Chefs enjoy a unique vantage point where restaurant trends are concerned. Theirs is a singular population whose oversight of all that food coming in the back door and leaving out the front sets up a lens through which the rest of us might understand the bigger influences on what we eat. And what better time than the launch of a new year to have a look through it? Here are the top foodservice trends to watch for 2019.
There’s a huge push right now on plant-based cuisine, with vegetables getting knocked out of side-dish territory and onto the centre of the plate. Modern chefs no longer merely acknowledge plant-based foods, but embrace them with lively innovation that both feeds and responds to diners’ interest in choosing vegetables over meat. “You want to cook what people want, but offer a broad spectrum,” says James Walt, executive chef for Il Caminetto in Whistler, B.C. “As a chef, it’s pretty cool.” Dishes at his restaurant capitalize on such newcomers as the meaty, smoked grain farro verde and a novel way to make ravioli with egg-free pasta. Pin all of this, says Kristian Eligh, executive chef for the Toptable Restaurant Group, on a “general awareness that we need to watch the amount of protein we’re consuming to be mindful of the planet.”
Over the past few years, Instagram and other photo-sharing apps have revolutionized the food industry. Restaurants have even created food and beverages with social media in mind. But now, according to Technomic, Instagram stories, Facebook Live and YouTube have extended the trend beyond what works in a single snapshot to what plays well through videos. “Audio enhancements such as popping candies or items that move or alter in time, such as colour-changing cocktails, glitter beer and bonito-topped foods wow diners, especially young ones,” says Aimee Harvey, managing editor at Technomic. “Because social media is evolving so quickly, expect menu trends to adapt in funky ways.
There are many opportunities for foodservice players to get in on the $6.5-billion-dollar cannabis industry, whose future looks high as a kite. A large cohort of “canna-curious” promises massive potential, with the 24 per cent of Canadians who are existing cannabis consumers expected to be joined by another 20 per cent, post-legalization.
In this new environment, chefs will need to learn how to include this modern staple in everyday foods. Think cannabis restaurants and bars, weed-and-cheese events and what Technomic calls functional foods, or dishes whose featured cannabis is there to encourage consumers’ relaxation. The key to getting the most from the green? Infusing it into oils to coax out its depth of flavours, say the experts. Legalized pot edibles are still a year out, but operators ignore their approach at their peril.
Think beyond just sliced cremini or Portobello — filled with immune-boosting nutritional properties, mushrooms of all varieties pack a serious flavour punch. For centuries, Eastern medicine has touted the benefits of mushrooms, but only recently has Western culture embraced mushrooms as a superfood. According to THP’s Flavour & Trend Forecast 2019, look for mushrooms to pop up in everything from protein substitutes to coffee in 2019.
Meat will get short shrift this year for more than just an amplified focus on vegetarian cuisine. Lab-based meat alternatives, such as the ones between the buns in A&W’s wildly popular Beyond Meat burger, are on the ascent. “The far more difficult things will be lab-produced restaurant-quality [faux]steaks and whole cuts of meat,” says Ryan Whibbs, coordinator of the Culinary Management program at George Brown College’s Chef School.
Beyond that, says Ned Bell, executive chef of the cross-country Ocean Wise program, novel proteins such as soldier flies, crickets and worms are making their way into restaurants’ ingredients lists. “Canadians are eating down the food chain and being more diverse in their diets. They’re realizing they want to be socially responsible with their consumption,” says Bell.
Three years ago, Uber Eats had zero clients. Today? Seventy billion. And digital ordering — a $1.8-billion industry — is just one illustration of how adopting technological innovation as a mindset is the trick to navigating the pace of change in Canadian restaurants. From in-house Wi-Fi (Restaurants Canada says more than four in 10 Canadians base their dining choice on whether the restaurant is connected) to drone delivery, technology is redefining convenience, speeding up customer service, increasing sales and vaulting “frictionless” foodservice into the limelight.
Payment is the industry’s next arena of technological transformation, with integration, omni-channel solutions and seamlessness across platforms leading the charge. Meanwhile, south of the border, the Amazon-Go concept kicks the effortlessness of new-age consumerism up a notch. “Restaurant companies committed to both tech-enabled convenience and the personal touch will be working to strike a balance between the two,” says Technomic.
Such face-punching, ingredient-busting dishes offer a delicious alternative to the scourge of food waste — currently among the most talked-about subjects in gastronomy. “I predict we’ll see more items created from things we would have put in the compost before,” says Toptable’s Elith. It’s why the most forward-looking restaurants will promote themselves as carbon-neutral operations serving root-to-shoot meals that make use of the whole of their base ingredients, including greens and trimmings that would otherwise be trashed.
“We waste an extraordinary amount of food — often because we don’t know what to do with it,” says Bell. “The price of food is going up, the cost of skilled labour is going up, but our menu prices aren’t going up. It’s getting harder and harder to make a buck in a kitchen.” Resourceful ingredient exploitation offers a smart solution.
Chefs and customers alike will continue their love affair with boldness in 2019, embracing Peruvian chilis and other hot stuff that have made the transition from the ethnic sidelines to the mainstream middle. Look for juices, gels and emulsifiers, such as in the carrot salad at Il Caminetto, which features the serviceable vegetable 10 ways — including roasted, shaved and purple — as an emulsified gel and as a carrot-top pesto.
“This is hyperflavour,” says Walt, “where you focus on an ingredient and drag every ounce of flavour out of it. This kind of flavour is a punch in the face and that’s how chefs are showing their colours.”
Sustainability and ingredients’ provenance will feature prominently in food stories in 2019, a trend facilitated by major logistics innovation that allows unprecedented access to foodstuffs’ origins. The Internet of Things and blockchain tech are key, says Whibbs, to tracking your cauliflower’s path and knowing how long your bananas were kept in port. “To be truly sustainable, we need to know where our food is coming from.”
In its 7 Key Trends for 2019, Technomic reports “Tomorrow’s foodservice consumer will increasingly demand a more well-rounded transparency message and, in response, manufacturers and operators will craft a multifaceted approach. This means brands being fully transparent on several fronts, including pricing, revealing true net costs and unbundled costs; corporate performance, emphasizing fair trade, diversity, living wages and executive compensation; and the planet, publicizing its real environmental impact, conservation initiatives and progressive stance on animal welfare.”
Ninety per cent of today’s restaurant operators consider labour costs the number-1 challenge impacting their business. The one-year turnover rate across all restaurant
positions is 24 per cent, closer to 30 per cent in part-time, and the five-year average is an astounding 116 per cent — among the highest of any industry.
That explains kitchens stocked with toys and tools designed to shrink the need for bodies, including appliances chefs can program from a distance and a whack of ingeniously versatile multi-cookers. It also explains the massive interest in chef-driven, manpower-light quick-service concepts such as Ottawa’s Mad Radish, which serves chef-conceived “salads that are meals,” and California’s Tender Greens, whose customers eat their organic and responsibly sourced food in restaurants whose in-house aeroponic towers are growing their next meals.
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