Last weekend I went to a Momofuku pop-up dining event on the beach in Margaret River, on Australia's south-west coast (pictured). It was part of the Gourmet Escape food festival in a region famous for its wine (103 vineyards and counting) and serious about its food. I was one of 50 guests who arrived in time to watch the sun set over a secluded bay. We sipped tequila-and-watermelon cocktails with a bacon garnish and listened to laid-back tunes while a handful of people fished from the jetty or took an evening dip in the ocean. Then by candlelight we were served a tasting menu of bo ssam (Korean pork), grilled marron, oysters and kimchi, plus the most surprising dish: fried chicken.
They were no greasy KFC drumsticks, but crispy, juicy Southern-style legs in buttermilk batter served with ginger-scallion and bibim sauces for added Korean zing. Mounds of chicken were brought to the table where everyone dug in fingers first. I later learned that the pre-orders for this dish sell out daily at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York. And they aren't the only ones doing it. 2013 has been the year of fried chicken. It is the signature dish at Hartsyard in Sydney, served traditionally with a buttermilk biscuit and sausage gravy. A-Frame in Los Angeles offers an All-You-Can-Eat fried chicken picnic (well, it's limited to 14 pieces per person). And, following another recent trend for single-item restaurants, the only thing on the menu at Wishbone in London is fried chicken.
Often served on a platter for diners to help themselves (no cutlery required), fried chicken satisfies our primal instincts – a caveman bite followed by a reassuring hug of flavour. Classic Southern-fried "like your mama makes it" is delicious, but why stop there when you could add herbs, maple sauce or spices to the batter? Or dip it in peanut, chili and lime or soy and garlic sauces?
Baum + Whiteman, a food-trend consultancy, predicts that "haute chicken" will be next year's trend. At his new restaurant at the New York Palace, chef Villard Michel Richard's recommended dish is fried chicken. (He cooks it sous vide coated in a flaky potato crust instead of bread crumbs.) But there's one drawback to high-end restaurants treating chicken with the same reverence that they treat steak – the price. At Nomad in New York, a whole roast chicken for two with foie gras will set you back $79.