All posts by Dragana Kovacevic

Before joining Corus Entertainment, Dragana worked as a journalist, producer and teacher. She holds a Master of Teaching, with a focus on social justice education.
Homemade Purple Japanese Ube Ice Cream in a Bowl

Flavour Trends to Watch For According to the Latest Flavour Forecast

Homemade Purple Japanese Ube Ice Cream

The 21st McCormick Flavour Forecast has released its most recent report naming what Canadians can expect next in terms of flavour.

The Flavour Forecast has been breaking down the flavours Canadians want in their food for over two decades and this round is no exception; The team behind the report includes chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and others in the food industry, with the goals of encouraging exploration and innovation around the world and in the kitchen.

Related: How to Properly Dispose of Cooking Oil

The research was based on a series of virtual, interactive at-home culinary experiences. The experiences spanned the previous year and were led by chefs, exploring flavours that range from nutritious to decadent, and varying in taste, colour, and texture – both in food and drink.

The 21st edition of the Flavour Forecast identified four key flavour trends based on what was most popular: Plants pushing boundaries; humble nosh; underwater, underdiscovered; and physiological eating.

Related: 5 Hot New Releases to Binge on Amazon Prime This Summer

Here is what you can expect with each:

Plants Pushing Boundaries

We know that plant-based is no longer a “trend” but a way of life for many – even those who are flexitarian, or simply looking to fold more fruits, veggies and botanicals into their diets. The people at McCormick agree. Plants are bringing indulgence, brilliant colour, hearty texture and flora-focused eating to the forefront.

Key flavours to look for:
Ube (purple yam)
Szechuan buttons (edible flower buds)
Trumpet mushrooms

Related: Allison Gibson Talks Launching Food Businesses and Reclaiming the Term “Ethnic Food”

Various spices spread across a light-surfaced table

Humble Nosh

With so many borders closed to international tourism, Canadians are wanting to venture out with their plates. Bold, niche global flavours are still front and centre on people’s minds, and on their palettes. The good news is that Canada offers no shortage of ways to satisfy these cravings.

Key flavours to look for:
Chaat masala (Indian spice blend)
Pandan kaya (Malaysian jam)
Crisped chilies

Related: Food Activist and Dietitian Rosie Mensah Looks at Nutrition Through a Social Justice Lens

A bowl of Wakame seaweed salad

Underwater, Underdiscovered

Going underwater now also means going deeper, and looking further. Plant-based is by no means exclusive to the land, and Canadians are increasingly looking for flavours and ingredients that feature both fresh and saltwater botanicals like seaweeds and even algae.

Key flavours to look for:
Dulse (red sea lettuce flakes)
Spirulina (blue-green algae)
Sea grapes (soft, green algae)

Related: This Korean Sweet and Sour Seaweed Salad is the Perfect BBQ Side Dish

Ginger and halved lemon spread on table with mint leaves

Physiological Eating

Leaning into India’s 5,000-year old tradition of Ayurveda that embraces a traditional, healthy lifestyle rooted in mind-body, harmony, growth and self-love, physiological eating also taps into the related six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, stringent, and pungent). Each offer warming and cooling benefits to help provide comfort to the physical body.

Key flavours to look for:
Coriander
Lemon
Sea salt
Cumin
Turmeric
Ginger

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Related: 15 Popular Foods That Grow in Very Surprising Ways

Person pouring out oil from a frying pan into a grease trapping system

How to Properly Dispose of Cooking Oil

Large plastic bottle with sunflower oil and one glass special oil container on the kitchen table. Copy space.

You’ve gotten your oil to the perfect temperature for that memorably-crisp fried chicken. But now that the meal is done, and cleanup is imminent, it’s clear that knowing how to cook with oil is only half the skill. What do you do with all that oil afterwards? 

Related: From Coconut to Avocado, 10 Trending Cooking Oils and How to Use Them

It may be tempting to just pour what remains – be it this, fat or any other grease – straight from the pan down the drain (or toilet), but doing so is not only potentially harmful to the environment, it could also do major damage to your (and the city’s) plumbing, and even cause flooding. Bacon drippings, we’re looking at you. 

This said, that waste has to go somewhere, right? Here are top ways to handle cooking oil responsibly: 

Dirty frying pan.

