January is a time for lists. In keeping with that tradition, Rustik spoke with three top food professionals in Atlantic Canada and asked them to weigh in with their predictions on the top 10 regional food trends we can expect in 2014.
Here they are, in no specific order.
TREND 1. Local, local, local. Despite this broad (and sometimes tired) word, demand for local products has, in the past, outstripped supply (Nova Scotia lamb, for example). Increasingly though, producers are stepping up their game to meet consumer demand. That’s a good thing, since the more we eat from the region, the more we can reduce our carbon footprint and increase food security.
TREND 2. Maritime wine and beer. If you eat local (see above), it only makes sense to drink local, too. Why? The answer lies in the ‘terroir’, a French word that translates literally as ‘soil’. For lovers of local, it really means the distinct taste of the place you’re in. So whether it’s a local white or sparkling wine paired with seafood, or a local craft-brewed pale ale, expect an expanded taste of the Maritimes as restaurants and pubs increase their selection of local libations.
TREND 3. Accessibility. Good food used to be the privilege of the well-to-do. In recent years however, that approach has been turned on its ear. Expect to see more ‘gastropubs’ (cringe! we do hate that label but we’ll use it anyway) and food trucks as embodiments of the ethos that good food doesn’t have to come at exorbitant prices.
TREND 4. Portion control. It used to be that more was more: without a big portion of (fried, grilled, or roasted) protein on a plate, one’s dining experience ran the risk of being considered sub-par. But an ongoing reversal means that, more often than not, less is more. Watch for smaller portions of better quality, better prepared proteins that serve not only as a feast for the stomach but for the eyes, too.
TREND 5. Rise of the vegans. There is definitely a nascent movement around vegetarian- and vegan-only restaurants in the Maritimes. It’s no secret that increasing one’s intake of vegetables and reducing (or even eliminating) animal-based protein in the diet can improve health and life expectancy. As more people adopt a healthier and more active lifestyle, the restaurant landscape across the region will see more vegetarian and vegan choices. Hello tofu, goodbye hardened arteries!
TREND 6. Ancient grains. Healthy grains such as farro, teff and einkorn have been eaten for millennia by populations in various corners of the globe. Increasingly however, they’re making their way to a plate near you. Not only are they fibre-packing health superheros, but many of them are quite beautiful, too. Take black quinoa for example — probably the coolest looking supergrain out there. Most importantly, these grains taste as good as they look.
TREND 7. Ethnic influences. Nothing new here, right? Wrong. For quite a while, the fusion of ‘East meets West’ has reigned supreme; the usual suspects we’ve come to know and love, such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. But as new economies become more powerful (think Brazil and Nigeria as examples), so too does their culinary sphere of influence. Expect to see interesting ingredients and dishes from these parts of the world start creeping onto menus. (Feijoada, anyone?)
TREND 8. Foraging for hyper-local ingredients. Finding food in the wild is innately human, dating back to our hunter-gatherer days. Ever since a Danish restaurant called Noma made it the centrepiece of its culinary philosophy, foraging has gained in credibility, stature and feasibility. More and more chefs are not just thinking local, they’re thinking hyper-local and embarking on their own forage fests. Our neighbours in Portland, Maine just welcomed their first hyper-local restaurant, Vinland, to the restaurant scene. Is 2014 the year we get one in the Maritimes?
TREND 9. Cheese as cuisine. Great cheeses of all types are being made right here in the Maritimes — and thankfully, they’re not nuclear orange and individually sliced and wrapped. Due in large part to increasing exposure at farmers markets and specialty shops, customers are loving artisanal cheese varieties right from our own backyard. Our prognosticators suggest we can look forward to more local cheeses being incorporated into restaurant dishes in the near future.
TREND 10. Heirlooms and exotics. An ‘heirloom’ used to just be an old piece of furniture passed on by your grandma. But not anymore. To today’s locavore, heirlooms are a must-have ingredient. And with consumers getting used to things like locally grown heirloom tomatoes, producers are stepping up their game by offering more heirloom and exotic options, such as cardoons, jerusalem artichokes, jicama and hakurei turnips.