Tag Archives: trends

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

Black Garlic: What It Is, and Why You Need to Cook With It This Year

As Canadians get more adventurous in the kitchen, it’s only natural that they’d be on the lookout for the latest on-trend foods and dishes to try at home. And, with 2020 kicking into high gear, black garlic has continued its steady ascent as one of the most sought-after ingredients in North American cuisine. But if you’re left reeling at the thought of cooking with the inky, blackened cloves – or don’t entirely understand how to incorporate it into your favourite recipes – you’re definitely not alone.

Although not an entirely new concept (Japan, Thailand and South Korea have been extolling the virtues of black garlic for years) this versatile ingredient can be easily swapped in for traditional white garlic in most dishes.

Still not convinced? We break it all down for you – from the what to the how – and offer up some of our favourite garlicky Food Network Canada recipes as mouth-watering examples of where you can introduce this on-trend ingredient into your repertoire.

Related: 12 Hottest Food Trends We’ll Be Devouring in 2020

What is it?

In short, it’s your everyday run-of-the-mill white garlic – albeit gradually aged over a period of weeks. By gently heating entire bulbs in a humidity-controlled environment (think: rice cookers), you wind up with darkened, sticky cloves that quite frankly resemble garlic gone bad. Despite their slightly charred and off-putting appearance, the Maillard reaction (the chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that lend browned/aged foods their unmistakable taste) actually deepens their flavours for an entirely different – and elevated – culinary experience.

Related: Mouth-Watering Recipes That Use 10 or More Cloves of Garlic


Get the recipe for Roger Mooking’s 30 Cloves of Garlic Sauce

What does it taste like?

For starters, it doesn’t taste much like traditional garlic. Once blackened, the cloves become earthy and syrupy-sweet in flavour, with additional hints of prunes, balsamic vinegar and black licorice. It’s also softer and has a molasses-like texture, making it easier to spread on crackers or crostini. Something for at-home chefs to consider: due to the loss of its original sharp taste, a larger volume of black garlic is required with any recipe in order to achieve higher taste levels.


Get the recipe for 8-Minute Garlic and Parmesan Pan-Fried Shrimp

How to use it

You can add black garlic to salad dressing or dip recipes, purée them with olive oil, create scrumptious pastes from scratch or rub onto fish or meat before popping your dish in the oven. If you purchase it in powdered form, you can also sprinkle it on pretty much anything your heart (and stomach) desires.

Related: Pinterest Predicts the Top 15 Food Trends for 2020


Learn how to make Everything Garlic Bread Knots

How to make it at home

We’ll be honest: it’s a long, drawn-out process, but if you have the time to spare, the results are well worth the wait. A relatively easy hack is to break out the rice cooker and use the “warm” setting to transform white garlic into black garlic over the span of roughly three to four weeks (or 40 days). You can also use your slow cooker.


Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Garlic Parmesan Twists

Where to buy it

Although it might be a little difficult to track down in major grocery chains, specialty stores, like Whole Foods, often carry both whole heads of pre-humidified black garlic and the powdered variety.

Health benefits

Although it’s lower in allicin, the compound that gives traditional garlic many of its health-boosting properties, black garlic is still rich in amino acids and contains double the antioxidants as the white variety. It’s also a great source of vitamins C and D.

For more at-home cooking experiments, check out these 8 Realistic Ways to Stick to Healthy Habits and the 10 Best Foods (and 5 Worst) for Your Mental Health and Wellness.

natural wines

What is Natural Wine and Where to Find It in Canada

Natural wine is the drink du jour. The trendy, funky new kid is popping up in small and exclusive quantities in wine stores and on restaurant menus throughout the country.

This exciting frontier in viniculture, with its old-school, hands-off approach, produces some of the most beautiful bottles out there – if you can score some. But, like the term “natural” itself, natural wine is not a regulated phrase, so you best do some research before purchasing to ensure they’re getting what they asked for. If you’re looking to try this trend, bring this cheat sheet along so you know what you’re tasting.

