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(Published: 2009-07-19)

Summertime and the eating is easy…that is to say, uncomplicated, inexpensive, and unfancy. I’m talking paper plates, picnic tables, and dinner on the deck. Summer is the season for picnics in the park and gin and tonics on the patio, blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup on a rainy morning at the cabin, and tomato and butter sandwiches made with heirloom tomatoes plucked fresh from the backyard garden two minutes ago. No respectable family reunion is complete without an ice cold watermelon floating in a galvanized tub, waiting to be cut into smile-faced slices after a finger-lickin’ barbecue.

To others, summer is the season for white tablecloth dining elegance. Think fine china and tower food, angelcots (white apricots) and Pepquinos (watermelon-shaped micro cucumbers), champagne cocktails and Ooba (hibiscus flavored fizzy, anti-oxidant packed beverage) over ice. If you have a taste for the exotic, I can also offer you blood orange onion comfit, white truffle butter, and caramel sea salt brownies.

Last month, New York hosted two completely contradictory food shows. The Fancy Food Show, in its 55th year, showcases specialty edibles and gourmet treats from around the world. Foodies and celebrity chefs combed the aisles of the Javit’s center searching out the exotic, the delicious, and the swoon-inducing. The New York Times headlined: “In a Cold Economy, Fancy Food is Hot.”

Over in Brooklyn, a different sort of gathering was held. The third annual UnFancy Food Show (UFFS) had another kind of foodie in mind. Their marketing touted: “Forget about beards and hipsters and come meet a bunch of nerds who want to talk to you about what they make, bake, grill and grow.” This crowd was drinking beer and Green Pirate Juice, and eating kimchi, cheese and chocolates, all from local suppliers.

The two shows couldn’t be more different. But who says it has to be one way or the other--why not mix things up a little? In today’s contradictory trend environment, you can have your cake (or caramel sea salt brownie) and eat it too.

Fancy restaurants in chic locations are featuring more comfort food than ever before, including skirt steaks, fried chicken, and deserts like simple cobblers or chocolate pudding pie. Will Grimes recently wrote in the New York Times about the revival of speakeasies—urban bars in undisclosed locations--where “everywhere, it seems, fancy cocktails are being shaken in murky surroundings.” Those in the know are making the pilgrimage to back alleys, entering through secret garage doors, and ordering frou-frou drinks in lushly decorated hide-outs, like PDT (Please Don’t Tell) in the East Village.

Frou-frou or unfussy? What’s on your menu tonight?

Fancy tower food

Unfancy Food Show

Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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