Winnipeg 2014: Food trends to watch for

Diversity Foods executive chef Ben Kramer inside his new greenhouse at the University of Winnipeg. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)
Diversity Foods executive chef Ben Kramer inside his new greenhouse at the University of Winnipeg. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)

Winnipeg’s food scene is never dull. Insiders keep the city’s food lovers satisfied with new foods and new food experiences. Winnipeg’s culture of cuisine continued to evolve in 2013, most notably with the addition of RAW:almond, the pop-up on ice, and the opening of Prairie 360˚, the city’s revolving restaurant and boutique coffee houses like Thom Bargen and Little Sister Coffee Maker. New additions, like The Grove’s Osborne Village location, are on the horizon. The coming year holds much promise too from local food purveyors, restaurateurs and chefs. Here are a few trends we’d like to see evolve in 2014 in Winnipeg.

Party Planners
Several years ago Bistro 7¼ launched School Nights, a weekly Sunday night get together at the South Osborne bistro. The party was free, everyone was invited and themes were reflected in food, drink and entertainment. The lively nights, which are still hosted each week, brought out diners of all stripes. It was (and still is) a fantastic way to spend a Sunday night meeting new people. More and more restaurateurs, chefs and foodies are introducing their own cuisine-themed parties hosted in-house or at secret locations. The professionals will look for creative ways to get bums in seats, especially on off-peak days and hours. We foodies want restaurant-hosted book clubs, themed tasting menus, food-fetes, tea parties and beer pairing dinners. If you build it, we will come.

Grow your own
Chaise Café and Lounge owner Shea Ritchie is one of several Winnipeg restaurateurs and chefs growing their own ingredients in the summer and winter. Ritchie’s Provencher Avenue eatery has a garden and container gardens in the summer and a hydroponic garden in the basement year round. (Robin Summerfield)

University of Winnipeg’s Diversity Foods, with chef Ben Kramer at the helm, is in the midst of starting his own indoor garden on campus inside a largely abandoned greenhouse. He is one of several local chefs growing (or trying to grow) his own greens and herbs. Johnny Kien at Saigon Jon’s and Shea Ritchie at Chaise Café and Lounge have also acquired green thumbs. Sure, Manitoba has a short growing season that severally limits using local produce but we’d still like to see more kitchens putting that ‘eat local’ mantra to the test.

Home-based kitcheneers, many with 9 to 5 lives, have started more small-batch, artisanal food companies in recent years. Flora and Farmer, Andorah’s Feast, Delicious Kicks are just a few newbies on the market. They sell their wares at farmers’ and makers’ markets, and boutique food shops. Taste, local ingredients and little or no preservatives are key in these jams, pickles, specialty baked treats, sauces and salsas. Quality and word-of-mouth is the key to success. There’s plenty more room in Winnipeg’s food scene for more artisanal food stuffs made by home-based foodies cum entrepreneurs. Bring on the pickles people.

Canning and Preserving
Peasant Cookery, a restaurant in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, started the in-house preserving and pickling trend. Or, in the least, they were the first business locals noticed embracing this trend. In either case, more local food emporiums are pickling, preserving and making jams to serve in-house. This annual Fall tradition preserves locally grown ingredients for service during the winter months and into spring. The jarred delicacies (pickles, asparagus, carrots and beets, berry jams et al) add new dimension to plates on cold winter days.

More pop-ups popping up
Secret dinners, backdoor bistros, alley burgers and supper clubs will continue to spike in 2014 as more professional foodies and food lovers get together on the side. Some pop-ups will be advertised on Facebook and Twitter and open to all. Others will remain on the down-low, skirting liquor laws and keeping those-in-the-know to a limited number. Whatever their form, pop-ups add life to a city’s food scene. The more the merrier.

Big thinkers
In 2013, Chef Mandel Hitzer and architect Joe Kalturnyk launched RAW: almond, Winnipeg’s pop-up restaurant on ice at The Forks. It was and is a resounding success. Diners came out in droves, bundled up in their finest cold-weather gear to experience some magic inside the big white tent. Winnipeg’s roster of chefs isn’t short on big thinkers with great ideas. The ongoing success of RAW: almond has opened the door for other big ideas. There have been rumblings about a winter food festival to celebrate the uncelebrated season. It’s time. Winnipeg can be a renowned food city. It’s on the cusp and the city’s talented crew of food makers and lovers will make it so.

