Chef of the year: Instant Pot
With nationwide fans that could be described mildly as “enthusiastic,” the 126-functions-in-one Instant Pot is 2017’s hottest celebrity chef. Like the best contestants on Chopped, it churns out a delicious dinner from randomly assembled raw ingredients in about 10 minutes. It also makes yogurt and has a Facebook group with 862,000 members. Instant Pot is a master of so many cuisines, whipping up pot roast and congee and cheesecake and adobo chicken with equal command. But despite its meteoric rise to fame, Instant Pot never forgot why it got into cooking in the first place: the people. It’s our chef of the year, and it’s blissfully ego-free.
Flavor of the year: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust
When Flamin’ Hot Cheetos took off in the mid-2000s, the crunchy corn puff snacks had an air of taboo because its intense spiciness was known to cause stomach issues. Which meant among school-aged children, it was dope. But it took another decade for Flamin’ Hots—specifically, the “cheese”-flavored dust coating the exterior—to jump some culinary psychic threshold and into the mainstream, this time as a flavor. This year alone saw Thanksgiving turkeys crusted with the spicy cheese dust. Ditto fried chicken wings. Burger King even used it as a batter for mac ‘n cheese. And have you tried it crumbled atop mashed potatoes? Like chipotle peppers, Sriracha, gochujang and other spicy trends, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-on-everything is here for the long haul.
Beverage of the year: Key Lime LaCroix
It has already been established that LaCroix is the beverage the entire world runs on. Here at The Takeout offices we are lucky enough to have a LaCroix mini-fridge, and the success of entire workdays can be based on whether Pamplemousse is on hand, or just yucky plain blue. So we thought we had reached the pinnacle of LaCroix happiness, but we were wrong. This year brought us Key Lime LaCroix, possibly the brand’s best-ever flavor: a faintly nostalgic savory whisper that is like pie in a can (while still having that refreshing, zero-calorie advantage). We’d say that Key Lime LaCroix is the popular beverage’s apex, except we know the brand is again bound to top itself and we’ll be writing about lemon meringue LaCroix or something in this space next year.
Bullshit food trend of the year: Sushi burritos
The marketing genius who concocted the term “sushi burrito” took sushi and tacked on an extraneous word—burrito—and convinced a subset of food enthusiasts to call pre-sliced maki rolls by a new and unnecessary name. It would be like rebranding a banana wrapped in aluminum foil as a “banana burrito.”
Chain of the year: Arby’s
Arby’s, a pop cultural punchline not too long ago, has remarkably become the darling of the chain restaurant world. While other quick service brands are experiencing slow or stagnant growth, sales at Arby’s is up 20 percent in the last five years, in part because of the company’s embrace of a key demographic: carnivores. No longer just a fast food chain for roast beef, 2017 saw the introduction of sandwiches and entrees as ambitious as smoked turkey legs, Italian porchetta, smoked pork belly—even experimenting with venison, and elk in select markets. Fast food chains have always operated on steadiness and familiarity. Arby’s success is likely because they have the meats, and the balls.
Beer style of the year: Hazy IPAs
Love them or hate them, so-called New England-style IPAs crossed over into the mainstream this year. They were once the currency of a few small, cultish breweries in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, but 2017 saw them explode from their regional confines. Even one of the country’s most ubiquitous beermakers, Boston Beer Company/Sam Adams, brews one that will release nationally next year. Fads come and go, but more notable than just its rapid rise was the hazy IPA’s divisiveness. It was a sort of beer litmus test for 2017—“Where do you stand on New England IPAs?” For better or worse, no one seems to merely tolerate them.
Humanitarian of the year: Burger King
We’re pretty sure that in our entire lives we’ve never been choked up by a fast-food commercial, especially not a Burger King fast-food commercial. That changed this year with the release of the flame-broiled chain’s “Bullying Jr.” spot, in which hired actors bullied both Whopper Jr. sandwiches (by punching people’s food orders) and a high school junior in the restaurant’s seating area. The commercial points out that far more people complained about the food being bullied than the actual human being being bullied. But the few people who do stand up for that kid will make you think that you have something in your eye, and that you might have to watch the commercial immediately all over again.
Dish of the year: Heavy drinking
After November 8, 2016, a day which will live in infamy, many of us stumbled toward the rest of the year in a sort of fugue-like state that got us through the holidays. 2017 offered us the wallop of Inauguration Day nearly right out of the gate, so eating this year has seemed less important than drinking as much as possible to get through the president’s daily falsehoods and horrifying policy decisions. The National Restaurant Association has already reported that bars and taverns this year had a 2.5 percent increase in revenue from also-sucky year 2016. A JAMA Psychiatry study released in July had earlier concluded that drinking was up 11 percent from the year before, with more people partaking in high-risk drinking (four or more drinks in a night for women, five for men). It seems that in 2017, many of us went past our usual imbibing to scout out the cheapest bottomless mimosa deals in our neighborhoods, to down the most effective ales, and possibly to try brown liquor for the first time, because why the hell not.