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.

Winnipeg’s ‘third wave’ coffee clatch sparks java resurgence

Thom Bargen
Thom Bargen (photo robin summerfield)

Little Sister Coffee opened for business in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village on September 11. The new coffee house is the second location for Nils Vik, owner of Main Street’s Parlour Coffee and marks the latest coffee/design house mash-up in the city.

With that in mind, here’s a story I wrote for CBC’s Scene about Winnipeg’s new wave of coffee. Here’s the link to the original story.

—————————————

Thom Jon Hiebert pours scorching water from a stainless steel kettle into a sort of glass science beaker. Inside, sits a coffee filter, but no coffee.This is not the brewing process. This is prep.

Hiebert uses the hot water to wash away any paper fibers that might otherwise land in the cup he is about to make. Only then does he add the freshly ground beans.

“These beans were roasted just 20 days ago,” he tells his customer. “You might taste a bit of berry in here and it’s also very buttery.”

Forget double-doubles or even Starbucks lattes. There’s a new breed of coffee house that does for the bean what wine bars do for the grape. Each drink has its own  pedigree, carefully concocted and expertly explained.

This ‘Third Wave’ of coffee culture has hit Winnipeg in the form of several new, locally-owned grindhouses staffed by a skilled collection of “baristacrats.” Hiebert and Graham Bargen, opened Thom Bargen late last month. The Sherbrook Street boutique joins Corydon Avenue’s MAKE/ Coffee + Stuff, Café Postal in St. Boniface and Main Street’s Parlour Coffee. Finer grinds, higher water pressure, precise temperatures and a fresher bean all add up to a better brew.

“Fresh coffee just tastes different,” says Hiebert. “There’s none of that bitterness or burnt flavour of overly roasted beans.”

“It’s not just your dad’s coffee anymore,” says Adrienne Huard, co-owner of Café Postal. “It’s about rediscovering all the aspects of espresso.”These new merchants even know the varying harvest times in order to serve in-season beans. “It’s like wine,” explains MAKE/ Coffee + Stuff barista Hailey Darling.

These coffeehouses buy fair-trade beans from roasters like Pilot and Phil & Sebastian, Canadian roasters who actually visit the farms and meet the growers.

“Once you’ve tasted actual fresh coffee you’ll never go back,” promises Bargen.

MAKE Coffee & Stuff
MAKE Coffee & Stuff (photo robin summerfield)