’s the visitors to our fair city that make our city fair. New, bright, discerning, diverse and accepting people sharing ideas, cultures, technology and, yes, most importantly, food. People come and go. And, some decide to stay. How long did it take you to become a local in San Diego? For me, it was simple. Embrace it, Declare it…You’re in! And never have I ever felt more San Diegan than when I embraced the San Diego food scene and it embraced me.
So, this year, 2017, the coming out year of the San Diego food scene, I can’t wait to see the industry fling open its doors, throw out their arms and serve great food, some of the best food in the world, really. Feed ’em and feed ’em well.
Then, when they’re at that point of no return, eyes rolling back in their heads, wondering how they’ll ever be able to go back to eating the same ol’ pedestrian fare that they get back home, that’s when you hit ’em with the message. You tell them that they won’t find San Diego style food anyplace else, because no place else has the unique combination of local ingredients, cultures, cuisines, talent, energy and beachfront property to ensure that every ingredient on every plate is as special as the city it’s served in. And that’s what they’ll take home with them as they leave their cash sitting on your table. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
And, if you’re like me, a food lover, well, make your rezzies now. It’s gonna get a little busy ’round these parts. Bring it on 2017, I’ve been waiting for you all year. To you, my friends…Cheers!