Nothing gets me more invigorated in early January than brushing off my dusty crystal ball and looking ahead to food and drink trends for the coming year. From drinking Canadian-made wine without the buzz to coming to terms with the fact that it’s a TikTok world and we’re all just living in it, here are my insights into what the next 12 months will hold.
Born in the 1980s, I was on the tail end of the jellified-dish era. Jell-O-centric salads, ambrosia salads (traditionally made with marshmallows) and the like will forever be burned into my memory as quirky sweet dishes that did not belong on the dinner table. However, in its sweetest form as a jiggly dessert, jelly was always a welcomed treat.
While ambrosia is thankfully not back in vogue, gelatinous desserts certainly are.
Forget the artificially flavoured lime, the unnaturally coloured blue raspberry and think of your favourite cocktails – mojito, sangria, tequila sunrise – transformed into jellied works of art.
A premier example of jelly-centric companies that have hit their stride in the past include Calgary’s vegan dessert maker Jelly Lab. It’s a jelly-dessert company that garnered plenty of buzz locally after launching last spring thanks to creator Leah Van Loon’s grown-up take on Jell-O.
Known best as one of Alberta’s long-standing top fashion stylists, it’s no surprise she’s opted for an impressive array of antique jelly moulds to bring her creations to life.
Ms. Van Loon uses high-grade beef gelatin (or carrageenan-based seaweed jelly in vegan special orders) to set and layer playful mixes of fruit juices as well as other liquids such as coconut milk and edible glitter and fresh fruit and herbs to produce desserts that are equal parts delicious to eat and nice to look at as a table centrepiece.
Naturally, the jiggle effect of a vibrant and gelatinous dessert makes for a striking social-media capture as well. If you know, you know.
Low- and no-alcohol winemaking and ‘spirit’ production
At this time next year, maybe we’ll all be plant-based and sober, reminiscing about the way things used to be. That’s probably an exaggeration, but the no-and-low drink movement is here for the long haul. Much like the plant-based food trend making huge strides in recent years, the non-alcoholic drink industry is quickly becoming more dynamic.
If you’re looking to reduce your imbibing, the selection of non-alcoholic craft beers, wines and faux spirits has never been better, but what’s most exciting is seeing more non-alcoholic wines being produced in Canada.
Thoughtfully riding this new wave is the Ones+ wine collection. Created in part by celebrated Okanagan winemaker Tyler Harlton, these offerings are less than 1-per-cent ABV while still maintaining a sense of place (read: terroir). In other words, these are non-alcoholic wines that you’d actually want to drink.
Alberta’s Wild Folk Beverages is one of the leading producers of botanical canned cocktails in Western Canada and another example of a booming business in this drink category. The company’s booze-free bevvies come in options such as Vermouth Spritz and Sparkling Negroni and have become readily available on restaurant and bar menus in Calgary and beyond.
It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally seeing queer industry professionals in leadership (and ownership) positions across Canada and I, as a queer-identifying person, love to see it.
Edmonton’s Bri Campbell of May Restaurant was the province’s first non-binary chef to hold an executive chef position (2021) while industry colleague Winnie Chen now runs the buzzworthy Fu’s Repair Shop. In Calgary, the queer-owned Rising Tides Taproom has created a safe space that not only supports the queer creative community with weekly drag shows, but showcases the diversity of Alberta’s craft brewing scene as well.
Concorde Group is also in mid-construction of a queer-leaning restaurant concept operated by Dane Walker of WERK event-programming fame that should open some time before summer.
Beyond Calgary, restaurants such as The Tallest Poppy in Winnipeg, Friends of Dorothy Lounge (with locations in Kelowna, B.C., and Victoria) as well as Victoria’s The Vicious Poodle and the Kaleidoscope Drag Lounge and Restaurant in St. John’s all continue to encourage the synergy of food, drink and queer culture.
If the Negroni Sbagliato phenomenon of last October is any indication, TikTok’s food and drink influence has begun to reach far beyond the at-home foodie realm these days.
Being a famous Italian cocktail of true mixology integrity, its notoriety spread worldwide after a clip of an interview with House of the Dragon star Emma D’Arcy went viral. The clip features the actor explaining their favourite drink as the Negroni Sbagliato “with prosecco.”
Shared and viewed millions of times, the drink began popping up on feature drink menus across North America.
While sidling up to the bar at Vancouver’s famed L’Abattoir, I was propositioned with the evening’s feature cocktail, a Negroni Sbagliato.
“Is this because of TikTok?” I asked the bartender.
The answer, of course, was, “Yes.”
All of this is to say that the TikTok effect has begun to move beyond at-home “foodies” and has officially entered the realm of hospitality. The social-media app can run rampant with strange culinary hacks and what I would define as “shock foods” (think of a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped block of cheddar cheese). However, when it latches onto something that appeals to the masses and which restaurants can easily add to their menus, they would be foolish not to.