What Is Natural Wine?
Natural wine is a different kind of grape-growing approach, one where the winemaker keeps pesticides and chemicals out of the equation, letting the grapes breathe and come into their own before harvest. Seasonal whether patterns play a big factor in the wine’s flavour.

Wine grapes

Wine grapes
Allison Day

If the weather is hotter, the grapes will have more sugar, producing more alcohol upon fermentation. If the season is cooler, the grapes will be dry (less sweet), producing less alcohol upon fermentation, and possibly fermenting slower. Unlike some mainstream wines that are built on repetition and familiar taste, natural wines go with the flow, making a dynamic and exciting range of flavours each year. Most natural wine should be sulfur-free, a big risk for oxidation, so it’s to be enjoyed fresh, not aged. Some wineries which incorporate natural processes and wild fermentation, opt to add sulphites to preserve it for shipping and storage.

How Is It Made?
Natural wineries make a point to differentiate themselves from large-scale productions, which often ferment the grapes in temperature-controlled rooms. Natural wines are made by taking what comes to them. This can include spontaneous fermentation, where wild yeasts existing in the air ferment the wine.
Using wild yeast is an unpredictable method, making this process a true challenge. With each type of yeast, comes a different flavour. Yeasts can affect the mouth feel and aroma of wine, making natural wine making a gamble. But when it turns out right, it’s outstanding.

Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc -- a natural wine.

Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc — a natural wine.
Allison Day

What Does Natural Wine Taste Like?
Because of their spontaneous nature, tastes can range from tropical to floral, skunky to sour or ultra-funky. Some bottles are clear, some are cloudy; it depends on whether the wine is filtered or not.
Red, white, orange, rosé and sparkling wine – all of which begin with their own specific flavour – are transformed into something different based on terroir (the growing region and land), climate, grape varietal and when they are picked. The best thing you can do is sample your way to a favourite.

Where Can You Find Natural Wine in Canada?
Specialty retailers, wine bars and mail-order services are your best bet for getting a taste of natural wine.
Restaurants with sommelier-run wine programs are another great place to try. For instance, The Black Hoof in Toronto has a knowledgeable staff of enthusiastic, on-trend wine aficionados who can help you find a natural wine to enjoy by the glass or bottle. In Montreal, Hôtel Herman’s lengthy, yet focused, wine list carries natural wines from around the world. Burdock and Co. in Vancouver offers a selection of natural wines served by a knowledgeable staff who can answer your toughest natural wine questions.

It’s not just found at restaurants. Pearl Morissette, a winery in Niagara’s famous winemaking region headed by a former Burgundian winemaker, is creating alluring natural wines with mystique, charm and sophistication, taking this from bohemian hipster trend to world-class treat. Their wines are available at their vineyard, online and in restaurants.
And, no matter where you are in Canada, you can order through Nicholas Pearce Wines, which carries one of my favourite natural wines, the Pearce Predhomme Chenin Blanc (South Africa). Grab a friend, order a case and split it – you won’t be disappointed.
Ask questions, request and seek out natural wine in your area. It’s worth the effort, not only for the thrill of the hunt, but the true difference in taste.

The Joy of Cooking for Strangers

If a friend called to offer you juicy leftovers from Cory Vitiello’s restaurant, Flock, you’d eat them, right? What if that “friend” was actually a mutual member of a Facebook group — and a stranger?

This is not a hypothetical question, but a real-life scenario that played out on Toronto’s swapping site, Bunz Trading Zone earlier this month:

bunz-meal-strangers

 

“Hungry buns!,” read the post. “We ordered FLOCK takeout for production night at work and can’t eat all this sumptuous hipster chicken. Come take these three juicy drumsticks (and fancy sauces) from us! ISO: a high-five, good joke, feeding a fellow bun in need…”

The Flock leftovers are just the latest in a slew of Bunz trades, edible and otherwise. Founder Emily Bitze started the sharing community when she was short a can of tomato sauce for her planned pasta dinner and created a group dedicated to swapping resources. The Bunz Trading Zone has one rule: no cash exchanges. Members, known as ‘buns,’ credit the community for saving money, preventing environmental waste (by finding use for items that would otherwise be discarded) and for building a community, one post at a time.