Let It Cool

Depending on the type of fat you’re dealing with, and its room-temperature state (liquid or solid), you may want to let it cool, solidify, and scrape it into your bin. Do note, confirm your local waste disposal guidelines for whether to place it in your compost bin or garbage. 

Related: 32 Easy Air Fryer Recipes That Are Simply Delish

Soak It Up

If you only have a small amount of oil you’re working with, you can soak it up with paper towel, and put it in your compost bin, where it can be absorbed by other organic matter. Just make sure it’s sealed properly, as grease can be a tempting meal to critters and wildlife. 

Collect It and Seal It

In the opposite scenario, where you have a large amount of cooking oil to dispose of (10 litres or more), collect it into a sealable container labeled “cooking oil” and either arrange for a pickup or drop it off to your local hazardous waste facility.   

Related: Fantastic Fried Chicken Recipes

Person pouring oil out of a pan into a fat trapping system

Invest in a Grease Trapping System

If you’re a fan of frying foods, and know you work through large amounts of it but not all at once, you’ll want to consider investing in a grease trapping system, such as this Range Kleen Fat Trapper System and Grease Storage Container (retailing for $36 on Amazon). Let the oil cool, then transfer to the container and once full, seal the bag and carefully place in the bin. Another solid option (pun intended) is to also store it in the freezer so the grease freezes to a solid state for easier handling. 

Reuse It (Maybe)

While we wouldn’t recommend reusing oil on a regular basis (it deteriorates each time you heat it, affecting its smoke point), some people do turn to this as a way to minimize oil waste (and stretch their oil further). If you do opt for this path, don’t reuse your cooking oil more than once or twice before disposing of it (in one of the aforementioned safe ways before), and strain it with a multi-fold cheesecloth to filter out any residue. You may also want to add in some previously unheated oil as a way to freshen it up and extend its life before reusing it. 

Related: 5 Simple Olive Oil Pasta Sauces That Will Transform Your Dinner

Four Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's soup cans in bright colours

Campbell Canada Launches Limited Edition Andy Warhol-Inspired Soup Cans

Sixty years after the late Andy Warhol first drew his iconic Campbell’s soup can, Campbell Canada and The Andy Warhol Foundation have teamed up to bring Warhol’s vision full-circle. In a bid to spread joy to Canadians, Campbell Canada is releasing limited edition Andy Warhol-inspired soup cans with four distinct bright, colourful labels and two flavours — cream of mushroom and tomato.

Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell soup cans

The inspiration behind the cans is Warhol’s belief that “art is accessible to all,” and to his point, that means even a soup can is a worthy canvas. “These special edition soup cans serve to remind us that there is joy, warmth and light that can be found in simple things around us. We look forward to bringing this concept to life through our campaign by sharing examples of real life pop art inspired by the cans – there are always new and creative ways we can brighten up our days,” said Mieka Burns, vice-president marketing at Campbell Canada.

Related: 10 New Food Products You Can Buy in Canadian Grocery Stores This May

Keeping with the spirit of Warhol’s pop art movement that everyday items could be transformed into minimalist works of art, Campbell Canada is challenging several Canadian artists and influential content creators to come up with colourful, everyday inspiration from the limited edition cans to produce their own version of pop art-inspired content, by following the #CampbellsxWarhol hashtag.

Related: Our Fave Food Trends to Come out of Quarantine, From Pancake Cereal to Bread Art

“In 1962, Andy Warhol changed the trajectory of contemporary art by depicting Campbell’s soup cans on canvas,” said Michael Dayton Hermann, director of licensing, marketing and sales at The Andy Warhol Foundation. “It is only fitting that we pay tribute to the enduring legacy of these two icons by coming full circle and bringing his art back to the Campbell soup cans that provided him with inspiration.”

Photo courtesy of Campbell Company of Canada

World Hunger Day: Food for Thought Campaign Seeks to End Youth Hunger

If you’re familiar with food insecurity, you know that many people in our communities don’t have equal access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. In fact, many don’t know when or from where their next meal will come. This reality impacts adults and youth alike, but in Canada, the numbers are staggering. A May 2020 Statistics Canada survey revealed that more than one in 10 respondents experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. For children, that number is even higher: one in five children in Canada are food insecure.

