Culinary trends through the decades

Just like with music, fashion and art the culinary world goes through different trends and phrases as time goes on. Styles of cooking in the 1960s differ greatly from the styles of cooking used today, however you will find that many traditional recipes from different decades have been recycled over the years. Here we will take a look at some of the key culinary trends in the UK through the decades (1960s onwards) and how they have been influenced by technology and other cultures.

Food of the sixtes - trout and Almonds
Trout with almonds was a popular dish served at British bistros in the 1960s.
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The 60s
The 1960s is known for being the decade of change, with chefs and even home cooks experimenting with a wide range of foods and cooking techniques. Part of this change was clearly influenced by the fact that more and more people were holidaying abroad. Thanks to cheap package holidays, many individuals were visiting foreign countries and tasting new and exciting flavours for the very first time. Inspired by the foods they tasted abroad, many Brits began cooking some of the dishes that are still popular today like Spaghetti Bolognese.

A change in culinary trends was also sparked by the growing number of Italians, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese immigrating to the UK and setting up their own restaurants in towns and cities. These new restaurants helped to develop people’s food tastes and pave the way for fusion cooking.

Eating out at restaurants was the thing to do in the 1960s, with British bistros popping up all over the country. Popular bistro dishes included Moussaka, Escalope Cordon Bleu, Trout with Almonds and Steak Pizzaiola.

The growth of the air travel industry also meant that new fruits and vegetables could easily be flown into the UK. British consumers had more access to fruit, vegetables and foods in their local grocery stores than ever before.

In terms of famous culinary celebrities, it was all about Fanny Cradock, the original TV chef. She worked on a number of programmes including Kitchen Magic and Fanny’s Kitchen and went on to produce a number of sixties cookbooks, many of which are still referred to and used today.

The Classic Prawn Cocktail
The prawn cocktail was the starter of the 1970s!
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The 70s
The 1970s is often noted for its simple, comforting and somewhat brown coloured dishes. Think stroganoff, goulash, steak and chips and Black Forest gateaux for dessert. The starter of the seventies was definitely the prawn cocktail and there were a number of odd hybrid puddings being served including the Rum Baba - a fusion between bread and cake.

Whilst few people look back on the seventies with fond memories of the food, there are a few that champion it, including seventies chef Delia Smith. Yes Delia is still a big fan of the culinary trends of the seventies and even favours them over what some of today’s Michelin star chefs serve. Back then it was all about simple, classic dishes, with far more focus on the taste of the food than how it was presented on the plate. Some of Delia’s most popular dishes from the seventies include: oxtail hotpot, kidney-stuffed onions, braised pork with prunes and kipper quiche. Now can you see why the seventies were famous for brown coloured food?

Sticking with the theme of simplicity, packet and instantaneous food also first emerged during this decade. People were so amazed by packet mash potato (Smash) and Angel Delight that they felt like they were living in the space age. At this time, a number of new kitchen gadgets were also introduced to the culinary market including pressure cookers, microwaves, cream whizzers and fondue kits, all with the aim of making cooking that little bit easier and less time consuming.

Nouvelle cuisine - the rage of the eighties
Nouvelle Cuisine was all the rage in the 1980s.
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The 1980s was the decade of convenience and food fads. Diet food began to emerge (most of which were not very good for you at all) and pre-made, ready-to-eat food was all the rage. One of the most popular culinary inventions to come out of the 1980s was the toasty maker – who doesn’t love a melted cheese and tomato toasty?

As people became more health conscious in the 1980s, certain foods became key staples in their diets including pasta, known for being low in fat and a good source of carbohydrates.

In terms of professional culinary trends it was all about Nouvelle Cuisine, a trend that was loved by some and hated by many. Nouvelle Cuisine was a deliberate step away from classic French cooking and it’s use of heavy sauces, roux, flour and butter. Instead of learning classic French culinary skills, these hotheaded chefs took a new approach to cooking, creating everything from reductions to emulsions. One of the reasons people were not so pleased by this new wave of young chefs was the fact that they significantly reduced the portion sizes in restaurants and instead concentrated on creating neatly presented food.

