Top 10 Food Trends for 2017

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Change is in the air as millennial tastes begin to influence dining habits. For this growing demographic, transparency and the desire to know who made what, what’s in it and where it comes from are factors restaurant operators can’t afford to ignore.

At the same time, diners are seeking novel and extravagant experiences, and cheeky combinations of seemingly incongruous ingredients, such as the Truffled-Mushroom Kraft Dinner at Kelowna’s Krafty Kitchen and Bar: noodles, Mornay sauce, mushrooms and truffle oil ($13.75). We’ve gathered 10 key trends to watch for in 2017.

INSTAGRAMMABLE DESSERTS
Restaurateurs are taking advantage of social media to let their customers do their promotion for them by creating gorgeously camera-worthy, over-the-top desserts. Sweet Jesus is a phenomenally popular purveyor of “hand-crafted, chef-inspired, pimped-out soft-serve ice cream” ($4.85-$6.50) in Toronto and Ottawa, with further locations opening as far afield as Dubai. With more than 75,000 followers, “I think we’re the number-1 Instagram food in Toronto, and possibly Canada,” says Jeff Young, chief development officer for Monarch and Misfits, franchisor for Sweet Jesus. “It’s a really big part of the whole brand experience.”

Similarly, Dolce 21 Dessert House in Scarborough, Ont.’s Pacific Mall runs Instagram promotions for customers who share images of their cartoon-like pastel candyfloss-topped soft-serve. At the other end of the spectrum, Mosquito, Vancouver’s champagne and dessert bar, tempts patrons with indulgent desserts such as Peanut Butter, Chocolate and Banana Bar with sea buckthorn-berry sauce, banana tuile and miso-caramel ice cream ($14) and Bergamot Exotic Baba soaked in Diplomatico rum, coconut Chantilly, passion fruit caviar, mango gel and coconut flakes ($12).

VEGGIE VINDICATION
Plant-based proteins are taking centre stage. “Vegetables at the centre of the plate and more use of vegetables in general is a trend that’s here and has staying power,” says Jill Holroyd, senior vice-president, Communications and Research with Restaurants Canada. There are so many options. In Toronto, Fat Pasha offers Salatim, a colourful mix-and-match choice of Middle Eastern salads and dips such as rapini tabuleh or chopped eggplant and tahina (three items for $14, five for $23 or seven for $32). Vancouver’s Yew has a full vegan section on the menu, with offerings such as Vegan Nachos ($11), Cashew-Cream Pasta ($20) and Sweet-Pea Textures with hazelnuts, honey-poached pears and balsamic ($11).

GLUTEN’S BACK
Although the one-to-two per cent of the population afflicted with celiac disease will continue to enjoy the expanded availability of gluten-free options, people for whom it isn’t a medical necessity are losing interest. “People care more whether [the flour] is refined,” says vegan chef, educator and author Doug McNish. “I have red-fife pancakes on my menu and people are fine with them.”

CAULIFLOWER POWER
Cauliflower has replaced kale as the “of-the-moment vegetable,” says Aaron Jourden, managing editor/analyst, Global & Distribution with Technomic, and there are as many ways to cook these noble Brassica as there are florets on a stalk. In Vancouver, Hawksworth offers “KFC” (Korean-fried Cauliflower) with sesame and cilantro ($12), while Tacofino Commissary dishes up Cauliflower Tacos with achiote-onion tempura, spicy fish sauce, lime, crema, cilantro, chili and salsa fresca ($6). The Bicycle Thief in Halifax serves a Roasted Cauliflower Zuppa: a shaved Brussels sprouts-and-cauliflower sauté with chili and herb oil drizzle ($11).

In Toronto, the Drake Hotel presents a Cauli Burger with spicy cashew aioli, raw beets and radish on a milk bun with fries ($19). Karma’s Kitchen, a family-run Tibetan restaurant, has hooked patrons on its Crispy Cauliflower starter ($5.99): steamed, lightly battered cauliflower, pan-seared with onion and hot green chilis. But the standout is Fat Pasha’s much-raved-about Roast Cauliflower heaped with tahini, skhug (a hot sauce), pine nuts, pomegranate and halloumi ($19).

SWEET SWAP
Diners have a love-hate relationship with sugar and they’re curious about alternatives such as honey and maple, which offer an opportunity for different flavour profiles.

“With our smoothies, we’re always looking for a natural sweetener,” says Aiden Booth, co-owner of Hopscotch in London, Ont. and Toronto, who uses maple syrup and honey. Vancouver’s Mosquito employs birch syrup to complement the cocoa and caramel in its Dark Chocolate Crémeux ($12).

