I’ve been cooking for nearly two decades now, and have spent the past five years or so cooking in the public eye. But when people have run out of things to talk about, the go-to question always seems to be, “What’s the next big food trend, Paul?”
What I can tell you that’s happening right now, is that recent nose to tail trends are starting to fade.
Kale, which before a couple of years ago was no more than a garnish for breakfast plates at diners, has seen a massive surge in popularity. But I feel that this coaster is at the top of its ride, with nowhere to go but down.
Ancient grains have also seen their popularity rise, but in my opinion we chefs cycle through different grains and starches each year. Right now, for me, it’s spelt; I can’t get enough of that stuff… but don’t forget about quinoa; I’m finding it to be a great choice when it comes to fish dishes.
Then there’s the recent cauliflower craze. Everywhere I turn, I see another chef doing something different with it Although, most dishes are simply a variation of fried cauliflower accompanied by a different sauce.
All of these trends have made their way into our kitchens, onto menus, and hopefully, into your bellies. I hope you’ve enjoyed them, but I have to be brutally honest and admit that I don’t know which fad is coming next. So, here are a couple of “trends” that are far more important than eating the new “it” vegetable or latest “superfood”.
1. If you don’t recognize it as a food item, don’t eat it.
What do I mean by that? Well, stop reaching for TV dinners, or grabbing taquitos from your local convenience store. If you’re eating at home, start by shopping around the outside walls of your local grocery store.
Virtually every grocery store in the world is modelled similarly, with real food located in the outside circle. That’s where you will find fresh meat, fish, dairy and produce. Most of this food has had little to no tampering done to it. Real vegetables contain vitamins and nutrients vital to our body. Fresh meat and seafood is also a much healthier choice than packaged and processed frozen food. It’s once you start heading down the middle aisles that you have to make tougher choices.
Read the label on every food item; if there are ingredients you don’t recognize, put it down. So much of our food is loaded with salt, sugar and preservatives, so that it can sit on shelves for months without spoiling. You have to be mindful of the impact that can have on your body. If you start by choosing foods that are made with real ingredient, and make things yourself from scratch, you will be much better off.
2. Understand the real value of the food you’re eating.
When dining out, it’s important for you to consider the true value of what you’re paying for. So many people still associate volume with value. Just because you can get a litre of fountain pop for $2, doesn’t mean it has any nutritional value. Look past the cheap prices at chain restaurants, and recognize what’s truly important.
So many restaurants choose to serve you convenient food products, rather than prepare ingredients from scratch. Why, do you ask? It’s extremely convenient, but more importantly, it’s cheap. Other restaurants will load up your plate with inexpensive items like rice, pasta or potatoes, allowing them to serve smaller portions of the expensive proteins, like chicken, beef, or fish.
Take the time to see through the chain restaurant norm, and choose restaurants that pride themselves on serving you fresh food, made with passion and pride. Your tummy will thank you!
3. Cook and eat what you love.
This might be the most important “trend” that I can share with you. In my kitchen I cook what I enjoy making, and what my guests enjoy eating. If I don’t love the ingredients I’m working with, it will be reflected in the end result. Sure my pantry changes over the years, as I find new ingredients that I like working with, or rediscover old ingredients I once loved. But I what I like, rather than letting trends dictate what I cook.
You can always taste the difference when a chef is cooking from a spec sheet, instead of from his heart. I would encourage you to choose the latter. Find a way to add a new ingredient or recipe into your everyday mix. If you don’t enjoy kale, you don’t need to cook with it, simply because it’s the latest buzz.
You only live once, so make your time on Earth as pleasant as possible!
If you follow these three tips for your cooking and dining choices, I know you will find yourself heading in the right direction… regardless of what the next big trend is.
Chef Paul Shufelt is a business partner and executive chef of Century Hospitality Group. He’s competed in the Canadian Culinary Championships and Best in Chow Burger Wars, has been featured in Avenue magazine and is leading a fundraiser for the Canadian Culinary fund.