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Customers dine at The Moth cafe in Edmonton on April 12, 2018.JASON FRANSON/For The Globe and Mail

The beginning of winter is both predictable and exciting. Many of us flood social streams with our top restaurant picks from the previous year while taking a stab at what trends and movements will become prominent throughout the next 12 months. While some can be subjective, others are absolute, like an impending tidal wave you can see gathering momentum in the distance.

As we wave goodbye to peaked and slowly fading trends, such as double IPAs and charcoal (thank the lord for the latter), here are four things to watch this year.

Cannabis edibles

Of all the trends poised and ready to hit the mainstream, cannabis-infused edibles and drinks are at the forefront. While the legalization of marijuana in October excluded edibles, that is expected to change next fall – and plenty of industry professionals have been recipe-testing and fine-tuning potential products to be ready. Edmonton’s Token Bitters currently offers a lineup of cocktail bitters that is popular with local bartenders, but its main focus these days is testing oils and capsule products for the impending cannabis-edibles market.

“We started our company with the idea of [eventually offering] drinkable cannabis products. We did a lot of market research and believe a lot in the idea,” says Token’s co-owner Cameron O’Neil. “There are still a lot of questions in regards to what will be allowed to be used in edibles and drinks, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the fall.”

His co-founder, Keenan Pascal, says they have been approached by all types of people, from chefs wanting to open a cannabis-infused bakery to doughnut companies and even dairy producers looking to work on a line of cannabis butter.

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Token Bitters' main focus is testing oils and capsule products for the cannabis-edibles market.

The two agree it will still be quite some time before restaurants and bars will able to serve cannabis-infused food and drink and when they are, they’ll likely be completely separate establishments from the standard. In other words, you’ll have to go to one bar to sip your gin martini and another for that Dark and Stormy spiked with a marijuana tincture.

Cocktail culture

The combination of the new microdistilleries popping up across the country and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission relaxing its restrictions on bars and restaurants infusing liquors on-site (for example, by making naturally flavoured vodka or preparing batch- and barrel-aged cocktails in-house), there has truly never been a better time to be a barkeep in the Prairies.

Saskatoon’s newest distillery, Stumbletown Distilling, opened shortly before Christmas and uses a unique purple grain as a base to its spirits. It will also be the first distillery in the Prairies to release an amaro. Over in Calgary, Burwood Distillery recently debuted a limited edition haskap gin, another first for the region.

This year, expect to see all sorts of infused liquors and limited-edition spirits on bar shelves pouring their way onto the most inventive – and locally-minded – drink menus we’ve seen yet.

Plant-based foods

In the past, the Prairie provinces have been labelled as “meat and potatoes” and perhaps still are by many. This statement is not completely untrue – Alberta is the beef capital of the world, after all – and is proved in the fact that it has taken the vegan dining trend longer to become commonplace in the Prairies than most other centres with sizeable populations.

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Purple taro risotto at The Moth cafe in Edmonton.JASON FRANSON/For The Globe and Mail

Edmonton saw somewhat of a plant-based boom with places such as Die Pie, The Moth Café and An Chay opening in the past year or so, but other cities such as Calgary and Winnipeg remain remarkably sparse with contemporary plant-based restaurants. Of course, we will see plenty of omnivorous chefs and bakers trying their hand at plant-based creations to appease an increased appetite. Thus, I would count on seeing the meat-to-vegan dish ratio shift in the favour of the latter on the average restaurant menu as the months go by.

If there’s one aspect of the plant-based world in particular that will flourish, I will happily bet my life savings on vegan cheese. For example, Flora Fromage is a relatively new producer in Calgary and has been garnering praise with its collection of dairy-free cheese that uses either fermented cashews or macadamia nuts as a base before injecting flavours such as truffle and black pepper.

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Havarti: Cashew-based semi-hard cheese with a mild sharpness and ultra creamy bite.Janice Buckingham

Safer workplaces for restaurant staff

The topics of mental health, workplace harassment and work-life balance have never been as prominent as they were in the past year. The allegations and scandals involving restaurant moguls such as Mario Batali, Ken Friedman and Canadian winemaker Norman Hardie, have all driven tough conversations about workplace culture in the food industry.

Earlier this fall, I was a member of the festival jury at Devour! The Food Film Fest, in Wolfville, N.S., at which documentaries centring around female chefs and harassment in the workplace, such as The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution, were placed front and centre. It doesn’t seem to matter where you looked in 2018 – Twitter, Instagram or news outlets – we were reminded that the restaurant industry, which so many people dedicate their lives to, is far from perfect.

I’d like to think that in this new year, restaurateurs and management of all types of culinary industry businesses are fully cognizant of the atmosphere being created around them and the people who are tied to it.

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