Week of March 7, 2011

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CRFA Show Kicks Off in Toronto
The annual CRFA Show got off to a strong start yesterday, March 6, with more than 1,000 exhibitors, a handful of seminars and a crowd of attendees who braved Toronto’s ice and snow to attend the event at the Direct Energy Centre.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) Show also proved to be the launching ground for the organization’s second annual Canadian Chef Survey results, which identified the Top 10 Canadian Menu Trends for 2011. The survey of 500 Canadian Culinary Federation members identified the top trends as:  locally produced food and locally inspired dishes; sustainability; nutrition and health; organics; simplicity/back-to-basics; gluten-free/food allergy conscious; craft beer/microbrews; artisanal cheeses; bite-size/mini desserts and quinoa/ancient grains. “Once again, the top menu trends are showing an increasing focus on nutrition as well as a solid appreciation for local flavours,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the CRFA. “Chefs are constantly evolving their menu offerings to meet a wide range of customer demands and dietary needs.”

Meanwhile, it will be a busy week off the showroom floor, as the annual tradeshow shares the Toronto stage with the Hotel Association of Canada at the 19th annual HAC Conference at the Sheraton Centre Hotel today, March 7; the Foodservice Interchange conference of the Food and Consumer Products of Canada today, March 7 at the Allstream Centre;  the Canadian Restaurants 2011 Trends & Directions Conference, presented by Chicago-based Technomic Inc. at the Direct Energy Centre March 8; the 6th annual Online Revealed Canada conference March 8 to 9 at the downtown Sheraton Centre hotel; the 6th Annual Tourism Online Marketing Conference and the Canadian Tourism Awards at the Sheraton Centre March 9.

Toronto’s Terroir Symposium is a Success
A mix of four hundred foodservice workers and media descended on the University of Toronto’s Hart House last week for the fifth instalment of Terroir, a food symposium designed to promote the value of local, sustainable and responsible food.

Arleen Stein, the annual event’s chairperson, corralled the crowd at the sold-out conference, giving a brief introduction to the event. “This day is an opportunity to share ideas, collect resources and build a community,” she said. “It’s not just about chefs. It’s about building a sense of community with winemakers, servers, the media and students. People assume terroir is the same as Slow Food, and, to some degree it is, but it’s also about a sense of place and community.”

Next up, were two keynote addresses by chef Chris MacDonald of Cava Restaurant in Toronto and chef Craig Flinn from Chives Canadian Bistro in Halifax. For his part, McDonald traced the history of modern cuisine, starting from the first flight of the Concord in 1969, which ushered in a new era of global travel, and the shift towards Nouvelle Cuisine. His timeline, hit upon the opening of Chez Panise in 1971, the penning of the Official Foodie Handbook in 1981 and the unveiling of Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s Restaurant in 1994. The message was clear: while culinary institutions invariably change, the local approach to cooking is still gaining steam.

Flinn chronicled his personal culinary journey, recalling the opening of Chives Canadian Bistro, a modern Canadian Mecca, where food and service come before wine and ambiance. “At the start, I didn’t have the budget for decor. My chairs came from Sears and still do. But I knew I could cook, and I knew I could train my servers. I could afford that.”

Afterward, there was a series of breakout sessions about restaurant branding, the origins of taste, the resplendence of Riesling, social media, wine and terroir as well as steak.

In the final keynote address, attendees were treated to a rare lecture from British culinary legend Fergus Henderson, chef and proprietor of London, England’s St. John Bar and Restaurant. Henderson explained his philosophical approach to nose-to-tail eating and the restaurant business in general. “Much of what we do seems very simple, but it’s not,” said Henderson of his acclaimed trademark bare-bone dishes. “What we put on the plate is so minimal, that everything we put on it, has to be delicious. So many chefs today serve their plates as a fait d’acompli, and when you dig in, you’re destroying it.” Instead, says Henderson, dishes should be served simply, allowing guests to interact and enjoy the meal.