Overhead shot of little girl with a spoon in her cereal bowl

May 28th marks World Hunger Day and a new campaign aims to spotlight youth hunger specifically through conversation and creativity by engaging those most impacted: kids.

Food for Thought, a new campaign by SkipTheDishes and Mealshare, is providing meals to Canadian youth while raising awareness of the issue through curated resources. The package includes child-friendly resources that are accessible online and that both parents and teachers can use to help start the conversation through creativity.

Related: Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry + More

The package includes colouring, drawing and comic design activities, as well as story writing prompts. Kids are then encouraged to submit their work and for each submission, SkipTheDishes will donate five meals to a local children’s charity that is partnered with Mealshare. The food delivery service has already donated $25,000 to kickstart the initiative. The campaign runs until May 28.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Woman digging into takeout on kitchen table

National Takeout Day: Canadians Aim to Set Record for Most Takeout Ordered in Single Day

By now, it’s a familiar story: many local restaurants have been forced to shut their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some of these restaurants have closed down for good, unable to continue absorbing the costs and challenges posed by the pandemic; with them going the creativity, unique offerings and livelihoods of entire culinary teams.

Last December, Restaurants Canada reported that 10,000 restaurants have already closed with upwards of 50 per cent expecting to close permanently if conditions don’t improve. 

Related: Canadians Now Ordering Food Online in Record Numbers, Survey Reveals

Woman Eating Delicious Takeaway Food At Home

Even as many meet this fate, others continue to provide delivery and takeout options, as well as alternate ways to continue nurturing a vibrant culinary life in cities and towns across the country. 

Related: Big Food Bucket List Restaurants Across Canada That Now Offer Takeout

In a show of support, Canadians are coming together on April 15th for a second year in a row. Created by Canada Takeout (CTO) — an organization dedicated to all things takeout across the country — #TakeoutDay has also evolved into a weekly celebration of local eats, taking place each Wednesday. 

Spicy Indian food spread on table ready to eat.

To date, the hashtag has reached 52.9 million people and CTO’s hope Canadians will embrace eating from their favourite local spots on April 15th by ordering from restaurant takeout menus. 

Related: What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

CTO is raising the bar from last year by challenging Canadians to set a national record for the most takeout ordered in a single day. Diners can participate by ordering takeout, uploading their takeout receipts to the Takeout Tracker and also spreading the love on social using the hashtags #takeoutday and #canadatakeoutrecordThe day follows on the heels of an FDA announcement that there is still no clear evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food or related packaging.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Can You Guess Which City is the Most Vegetarian-Friendly in Canada?

With the COVID-19 pandemic came the unprecedented shift towards working remotely for many Canadians, and some are looking to relocate to places better suited to their lifestyles, for good. With plant-based diets on the rise for health, ethical and environmental reasons, which cities are best suited to attract vegetarians? 

The Vegetarian Cities Index for 2021 sought to answer this by ranking 75 of the most vegetarian-friendly cities in the world, and that list includes some Canadian standouts. 

Related: Easy Plant-Based Recipes for Beginners That Will Make You Drool

Rustic table with a blue plate, zucchini noodles, tomatoes, kale and halved soft-boiled eggs

The index assessed the affordability and quality of each city’s vegetarian offerings (including plant-based diet staples such as fruits, veggies and proteins), the number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and lifestyle-related events. 

Related: From Keto to Vegan, These Are the Pantry Staples You Need Based on Your Diet

The survey identified that while home cooking still played an important role for vegetarians over the last 12 months, plant-based restaurants played an important role in people’s lives (some of these restaurants were not only top rated vegetarian restaurants, but top rated restaurants overall). 

Of the 75, Canada did not crack the top 30 list. However, four Canadian cities did offer established vegetarian-friendly “ecosystems,” with Ottawa leading as the most vegetarian-friendly city in Canada in 31st place. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal follow in 50th, 60th, and 66th place, respectively. 

Related: The One Dish John Catucci Always Orders From These North American Cities

People in the produce aisle at a grocery store

Out of these four, Ottawa had the most affordable grocery staples (fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins),  while Montreal scored highest out of the four for vegetarian restaurant affordability. Toronto, on the other hand, had the highest number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, while Vancouver had the highest ratio of these restaurants with nearly a quarter offering vegetarian-friendly options. 

