Bidding adieu to Charlie Trotter and trans fats

By J.m. Hirsch

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In this March 8, 2013 file photo, Acting Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Avery Webb inspects damage at Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. After a fire in March shut the doors to the famous gourmet restaurant, the eatery reopened in June 24.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

It wasn't Paula Deen's career implosion. Nor the rise and fall of the Cronut. It wasn't even the Sriracha apocalypse.

This year's most significant food moment was more seismic, an event 125 years in the making. For 2013 was the first time in a long time that the food world had something new to say about Thanksgiving. Turkey Day converged with Hanukkah, creating a holiday mashup that hasn't happened since 1888, and won't again for 79,000 years. Suddenly, foodies were aflutter with the possibilities of turkey-shaped menorahs and pumpkin latkes.

Or maybe it only excited those of us in the culinary media trenches, the wretches who must reinvent the foods of both holidays year after year. Fair enough. Luckily, there were plenty of other food world distractions.

Deen, for example. For a second year running, she earned the top spot in the "catastrophic PR" category. In 2012, she was flogged for announcing she had both diabetes and a lucrative endorsement deal for a drug to treat the condition she'd until then hidden. This summer, she acknowledged having used racial slurs in the past. Her endorsement, book and TV deals melted away faster than butter in a piping hot skillet.

Then a few months later, another foodie fessed up to bad behavior. Nigella Lawson said she'd used cocaine and marijuana... And nobody seemed to mind.

Heat fiends ended the year angsting over the future of Sriracha, the trendy hot sauce with the rooster on the bottle. The trouble started when people living near the Irwindale, Calif.-based Huy Fong Foods complained that odors from its manufacturing plant were burning their eyes. A court ordered the company to halt production until the odors could be brought under control.

Then last month even shipments of already bottled Sriracha were stopped after California health officials enforced stricter guidelines that require the company to age the sauces 35 days before shipping.

But don't worry. Though the nation may be facing a Sriracha shortage, at least we now have enough serve-yourself frozen yogurt shops to nearly rival Starbucks' population density... Please make it stop. I understand that trends tend to be cyclical, but let's rush this one back to the '80s, shall we?

And while we're at it, let's also rid ourselves of the most overused food term of 2013 — celebrity chef. There are plenty of people in the food world who truly deserve that title. They tend to be smart enough to not use it. And PR people, take note — any time I see somebody described as a celebrity chef, I assume they aren't and hit delete.

It was a year of culinary comebacks. Wonder bread, Twinkies and a host of other Hostess Brands goodies were relaunched by new owners after disappearing in 2012 when the company went out of business.

One thing that won't be coming back? Artificial trans fats. The FDA announced in November it will require the food industry to phase out the ingredient that once was a staple of baked goods, microwave popcorn and fried foods.

Better make sure you keep those new Twinkies away from school cafeterias. Federal officials this summer announced new rules to limit the calories, fat, sugar and sodium on snacks, drinks and a la carte items sold at schools during the day, an expansion of similar rules launched last year for meals. But no need to cut back just yet; the changes won't take effect until next summer.

Meanwhile, how to trim the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program was the biggest deal breaker in congressional budget talks on the five-year farm bill. The Republican-controlled House this summer passed a $4 billion annual cut, while the Democratic Senate passed a version cutting just $400 million a year. This month, they agreed to disagree until the end of January, when they'll need to take up the issue again.

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