Unilever Launches Enhanced Service Offerings
Boasting a new logo and enhanced mandate, Unilever Food Solutions has upgraded its service offerings to help operators tackle key issues in today’s competitive foodservice industry. Speaking to a crowd of operators, chefs and media gathered at the Chef’s House in Toronto, Domenic Russo, vice-president of Sales for the global giant, whose well-known brands include Knorr, Hellmann’s and Lipton, told the crowd  “Today’s operators are looking for new ideas as they face huge challenges. Our task is to take our capabilities and help operators rise to the demands of their business.” The company plans to help operators focus on guests, menu and kitchen. As part of the global strategy, Unilever Food Solutions has created a World Menu Report, a global survey measuring consumer attitudes and behaviours toward eating out. “When I look at the report I see key trends emerging,” noted Lisa Carlson, a dietitian speaking at the reception. “Consumers want to know more about the food they eat, more about the source of the food and more about how it’s prepared and [its] nutrition[al value].” On the menu side, the goal is to provide ideas and inspiration to help chefs and operators keep menus fresh, exciting and nutritious. For its kitchen focus, Unilever’s continuing mandate is to create ingredients and ideas that save prep time without compromising flavour or flair. “We can provide tips on how to keep the kitchen running smoothly,” said Lehmann. “While services are not necessarily new to Unilever Food Solutions, the difference is we are now focusing on them as part of our overarching identity and making them accessible 24/7 to all prospective customers through an enhanced web presence,” said Ted Skodol, director, Customer and Channel Marketing. The company also relaunched its logo in orange to clearly distinguish the foodservice division of the global brand. The brand’s new tagline “inspiration every day” expresses the company’s new vision to inspire chefs and operators by providing them with professional ingredients and services to help them succeed. The relaunch of Unilever Food Solutions in North America is part of a global rollout in the 74 countries the company operates.

Canada’s Economic Outlook Looks Good
The “Strong GDP Report Bodes Well For 2011” read a Toronto Star headline of a recent story that featured various economists responding to Statistics Canada’s fourth quarter 2010 economic survey. “The Canadian economy was red-hot at the end of last year, beating expectations and setting the stage for a strong labour market in 2011,” writes the Star’s Madhavi Acharya-Tom Yew. According to Statistics Canada, the value of all goods and services produced in the country — its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — grew by an annualized rate of 3.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2010, driven by strong exports, manufacturing and consumer spending. In comparison, the U.S. economy expanded by 2.8 per cent in the final three months of last year. The Canadian economy outpaced the Bank of Canada’s forecast of an annualized growth in the fourth quarter of 2.3 per cent. The Canadian economy ended 2010 with an overall 3.1 per cent increase in GDP. In 2009, the Canadian economy had contracted by 2.5 per cent. On a monthly basis, real GDP increased by 0.5 per cent in December. Consumer spending rose at an annualized rate of 4.9 per cent, and business investment gained about 10 per cent. For the complete report, click here.

New York Chef Chang Announces Toronto Restaurants
New York City’s famed chef David Chang has announced plans to open two Canadian restaurants in Toronto in 2012. The first is expected to open in a building next to the Shangri-La Hotel as a Noodle Bar concept; The second, Momofuku Daisho, will be on another floor in the same building. The Korean-American’s restaurant empire includes Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Milk Bar and Ma Peche in New York. For more information on Momofuku, click here.

Harvesting the Afterglow
The Canadian Tourism Commission’s famous mantra ‘harvest the afterglow’ was meant to remind the travel industry of the positive lasting impact the 2010 Olympic Games would have on the province and country. And, now, the Vancouver-based Daniel Hospitality Group has also decided to get into the mix, as it recently won the bid for the Vancouver Park Board’s newest restaurant located in what was Athlete’s Village. Appropriately, the group’s newest resto will be named Village Kitchen and is slated to open in 2012. “Village Kitchen is a fresh, new concept for Vancouver waterfront dining,” says Daniel Frankel, president & CEO of the Daniel Hospitality Group. “Not only is the physical location breathtakingly beautiful, but it’s also built to meet all green LEED standards, designed to ensure as small an impact on our surrounding environment.” The menu at Village Kitchen, ideally located in the heart of the Olympic Village development, will feature locally sourced, freshly prepared comfort food. “I envision this to be a local hub; a gathering place for residents to feel comfortable and have fun — to be like one of the family,” says Frankel.