Little Sister Coffee Maker's Vanessa Stachiw opened her Osborne Village coffee house in 2013. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)
Little Sister Coffee Maker’s Vanessa Stachiw opened her Osborne Village coffee house in 2013. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)

My story first appeared on cbc.ca/manitoba/scene, an arts and culture website for Winnipeg and Manitoba.

Travel Manitoba: Eat What You Reap

eat1

Two large pizza pies oozing with melted cheese and loaded with toppings are hungrily eyed by diners.

But it’s no ordinary pizza party. The women seated at the linen-draped picnic-table are about to tuck into pies loaded with vegetables they just picked at a vegetable farm down the road.

Talk about fresh food.

The late-afternoon outdoor garden party is the well-earned reward for work in the field and kitchen.

This is Friends and Lovers, a new two-day retreat at Calder House Bed and Breakfast, located just east of Steinbach in southeastern Manitoba.

The adventure taps into a growing trend—cuisine-focused travelling that connect people with local foods from the dirt up.

Calder House B & B owners Carole Tetreault and Grant Milliner partnered with nearby farmers Kim Shukla and her husband Richard Whitehead of Stonelane Orchard to create a hands-on, yet relaxing retreat for travellers.

Armed with a ‘shopping list,’ guests grab baskets and pick ingredients at Stonelane Orchard. Shukla leads her charges through the fields, greenhouse and orchard, teaching the ins and outs of Manitoba agriculture along the way.

“It sounds funny but we really like to talk about vegetables because it really broadens people’s horizons,” says Shukla. “It’s really about getting back to the land and knowing where your food comes from.”

That food includes a plethora of vegetables including peas and peppers, beans basil and leafy greens, among many other garden-fresh eats.

“People really want to connect with their food,” says Shukla. “And if they can pick their own lettuce and eat it that night they get really excited.”

That’s where husband-and-wife team Tetreault and Milliner come in. Back at Calder House, a circa 1922 farm-house, the duo enlists their vegetable-laden guests to help make dinner using the produce and herbs harvested from Stoneland Orchard. Tetreault leads the kitchen party, teaching any neophytes how to cook and overseeing the action.

Dinner is served on the garden patio (or inside the large dining room if the weather doesn’t cooperate). After reaping the delicious rewards of their garden-fresh feast, Tetreault, a massage therapist and reiki practitioner, can work out the kinks in the upstairs treatment room.

The two-day package is a true food-lovers escape with the added bonus of a peaceful retreat from the buzz of modern life,, says Tetreault.

“I hope (guests) find some peace, reconnect with themselves and just be, be present.”

Friends and Lovers runs mid-July through September. Get dirt under your fingers and eat what you reap. For information visit Calder House B & B’s website.

Calder Healing House

eat8

eat3

My story first appeared on Travel Manitoba’s media website. Here’s the link.

Bistro 71/4 host Fall cooking classes

Alex Svenne Bistro 7 1/4
Alex Svenne Bistro 7 1/4

Bistro 7 1/4 chef/owner Alex Svenne has added a new job to his resume: cooking teacher.

The 42-year-old restaurateur and his wife Danielle, also 42, are set to launch in-house cooking classes at their South Osborne eatery.

The classes have been in the works for months but the idea came together in mid-August, after the always busy couple got through July and their annual commitment to feed the performers at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

As a side note: Alex and I go way back. I first met him when we both worked at Chi Chi’s near the now-demolished Winnipeg Arena and Stadium. I was a server (a very bad one with zero short-term memory skills) and he was a pony-tailed dishwasher. He worked his way up in the restaurant business, started a catering business with his then, long-term girlfriend Danielle, and then opened Bistro 7 1/4 a few years ago. The restaurant has been a favourite among critics and diners.

And now we can all learn how to cook like Alex.

Here are all the cooking class details, pinched from Bistro’s Facebook page:

Get into Chef Alex’s kitchen! Come learn to cook some fun dishes, hands on in the Bistro 7 1/4 prep kitchen. Choose one or all 6 classes. Chef Alex will work with you to make great food that you will all enjoy eating as you go. Learn how to make chicken galantine, sear a perfect duck breast, and whip up a souffle! Cook kale 4 different ways! Learn cooking tips and Chef’s secrets.