Leftovers are often offered in exchange for subway tokens and tall cans of beer, and while most completed trades are remembered only by their Facebook threads, at least one has turned into a regular cooking gig.

Meet Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee. Khoja is a marketer by day, and Lee works for Via Rail. But on Saturday nights, the roommates open their home to strangers, who bring booze in exchange for gourmet, home-cooked meals and shared conversation. The friends’ home-based dinner service is called Chez Lisgar: prospective guests sign up for a spot on Lee and Khoja’s waiting list, and the pair vets guests online before accepting them. It’s a smooth operation now, but like many a Bunz trade, it started with leftovers.

“We had come home one night from working out and decided that we wanted a quick meal, with whatever leftovers we had, and we ended up having leftovers from that,” explains Lee. “And we were living in a really small apartment at the time, so we thought it would be fun to just see what would happen if we posted the food on Bunz.” So that’s what they did, asking prospective takers to bring alcohol in exchange.

“It ended up getting really popular overnight, and we decided to just run with it.”

Although guests now arrive through the Chez Lisgar website, and not solely through Bunz, the entrepreneurial, DIY and community spirit that defines the Facebook group still shines through.  Khoja and Lee will work around dietary restrictions, but they mainly base menus on what they feel like eating. In return, they ask guests to bring one bottle of red and one bottle of white wine. “People usually pick something they like themselves,” says Khoja. “You get a taste for their personality and choices,” adds Lee. It’s not always wine, either — one upcoming guest has offered to bring dessert instead, and the pair agreed.

 

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty.Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

French onion soup stuffed mushroom cups topped with Gruyere, a Chez Lisgar specialty. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Alyssa Bouranova is a graduate student living in Toronto. She visited Chez Lisgar with her boyfriend earlier this year, dining on a “delicious” meal of bourbon and maple-glazed pulled turkey, guacamole-stuffed onion rings and a green salad.

“It’s kind of a shot in the dark when you’re going with strangers, but it was wonderful,” says Bouranova. “They were very friendly.” The foursome got along so well that Bouranova and her boyfriend stayed past dinner to watch 90s music videos, and she stays in touch with the roommates on Facebook.

“The takeaway is that you don’t have to pay big bucks for gourmet food in Toronto,” says Bouranova. “It was a delicious and easy way to get a really nice meal in a way less pretentious and expensive environment [than a restaurant], and we got to meet cool people as well.”

Bouranova’s isn’t the ongoing friendship to be nurtured by a meal at Chez Lisgar. At a recent dinner, Khoja and Lee liked their guests so much they ended up attending a party together after the meal, and Khoja says she’ll likely be dog sitting for her new friends in the near future.

Like sushi burritos or ice-cream tacos, Chez Lisgar is a typically millennial mashup: at once an Internet-phenomenon, a cash-saver and a community-builder, as well as a constructive protest against a fraught economy that bears little love for young adults. “The fact is most of my friends are struggling finding work,” says Lee, “and a lot of them have had to turn to more unconventional ways of being able to pay bills and afford being a person in a big city. A lot of millennials have an entrepreneurial mindset.”

Chez Lisgar's cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Chez Lisgar’s cheesy garlic pull-apart bread. Image credit: Nadya Khoja and Sarah Lee

Sharing a meal is arguable the oldest and most culturally widespread way of bringing people together, but platforms like Chez Lisgar, or similar service EatWith, are new.

With thousands of apps and internet platforms helping them share, connect and express, Lee and Khoja believe that trendy trades, like those happening via Bunz and in the so-called sharing economy, are here to stay. “Whether it’s a dinner or someone’s music or writing, I think millennials have come to realize that we can’t follow the conventional routes that our parents or teachers have taught us,” says Lee. “We take responsibility on ourselves, and we do it in the most unconventional ways, to consolidate the resources that we do have. We realize that we’ve reached the maximum of what we can consume and it’s time to share with the people around us.”

doughnuts

John Catucci Predicts What You Gotta Eat Next

Food trends come and go, but no matter what the masses are noshing and Instagramming, you can guarantee You Gotta Eat Here! host John Catucci will be right there with them. We talked to the food star and sampling savant to find out which treats you’ll be lining up for this summer.

