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Food story of year bigger than Sriracha or Deen

By J.M. HIRSCH THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This article was published December 26, 2013 at 3:07 a.m.

heat-fiends-ended-the-year-angsting-over-the-future-of-sriracha-the-trendy-hot-sauce-with-the-rooster-on-the-bottle-a-court-ordered-irwindale-calif-based-huy-fong-foods-to-halt-production-of-the-sauce-until-the-odors-could-be-brought-under-control-after-people-living-nearby-complained-the-fumes-burned-their-eyes

Heat fiends ended the year angsting over the future of Sriracha, the trendy hot sauce with the rooster on the bottle. A court ordered Irwindale, Calif.-based Huy Fong Foods to halt production of the sauce until the odors could be brought under control after people living nearby complained the fumes burned their eyes.

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 mash-up 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 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.

CUISINE SCENE

America’s obsession with cultish hard-to-get foods was over the top. The McRib? So last year. The must-eat items of 2013 were all about exclusivity - French chef Dominique Ansel’s Cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid, and Keizo Shimamoto’s ramen burger, a beef patty served between “buns” of ramen noodles. Trouble is, the lines were so long that by the time you got one, they were no longer hip.

You missed those trends? You were probably busy eating Greek yogurt and kale salads. In fact, pretty much all things vegetable and vegan were hot (cue the smug look from all the hippies who knew this back in the ’70s). This summer’s crop of food magazines was so smitten with vegetables, they seemed to forget a lot of people like to grill meat, too.

In other media news, the Food Network turned 20 (Bam!), ABC’s The Chew spit out its 500th episode, Gordon Ramsay’s Fox show Kitchen Nightmares went viral after featuring an Arizona couple having an epic meltdown, and popular recipe website Allrecipes.com spun off into a real-world print edition with Allrecipes magazine.

In the restaurant world, fast-food workers protested pay levels, photo apps continued to disrupt meals (and annoy restaurateurs), computer tablets increasingly displaced old-fashioned menus and order pads, and we almost lost Alice Waters’ iconic Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Chez Panisse to fire in March (it reopened this summer).

But the food world did lose three icons. Chicago chef Charlie Trotter died at age 54 in November from a stroke. He was credited with reinvigorating fine dining in America and putting Chicago at the vanguard of the food world. Marcella Hazan, who taught generations of Americans how to create simple, fresh Italian food, died in September at 89. And Judy Rodgers, the award-winning chef behind San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe, died this month at 57.

What’s in store for 2014? We’ve yet to crack the code for the perfect cookbook app.Will this be the year? Let’s all cross our fingers that the gluten-free bubble finally bursts. The Olympics will have us (briefly) smitten with vodka and pirozhki. Well, maybe the vodka part of that affair won’t be brief. And while vegetables will still be hot, sustainable seafood could be the new kale.

Weekend, Pages 34 on 12/26/2013

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