Many seminal things happened in 2013 in the culinary world. Here is a review of 10 moments that will forever affect how we eat, cook or play with our food.
But as “the culinary world” is really a thousand worlds, I’ve picked two from each of five different “regions.”
1. We got food trucks back
However sanitized their reentry, 2013 saw the dismantling of legal obstacles to “mobile” food-selling and preparation in this city. After 60 years, this is no small feat and we shouldn’t take it lightly. Staid and stationary as the trucks might be right now, their presence will inevitably grow more fluid–and irrevocably change our sense of public space. Moreover, as mobile food enterprises grow, traditional restaurants will be challenged to evolve to remain viable, affecting cost, menus and overall experience.
2. No-shows got shamed
Thanks in part to a great article in The Gazette, those self-absorbed you-know-whats who simply vanish at reservation time were finally outed. While they weren’t exactly named, they were certainly shamed. Dialogue from the article spread far and wide and the concept of snubbing restauranteurs became akin to aiming a crossbow at the heart of a vulnerable local hub.
3. Rooftop greenhouses hit the big time
Once just a curiosity in an Ahuntsic warehouse, Lufa Farms has in two short years become well-known to Montréalers. The rooftop greenhouse has been supplying local homes and restos with food since 2011.
But it was in 2013 that its mission hit the mainstream–and became a household name province-wide. This year Lufa opened its second, arguably more ambitious operation in Laval, vowing to export the model to the states. Québec City has already gotten on board, with a massive industrial rooftop greenhouse in the works for next year. Hell, rooftop greenhouses were so big in 2013 that they could even be spotted in yuppie-oriented Toyota Prius ads!
4. Critics finally learned to eat “out” (of town)
A proliferation of rural eateries seemed to make the press this year, led by Lesley Chesterman’s choice forays to À la table des jardins sauvages, Vices-Versa, and Bistro Champlain and M-C Lortie’s recurring crusades. Not to mention Dany St-Pierre (of Sherbrooke’s Auguste) winning Montréal’s chi-chi “Golden Plates” competition. Will finicky urban masses be quick to follow?
5. Celeb Canadian chefs trashed celeb American chefs for posing with this creepy mascot
I won’t get into the entire complicated backstory of the Chefs for Seals campaign, which hit fever pitch this year as thousands of the most glitzy (and Food Networked) US chefs signed on as mouthpieces for the warm and fuzzy cause. What’s important is that the fallout might have dented our neighbourly culinary relations and strengthened our national culinary community forever.
The US boycott of Canadian seafood provoked so much bark-back (seals, harbours…get it?) that Canadian chefs stood united and found a common voice. Their cause? To support hard-working fishing communities, respectfully-fished Canadian seafood products and the tradition of common sense.
There’s no end to the boycott in sight…but even a cursory glance at the debate reveals that Canadian chefs emerged victorious: respectful, rational, and reinvigorated in the face of their hypocritical foie-gras touting counterparts, most of whom just seemed desperate for a photo op.
6. Poutine restaurants officially became an epidemic
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Though poutine took Williamsburg, then the world, by storm a few years ago, the explosion of the “poutine restaurant” belongs to 2013.
With few exceptions, the poutine-only resto has been a novelty even in Québec until very recently. And though many scoffed at Smoke’s Poutinerie et al.’s attempts to usurp casse-croûtes on their home turf, the reality is that most poutine restaurants have thrived.
2013 saw poutine the theme of a Top Chef Canada episode, an otherwise respectable production, whose host introduced it (without irony) as “the one and only Canadian national dish.” And lest you think poutine still hasn’t found the mainstream, consider this: McDonalds across (gulp!) Toronto now feature the oozy delight.
7. Jiro got reincarnated in New York (sort of)
Many consider the greatest living sushi master to be Jiro Ono, proprietor of ten-seat Sukiyabashi Ono in a Tokyo métro station. Ono has won three Michelin stars and international fame after David Gelb’s acclaimed 2011 documentary.
Portrayed as a rare relic of en era where masters lived, slept and, yes, dreamt sushi, critics were divided on whether Ono’s lineage would fully survive in Japan. But it seems it is North Americans who can breathe the most easy.
Ono protégé Daisuke Nakazawa (whose devotion to his master is insane in the aforementioned documentary) has opened his own shop in New York, and it appears to be the real deal…dare we say the boldest embodiment of Ono’s ethos outside Japan?
Unexpected, amazing, and only a six hour drive away now! North American sushi will never be graded by the same standards again.
8. Mexico is part of North America, remember?
The hard work of Enrique Olvera is legendary–only a decade ago, the hard-working chef was hand drywalling his space in Mexico City. Now, he has climbed inside the top 20 restaurants in the world. Sure, it’s an elite and controversial list. But it’s not only a testament to Olvera’s perseverance and artistry with Pujol, it’s a sharp reminder to the US (okay, Canada too) that Mexico is part and parcel of “North American haute cuisine.” And, when it comes to culinary “fine art”–they’re here to stay.
9. The art of fermentation exploded
Not literally: no cooks were reported hurt by shards of broken glass from flying kimchi. But in 2013 chefs and cooks took the art of fermentation to the next level.
First, there was Sandor Katz’s landmark book, which proved its relevance to flavour, cooking and health. Next there was David Chang’s heady hit show that explored the intricacies of tsukemen, katsoubushi, kimchi and more, and MAD Food Camp (the culinary TED)’s focus on fermentation as the vanguard of gastronomical experimentation, and many other chefs’ insistence that given global food uncertainties anyone could–and should–culture at home. Far from a trend, the culinary world’s interest in fermentation is here to stay and will only get better with age.
10. Eggless eggs happened
Explosively-popular mayos and doughs suggest that “tech startup” Hampton Creek is well on its way to its goal of an eggless society. Its goal is to “surpass” the egg in taste, nutrition, cost and sustainability. Using only plants. So far, it has managed to draw sustained ire from the dominant industry, a good marker of any product’s culinary impact!
What were the most important moments of your culinary world this year? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us at @forgetthebox or @joshdavidson