Von-Doughnuts

Artisanal Doughnuts
Fancy doughnuts aren’t new, but they’re not going anywhere either, says John.  One doughy fried treat in particular has convinced him that we’re still at the peak of doughnut popularity. “We went to this place called Cartems in Vancouver, that just did incredible doughnuts like an Earl Grey doughnut,” he says. “That floored me. It was a cake doughnut, and they used bergamot in the cake batter and in the glaze as well. It’s like you’re eating a doughnut and having a tea on the side.”

Get the recipe for The Porky Monkey Doughnut from Von Doughnuts.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken
Just like doughnuts, John thinks fried chicken will continue sticking to your ribs and the popularity charts. He says 2016 is the year of fried chicken, in every form. “Bone in or out, in a sandwich, on a plate, with waffles, or just by itself. That’s always going to be there.” John particularly enjoys the fried chicken sandwiches at Toronto’s The Combine Eatery.

Get the recipe for Fried Chicken from Wallflower Modern Diner.

steak and kidney pie

Posh Nosh
If you’re already a pie and a pint kind of person, prepare to start jostling for elbow room at your British local. Elevated English pub fare will be the next cuisine to capture Canadian palates, says John, citing Toronto’s The Borough as a leader in fancy pub food. He cites their Yorkie Burger, a beef patty served between two Yorkshire puddings, as an example of what’s to come. “It has the flavours of a roast beef dinner that you like, but smashed in a burger,” he enthuses.

Get the recipe for Steak and Kidney Pie from The Dam Pub.

$100 donut

Original $100 Doughnut Created by West Kelowna Bakery

Only in New York would a bakery be so bold as to create a gold doughnut with a $100 price tag. But Jeanne Kaminski will have you know that the original $100 doughnut was invented right here on Canadian soil. The owner of West Kelowna’s Dolicious Donuts & Coffee created The Donutopia, covered in 24-karat gold, last summer. Kaminski set her sights on creating the immaculate confection to help raise money to start a soup kitchen in their community.

“We wanted a doughnut that gave back to the community,” says Kaminski, who recently showed off her skills on Sugar Showdown.

$100 doughnut

Photo courtesy of Dolicious Donuts & Coffee.

Kaminski started dreaming up her creation when a customer asked her to create a special doughnut to hide an engagement ring in. From there, Kaminski let her imagination run wild, challenging herself to create the most decadent doughnut around.

The Donutopia starts with dough made with Bling H2O, a luxury water that hails from the hills of Tennessee and retails for $39. The cream filling is infused with local winery, Rollingdale’s 2008 ice wine, which pairs well with the handmade chocolate curls. Aged balsamic vinegar is the secret ingredient in the chocolate icing, then it is decorated with 24-karat gold leaf and edible sugar diamonds. The first one she and her team made took seven hours, now they have it down to a cool four.

“The flavours are incredible. It is perfect pairing,” she says. “With the flavours and the texture in it, it takes like a million bucks.”

Since the first extravagant creation, Dolicious Donuts & Coffee has sold about a dozen more of their immaculate $100 desserts. In fact, whenever they receive an order for one, they make two, so the staff can taste the luxurious treat.

Kaminski would love the opportunity to pit her creation against the shiny Brooklyn counterpart for a $100 doughnut taste test. “Anything that bring attention to doughnuts is an amazing thing,” she says.

Kaminski is already planning her next ambitious creation — the spiciest doughnut. The fiery treat will feature homemade hot sauce made with B.C. grown peppers and topped with a chocolate-covered scorpion. She says buyers will be warned and will have to sign a waiver before they take their first bite. We can’t wait to taste it.

Food for Thought: 5 Food Trends to Watch

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Despite my reluctance to do this I feel I must. It’s like my business partner has told me for years; don’t market to the mirror, but market to the masses. I tend to shy away from worrying about what is on trend, both in my professional and personal life. When it comes to cuisine, I cook with what I am passionate about and what I enjoy eating. If it happens to be trendy at the time, lucky me and if not, it won’t change my approach all that much.

