Mia focusses on fusion cuisine. The Haggis Wun-Tun is really making the rounds and capturing people's attention.
Have a taste of 2004
Umami foods are savoury, pungent, delicious and meaty
Linda Meinhardt's hot chocolate is the new 'in' beverage.
CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
Rob Clark of C restaurant shops for the freshest ingredients, such as this halibut.
CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
Todd Wong pioneered Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year.
CREDIT: Ward Perrin, Vancouver Sun
This is the year of umami, a taste you probably didn't know you had.
It forms a pentagon of taste along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour.
Umami has been a seamless part of Asian cooking and has been present in
western cuisine, too, only it's been nameless.
Scientists at the University of Miami recently pinpointed umami
taste receptors on our tongues, making it legit in the West.
Translations of the word umami from Japanese have included savoury,
essence, pungent, delicious and meaty. A direct translation is
“delicious (umai) essence (mi).”
In science-speak, umami foods are rich in glutamic acid and
nucleotides. In food-speak, they include cheeses, aged beef, soy sauce,
green tea, fresh tomato juice, sun-dried tomatoes, peas, dried
shiitake, rich red wines and beers, Asian fish sauces, condiments.
Dried, cured, aged and fermented foods are umami mines.
Describing umami in Wine Spectator magazine, Shirley Corriher, a
food science maven, could only say: “It makes the taste receptors go
'ding-ding' in our brain and say 'this is good.' “
Not surprisingly, the Japanese scientist who first discovered and named it in 1907 also created monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The theory is, umami makes us crave protein, just as our sweet
receptors dream of carbohydrates and salt receptors cry for salt and
minerals. As the new year dawns, a restaurant called Umami just opened
on Davie Street, offering a fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean
cuisines and loads of umami potential.
This is the year when you'll hear someone sip some red wine or take
a bite of Saltspring Island cheese and say: “Mmmm. Such umami!” And the
year when we begin to expand knowledge of how taste works, how salt
improves dessert (add it to cake and it lessens the sweetness but gives
it a more complex and enhanced finish) or how a tiny bit of bitterness
— such as from bitter orange, coffee or chocolate — makes a sweet
dessert less cloying.
As passé as it may seem, fusion remains the soul of food in
Vancouver. Cuisines continue to co-mingle and canoodle, forming unique
edible tableaus of this fascinating city.
Take, for instance, Toddish McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year.
It sounds like a Monty Python skit but it is, frankly, the natural
evolution of Todd Wong's life. His fifth-generation Vancouver family is
a mix of many races. He used to cook for his non-Chinese friends on
Chinese New Year and seven years ago, they decided to celebrate Robbie
Burns Day and Chinese New Year in a grand-slam event. It was a riotous
party involving a 12-course Chinese banquet, Scottish kilts, bagpipes,
songs, highland dancing and haggis with plum or sweet and sour sauce.
The event is now open to the public.
This year, they introduce what's probably a world first: the haggis
won ton. Who in their right mind would have thought of it previously?
“The Chinese cooks from Flamingo restaurant are working on it right
now,” says Wong. “We're going to wrap the haggis in won ton wrappers
and deep fry it and serve it with a special sauce. They'll be
bite-size. I think it should fit in very well with dim sum lunch, too,
which literally, means pieces of the heart.” Haggis, as any Scot would
know, contains lamb heart as well as lamb liver, onions, and oatmeal,
stuffed in sheep's stomach.
“Taste-tested by some of the best Scottish and Chinese clan chefs,
it was declared the 12th wonder of the world,” Wong jests. (Toddish
McWong's Robbie Burns Chinese New Year dinner will take place Jan. 24
and 25 at Flamingo Restaurant. For information, call 604-987-7124 or go
Alongside this meta-cuisine, the cult of micro-cuisine is also
heating up. Chefs like Rob Clark of C restaurant hunt for cooking
ingredients with smart-bomb precision, as close to home as possible.
“I'm very conscious of where food comes from. Personally, I've gone
from worrying about how I put food on the plate, all sexy and fancy, to
spending most of my energy on how I get the food to the plate, sourcing
quality environmentally friendly organic foods. It's so ironic but
quality is closely connected, like a Siamese twin, to sustainability.”
Clark works with individual fishers — the tuna fisher, the sable
fisher, the salmon fisher, the sardine and scallop fisher; they all
pass his quality test. The same applies to his hunt for perfect
produce. He knows the farmers who specialize in different fruits and
vegetables. His cheeses are from Poplar Grove in the Okanagan, David
Wood on Saltspring and Moonstruck, also on Saltspring.
And all this talk about food quality bolts nicely into the slow food
movement, which, contrary to its name, sprints along, gathering speed
and advocates. In the U.S., the movement, which celebrates quality
foods, artisanal producers, traditional and regional methods of
cookery, has grown twenty-fold in the U.S. in the past three years. It
blows a raspberry to homogenized, industrialized, technologized,
Slow food keeners in B.C. have much to celebrate with our wines,
cheeses, chocolates, heirloom produce, organically grown meats and
poultry. I draw the line, though, at fireplace cooking. For the
purists, there are now fireplaces with where you can hang a pot of
simmering soup or stew. Uh-unh!
