Yes, cake pops will almost certainly be huge in 2012. Montreal celebrity chef Chuck Hughes will continue his climb to television superstardom, water will remain the most confusing item on restaurant menus and curly parsley might at long last get the respect it deserves (which is to say: none). But we wanted to think bigger than that, and so we asked five leaders in the food world two simple questions: their expectations for the year in food, and their hopes for it. The verdict? Expect "rustic" cooking to get a whole lot more interesting, and an end to the reign of jammy, soulless, oak-goosed Robert Parker bottlings (at long last) on better wine lists. Oh, and it's definitely going to cost you more to go out to eat. Read on.
David McMillan, co-owner, co-chef, Joe Beef, Montreal
His prediction: We can't give away Australian wine or cabernet sauvignon any more. People's taste has changed. They're getting back to drinking Old World-style wines, natural wines, low-alcohol, small-production wines that go with food instead of killing it. People want to have conversations during dinner, rather than just shutting the game down, you know? There's nothing I can prepare in the kitchen that has more flavour than a 15-per-cent-alcohol cabernet sauvignon from sun-drenched Australia or California. Supercaramelized, burned onion short ribs? I don't want to cook that food. We want to buy wines from real people, who actually drive a tractor, who work as winemakers at family-run wineries. Small restaurants, small producers, small fisheries, small wineries: Small is better.
His wish: This year I've been comped maybe 45 wooden boards of salted, cured meats. Okay, enough. I get it. Everybody can tie a small roast of a lamb shoulder and salt it for 35 hours and dry it in a temperature-controlled environment and slice it paper-thin with a slicer. It's a joke. Why does everybody consistently like doing what everybody else does? How about some real craft? How about saucisson brioché, pâté en croûte, pâté grand-père, jambon persillé, or saucisson Lyonnais served hot in chicken broth with lentils? That's real charcuterie!
Andrey Durbach, chef and co-owner at Pied-à-Terre, Cafeteria and La Buca, Vancouver
His prediction: Menu prices are going to go up this year. They have to. The cost of the ingredients is spiralling. The steaks I was using as my staple product at Pied-à-Terre, I was paying $13.50 a kilo for, and then toward the end of November, they went up to $19.99 per kilo. And that was in one shot. What ends up happening is that everyone says, 'Okay, we're going to use secondary cuts now, maybe we'll use veal cheeks.' Veal cheeks used to be $7 per kilo. Last time I checked they were $15. For veal cheeks! I just put a Berkshire pork tenderloin on the menu. Pork is still relatively inexpensive, but pork is next.
His wish: "My hope for 2012 is that people embrace a kind of cuisine that doesn't rely quite so heavily on protein products, and are willing to pay money for that."
Paul DeCampo, food educator, Toronto
His prediction: We're going to see resistance to genetically modified foods finally hit the mainstream. As soon as genetic engineering crosses over from plants to animals in our food system, people's emotional reaction will be really strong. And there are a couple of triggers coming: What do you think of genetically modified salmon hitting the market? That's coming down the pipe. It's before the Food and Drug Administration. And of course we have the "Enviropig" here in Canada as well, out in Guelph, solving a problem created by industrial agriculture, so that we can retain the system of having 5,000 hogs on one site over a cesspool. There are many simpler solutions – ones that don't hand the power over our food system to a couple of corporations.
His wish: My wish is that we stop using the word "authentic" when it comes to food. If authentic means that it tastes just like my great-grandmother cooked in a village in Slovenia 100 years ago, it's a lie. We can never replicate those flavours, it's not the same context – and we don't know that the way she did it 100 years ago was the best anyway. Look at the certified Neapolitan pizza movement. If you want to have a certified Neapolitan pizza shop, you've got to use San Marzano tomatoes grown in Italy. I'd much rather have a pizza made from the organic tomatoes grown here. They taste great. And I know they're raised in an environmentally and socially sustainable way.
Chris McDonald, co-chef and co-owner, Cava, Toronto
His prediction: I fear a lot of new restaurants are going to continue to focus on drinks instead of the food this year so they can make the rent.
His wish: A part of restaurants is supposed to be theatre. You're transporting people. It's meant to be a mini-vacation, you're transported to some magical invented spot in Spain that doesn't even really exist. People also go to Italian restaurants to be transported. But with French food, where people are almost always transported to right now is Parisian brasseries. Which is fine, but it only takes you partway. To stop there, with all the history, the regions and the richness of French food, seems a little unfortunate. I'd love to see more French country food this year: rural French. Bold, homey flavours that bring people back to the table in a more communal way.
Tyler Gray, co-founder, Mikuni Wild Harvest, a top-end natural foods provisioner, Vancouver
His prediction: We're going to continue to see this back-to-the-land movement evolve. You've got guys like Sean Brock, who opened this hugely successful restaurant called Husk restaurant, in Charleston, S.C., which is all about using local, heirloom grains and produce that were near to extinct, and bringing them back into production. Likewise you've got restaurants like Manresa in California, by chef David Kinch, who is almost self-sustaining. He gets truffles from me and caviar from me, but he's foraging his own ingredients, he's farming his own ingredients and he's even making his own ingredients: He goes out onto the ocean in this boat contraption he's made to collect all of his own salt. We've moved past where this is a fad. We're at a crossroads in North American cuisine where we're accepting the fact that we've got awesome, cool, unique ingredients and it's time to focus on developing farmers to enable them to work with these ingredients.
His wish: I'd love to see a restaurant model here in North America that is built solely around local – one where they wouldn't use ingredients from any other area. It would be fascinating to see a microclimate of ingredients. The Pacific Northwest is a great example: How amazing would it be to have a restaurant that is only serving ingredients that are procured from the region? I think that business model would challenge chefs to really go out of the box.