BEYOND KIWIS, here come papayas. Life after chili is going to smother us in basil. And Eat American will probably turn up as a bumper sticker on jogging shoes before long. Spring fashion shows are bland compared to the parade of new food trends.
The news from France is Cuisine Chinoise--in other words, French with a Chinese accent. A little soy and sesame here and there, wrapping tidbits in everything from lettuce leaves to Peking pancakes, coriander replacing parsley as the crunch of fresh herb in meat or seafood salads. And the American Cooking Trend is right behind, adapting not only French, but also French-Chinese into its repertoire. At the Tabard Inn, a creamy goat cheese sauce is tossed not with European pasta, but with Japanese buckwheat noodles; and chicken is paired with ginger as regularly as burgers with french fries. At 209 1/2 the new menu features softshell crabs, as one would expect in Washington in the summer, but in this case the seasoning is ginger. At the all-American Inn at Little Washington, chef Patrick O'Connell is enamored with a touch of ginger in everything from soup to cookies, and serves its tiny bay scallops with the chef's "new sauce" that is one part classic French beurre blanc, two parts classic Oriental sweet-and-sour sauce. It is "absolutely 100 percent" American, insists O'Connell, who is about to introduce another new hors d'oeuvre that developed from a kitchen snack. Since the Inn serves its duck skinned and sliced, O'Connell began to bake the skin (10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees) until it was crisp and had lost its fat. Then he broke the skin into pieces and kept it in tins for nibbling. He has titled his invention Quackers, and plans to serve it with a dip of soy sauce, five-spice powder, ginger, lemon and garlic. It looks like potato chips and sounds like the best thing that's happened to duck since it left Peking.
In spring our fancy turns to ripe fruits, and once the kiwi began to appear in school lunch boxes, another fad fruit was bound to take its place at the top. The papaya is being teamed with everything from soup to salad, but I predict a short run, it being so seldom at its peak outside the tropics and so tasteless-to-dreadful when not at its peak.
Basil is another matter. This year's freshest idea is the Pesto Challenge, to be held in Michigan, August 1, as part of a whole basil festival (including all the pesto anyone can eat, and seminars on growing, preserving and cooking basil as well as The Historical Basil, and a pick-your-own basil plot). First prize in the contest, besides $50, is a pound of fresh basil a month for a year. For more information write Fox Hill Farm, 444 W. Michigan Ave., Box 7, Parma, Mich. 49269.
In the meantime, chili-cooking contests continue to grow ever larger and commonplace. Today's, at the Prince George's County Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro, is a preliminary to the International Chili Society finals in Hollywood in October. (Call 387-8730 for more information; the cookoff is 1 p.m. to dark, and admission is $2.) Hollywood! Watch next for chili with papayas.
And also in the contest circuit, it is almost time for the second annual Solar Cook-Off, June 12 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Last year's 100 entries ranged from beef stroganoff to caramel custard cooked by the sun, and spun off into several commercial solar ovens and a cook-off cookbook. (For information contact Arizona Solar Energy Association, P.O. Box 25396, Phoenix, Ariz. 85002.) We're watching for a solar chili cook-off.
An American trend that keeps spreading like zucchini in August: The salad bar has invaded the supermarket. Some Manhattan supermarkets are displaying washed, sliced and otherwise readied salad fixings in their produce departments so that customers can fill containers to buy mixed salads by the pound.
A trend-hopeful we can do without is frozen clams in the shell. No longer can you assume that if your paella or linguine has clams in the shell that they are fresh. A New York company is plastic-bagging them for the food service trade's freezers. No breakage, no spoilage, no leakage, no deterioration, the company promises. And no plump, juicy, silky fresh texture or flavor, we suggest. Yet another clue removed from possibility of guessing whether the food you are being served is fresh and unprocessed.
Increasingly it is a season to celebrate food. The sun shines, the seedlings sprout and the festival season blossoms. The menu this month includes:
* Maryland stuffed ham and crab cakes, a fish fry and, of course, oysters, at Calvert County's Cavalier Days. Admission is $2, children under 13 free. Rain or shine this annual historical folk festival will be held today from 12:45 to 6:30 p.m., in Prince Frederick, Md., 35 miles south of the Beltway on Route 4.
* Guyanese food from Kaiteur restaurant, melon sherbet and prosciutto from La Brasserie, brioche with flavored butters and hot chocolate from Jean-Louis, Strickland's barbecued ribs and chicken, pastries from La Mare'e and Maxime's, Yummy Yogurt's sundaes, along with sweet potato pies, Italian sausages, Caribbean foods, fresh fruits, Vietnamese spring rolls and even "soul tacos." All that is the reward for running -- or just watching the running -- next Sunday at the Urban League's second annual Hometown Run. Prices of the foods will range from 50 cents to $5, all available at Western Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. The running and the breakfasting start at 8:30 a.m., but most of the vendors will be setting up from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.--accompanied by marching bands, dirt bands, jugglers, magicians and clowns. And everything, even the 15-kilometer run through the city, will go on rain or shine.
* Herb mustards and herb breads, herb plants and herbal box lunches will keep you from wilting during the five hours of lectures and demonstrations on Herb Day next Thursday at the National Arboretum. Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. you can learn to grow, cook and decorate with herbs, then buy books and pamphlets to continue the education. Admission is a $2 donation. For more information call 472-9280.
* The newly renovated Old Post Office Building is going to open with a splash next Sunday, May 23, from 4 to 7 p.m. Its first public event will be a wine tasting under the glass-roofed atrium, with more than 60 wines from 28 California wineries. Strolling minstrels and Renaissance-costumed entertainers, as well as a brass quintet, will cleanse the mind as bread and cheese cleanse the palate. All for $10, tax deductible, to benefit WETA. To reserve, send a check to Sandy Johnston, WETA, Box 2626, Washington, D.C. 20013. Or call 998-2697.
* Philadelphia may be 300 years old this year, but its restaurant revolution is only five years old; since then, more than 375 new restaurants have opened in the city. As part of the city's year-long birthday party, you can sample 100 of the city's restaurants in one sweep down that city's Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Sunday, May 23 from noon to 5 p.m. That grand parade ground stretching from the art museum to downtown will be lined with a giant outdoor cafe' selling samples of Philadelphia cuisine. For more information call (215) 568-1976.
John Clancy, Manhattan author, teacher, restaurateur, famed bread baker and fish cooker, doesn't get to Washington often, what with all that activity in New York. But he is giving a free demonstration Tuesday, May 25, at Kitchen Bazaar, 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Reserve seats by calling 363-4600.