Beefing Up Meat Descriptors Makes a Difference
Menu descriptions of beef and pork products that include premium terms, such as grass-fed, lean, organic or natural, will taste better than other beef and pork products that do not, according to a new report from Chicago-based Technomic. Nearly two out of three consumers, of 1,500 surveyed, said that terms describing premium types and cuts of meat had a strong influence on perception of flavour and price thresholds, while terms describing natural farming and preparation were likely to influence consumers’ perception of healthfulness. The report, Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report, also examines new menu trends for beef and pork, such as Asian and Caribbean, as well as upscale positioning for urban barbecue concepts. Consumers also crave more variety from pork at restaurants and indicate they would order pork dishes more often if these needs were satisfied.  “Consumers have gained familiarity in the retail sector with descriptions of beef and pork products denoting them as premium,” said Darren Tristano, EVP for Technomic. “Now as they visit restaurants, they are carrying those experiences with them and seeking out quality cuts, breeds and preparation through descriptors on the menu.” For the complete report, click here.

Retailers Consider Price Increases in Canada
Starting April 1, baked foods giant George Weston Ltd., parent to Weston Foods and Loblaw Companies Limited, is expecting to raise prices by an average of five per cent largely in response to the soaring price of commodities such as wheat, sugar and oil. Sobeys, the second-largest player in the industry, has also suggested it would follow suit.

B.C. Salmon Farmers Challenge “Myths” with New Ad Campaign The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) and an alliance of salmon farming associates launched a TV ad campaign to counter criticism of the industry and its products. “Restaurants are concerned about offering farmed salmon on the menu for fear that they will be picketed,” said Mary Ellen Walling, BCSFA’s executive director. “It’s important to get the support of the general public.” The industry is challenging a decade-old “farmed and dangerous” campaign by a coalition of B.C. environmental groups called the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform. The salmon farming industry is 30-years old and is the province’s largest agricultural export with sales of $450-million annually. “When [the industry] lifted their heads, there was a lot of information” about practices that was dated, explained Walling. Using the tagline “Imagine if we believed everything we heard,” the new campaign, directs people to a website, which lists common and lesser known industry myths and counters them with facts.  

Tim Hortons Introduces Real Fruit Smoothies
Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons recently announced the release of its new Real Fruit Smoothie. The product has been launched in response to a recent Angus Reid survey, conducted for Tims, which revealed most Canadians don’t get the recommended seven to 10 servings of fruit a day and find it difficult to choose healthy snack options when pressed for time. The new mixed berry and strawberry banana smoothies are fat-free and contain no artificial flavours or colours. A small smoothie has 130 calories (or 160 with yogurt). It retails for $1.99 (plus 70-cents to add yogurt).

Top Chef Canada to Premiere April 11
Top Chef Canada is set to premiere April 11 at 9pm ET/10pm PT on Food Network Canada with new head judge, Mark McEwan. The anticipated series will feature 16 competitors battling for the title of Canada’s Top Chef, $100,000 and a GE Monogram kitchen worth $30,000. Hosted by celebrated television personality, Thea Andrews, the contestants come from various parts of Canada, each with a different culinary background and level of expertise. For more information, click here.

The Brewers Plate, Toronto, April 6
Some of Toronto’s finest chef’s, including Jamie Kennedy, Michael Steh, Brad Long, Mark Cutrara, Marc Breton and Lori Kirk, will be celebrating local food and drink with a gaggle of Ontario craft brewers at Brewers Plate Toronto on April 6 at the renovated TTC yards, Artscape Wychwood Barns. Money raised will benefit Not Far From the Tree, a volunteer environmental group that salvages fruit from Toronto backyards and parks. Tickets are $125, with a limited offering of $2,000 VIP packages for a group of 10. The VIP package includes introductions to chefs and brewers, a private room if required and the opportunity to attend a follow-up beer master class in June. For more information, contact Mark Cator at mark@markcator.com or click here.

Novotel Canada Honours Achievers
Accor North America has honoured Canadian Novotel Canada properties and their management for their excellence in management, services and profitability. The Hotel of the Year award went to Novotel Montreal Centre, and Janak Bhawnani was recognized as General Manager of the Year for Novotel Toronto Centre. The company also honoured hotels for their outstanding results in guest services and profitability. Winners included Novotel Montreal Centre for Employeur de Choix and Novotel Montreal Aeroport for Excellence in Guest Services. Special Recognition was awarded to Novotel Mississauga, which received a score of 81 per cent for employee engagement and the Novotel Mississauga team for improving and exceeding its quality objective despite loud construction taking place around the hotel premises. “We are pleased to recognize these hotels and their dedicated team members for their outstanding performances,” said Eric Buitenhuis, vice-president of Operations for Novotel Canada. “These teams and individuals have achieved a high level of excellence in upholding the standards and values of the Novotel brand.”

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