What does 2017 have in store for lovers of good food in Ottawa? Plenty, if you ask the experts. I checked in with several local culinary stars to find out what they hope to see in kitchens and on menus across the region. An overarching theme, one that I can happily embrace, is a back-to-basics approach to both restaurant dining and home cooking, including stem-to-root vegetables dishes.
Chef Stephen La Salle of Andaz Hotel’s Feast + Revel and Copper thinks simplicity will be the star of 2017, with lots of vegetable-forward dishes, classic dishes, traditional methods and straightforward good cooking. He’s also enthusiastic about the great flavour profiles of Middle Eastern and Syrian cuisine. “I’m a huge fan of what Chef Walid is doing at Fairouz with a stunning contemporary presentation of Middle Eastern cuisine, and I’m really excited to see more of it in Ottawa. When trying to define New Canadian cuisine for Feast + Revel, I looked at the new Canadians in our community, and the flavours of Israeli, Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian cuisine. I’m looking forward to seeing roasted eggplant, chargrilled vegetables and meats, fresh turmeric, mint and sumac on menus. With so many new Syrian families in Ottawa, I think we can expect great authentic Syrian culinary experiences as these new Canadians share their cuisine with us.”
If you want to explore the flavours Chef La Salle is excited about at home, check out the spice blends available locally from Cardamom and Cloves. Jodi Samis-Rosborough confirms there is a lot of buzz around Za'atar (the Middle Eastern spice blend that combines sumac with herbs and sesame seeds). “It seems that people are looking for modern updates to comfort food and that at the heart and history of many cuisines are Jewish and Kosher traditions,” she explains. “Za’atar is really flavour forward and works well with meats, vegetables and bread; it gives a lot of punch, but it is not an overwhelming blend that takes away from the other ingredients.”
Chef Kyle Proulx at La Maison Conroy in Alymer expects we’ll see the continuation and strengthening of the "support local" movement. “This will impact our menus by seeing dishes change more frequently with what is coming in and out of season, especially vegetables. House-made charcuterie will push forward again as chefs are paying more respect to the animals that they're sourcing. We are ensuring this is a key element of the menu at La Maison Conroy, where we offer house-made terrines, rillettes, potted fish, bresaola, foie torchon and pâtés, served up with our own pickles, preserves, chutneys and more.” For tips on how to embrace the charcuterie trend at home, check out this fun video from Mary Taggart, Ottawa At Home’s Editor in Chief and lifestyle expert.
Chef Danny Mongeon of Social is looking forward to a return to classics, but anticipates we’ll see them in more refined preparations and presentations. “I expect that hyper regional/seasonal will really take hold in 2017. In addition, something I would like to see more chefs focus on is to truly define and give identity to Canadian cuisine. It seems the perfect year for this.”
Chef Bruce Wood, long a fixture on the local culinary scene, casts his vote for a return to simplicity, encouraging us to cook with balance, passion and moderation. He also feels it’s time to put an end to ingredient-written menus. “Menus should be poems written by chefs for their patrons. Doesn't Poached Fogo Island cod, brown butter whipped potatoes with bacon and chili sautéed kale sound nicer than Fogo Island cod/bacon/kale/potatoes? Let's bring verbal seduction back to the menu.” He also believes we are going to see a continued emphasis on Northern and Nordic cuisines, including Aboriginal foods. “Foraged edibles will continue to appear with influence on menus and indeed in craft distilled beers and spirits.”
I’m excited to see how all of these ideas play out in Ottawa. In my own kitchen, I’m looking forward to exploring some healthier versions of family-favourite comfort foods, such as lentil and quinoa pastas. I’m also hoping to capitalize on the anticipated increased interest in ethnic foods as our city continues to grow and diversify; one of the cuisines I am particularly interested to learn more about is Filipino. As the chefs mentioned, here in Ottawa, we’re also sure to see a strong emphasis on local ingredients, particularly those to which Canada feels a sense of proprietary ownership. From haskaps to blueberries, maple syrup to moose meat, I am excited to see all the delicious things local restaurants present to entice both their regular clientele as well as the many visitors expected to descend upon the capital for 2017 celebrations throughout the year.