As for which cities claimed the top spots? London (UK), Berlin and Munich were identified as the top three destinations for those opting for a meatless diet. 

We tried TikTok’s Feta Tomato Pasta and Popeye’s Famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Composite image of Noah Cappe, Eden Grinshpan and Steve Hodge over a close-up image of Valentine's Day conversation hearts

Local Restaurants That Food Network Canada Stars Are Loving This Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day, Food Network Canada stars are sending love notes to their favourite local restaurants across the country. From baked goods to a romantic takeout meal at home, these are the local spots across Canada that our stars are crushing on (and with one bite, you will be too!). To participate in the #MyLocalValentine campaign, head to Food Network Canada’s Instagram on February 14th, and share your love notes to your favourite local restaurants using the Valentine’s Day templates in stories.

Related: Easy Pink Beet Pancakes Are the Perfect Valentine’s Day Breakfast

Tiffany Pratt: Tori’s Bakeshop (Toronto, Ontario)

 

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A post shared by Tori’s Bakeshop (@torisbakeshop)

Toronto’s first vegan café and bakeshop in 2012 that has gained a loyal following with Food Network Canada staff and chefs alike. “I love Tori’s Bakeshop in the Beaches so much! I have been eating those breakfast cookies for as long as they have been open! Also their Easter cream egg is the most addictive thing I have ever put in my mouth. I even designed one of their locations! The food is made with love and everything tastes amazing and is good for you too. Gluten-free and vegan alike – this food is for everyone! I LOVE YOU TORI!”

Love the design of Tori’s Bakeshop? Did you know that it was designed by Tiffany herself? See more of Tiffany Pratt and her local restaurant designs in Project Bakeover.

Mijune Pak: AnnaLena (Vancouver, BC)

 

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A post shared by AnnaLena (@annalenayvr)

In Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, AnnaLena offers contemporary Canadian fare. “Love the creativity, quality of ingredients and commitment to flavours at AnnaLena, and they’re offering a Valentine’s Day tasting menu available for dine-in as well as a take-out.”

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, we tried Mijune Pak’s new chocolate creations (a perfect gift?) and here’s what we thought.

Renee Lavallee: Doraku Sushi (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia)

 

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A post shared by 道楽 Doraku (@dorakudartmouth)

This Japanese restaurant has been open for nearly thirty years, and is considered a local staple. “My favourite local love goes to Doraku Sushi in Dartmouth. Hands down THE BEST sushi in Nova Scotia. Perfect for a Valentine’s date night at home.”

And if you’re wondering where else to eat in Nova Scotia, here are Renee Lavallee’s top picks.

Eden Grinshpan: Joso’s (Toronto, Ontario)

Another longstanding favourite, this restaurant is a Yorkville staple. In business since 1967, it aims to transport guests to the warmth and beauty of the stunning Dalmatian coast. “My family and I have been going to Joso’s for years and are dear friends with the owners, Leo and Shirley. We LOVE their fresh seafood, squid ink risotto and the overall ambience. We always have the best time there.”

Looking to make a sweet dessert for your Valentine at home? Have you tried Eden Grinshpan’s Pistachio-Dusted Rose-Glazed Yeast Donuts?

Noah Cappe: Mallard Cottage (St. John’s, Newfoundland)

 

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Located in an 18th Century Irish-Newfoundland vernacular-style cottage, you can expect to find traditional fish and chips, moose croquettes, fishwiches, and Nutella crepes on the menu.

Restaurant picks aside, here are 10 more things you ought to know about Noah Cappe.

Suzanne Barr: TORA

 

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A post shared by TORA (@aburitora)


If you’re a fan of aburi sushi (or if you’re looking to try the novel flavours of this flame-seared take on the original), TORA ought to be on your list, as it’s on Suzanne Barr’s: “Since we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day at home this year with our son, we’ve opted to go for a family-friendly menu from TORA – one of our fave spots for high-quality sushi and lots of it. And of course, a nice bottle of sake for after the little one goes to bed ;)”

Here’s how chef Suzanne Barr will make you think about your dinner plate differently

Steve Hodge: Two River Meats (Vancouver, BC)

Two Rivers Specialty Meats has something for those who enjoy the process as much as the results; offering house-made sausage, steak burgers, and more, the meats are thoughtfully sourced from farmers who care about their animals.  “For anyone looking to cook at home, they are the best and can be shipped!”