Classes are approximately 2-3 hours long and will start at 7pm

Duck: Tuesday Sept 10
Fish: Tuesday Sept 17
Chicken: Tuesday Sept 24
Eggs: Tuesday Oct 1
Vegetables: Tuesday Oct 8
Pig: Tuesday Oct 15
12 – 16 students per class

Call 204-777-2525 to sign up for any or all cooking classes.
$60.00 per class or $300.00 for all 6
For more information visit Bistro’s website here.

For all the ins and outs of Winnipeg’s food scene follow me on Twitter @RSummerfield. 

CBC The Scene: Winnipeg food scene strikes oil

Lise Belanger at Frescolio
Lise Belanger at Frescolio

frescolio1

For most folks, slurping olive oil in tiny shots seems like something you might do on a bet. For Lise Belanger it’s the next wave in Winnipeg’s ever evolving local food scene.

In June, Belanger and her husband Michael Graham opened Frescolio, Winnipeg’s first extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar.

“People are excited about this,” Belanger says. “This is where we’re at in the Winnipeg food scene, it feels like it’s exploding right now,” she says. “People are indulging and [olive oil and vinegar] is a pretty inexpensive indulgence.”

It looks like she’s on to something.

Less than a month later, in late July, OLiV Tasting Room, a Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan-based oil business with eight shops across Canada, opened a Winnipeg location on Academy Road.

But Steinbach-based Prairie Oils & Vinegars Tasting Room was Manitoba’s first olive oil tasting bar, opening in November 2012.

“[Business] has been amazing. People come here and they say ‘I don’t ever want to go back to a grocery store’,” says Prairie Oils owner Bev Penner. Unlike the grocery store, customers can taste a variety of oils and get a quick or more involved tasting lesson.

“I’m not a retail store, I’m an experience,” she says.

The shops in Manitoba join an estimated 500 olive oil tasting bars already in business across Canada and the States.

The olive oil industry “is one of the fastest growing segments of the global food industry, showing significant growth year after year,” according to a May 2013 report by Olive Oil Market, a industry-led group.

“The olive industry has followed the wine industry,” says Belanger, whose bottles sell for $5 for 60 mL up to $28 for 750 mL.

Like wine, oils are made using a variety of olives, grown in different countries and harvested at different times in the fruit’s growth cycle and aged. Those crush dates are also printed on the labels at Frescolio and Prairie Oils.

The local bars, which have the feel of boutiques rather than grocery stores, stock a variety of unflavoured and naturally flavoured extra virgin olive oils and vinegars.

Inside OLiv Tasting Room, 24 extra virgin olive oils include an eclectic mix of flavours including parmesan, roasted garlic, Persian lime and lemon pepper. White and red balsamic vinegars also come in a variety of flavours like juniper berry, mango, tangerine, fig and jalapeno lime.

Back at Frescolio, Belanger praises the versatility of oils and vinegars in cooking, which can act as both a base or provide a flourish of extra flavour.

It’s all about experimenting with the oils, their flavours and cooking properties in the kitchen and combining oils and vinegars to find what tastes best, says Belanger.

“It’s another tool in the kitchen.”

Frescolio’s Lise Belanger offers these tips for how to taste olive oil:
• Pour about 1 tablespoon into a small tasting cup. (Frescolio uses small, shot-sized stainless steel cups.)
• Through your nose, take a large sniff of the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has notes of earth, grass and herbs which vary with variety. (Olive oils are also rated as mild, medium or robust for their heat and peppery notes.)
• Place the cup in the palm of one hand and cover with the other hand. The heat from your hands will warm the oil and release the aromas. Wait about 20 seconds.
• Breathe in the aroma of the oil paying attention to any scents.
• Take all the oil into your mouth, take a quick breath and immediately swallow. (It should almost feel like you’re slurping.)
• Note all the flavours, tastes and physical properties of the oil. Robust oils may create heat in your throat and have an almost spicy and peppery flavour.

Frescolio
Frescolio

My story first appeared on CBC’s The Scene. Here’s the link to the story. 

For all the latest news on Winnipeg’s food scene follow @RSummerfield on Twitter.