20 DEC 2018: Consumer preferences are shifting – as they always do – when it comes to food. Here’s a look at some of the top trends to consider when creating travel itineraries for groups or individuals. The plant based movement, root to stem cooking and restaurant robotics are among the trends gaining steam.

Canada’s largest foodservice and hospitality trade event has just released a curated list of the top trends expected to be on display at their upcoming RC Show 2019 in February. Plant based menus are a big trend and major cities, such as Toronto are seeing vegetable based proteins treated with respect.

A recent Dalhousie University study reported that vegetarians and vegans now account for nearly 10% of Canada’s population; that’s more than 2.3 million vegetarians and over 850,000 vegans. Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois says the scientific survey, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, also shows people under the age of 35 are three times more likely to consider themselves vegetarians or vegans than people 49 or older.

People are packing into restaurants such as Planta Toronto. Under Chef David Lee, Planta delivers an upscale, full service experience of plant-based dining options. The restaurant's vision is to celebrate innovative cuisine in a beautiful environment without the use of any animal products. The dishes include coconut ceviche, pizza such as Frenchie (mushrooms, squash, eggplant, olives, cashew mozzarella), carrot “hotdogs” and cauliflower tots.

It’s been wildly successful and there is now a Planta Burger (Toronto) and a Planta South Beach. In 2019 Chef Lee will be closing his Nota Bene restaurant in Toronto after a decade-long run in the buzzy spot at Queen Street West and University Avenue. He will reopen it in the spring as a new Planta concept worked out in conjunction with Toronto’s very successful Chase Hospitality Group.

Root-to-stem cooking is the new nose-to-tail, a practice of letting nothing go to waste. With the later, all parts of an animal are used, leaving nothing leftover. The bones become broth, the skin crispy crackling and the tail a stew for example. The root-to-stem cooking focuses on vegetables and making use of all the parts including those which typically would be removed and thrown away. Chefs have found that ingredients like broccoli stalks and leaves, beet greens, asparagus stems, carrot tops, jackfruit cores, vegetable peels and so forth all bring unique tastes, textures and colours to a dish and are completely edible.

Montreal’s famous Toqué restaurant, a pioneer of a cuisine made with local and seasonal produce, has been doing this for years. I remember touring the kitchen with Chef Normand Laprise about a decade ago and him pointing out proudly the vegetable peelings they were carefully saving for later use. However, it’s now a trend so expect stalks on the plate at the finest restaurants.

Robotics in eateries aren’t entirely new (for example Japan’s Robot restaurant and conveyor belt sushi bars) but in 2019, expect a whole new generation of gizmos, gadgets, autonomous robots and artificially intelligent technologies to be making their way into dining experiences. Innovations like the hands-free sushi-making machines from AUTEC and Sally from Chowbotics — the robot that serves customizable made-to-order salads, snacks, breakfast bowls and grain bowls — have revealed that the future is now. Expect everything from robots delivering meals to ordering systems replacing waiters and cashiers.

Now that Canada has become the second country to legalize recreational use of the herb nationwide, cannabis edibles will soon appear on the menus in 2019. Regulations around edibles are expected to be finalized next year making the potential for infusing dishes and beverages just around the corner. (In California where edibles are legal, sales of cannabis-infused food and drink was a US$180 million market in 2017.) Need we say consumer expectations are high?

Expect also to see more marine greens appear in dishes in North America such as kelp noodles and jerky to fish alternatives made from algae. Seaweeds are a natural source of vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, as well as rich in minerals like zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron, copper, potassium and calcium. Turns out the ocean floor is a literal breeding ground for healthy, green ingredients with unique flavours that appeal to our ever more health conscious consumers.

There’s also a growing awareness amongst consumers that the health of our microbiome is at the root of our wellness causing a shift from heart health foods to gut health. Fat is back in favour, sugar is out the door and probiotics are mainstreaming. The rise in sales of fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha demonstrate the rising interest in digestion and gut health. Sales of digestive food products in the US were up 12.4% in 2017 over 2016 and are predicted to have double-digit growth again in 2018. Next, a trip to kimchi crazed Korea perhaps?

Along this line, fruity and sweet cocktails are out. The bar industry has seen a shift in palate from sweet to savoury. In 2019 we’ll be sipping on refreshing blends of juiced herbs and vegetables with splashes of tequila, brandy, rum or vodka. This can be attributed to the new love of bitters and the resurgence of spirits like amaro, vermouth and sherry. Chefs now have even more uses for the leaves and stems. The new culinary cocktails stray away from the typical tastes and bridge the gap between bar and kitchen by incorporating flavours and techniques used in dishes. The ‘from farm to table’ has turned into a ‘from plate to glass’ movement.

Bon appetite my friends.

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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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