Some capitalize on the local-food allure of these ingredients. For instance, the Silver Birch Restaurant in Thunder Bay, Ont. presents Maple-pumpkin Gnocchi ($23) in sage-scented maple-whisky sauce and (appropriately) Birch Syrup Pickerel Wraps ($12): birch-glazed and bacon-wrapped walleye.

POKÉ PASSION
It’s already big news in California, but Canadians have recently discovered poké — Hawaii’s marinated raw-fish cubes served in a bowl. Think of it as the new sushi. Poké restaurants are popping up in Montreal (Le Poké Bar), Toronto (North Poké, Big Tuna Poké Restaurant) and Vancouover (Poké Time, The Poké Guy, Poké King and Pokérrito, with its oh-so-trendy poké burritos in a seaweed wrap), to name only a few. But you don’t have to specialize: the Moxie’s chain has its Tuna Poké in a Jar ($9.99), and Toronto’s Drake Hotel presents Bigeye Tuna Poké ($21) with brown rice, wakame, sesame, soy, lime and ginger.

CHEF-DRIVEN FAST-CASUAL
More casual and relaxed dining experiences with high-quality products at a user-friendly price point are popping up across Canada.

“It’s millennials pushing that forward,” says Booth. “They are looking to get more from their food — whether it’s better service, higher quality ingredients, eco-friendly packaging or helping the community — but not wanting to spend the same amount of money as they would at a normal sit-down restaurant.”

To cater to this niche, Hopscotch offers high-quality, house-made food with minimal preservatives.

“Before I had heard of fast-casual, I didn’t really know how to describe what we were,” says Oz Ziv, area manager for Pumpernickel’s, a family chain with 12 locations around Toronto. Pumpernickel’s presents its menu as a group of “concept stations”, from salad bar to carvery, where “it’s 100 per cent about being able to craft your own plate.” Others in this niche are nouveau rotisserie concepts such as Toronto’s Flock Rotisserie and Union Chicken

SAT FAT GOOD?
The rulebooks on butter and animal fats are changing in response to recent scientific findings. Last year, the Heart and Stroke Foundation issued new recommendations about saturated fat. Rather than setting a specific daily limit, it now recommends a balanced diet that limits highly processed foods.

That’s good news for chefs, who can present high-quality meat and dairy for premium prices, since “people are willing to spend a little more money to have clean and healthy food for themselves and their family,” says Cynthia Beretta, director of Sales for Toronto’s Beretta Farms, which supplies organic and antibiotic-free proteins to numerous foodservice outlets.

FILIPINO FLAVOURS
“We have Filipino pegged as the next emerging-from-the-streets Asian cuisine,” says Technomic’s Jourden.

Many of Canada’s Filipino restaurants are modest mom-and-pop places catering to their own community. One exception is Lamesa Filipino Kitchen in Toronto; another is John Nidua’s Oohmami Pares House and Noodle Bar (a pun on “umami”) in Calgary. “You never hear ‘Let’s go for Filipino food,’” he says, “So we thought we should create something that non-Filipinos won’t be intimidated by.”

Tangy vinegar and tamarind tastes inform Filipino cooking, which has influences from Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Malay cuisine. Nidua’s best-selling dish is Beef Pares ($13.50), “a beef brisket that’s braised four to six hours, paired with garlic-rice and the broth we use for our noodle soup.” During the summer, Nidua rented a food truck and dished up authentic Filipino street food such as barbecued pigs’ ears and skewered intestines.

ONE KITCHEN, MANY CHANNELS
Our final theme is described as a blurring of the lines between retail and restaurants — a natural for the generation that accesses data through multiple channels. To illustrate: Starbucks and McCafé coffees are sold in grocery chains. Vij’s of Vancouver and St-Hubert BBQ Ltd. are among many restaurants that retail heat-and-eat meals. In an inspired partnership of Swiss Chalet and Frito Lay, Lay’s Chalet Sauce potato chips are a hit with consumers.

Meanwhile, Pizza Nova retails its house olive oil, tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, olives and peppers in its own outlets under the Primucci brand name.

There’s a flip side to this, too, which is food manufacturers opening restaurants. Last February, Campbell’s (the soup company) opened a pop-up restaurant called The Cantina by Campbell’s in Toronto, serving soups designed by chef Matt Dean Pettit of Rock Lobster restaurants. Beginning in 2015, Natrel milk and Java U café-bistros opened “milk bars” in Montreal and Toronto, offering light meals and coffee.

Volume 49, Number 10
Written by: Sarah B. Hood  

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