Another culinary trend of the eighties was stacking food. Yes, chefs would spend ages in the kitchen carefully stacking their customers’ food into tall towers.

In the 90's Fusion cooking arrived

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In the 1990s Brits had access to a wide range of produce, with big supermarkets stocking all sorts of exotic fruits and vegetables. However it wasn’t just healthy fruits and vegetables that became more available in our supermarkets, but also processed foods and snacks. Continuing on from the 1980s, people were looking for ways to making cooking more convenient and processed foods, snacks and fast food outlets provided the perfect solution, though maybe not the healthiest! According to an FDA study, the average meal in the 1980s took one hour to prepare, but ten years later, it had dropped to just twenty minutes, showing just how popular ready meals and other easy-to-cook food was in the 90s.

Another culinary trend of the 1990s was known as fusion food. By this time, people had access to all types of cuisine in Britain including British, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Japanese. Indian food was particularly popular; with many people taking inspiration from the dishes they ate at restaurants and attempting to recreate them at home.

The emergence  of the gastro pub
00s gastro pubs offered British classics with contemporary twists.
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Culinary trends of the noughties were predominantly built on the food trends of the previous decade. Snack food and ready meals were still very popular, however people had started to become a little more health conscious. Organic food and other specialist products began to emerge, reviving an interest in smaller-scale production.

International cuisine still remained very popular in the 00s; Chicken Tikka Masala has become an established favourite and was proclaimed the national restaurant dish of the UK in 2001. By this time, curry wasn’t just being eaten out at Indian restaurants, budding home chefs were recreating the dish at home too. Thai food also started to become more and more popular in the early noughties, with British people developing a new taste for the aromatic flavours it is best known for.

However it’s not just a growth in international cuisine that we saw in the 00s but a revival of old British classics too. Gastro pubs began to rule the roost, serving rustic, quality dishes that offered a slight contemporary twist on British classics. UK chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Heston Blumenthal were (and are still) the faces of British cuisine and became famous all over the world.

Food providence is key today
Today more and more restaurants are focusing on using local ingredients from farmers markets, farm shops and other small-scale suppliers.
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The present day
Today Britain has an enviable culinary reputation, with British chefs renowned for their skill and talent all over the world. In terms of today’s culinary trends, we have seen a shift towards using local produce. When you go to a restaurant today, it is likely that you will spot the words ‘local produce’ on the menu. Rather than importing foods from overseas, more and more chefs are trying to create trendy dishes using ingredients from local producers, not only resulting in fresher food, but a reduced carbon footprint too.

Of course, this trend has had a fantastic effect on small-scale producers and companies, as has the rise of social media. Whereas small-scale producers would have struggled to keep up with mass producers in previous decades, today they are widely supported by everyone from local restaurateurs to celebrity chefs.

Since the food scandals that took place last year, there has been a growing culinary trend for food with a story. Being able to trace the source of the food and its journey is becoming more and more important to consumers.

Health and nutrition also plays a key role in today’s culinary trends. People’s desire to live healthier lifestyles has sparked a trend for low calorie options on menus and innovative recipes that combine healthy vegetables with traditional desserts in order to make sure people get their five a day!

Over the decades many culinary trends have come and gone and it is clear to see that they have been directly affected by a number of different factors including immigration, technology advancements and lifestyle changes. It is interesting to see how what was once thought as a fantastic new invention (takeaways, packet food etc.) is now considered less favourable in terms of healthy eating and that trends that were ridiculed in the past (Nouvelle Cuisine) are widely accepted in some of the UK’s top restaurants today.

Image credits: Emi Popova, heatherintheusa, Jerome, tomylees, ChrisGoldNY & chrisjohnbeckett

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