Is there a more current way to illuminate kitchen work areas than potlights?
As with any household item, potlights have evolved. In the 1970s they were large with cumbersome trims, but the modern versions have sleek, three-inch-square apertures.
The bulbs can be swapped out depending on the light required and rotate so you can angle the light exactly where you need it without creating shadows. In other words, potlights are useful and not at all out of date.
But if they aren't for you, there are other options, including ceiling-mounted fixtures that can be placed to maximize light. It's trendy now to have multiple levels of lighting. For example, a coffered ceiling with cove lighting paired with mono-point fixtures provides both diffused light over a large space and narrow, intense light focused on a specific area.
Another great option is to drop the ceiling over the work surface and install lights behind glass – call it a light lens. And if your counter material is translucent, such as onyx, you can always light the counter itself.