Lately, there’s been a backlash — a trend, you could say — against the reporting of trends. Newspapers and websites were once rife with hot-and-not trend lists to satisfy the navel-gazing that comes with the changing of the calendar and the need to fill space during the holiday news slump. But now, the crystal ball has been smashed in favour of reporting on what’s happening right now (thanks, social media!).
I’m disappointed in this lack of futurism. I usually do a food trend report at this time of year, not because I expect any of you to slavishly realign your shopping cart, but because exploring all food has to offer has long been this column’s credo. Trend forecasting is big business, and everyone is affected (if you uttered “gluten” even once, you’ve been touched by trends). I rely on my standby recipes as much as anyone, but it’s good to broaden one’s horizons. Food can and should go beyond merely satisfying our corporeal needs; it should satisfy the heart and soul as well.
In recent years, the key trend has been how our heart and soul reconciles the ethics of food production and sourcing. This trend shows no sign of waning, with a special focus on locally raised meats in 2015. Local and truly seasonal vegetables, grown without season-extending hothouses, will dominate plates this year. The debate over the benefits — and sustainability — of mass organic production will continue to weigh on our minds (if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to read more, I suggest Dan Barber’s The Third Plate as food for thought).
The physical heart also remains a focus. Our fear of natural fat is waning; chemical margarine has fallen out of favour, replaced by butter, and olive oil has supplanted non-stick cooking sprays in most kitchens. Nature trumps the laboratory — and it’s tastier, too. During an autumn visit to New York, I enjoyed French fries cooked in duck fat, a treat so decadent that only a few sufficed. Fat is one of the keys to satiety; a smaller amount of these so-called “real” fats is needed for the body to feel satisfied.
Still on the health front, now that we’ve learned how to pronounce quinoa; the search for the next “super grain” is on. So far, millet (often found in bird seed mix) is the frontrunner, but grits (pulverized dried corn) are coming on strong. Both are gluten-free to appease that aforementioned segment of the population, but grits — which I documented during a trip to Atlanta — has that home-cooked, artisanal cachet that continues to ring true with foodies. As for veggies, cauliflower will continue to reign supreme this year thanks to its blandness and versatility, but look for radishes to rise in popularity, as well as other “ugly” root or root-like vegetables such as parsnip and kohlrabi.
The base of food is one thing, but it is flavour that really makes food speak to my soul. This year is a good one: inventive chefs will be mixing spices from around the world with reckless abandon, often with a touch of sweetness. Try a honey-chipotle sauce for ribs as I did at a Stratford restaurant recently. If you prefer a single ethnic background for your spices, harissa looks to supplant sriracha as the tear-inducing sauce of the year.
One of the leading food trend agencies is Baum+Whiteman, and many of their findings appear above. Leave it to the experts to develop the perfect phrase to sum up 2015 in food, and nay, why we have developed such dislike for trend forecasts. “Restless palate syndrome” is our infatuation with the new and now in food, how restaurants and food producers are perpetually enticing us with new flavour combinations, and how we continue to eat it all up.
Best wishes for a flavourful 2015; can’t wait to taste what the next turn of the calendar brings!
Harissa is impossible to find in our neck of the woods. It’s a North African sauce (or paste) that brightens anything from meats to grains to soups. Make a batch to give your foods that 2015 flavour.
1 Tbsp. coriander seeds
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 large red bell peppers
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
Stir coriander and caraway in small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Transfer to processor. Cook garlic in same skillet, covered, over medium-low heat until tender, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Cool. Peel garlic; add to processor.
Char bell peppers over gas flame or in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop peppers; add peppers, oil, sugar, and crushed red pepper to processor. Purée. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and refrigerate.