Aside from being in Project Bakeover, here are 10 more things you need to know about Steve Hodge.

woman looking at bottle in grocery store aisle, while wearing a face mask

Despite Being Home More, Canadians Are Only Slightly More Food Literate Than Pre-COVID

From dalgona coffee to sourdough to focaccia bread art, it may seem like Canadians are spending more time learning about food and getting creative in the kitchen, but a recent survey from Dalhousie University suggests that may not be true for most Canadians. 

In fact, the study from the university’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab seeking to determine if Canadians are any more food literate since the start of the pandemic found that we only have slightly greater understanding of how food choices impact our health, our community, the environment and the economy.

woman looking at bottle in grocery store aisle, while wearing a face mask

Being food literate means having the mindset, the knowledge and the related skills to make more informed decisions when navigating meal planning. Of the 10,004 Canadians surveyed, only about 40 per cent were able to explain what food literacy means.

Furthermore, mealtime at home during the pandemic may not be getting any easier, despite the greater amount of time people are spending at home; the report reveals that only 37.5 per cent of surveyed Canadians feel their meal planning skills improved during the pandemic.

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

While cookbook sales might have spiked over the course of 2020, only 36 per cent of Canadians learned a new recipe and only about one-quarter (24 per cent) say they’ve made all of their meals. 

The study’s authors believe part of the reason may be the emotional and psychological toll the pandemic is exacting on home cooks

But there is some good news: slightly more than half (56 per cent) of the respondents shared they are making most of their meals since the pandemic began, while nearly half of those surveyed said they’ve tried a new ingredient, whether it be a spice (68 per cent), veggies (37 per cent) or oils (28 per cent).

The study’s lead author and director of the lab, Sylvain Charlebois, acknowledged that cooking is an act of empowerment that allows individuals to take control of what they eat. 

If you’re hoping to improve your own food literacy, here are some healthy meal prep ideas to get you through the week ahead

Joshna Maharaj standing in a professional kitchen, holding an apple and smiling

Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry + More

For an industry that celebrates multiculturalism, Canada’s hospitality and food-service sectors still have a long way to go when it comes to authentically reflecting the country’s diversity. Here is how chef, author and community activist Joshna Maharaj is working to change that, one meal at a time. 

Chef, author and community activist Joshna Maharaj standing in professional kitchen, holding an apple

Can you tell us about your work as a chef, author and food activist?

I’ve never been a restaurant chef and I’ve never been excited about being a restaurant chef. My work really focuses on the grassroots experiences of people. I do a lot of community food security work. For the last nine years, I’ve been working to rebuild food systems in public institutions. I’m sure you have some connection to institutional food — for example, either you’ve been in hospitals or someone you love has been in a hospital and you must have seen this sort of dismal offering. That needs some rethinking and some new priorities. This has been my focus.

What are the biggest diversity and inclusion gaps you see currently in the hospitality industry?

[The gaps] are mega and they exist from the micro-level to the macro-level. My friends and family have sort of giggled that I decided to jump into an industry predominantly populated by white guys. And it’s not even just that I went in there as a woman of colour to do this work, but that I decided I wanted to do this a completely different way. I would just hit a wall all the time… everything from the way we teach people to be a chef, to the actual on-the-ground experience that chefs have in the kitchens, it’s all about a white male standard.

One of the things that I hope to do before my last breath is to really untangle our culinary curriculum; I believe that right now, the way we are as cooks, the way we are as eaters, the current context of the culinary curriculum is really an instrument of colonization [based on a French standard]. So the gaps are many and they’re on a number of levels.

Example of a commonly-experienced fine dining experience with a server setting tables next to a window

How does this gap impact consumers? 

I think perhaps the most glaring example of this is how we understand fine dining and that restaurant experience. BIPOC chefs and cooks who are cooking food from their traditions — it seems as though there’s an expectation from eaters that the food of Brown people will continue to be cheap and available cheaply. There’s resistance to that connection [to fine dining] being made.

