Why the Slider Stuck: How a Baby Fish Burger Captured a Nation's Palate
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If eating is an act of self-identification then what does the uptake of a new food trend by an entire country say about that nation? The slider – a baby hamburger that originated in the United States – was an unknown foodstuff in 2011 New Zealand when celebrity chef Al Brown put a fish version on the menu of his Auckland restaurant, Depot Oyster Bar and Eatery. Less than five years later the restaurant was selling an average of 285 sliders a day (Brown, 2014) and the slider had become an unlikely restaurant signature dish that, from 2013, had its position strengthened by mass media food publications which promoted slider recipes for home cooks. This study seeks to understand how and why the slider was introduced, popularised and embedded in New Zealand, via participant interviews with industry experts and content analysis of selected food media. Gastronomic theory around the rise of smart-casual restaurants (Pearlman, 2013), the marketing power of nostalgia (D. Bell & Valentine, 2013) and the role of media in taste-making (Blank, 2007; Shrum, 1996) is applied to create an understanding of the slider’s popularity and, potentially, New Zealand’s gastronomic identity. The research suggests that the synonymy of the New Zealand slider with its celebrity chef initiator is considered crucial – Depot’s aesthetic is the “Kiwi bach” (a colloquial term for the New Zealand holiday home) and the fish slider pays homage to the white bread fish sandwich enjoyed as part of a childhood summer meal around the kitchen table at the New Zealand bach. The original American slider has been reimagined for a nostalgia-hungry New Zealand consumer; however, its ongoing embeddedness relies on another aspect of the New Zealand’s gastronomic identity – its non-identity. While New Zealand’s postcolonial culinary culture has, historically, been tied to the United Kingdom immigration wave of the 19th century (Burton, 2009; Simpson, 1999), this research posits the slider as proof of an ongoing appetite for the new and novel; a youthful hunger for change that has created a national gastronomic identity that is, more than ever, a work in progress.