Over the years, the culinary scene in Baton Rouge has evolved. Along with the rest of the younger generation in the United States, Baton Rouge is seeing increased demand when it comes to specialized food.
According to Eve Turow, author of A Taste of Generation Yum, specialty food is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States today, with Millennials paving the way. Pop-up dinners, food trucks, food blogs, and major social media outlets such as BuzzFeed Tasty, have become staple elements of the rapidly changing culinary scene. Like any other industry, Turow believes the culinary scene has adapted to modern technology, and created an online presence where individuals can share their opinions and creations.
So, What Gives?
Well, for starters, Millennials are changing the way they eat, which in turn is changing the way the food industry operates. Turow has found that Millennials are more likely to opt for small brand names over corporations, and are more likely to shop at specialty food stores. More importantly, Turow said, Millennials are putting heavy emphasis on local and organic items. This new trend in eating habits has begun to dominate American culture and is responsible for something amazing, according to Turow. For the first time ever, teenagers are willing to spend more money on food and the experience that comes with it, than they will spend on clothes.
For local Baton Rouge “foodie” Victoria Hines, food blogging has become part of her daily life. After realizing that most of the photos on her camera roll consisted of pictures of food, she decided to launch her Instagram, Foodies to Fork With, so that other Baton Rouge locals could follow her on her culinary adventures.
"First things first, the food has to be good," Hines said. "I don't want to share food that didn't wow me or meet my expectations."
Hines has a following of over 1,700 people on her Instagram handle and prides herself on featuring local food places. Hines believes that, in addition to supporting where she is from, some of the best food she has ever had comes from local chefs.
"We live in a city that loves to eat." Hines said. "I think that through the use of pop-up dinners and more specialized restaurants, Baton Rouge has the opportunity to identify new cuisines that our city wants."
Fact: Millennials are now the largest generation on earth and unlike any generation before them, they have grown up with the boom of technology, according to Turow.
Fact: Millennials are projected to spend the most money on fresh and organic foods and all natural cleansing products out of any generation. There has been a shift in how and why money is spent with more and more Millennials opting to spend it on experiences rather than on items.
"55 percent of America's youth are willing to spend more to get top quality ingredients,” Turow said.
Even more intriguing, Turow stated that by the end of 2017, it is projected that Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation and will choose to spend it on farming, vendors, restraunteurs, and wildlife.
Hands Behind the Movement
Baton Rouge chef, Ryan Andre', began officially began his culinary career in 2001 while working at J. Alexander’s. He recalls this being the first time he worked in a kitchen that cooked with fresh ingredients. When Andre' realized how many options cooking with fresh ingredients posed, the culinary scene stole his heart.
"My favorite aspect of cooking is the creativity, the intensity, and the way we have the ability to create memories for people through food," Andre' said.
Andre' believes that it is up to local chefs to stick together and continue to be adventurous in order for the Baton Rouge culinary scene to continue to evolve. An important part of this, he said, is educating customers about the foods they eat and continuing to build trust. One example of this growing trust is the participation of locals in pop-up dinners.
"Pop-up dinners are becoming more prevalent because it allows chefs to step out-of-the-box and break away from their normal routines," Andre' said. "We get to show off for the guests and they enjoy it so much because it's like a new restaurant opening every time they attend one."
Pop-up dinners can vary in size, but one thing is consistent: amazing food. Last week, Chef Andre' hosted "An Evening in Italy" at Cane Land Distilling Company, which consisted of four courses paired with four of Cane Land’s specialty cocktails. With over 60 people in attendance, the night was a huge success.
"I think Baton Rouge will continue to receive recognition nationally because great chefs are continuing to settle here and showing this great state we are a force to be reckoned with," Andre' said.
So, what role do celebrity chefs play in Baton Rouge? Renowned businessman and chef, Jay Ducote, can answer this one. His love for the culinary world primarily came from his love of eating, but his rise to fame came from freelance food and beverage writing, blogging, and TV and radio podcasts. In his opinion, the food scene in Baton Rouge has evolved immensely over the past decade. He believes that Baton Rouge has become more localized and less corporate, and as a result, there is more support of local farms, coffee roasters, and other food and drink producers, leading to talented chefs making the decision to plant their roots Baton Rouge. For Ducote, celebrity chefs play an essential role in a city's ability to be recognized for its food.
"I hope what I'm able to do is build positive views of our city's food scene, which can in turn lead to more press and success for everyone here," Ducote said. "However, I'm not doing this alone! There's a lot going on here with plenty of people helping to make Baton Rouge a better dining scene."
Ducote's decision to plant his roots in Baton Rouge is partially aided by the fact that he was born there. Because of this, Ducote believes that he was given a unique opportunity to make a name for himself here rather than getting lost among the many in a bigger city.
"This place is infectious, how it grows on people," Ducote said. "It's a wonderful community and a great place to call home. I think other chefs stay here for similar reasons. There's a an opportunity to truly make a difference and be a part of building something that's still early on in its development."
For local Baton Rouge chef Sean Rivera, more commonly known by his nickname, Pooch, staying in Baton Rouge just makes sense. In his mind, it’s simple: Baton Rouge is the perfect place for a food revolution. With Louisiana State University as a hub for activity and with job opportunities in the Petroleum industry, people will continue to come to Baton Rouge.
"Now that the food is getting better and chefs are supporting each other," Rivera said, "it's only a matter of time before people visit and decide to move here. Everyone needs to eat, chefs create memories, and memories bring people back."
Tastebud Travel, Anyone?
Ducote and Rivera agree that people travel with their tastebuds these days. If Baton Rouge has a booming culinary scene, tourism is bound to increase. In addition to this, Ducote stressed the importance of the local dining scene for overall quality of life. It helps to attract businesses and the people who work and run those businesses. It would be hard to imagine attracting top companies or employees if the overall perception of the food and drink scene is lousy, he said.
Ducote attributes photo sharing and online food love as contributing factors that have propelled Baton Rouge's culinary scene forward, because it makes dining information more available. In addition to this, it helps to give local chefs and restaurants more exposure and a much wider audience, since so many diners share what they are eating.
His advice to restaurant owners and chefs? Embrace it! Have lighting in venues that's great for food photography. Respond to diners on Instagram and other social media platforms. Encourage people to post reviews on Facebook, and sometimes, even on Yelp!
"It's the sharing age," Ducote said, "and if people aren't sharing content about your food, then that's a sign that it isn't very memorable."
What Does the Future Hold?
Ducote believes that as younger generations of Americans continue to spend more and more of their money on food, chefs will have to embrace that in their business decisions. Menus must be designed to attract adventurous eaters and decisions on pricing, lighting, and ingredients will be entirely based on a new generation, he said.
Millennials have the opportunity to push chefs and restaurants forward by pressuring them to continue to adapt and be to innovative with what they serve and how they serve it. Baton Rougeians and their lust for culinary adventures will change the food map of this city forever.