As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to sit back and take stock of all the absolutely ridiculous events and circumstances that we had to deal with this year, many of which would have seemed unimaginable even a few years ago. It’s a year that saw many people paying more attention to politics than they had for decades, and because topics like the immigration crackdown and the repeated attempts to repeal Obamacare dominated the headlines (rightfully), there were plenty of huge food-related news stories that you might have missed while you were worrying about, say, a raging wildfire or hurricane or the prospect of nuclear war. We’ve rounded up the top 10.
One of the biggest corporate mergers of the year, food-related or otherwise, was Amazon’s June acquisition of Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. So far, the most obvious change has been a lower price on foods like avocadoes, salmon, and some steaks (with even more price drops in time for the holidays), but we’re sure there are plenty more changes in the works.
Donald Trump took office in January, and he’s since definitely proven himself to be a… shall we say, unique president. It was revealed that he presses a secret button on his Oval Office desk to demand a Diet Coke delivery; he tasked the White House kitchen with replicating a McDonald’s burger; the burger he ate in China has become one of the country’s hottest foods; he falsely claimed to own a huge Virginia winery; he demanded two scoops of ice cream at the White House while everyone else got one; the kitchen at his Mar-a-Lago mansion was cited for severe health code violations; he gushed about eating the “most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” with Chinese President Xi Jinping while bombing Syria; and he feuded with several celebrity chefs, including José Andrés and Geoffrey Zakarian. And the hits just keep on coming!
After “Papa John” Schnatter blamed NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem for his chain’s declining sales, the Papa John’s stock plummeted, sending Schnatter’s net worth down by $70 million. But that was just the tip of the iceberg: One white supremacist newspaper interpreted Schnatter’s comments as embracing their views, and asked whether the chain had become the “official pizza of the alt-right.” Schnatter was forced to walk back his comments, but not before his (and his company’s) reputation took a serious hit.
John Besh was one of America’s most popular celebrity chefs, the head of a New Orleans-based restaurant group that owned beloved restaurants including August, Domenica, Johnny Sanchez, and Shaya. But the restaurant industry certainly hasn’t been immune from the recent and seemingly long-overdue flood of women calling out sexual harassers and predators, and in October, 25 female employees came forward to accuse Besh and his company of fostering an environment of sexual harassment at work. Besh stepped down from his restaurant group after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with an employee, and his future remains uncertain.
Last July, the legendary Four Seasons, which had occupied two of New York City’s most iconic restaurant spaces inside Park Avenue’s Seagram Building since 1959, closed for good, with plans to reopen elsewhere. Shortly before its closure, the city’s hottest restaurant group, Major Food Group, announced that they’d be taking over the spaces, and the resulting restaurants — The Grill and The Pool (with a third, The Lobster Club, opening downstairs) — opened earlier this year to much fanfare. Early reviews have been astoundingly good, and it’s shaping up to be the opening of the decade.
The most pervasive food trend of 2017 was inspired by a mythical animal. In 2017, rainbows gave way to a stampede of unicorns, which left devastation (and millions of colorful Instagram pictures) in its wake. It affected (infected?) everything from bagels to wedding cakes, hot chocolate, and booze, but the trend reached its zenith (or nadir?) when Starbucks jumped on the bandwagon in April and introduced its Unicorn Frappuccino: “a sweet dusting of pink powder, blended into a crème Frappuccino with mango syrup and layered with a pleasantly sour blue drizzle. It is finished with vanilla whipped cream and a sprinkle of sweet pink and sour blue powder topping.” We’ll pass.
Hurricane Maria directly hit Puerto Rico on September 20, and the resulting humanitarian crisis is still ongoing. None other than enterprising chef José Andrés sprang to action, quickly mobilizing his nonprofit World Central Kitchen and heading to the island in order to provide food to people in the mountainous and isolated areas that have received insufficient recovery aid from the federal government. To date, the organization has served well over 1 million meals, and Andrés recently announced that it will continue to feed Puerto Ricans through Christmas.
Northern California’s wine country was hit by several devastating wildfires in early autumn, burning more than 220,000 acres, displacing more than 100,000 residents, and killing 42. More than 8,000 houses and other structures were also destroyed (especially in the city of Santa Rosa), and in Napa and Sonoma many wineries and vineyards were affected. The wildfires greatly affected the region’s grape production, but thankfully, 90 percent of the valley’s grapes were picked and processed before the fires broke out. The long-term effects of the fires on the region’s wines have yet to be determined, but an overlooked side effect of the disaster is an expected lack of jobs and housing for seasonal workers.
Anyone looking for signs of hope in the world of casual sit-down restaurant chains didn’t have much to celebrate this year. Joe’s Crab Shack closed 41 restaurants without warning, 31 Dairy Queens closed after a franchisee filed for bankruptcy, Applebee’s and IHOP announced they may close 160 restaurants, 30 Pollo Tropical locations closed, 55 Noodles & Company locations closed, and Bloomin’ Brands announced that they’d be shuttering 43 of their restaurants (which include Outback and Carrabba’s). These just aren’t the type of restaurants people gravitate toward anymore.
New York City has long been the domain of more three-Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in America (either taking the crown or tied with San Francisco at six), but that changed in October when it was announced that Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s New York flagship Jean Georges was downgraded from three stars to two. The result: New York five, San Francisco seven (its Coi was upgraded from two stars to three).