There's a difference between fads and trends. Fads come and go, but trends tend to stick around.
It's easy to talk about the year ahead and what might be a fad, a hot new menu item or restaurant news for the upcoming year. However, determining trends is a bit harder: there are many factors to consider and so many regional influences and differences.
"Will toast pop up in Waterloo Region any time soon?" - Andrew Coppolino
I've attempted to predict some 2016 trends that we might see in Waterloo Region by researching industry reports, reading chef surveys, digesting media releases from organizations such as Technomic, Mintel, Culinary Concierge, McCormick's, and Restaurants Canada, and eating some foods that may or may not have been tasty.
By the way: Bacon no longer seems to be the food factor it once was.
This will certainly be a highlight of 2016: Not only are beef, pork and chicken prices climbing, but vegetable prices rose dramatically. Cauliflower is just one example – the price jumped to $8 for a single head by year's end. A weak Canadian dollar is primarily responsible, and it means we will be paying about $345 more for our food in 2016, according to the annual report by the University of Guelph.
Vegetable, herb power
Regardless, vegetables like bok choy and other leafy greens – from mustard greens and chard to dandelion – are predicted to be popular in 2016. Toss into that mix a return to classic herbs like parsley and thyme and a re-discovery of more unusual ingredients such as lovage and chervil. The Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke) seems poised to be more popular, too. At the haute cuisine level of dining, Alain Ducasse, at his Parisian restaurant Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée, has reduced the emphasis on red meat and is focusing on fish, vegetables and cereals (although it should be noted the restaurant has lost one of its three Michelin stars in the undertaking.)
Feeling a pulse
The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – that includes super-healthy and versatile peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils. They are high in fibre and high in protein. They can feed hordes of people – and we all should be eating more of them. And they can be used in dozens of dishes.
The phrase "Fight for 15" is ringing out in the industry in the United States and has supporters in Canada, too. It is a movement to boost wages at low-paying jobs – including restaurant jobs – to a more reasonable level of a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The restaurant industry will also be facing a shortage of cooks, issues around tip sharing, and struggling with difficult working conditions and hours as well as the spectre of harassment and abuse in the workplace. Also, in December 2015 Ontario awareness was raised and laws passed banning restaurant owners from taking a cut of the server's tip
Farm-to-table, local and healthy guts
Trends that have entrenched themselves in the industry over the past several years will likely continue: Locally produced foods, the farm-to-table philosophy, small (and sharing) plates, snack menus (such as at The Berlin, in Kitchener), pickling and fermented foods. You can add to that list a new and growing interest in smoking food and a revival/update of the 1980s craze for house-made vinegars.
If there is a trend that removes red meat's richness from the menu, something needs to be added in its place. Forecasts are for chefs to try deepening flavours by caramelizing, roasting, smoking and brûléeing ingredients to create a robust, full-bodied richness.
With processed sugars taking a bit of a health hit, the predictions are for more natural sweetener alternatives (although most undergo some sort of processing) like honey, agave and the ever-popular maple syrup.
A toast to toast?
Restaurants in the United States have featured "toast menus" – these snacks are growing more popular and could be slathered with chicken liver pâté, ricotta, tomato jam, roasted bone marrow and pickled anchovies. Will toast pop up in Waterloo Region any time soon? You never know.
Microbreweries will continue to flourish: Kitchener's Descendants Beer and Beverage Co. is slated to open this winter on Victoria Street at Lancaster Avenue. As well, locally-made spirits – there's a distillery in Guelph and one in Elmira – are gaining traction, too. From a mixology standpoint, the flavours they are being joined with include infused vinegars, seasonal ingredients, smoked ingredients and fresh herbs.
Malay and Filipino foods will be on the rise. (There's a sign up for Sari Sari, a Filipino restaurant on Lancaster Avenue in Kitchener, but it was not open at the time this was being written). Otherwise, look for raita, sriracha-like hot sauces, soy sauces and chimichurri sauce – a thick herb, oil and vinegar steak condiment hailing from Argentina that's absolutely delicious.
We'll check back in a year to see how this menu of 2016 prognostications played out.