By Barbara L. Vergetis Lundin, Assistant Editor
Despite the fact that the Canadian economy is performing relatively well, fewer people appear to be dining out. But Canada’s summer menus promise to be nothing if not interesting and should certainly lure guests out of doors.
“People might be getting bored with the offerings that are out there right now. They are looking for new experiences. Entertainment and food at the same time,” said Tyler Schwartz, president of the British Columbia Chefs’ Association.
Further, consumers are looking for healthier options, but they needn’t look too hard this summer when they are dining out. This summer’s Canadian menus cater to health-conscious customers with ugly vegetables, super foods, plant-based dishes, and pungent, flavorful spices.
Ugly is in the Eye of the Beholder
When it comes to fruit and vegetables, “ugly” is in the eye of the beholder. Once shunned as an inferior product, the less-than-perfect produce is now being welcomed into retail outlets across Canada, such as Loblaws (Canada’s largest grocery retailer), Your Independent Grocer, Maxi, and No Frills stores, for sale to the public.
Canada’s restaurants are all about the food system, sustainability, and cutting food waste. Enter ugly vegetables.
Canadian restaurants are using more and wasting less, looking past the so-called “ugly” fruit and vegetables’ exteriors to what it can bring to the plate.
From kohlrabi, parsnips, and eggplant to zucchini, carrots, and beets (and everything in between), chefs are putting ugly produce on the plate, but hiding it deep in house-made recipes, including butter, jam, yogurt, and hummus.
Many restaurants are mashing up parsnips instead of potatoes for a new flavor and texture that’s carb-light. Some are pureeing beets and carrots for the base in soups and sauces. Others are using seasonal ugly fruit like pears, both freshly chopped and to flavor light dressings, as the focus in salad bowls. Ugly produce is also being used creatively for plating.
The good news for Canada’s farm-to-table movement: When chefs utilize “ugly produce,” they help farmers sell more of their crops.
Consumers are always on the lookout for the next big superfood and the perceived health benefits they might offer. Some restaurants are doing a good job of attracting guests by incorporating these superfoods into their recipes (think beets, kale, seaweed, pumpkin, apple cider vinegar, walnuts, watercress, ginger, garlic, turmeric, green tea, dandelion leaves, artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, basil, and spices like turmeric, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon).
The menu at Farmer's Apprentice Restaurant is a treasure trove of superfoods. The fresh ingredients they have delivered daily include kale (for use in its kale buds with crème fraiche), spinach, celeriac (think puree), wild garlic, beets (for beet-topped kimchi), and watercress for use in its oxtail dish.
The menu at La Petite Maison features pineapple spiced with coriander, celeriac and apples with walnuts, and fried pumpkin.
Toronto’s Buca uses ingredients like fennel and coriander heavily in its recipes like cured pork loin with black pepper and fennel; cured pork sausage with fennel and coriander; and cured pork sausage with coriander and rosemary.
The menu at Restaurant L'Original changes daily, but can feature everything from kale salad with apples, hazelnuts, endive and maple vinaigrette to salmon over squash purée and kale.
Kale is probably one of the most well-known and widely hyped super foods. Seaweed is quickly finding its place on the superfood radar and the menu (like Burdock & Co.’s ramen fries), edging out even kale for its health benefits (seaweed is low calorie and rich in antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, iodine, magnesium and calcium.). For chefs, seaweed is nothing if not versatile, with a number of types available, including nori, wakame, kelp, dulse, and spirulina.
While Canada has a booming craft brewery scene, restrictions that squeeze profit margins have made microdistilleries difficult to sustain. But with the possibility of these restrictions being restructured, the state of the Toronto distillery market could soon change. British Columbia experienced a boom in 2013 when similar regulations were loosened. Today, BC boasts more craft distilleries than all of Canada’s provinces combined.
“Microbreweries are still very popular, however, microdistilleries are picking up now, as well,” Schwartz said. “This could be the year that microdistilleries really ramp up.”
Yongehurst Distillery Co. will soon open in Toronto, after years in the making — capitalizing on a growing culture of whisky and cocktails while filling the gap left by the lack of independent craft makers in the area. Starting small, the distillery will offer a naturally sweet, unaged with notes of candied fruit, apples, and mint.
Toronto will also be opening its first cider bar dedicated solely to hard cider (75 local and international, in all). Billed as “Canada’s premier cider bar,” Her Father’s Cider Bar + Kitchen will open on May 27 in conjunction with Ontario’s Craft Cider Week.