There’s a number of reasons why that’s a problem, but one of the great comparisons is a Chinese noodle dish versus an Italian pasta dish. Because you can get an Italian pasta dish for $25 for three ravioli and we’re cool with it. For an arguably more complex noodle dish, we won’t tolerate paying more than $9 for that. And it comes in a Styrofoam container and it’s cheap and it’s fast. We’ve really locked this model in and that perhaps is one of the biggest experiences that an eater has in all of this. Because they’re also complicit in this to some degree.

Chinese noodle dish in white bowl

But this idea that a European table is the fine dining table and kind of everything else is just trying to be “something.” The trickle down of that messaging can be super, super damaging.

These restaurants have lower average sales. They really are struggling because there’s no safety room — those margins are so, so narrow. The pandemic has just exasperated what has been a longstanding phenomenon.

Related: Metis Herbalist and Educator Lori Snyder on Urban Foraging and Food Sovereignty

How do racism and inequality translate into the food service and hospitality space? 

From the perspective of the BIPOC cook, that’s obviously the one I’m mostly connected to, I know the biggest frustrations are about being taken seriously. What am I going to do? How am I going to grow? Do I need to get the endorsement of some white person to come in so that people see that light face and then get excited about paying more money for this food?

From the perspective of the eater, eaters are just a bit clued out and they get a bit frustrated themselves about not really knowing how to navigate all of this.

Related: 10 Facts That Will Shock You About Racial Injustice in Canada

What local businesses or organizations are doing it right in this space? 

Some of our non-profit organizations are really leading the way. FoodShare and The Stop are two that are really pushing this conversation forward. Because I come from a grassroots community food security background, it really is meaningful to me that this conversation is happening there. There needs to be a really radical shift in our understanding around privilege, particularly when we talk about food security and vulnerable people, poverty, social assistance, you know, all that kind of rolls in, because BIPOC people are disproportionately affected and finding themselves in a line at a food bank or a dining car.

I think that as an industry, we could learn a lot by paying more attention to grassroots organizations. There’s a bit more connection to justice there. We are in a moment right now where we have a chance to rebuild [hospitality and food service] and we really have a very cool opportunity to see the way grassroots food organizations are doing things.

And if our restaurant vibe looked a little bit more like our community food security vibe, I would be very, very happy to see that… this sort of radical inclusion and accessibility… everything from how dining rooms are set up to how buildings are built to how you build menus so that they are as inclusive as possible while still [serving] locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Hospitality is ultimately about maintaining people’s dignity.

Related: Ren Navarro on Diversity in the Beer Industry – and How Companies Can Improve

What could the average consumer do to help support greater diversity in the food-service industry? 

Some self-reflection and awareness are the first step, because not everybody has money to give financial support. I do think a lot of the challenges exist in our attitudes.

Take a look at the landscape around you and take a look at the restaurants. Take a look at how you understand prices on the menu and what you see when you see a $25 dish. And then, if you’re able, seek out BIPOC-owned restaurants and really think about under-accessed spots.

Related: A Haitian Chef Reveals the Secret Ingredient to His Toronto Restaurant’s Success (Even During COVID)

If everybody just paused for a moment, took a few deep breaths and confronted their own attitudes about where they are willing to spend their money and how they understand just who is a chef — who looks like a chef — very often this [describing herself] is not the image that comes up when they imagine the chef.

(Editor’s Note: If you question that, just try doing a Google image search on the word “chef” yourself and see the images that come up for you).

What are you personally looking forward to in the food-service space?

We have a beautifully emerging population of Black farmers in and around the city, which is super exciting to see. Organizations like FoodShare are actually working to make the product of that work accessible to people; they have a social justice Good Food Box with food sourced exclusively from Black-owned farms or Black-led farms. And those are the changes we can affect with our purchasing to be more supportive.

Fresh food in cardboard box

I’m actually really, really hopeful that there’s a renewed appreciation and a valuing of all of the elements in our food system, from farmers to cooks to the people who drive the trucks in-between. I’d hope [consumers] can really appreciate that this food system exists so we have a broader, more accurate understanding of what it takes to make that happen. This was an industry that was wholeheartedly taken for granted, but we also have a wonderful opportunity to rethink it.