Apparently though, people like to be in the know and in the loop of what’s trending. So in an effort to give you want you want, here is what I’m seeing pop up in the food world today.

1. Ancient grains: It would seem that no matter what menu I pick up lately, there is some sort of unique ancient grain popping up. Items like quinoa, farro, barley and amaranth are replacing the classic staples like potatoes, rice, pasta, and even risotto. These grains are typically high in protein and fiber, offering a great alternative to more common North American starches that usually offer little to no nutritional value. This transformation can also be seen in our grocery stores, where longstanding companies are scrambling to create “healthier” breads and pastas by incorporating grains any way they can. Lately I have thoroughly enjoyed cooking with farro. My preference is to prepare it in the method one would make risotto. Its earthiness lends itself well to being prepared with mushrooms and other bold flavours. These trends do come at a cost though. The recent explosion of quinoa (which is actually a relative of the beet, and not actually a grain—don’t tell marketers!) has caused fierce battles over land rights in the regions of South America where it’s grown. Yes, it has brought prosperity to some who were otherwise in poverty, but it has also come with its share of problems.

2. Cauliflower: Here’s another gem of the vegetable world that has long been overlooked. For many years this was simply a vegetable that was puréed into soup or served amongst a medley of vegetables. Perhaps in an attempt to find something new, or even just to find a vegetable that was reasonably priced, chefs have recently gotten very creative with its use. On recent menus we have been frying it in various forms, like frying it in a very light batter similar to tempura and serving it with a truffle mayo. Another one of our chefs has taken the KFC-style spices and fried it in that dredge. When he does that, it sells so fast we can’t keep it in the building. Don’t get duped by the new varieties of coloured cauliflower out there. They aren’t like heritage varieties like you might find in carrots or tomatoes. But if you can get your kids to eat the purple cauliflower because it looks like Barney, then stick with it.

3. Sustainable Fish & Seafood: This is definitely one of the few trends I can get behind. As a company we have worked hard in recent years to continue to push towards 100% sustainable fish and seafood on our menus. While we are not quite there yet, we have taken some great strides in the right direction. What every consumer must understand is that, like everything on our planet, our oceans are fragile. They are not bottomless pits and if we continue to empty and pollute them irresponsibly, eventually this resource will be no more. Consider this and look for the Ocean Wise symbol the next time you are dining or grocery shopping.

4. Shopping and Eating Local: No matter where you call home, eating local has taken hold, and it shows no signs of going anywhere soon. Why buy fruit, vegetables or even meat from thousands of kilometers away if you can find it in your own back yard? The transportation of our food only accounts for about 10% of all of the environmental impact that agriculture creates. Consider the amount of land that has been converted from its natural state, into farmland for the sake of feeding us. What about the water used to irrigate plants and to nourish livestock? Perhaps the largest eye-opener for me was a recent study that said that methane production of commercial livestock was greater than that of all other man-made greenhouse gases combined. Yikes!

5. Off-cuts and Less Desirable Cuts of Meat: Gone are the days of menus filled with tenderloins and lamb racks. Out of necessity and desire, chefs have continued to push towards using less desirable cuts in an effort to offset the price of everything going up and to continue to push their creative envelope. The need for this started during the economic meltdown of 2008 and is one trend that shows little signs of disappearing. The desire to work with these cuts comes with the challenge of taking often-overlooked ingredients and making them taste great. There is far more skill required in preparing a delicious slow-braised short rib, than simply grilling a steak. The irony is that as these “less desirable” cuts increase in popularity, their prices continue to rise. In plain perspective, there was a time when chicken wings were thrown out or reserved for stocks. Now, the price of chicken wings has more than tripled in the last decade and shows no sign of slowing down.

So, that’s how I see the food scene going in the next year or so. Tell me what you think about where we’re headed! Share your thoughts with me on my website.

chef-paul
Chef Paul Shufelt is a business partner and executive chef of Century Hospitality Group. He’s competed in the Canadian Culinary Championships and Best in Chow Burger Wars, has been featured in Avenue magazine and is leading a fundraiser for the Canadian Culinary fund.

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