Big data has said time and again that millennials are chasing “authentic” cuisine. We seek out real foods that are indigenous to the various cultures around the world. But operators banking on this desire for authentic fare aren’t guaranteed success. In fact, there are some perception issues that might make authenticity a tough sell.
Millennials (really, all consumers for that matter) feel smarter and more in-the-know because of The Food Network and all of the other culinary information that floods their senses. But this ever-present information has left some gaps in the knowledge of what’s really authentic. And it’s complicated by the sense of certainty that exposure has fostered.
This rang true for Nido Kitchen & Bar, a Mexican restaurant in Oakland, Calif., serving fare you’d find in any abuelita’s kitchen in Mexico. The menu is packed with traditional dishes such as a grilled pork chop with almond mole, grilled steak with pasilla-chile salsa and slow-braised beef with rice and casera salsa. There’s one taco option (with pulled pork and ancho-chile sauce), listed as a starter. But burritos, chimichangas and nachos were deliberately left off the menu. Instead, chef-owner Silvia McCollow used her own mother’s recipes and inspiration from Mexico’s central and Pacific coast to launch Nido two years ago.
At the beginning, Nido had a rough go, says McCollow. Potential customers were coming in, checking out the menu and then leaving because they didn’t see burritos and nachos—non-authentic food the mass public has come to associate with Mexican cuisine. Instead of altering the menu to please more people, McCollow refused to kowtow with food not true to Mexico. If Nido went down, she says, at least she’d be staying true to her roots and her goal to serve authentic Mexican cuisine.
It took a long time for diners to catch on, she says. Now, though, locals have embraced the seasonally changing menu of dishes common to Mexican cuisine. But it was no easy feat for Nido to change the perception of authentic fare.
So while millennials might be claiming to seek out authentic fare, they don’t always know what that means or what it looks like. Some might think Chipotle is “authentic,” for example. And while the Mexican behemoth may be authentic by the definition of its upfront approach to ingredients, the menu itself isn’t what you’d find in Mexico. For operators looking to go the truly authentic route, it’s still a risk, especially in an area without a population familiar with specific cultures.