And that brings us to farmers' markets, where the true slow foodie
would shop; they're getting more and more successful each year.
Wild salmon will be in high demand. Some restaurants played up their
“I Switch” move to wild salmon in the past year. Margaret Chisholm,
executive chef at Culinary Capers Catering, has switched. “I feel like
finally, we've reached the critical mass that's required for people to
accept the additional cost. It's gone over very well and it's related
to the slow food movement.”
She predicts Spanish-meets-Moroccan-meets-Tunisian food will be big.
“We've got a long way to go in terms of recognizing the potential in
spices — cinnamon, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, saffron, mint and lots
of others. These countries appreciate vegetables in a way that's
different from the French and Italians. Vegetables play an important
In the restaurant industry, the tapas trend still has legs,
especially when it comes to Japanese restaurants, a welcome change from
the carbon-copy Japanese restaurants of previous decades.
The low-carb craze, the Sherman tank of all food trends, will ramp
up even more, with low-carb replacement foods coming at us from every
direction — chocolate, pastas, baked goods, beer, wine. As long as the
pounds keep dropping, the low-carb business will be fertile with ideas.
Restaurants are hopping on the bandwagon one by one.
There's also the idea of “metro” food, a syncopation of refined
urban and retro comfort food. Here in Vancouver, it's epitomized by Rob
Feenie (the prince of culinary posh), who put Feenie's Weenie, a
gourmet hot dog, on the menu at Feenie's, right alongside shepherd's
pie made with duck confit, great burgers with great fries, and, if you
wish, foie gras.
In trend-setting New York, the big boys of haute cuisine, like Alain
Ducasse, has succumbed to macaroni and cheese; Daniel Boulud serves a
$50 US burger; Alan Miguel Kaplan at Salon Mexico played Henry Higgins
to the burrito, glamourizing it with filet mignon and truffle burritos
and charging $45 for it.
Meanwhile, our high-velocity lifestyles have spawned sophisticated
fast-food outlets. Rangoli, Vikram Vij's swish deli-style Indian
eatery, set to open any day, is but one. Linda Meinhardt, of Meinhardt
Fine Foods, opened Picnic; Mad About Food on Fourth Avenue and Home
Plate on Arbutus also cater to hurried middle-class lifestyles; Sean
Heather of the Irish Heather opened Salty Tongue next to his popular
Gastown eatery with take-away for hurried nearby condo dwellers (pay no
heed to carbs and try his delicious soda bread). Is Feenie's Take-Out
or Drive-Through next?
Mints might take a skyrocket this year, if only because Esquire and
Vogue magazines both carried articles on them. And pomegranates, too,
since studies have shown they contain natural estrogens and are a great
source of antioxidants. Style, O, Time and Saveur magazines chimed
their approval (despite the fact you'd have to eat 700 to 800 a day for
the estrogen benefits).
I think consumers are now aware of fair-trade coffee, enough to
consider buying from companies such as Vancouver-based Origins, which
sells nothing but fair-trade beans. The concern of the fair-trade
movement is to ensure that poor farmers are paid a fair price for their
harvests and that they are produced under fair labour conditions.
And on a northerly note, Scandinavian foods might enjoy a spotlit
moment thanks to award-winning wunder-chef Marcus Samuelsson of the
acclaimed Aquavit restaurant in New York. He recently published
Aquavit, a ravishing cookbook, showing Swedish food to be chic and
glamorous — more molten foie gras ganache with truffle ice cream than
herrings and lingonberries.
Chocolate has really gone crazy thanks to availability of quality
chocolate. Hot chocolate has become the “it” New York beverage — and
so we will follow. Meinhardt, at Picnic, serves a classy hot chocolate,
replicating her favourite from Angelina's in Paris.
Cindy Evetts of the Tools and Techniques kitchen store in West
Vancouver adds smoked paprika to the foods to watch for. “It just
boggles my mind how many people are experimenting with it,” she says.
Spaghetti sauce, for instance, can be vamped up with it.
And the home cook now loves demi-glace (a rich meat stock) as it's
available at places like the Soup Meister at Lonsdale Quay. “A couple
of tablespoons of demi would be transcending in shepherd's pie,” Evetts
At her store, silicon-based kitchen items are big. She sells pastry
brushes, baking tins, oven mitts and baking mats made from the durable
heat-resistant material. “It's so easy to clean, you don't have to
grease the cookie sheets or baking pans. If you get goo on the baking
mitts, just wash it off in five seconds. It really makes life a lot
less complicated in the kitchen.”
Just remember, trends are not law. Some are ideas whose time has
come. Some are confection and fashion made to evaporate. Buy the
fair-trade coffee and the B.C. cheese, but you'll still make the hip
list without pomegranates and mints.
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