Despite my reluctance to do this I feel I must. It’s like my business partner has told me for years; don’t market to the mirror, but market to the masses. I tend to shy away from worrying about what is on trend, both in my professional and personal life. When it comes to cuisine, I cook with what I am passionate about and what I enjoy eating. If it happens to be trendy at the time, lucky me and if not, it won’t change my approach all that much.
Apparently though, people like to be in the know and in the loop of what’s trending. So in an effort to give you want you want, here is what I’m seeing pop up in the food world today.
1. Ancient grains: It would seem that no matter what menu I pick up lately, there is some sort of unique ancient grain popping up. Items like quinoa, farro, barley and amaranth are replacing the classic staples like potatoes, rice, pasta, and even risotto. These grains are typically high in protein and fiber, offering a great alternative to more common North American starches that usually offer little to no nutritional value. This transformation can also be seen in our grocery stores, where longstanding companies are scrambling to create “healthier” breads and pastas by incorporating grains any way they can. Lately I have thoroughly enjoyed cooking with farro. My preference is to prepare it in the method one would make risotto. Its earthiness lends itself well to being prepared with mushrooms and other bold flavours. These trends do come at a cost though. The recent explosion of quinoa (which is actually a relative of the beet, and not actually a grain—don’t tell marketers!) has caused fierce battles over land rights in the regions of South America where it’s grown. Yes, it has brought prosperity to some who were otherwise in poverty, but it has also come with its share of problems.
2. Cauliflower: Here’s another gem of the vegetable world that has long been overlooked. For many years this was simply a vegetable that was puréed into soup or served amongst a medley of vegetables. Perhaps in an attempt to find something new, or even just to find a vegetable that was reasonably priced, chefs have recently gotten very creative with its use. On recent menus we have been frying it in various forms, like frying it in a very light batter similar to tempura and serving it with a truffle mayo. Another one of our chefs has taken the KFC-style spices and fried it in that dredge. When he does that, it sells so fast we can’t keep it in the building. Don’t get duped by the new varieties of coloured cauliflower out there. They aren’t like heritage varieties like you might find in carrots or tomatoes. But if you can get your kids to eat the purple cauliflower because it looks like Barney, then stick with it.
3. Sustainable Fish & Seafood: This is definitely one of the few trends I can get behind. As a company we have worked hard in recent years to continue to push towards 100% sustainable fish and seafood on our menus. While we are not quite there yet, we have taken some great strides in the right direction. What every consumer must understand is that, like everything on our planet, our oceans are fragile. They are not bottomless pits and if we continue to empty and pollute them irresponsibly, eventually this resource will be no more. Consider this and look for the Ocean Wise symbol the next time you are dining or grocery shopping.
4. Shopping and Eating Local: No matter where you call home, eating local has taken hold, and it shows no signs of going anywhere soon. Why buy fruit, vegetables or even meat from thousands of kilometers away if you can find it in your own back yard? The transportation of our food only accounts for about 10% of all of the environmental impact that agriculture creates. Consider the amount of land that has been converted from its natural state, into farmland for the sake of feeding us. What about the water used to irrigate plants and to nourish livestock? Perhaps the largest eye-opener for me was a recent study that said that methane production of commercial livestock was greater than that of all other man-made greenhouse gases combined. Yikes!
5. Off-cuts and Less Desirable Cuts of Meat: Gone are the days of menus filled with tenderloins and lamb racks. Out of necessity and desire, chefs have continued to push towards using less desirable cuts in an effort to offset the price of everything going up and to continue to push their creative envelope. The need for this started during the economic meltdown of 2008 and is one trend that shows little signs of disappearing. The desire to work with these cuts comes with the challenge of taking often-overlooked ingredients and making them taste great. There is far more skill required in preparing a delicious slow-braised short rib, than simply grilling a steak. The irony is that as these “less desirable” cuts increase in popularity, their prices continue to rise. In plain perspective, there was a time when chicken wings were thrown out or reserved for stocks. Now, the price of chicken wings has more than tripled in the last decade and shows no sign of slowing down.
So, that’s how I see the food scene going in the next year or so. Tell me what you think about where we’re headed! Share your thoughts with me on my website.
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.