Related: Ranking Canadian Retailers Offering Grocery Delivery Right Now, by Price

Can you tell us a bit more about your book Take Back the Tray?

Take Back the Tray book coverTake Back the Tray is half-story and half-narrative about my work in overhauling three major institutions’ food systems: two hospitals and a university. Hopefully, it also provides some solid marching orders for change. I want a blueprint for the revolution as well as a compelling story. It really identifies the weakest of the failings of the industrial food system and our reliance on it. Our collective deprioritization of food has really resulted in some solidly damaging impacts to our lives, the planet and our economy. But there’s a very viable, delicious, chewy way forward. I am very excited about that.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo of Joshna Maharaj courtesy of Joshna Maharaj; food box photo courtesy of Getty Images; book photo courtesy of ECW Press; remaining photos courtesy of Unsplash

What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

We’re all very familiar with takeout these days, but did you know that your new favourite dish may not actually come from a physical restaurant? It may have come to you by way of what’s sometimes called a “ghost kitchen,” “virtual kitchen” or “dark kitchen.”

While these terms are often used interchangeably, Adam Armeland, CEO and co-founder of  “virtual food hall” Kitchen Hub explains the difference: “Ghost kitchens are restaurants that sell exclusively (or predominantly) through digital channels and do not have a direct customer-facing component (with seating, pickup counter, etc.).”

Spread of plates featuring different dishes from Kitchen Hub restaurants

Virtual or dark kitchens on the other hand exist in addition to the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant structure — and offer customers the option to eat their favourite meals at home. For example, Kitchen Hub is a dark kitchen for some of Toronto’s favourite restaurants, a space where takeout is prepared for PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, The Carbon Bar, Kanga and Cheesecake Factory Bakery. Kitchen Hub also offers customers the advantage of having access to all these different restaurant menus with one order.

Related: Ranking Canadian Retailers Offering Grocery Delivery Right Now, by Price

Differences aside, these all include a centralized commercial kitchen, allowing customers to order menu items online (whether via kitchenhub.ca, SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, DoorDash or similar food delivery services). “They allow restaurants to take on a smaller footprint, fewer employees and take advantage of the increasing demand for food outside of the restaurant,” says Armeland.

Related: We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Arrived in Canada – Is It Worth the Hype?

There are more benefits for customers too: “The customer benefits from food being prepared in a facility that is purpose-built for off-premise consumption. Not only will their order get to them faster and fresher, but it will also be prepared in a facility that was designed to have less interaction with the outside world, which minimizes risk [of exposure] to everyone in the process.”

But this model isn’t new — it’s been around since 2013, when the first ghost kitchen opened in New York. Brick-and-mortar restaurants are costly to start up and run — and can be a challenge in the best of times. Enter a global pandemic, hitting the restaurant industry with a $4B drop in revenue between January and April alone. The pandemic catalyzed many restaurants to switch to the ghost or dark kitchen model. “All restaurants effectively became ghost kitchens overnight when the government mandated that they could only be available for takeout and delivery,” says Armeland.

Spread of plates featuring Thai dishes, including golden curry and shrimp

As for what makes a great ghost kitchen? “By and far the most important thing is the restaurant brand and food; the customer wants what they want and from our experience, that is a great brand serving good food,” says Armeland. Kitchen Hub offers the digital and physical infrastructure, allowing the restaurants themselves to focus on what they do best: cooking for their customers. “[At Kitchen Hub] the restaurants operate out of their own dedicated kitchen, with their own chefs, so consumers can expect the same food quality that they have come to love and expect from their favourite brand (or in our case, multiple brands at the same time),” adds Armeland. In terms of what food trends Armeland has noticed throughout the pandemic, he says it’s about the sweet tooth.

Related: Can’t Dine Out? These 20 Toronto Restaurants Are Offering Date Night Meal Delivery

Pandemic or not, Armeland adds: “I think that ghost kitchens are here to stay and are becoming a necessary part of a restaurant’s future planning to serve their customers through the fastest growing channel in the food industry.” 

Restaurant photo courtesy of Getty Images; food photos courtesy of Kitchen Hub

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