TORONTO - For a perfect sweet ending to a dinner party consider a shared experience that also represents the convergence of several trends: fondue.
Christine Couvelier, a food trend watcher, says fondue dovetails with three trends she has been tracking: food on a stick, small bites with big taste, and food memories.
"With a fondue party, you can spread out all of these different flavours and you can have your small bites, big taste, food on a stick and food memories. You can share this with kids, families, friends, and be able to dip a few different things," she said during a visit to Toronto.
"Food memories are still big as a food trend and we know that we like comfort food and we like the thought of a food memory, so certainly fondue is a food memory," she explained. "Another huge trend out there right now is food on a stick, so whether it be fruit kebabs, yakitori, chicken kebabs. What could be more food on a stick than fondue?"
Couvelier, whose Culinary Concierge business helps companies develop new products and marketing strategies, added that the food of many ethnicities is served on a stick.
"Cake pops is going to be the next macaron, taking over from cupcakes in the next eight to 12 months. It's one of the biggest trends out there and cake pops are food on a stick."
Tapas bars offer a range of small bites while some restaurants offer tiny portions of desserts — in a shot glass, for example — which gives people the opportunity to try a range of items. "They want to indulge but think they shouldn't. So to have a little bite of something and be able to enjoy it is small bites, big taste."
Other examples are brownie bites, sliders instead of burgers and mini quiches.
Couvelier's background has given her many opportunities to look at trends. She has worked as executive chef for President's Choice, executive chef and culinary/beverage director at Cara Operations and headed global product innovation at Unilever Canada and was director of culinary strategy at Maple Leaf Foods. She has also been chair of Canada’s largest culinary school, The Chef School at George Brown College.
The Victoria-based consultant travels widely to gather information to predict trends for her clients. "I don't have a culinary crystal ball. I just do lots of research and stay connected all the time."
"I become immersed and externally exposed. I'm constantly tasting, I'm constantly talking to chefs and cooking with chefs and eating with chefs around the world. I'm visiting food shows around the world. I'm making note of what's happening in the industry and watch what's happening with chefs' menus. What are they testing out (specials of the day)? Is it being accepted? Are people jumping on board?"
A fad will fizzle while a trend will stay, Couvelier said. Quinoa, for instance, is a trend while purple ketchup was a fad. But she noted an upcoming trend is ketchup flavoured with such ingredients as vinegar, peppers or garlic.
She said quinoa has been accepted for several reasons — it can be customized to different flavours, it tastes great and consumers understand its health benefits.
When it comes to fondue, restaurants are also serving it. Corbin Tomaszeski, who is executive chef at the Royal Ontario Museum and appears on the new show "Restaurant Takeover" on Food Network Canada, opened The Melting Pot in Richmond Hill, Ont., north of Toronto, in April. The fondue franchise has an outlet in Edmonton and 140 locations in the U.S. Tomaszeski is opening two more Toronto-area locations. He joked during an interview that people can't complain about the food when they cook it themselves.
Whether you plan to resurrect the fondue pot languishing in the back of a cupboard from the 1970s or scour garage sales to jump on the trend, there are some safety tips to keep in mind.
Use the correct pot and fuel for the type of fondue you are preparing. The pot must be able to withstand high temperatures if you're cooking meat in oil, for example.
Some manufacturers make electric fondue pots. Since this may involve a cord dangling over the edge of the table, be aware of children and pets in the vicinity.
Other types use a tealight to keep the pot's contents at the correct temperature while still others require a special type of fuel or gel oil.
A company called Velata has developed a new generation of no-fuss fondue equipment designed to be used with pouches of Belgian chocolate that can simply be microwaved and poured into silicone pots that come in fun colours. They can be plugged in and the chocolate is heated by a 25-watt light bulb.
Here are some ideas from Couvelier for what to dip at a dessert fondue party:
— Fresh seasonal fruits such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes or sliced peaches or melon can be made into fruit kebabs and dunked in dark, white or milk chocolate.
— Dip little rice krispie squares in chocolate, dried papaya in white chocolate or apple slices in caramel milk chocolate.
— Brownie bites are good with any type of chocolate; try them with white chocolate for a colour contrast.
— Kids love dunking cake pops and then rolling them in coloured sprinkles.
— A summer food memory is the traditional campfire treat known as s'mores. To recreate it when you're not near a firepit, dunk a marshmallow in dark melted chocolate, then place it between two graham crackers.
— Shortbread fingers, biscotti, chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies can also be dipped in any type of chocolate.
Couvelier counts as a great privilege cooking for Princes Charles, William and Harry during their 1998 family ski vacation in Whistler, B.C.
"They're the nicest people and they enjoy great food and it was a pleasure too. I lived with them for 10 days and cooked for them. It was another memory that is forever. I'm just honoured that they enjoyed my food. We had a really great time. They had a good family vacation."
Culinary Concierge, www.culinaryconcierge.ca