TORONTO - When it comes to food, everyone's always looking for the next hot thing to try.
Culinary trend watchers with their taste buds attuned to the coming year offer up five ideas you might want to experiment with in 2014.
1. Roast chicken is on the rise.
"Tons of great roast chicken is coming on to menus, people doing them at home, fresh with herbs, with lots of lemon. Roast chicken and waffles are showing up on lots of fun menus lately," says Christine Couvelier, executive chef and global culinary trendologist.
People are also learning that it's not difficult to roast chicken at home.
"(The trend) speaks to the fact that we've been treated to a number of fabulous artisanal butcher shops across Canada and some of those are providing consumers with fabulously great-tasting chickens to be able to roast at home. So knowing where your chicken comes from, knowing the butcher, knowing the farmer, free-range and all."
She thinks chicken in all forms is more popular than ever, but particularly roast chicken. "Great crispy skin, fabulous way to transfer fresh herbs and fresh flavours. Done well, wow, what a treat to have."
2. Devilled eggs are not just for picnic baskets anymore
"Devilled eggs have certainly come from picnic baskets to restaurant menus now, and in upscale restaurants to go in and see devilled eggs on a menu is fabulous," says the Victoria-based Couvelier, whose company Culinary Concierge (www.culinaryconcierge.ca) helps clients build their brands and keep ahead of market trends.
"I think it shows a sense of fun, a sense of whimsy."
As an example, she has dined on devilled eggs as a starter for sharing with whipped yolks topped with tiny pieces of fresh sauteed shrimp or crab.
3. Oodles of noodles
"There are noodle houses of all kinds, not just in Chinatowns and Japantowns. They're definitely hitting the mainstream neighbourhoods in lots of cities, not just ones that have large Asian populations," Dana McCauley, a food trend watcher and vice-president of marketing for Plats du Chef Foods, said in a telephone interview from her office in Vaughan, Ont.
She and Couvelier both see that Korean food, in particular, is on the rise.
"I think that last year we suspected it would be something to watch and it moved slowly, but I'd say more this year," Couvelier said by phone from Key West, Fla. "Tied into that is noodles, noodles all the way. Soba, ramen, rice noodles.
"People are learning how to do it at home. It's not something frightening you'd only have to go out to get."
4. Wild game meats a healthy alternatives to traditional supermarket fare
"Game meat is awesome," says chef Susur Lee, whose cooking reflects Asian and French influences. The "Chopped Canada" judge owns three restaurants. In Toronto, there's Lee and Bent — which he runs with two of his three sons — while TungLok Heen is in Singapore.
Bison, venison, elk and ostrich have little fat. "Even pheasant, squab, those are really great game birds. It gives you another dimension from eating chicken and duck."
Lee notes that it's important to marinate the meat to tenderize it. "Look at the way city people live. They want it fast, right? But this game meat, you have to make sure you give it time to marinate. Use a really good red wine vinegar to break down the muscle in game meat."
When cooking, he cautions: "Simple, just garlic and lots of black pepper." Using carrots, celery and other ingredients can take the gaminess away. Don't use salt as it can dry out the meat.
McCauley has noticed some stores are stocking purplish-blue Saskatoon berries, famous as a pie filling. "Some chefs use them to make sauces to go with really strong-flavoured meats like moose or venison."
5. Togetherness an ingredient in restaurant dining
More restaurants are featuring large harvest tables, so diners end up sharing their meal with strangers.
This is also in keeping with the more casual feel of many establishments. The number of new fine dining restaurants is lower than it used to be, says McCauley.
"The dial has really moved. And people are valuing experience and taste ... where it used to be the experience was about the pampering, the refinement," she notes. "There's just for a few occasions a year that people want that."
All the restaurants Matty Matheson has had have had a communal element.
"I think if you embrace it it's a really cool environment, like you're sitting around and there's 126 people around you," says the executive chef of Parts & Labour restaurant in Toronto, which features eight communal tables that seat 12 people. There are also three chefs tables that allow patrons to sit right in the kitchen.
"Let yourself go and become a part of it, really experience the restaurant."
McCauley says communal dining is reminiscent of a trend she's noticed in home entertaining.
"I didn't coin the phrase, but I love the name. It's called 'hiving,' where instead of having a sit-down dinner party you just kind of throw your doors open," she says.
"People come and go, your house is a buzz of activity for a few hours, people interact, maybe you do something like make your own crostini or dress your own pizza or wine tasting, olive oil tasting, craft beer tasting, whatever.
"You still have the social event, but there's less commitment to time. That's the same with the communal table. You can just drop in and drop out and there's no pressure on you to have a specific number of courses or anything like that."