Each year, certain items and recipe elements become almost ubiquitous, popping up on menus in restaurants around the country and, specifically, in the Vail Valley. A few years ago, kale was almost unheard of — now it’s a popular and prevalent ingredient. In 2013, we saw the rise of kale as cruciferous king, quinoa as the queen of grains and “cronuts” as one of the most unique — and unhealthy — jesters of the year.
Though chefs may not deliberately incorporate “trendy” ingredients in their menu, they’re always looking for new and different ingredients.
“When you’re cooking every day, if you use the same stuff all the time, it gets boring,” said Nick Haley, chef and co-owner at Zino Ristorante in Edwards. “It’s cool to get out there and challenge yourself to use something that you’re not 100 percent comfortable with.”
Chef Sergio Howland, of Leonora at the Sebastian, agrees.
“I read a lot and I go online because you can get inspired. You learn what others are doing and you adapt to your own style and what you like and what you don’t like,” Howland said. “It’s like being an artist — if you don’t at least pay attention to what others are doing, you get stuck with what you’re doing and you get left behind.”
Looking forward in 2014, there are several ingredients and techniques that are considered front-runners for the year’s culinary royalty. From well-known veggies that are finally getting a turn in the spotlight to exotic spices and grains, it seems that 2014 is going to be a creative and tasty year.
Here are five of the top food trends to spot in 2014 and the places you can sample them without traveling far from home.
Living in Colorado, it’s not unusual to find buffalo, elk or wild boar on the menu. However, with the rising popularity of protein-based diets, more unusual meats such as venison, goat, rabbit and pigeon (squab) are appearing as well. Offering distinctive flavors and health benefits, be adventurous and go for the “other” meat when it’s presented.
Try it here: Sample braised El Regalo Ranch goat at vin48 in Avon, part of the small plates menu. Splendido at the Chateaux features Iowa rabbit on its dinner menu, as does SaddleRidge; Zino highlights braised rabbit with its gnocchi. For a taste of some oft ignored parts, try the “Animal Crackers” at Mountain Standard, which consists of chicharron, beef cracklins and crispy pig ears.
Often ignored as broccoli’s less colorful cousin, cauliflower is coming into its own as this year’s cruciferous star. The veggie is incredibly versatile and can be mashed, grilled, broiled, cut lengthwise and barbecued like a steak, eaten alone or in salads, pickled or even turned into a gluten-free crust for pizzas. With so many options, it’s not a surprise that cauliflower is becoming so popular.
Try it here: Zino Ristorante in Edwards includes a colorful carnival cauliflower in its peperlizia insalate; Dish restaurant has a cauliflower fritto with a sweet soy drizzle; and Old Forge Pizza offers a roasted cauliflower pizza as one of its signature pies.
The world is wide, and one of the best ways to incorporate the flavors of another country is through its spices. Some of the spices that are being purported as popular in 2014 include asafoetida, an extremely pungent powder used widely in India and the Middle East, and fenugreek, a seed with medicinal properties that’s used in many Indian dishes. Though you may not have realized it, fenugreek is what gives curry its particular aroma.
Try it here: Chef Sergio Howland at Leonora at the Sebastian is incorporating fenugreek into a tamarind dipping sauce for his cauliflower tapa. Chef Adam Roustom at Blue Plate Bistro in Avon uses fenugreek in his bharat spice mixture, which adds distinctive flavor to the hummus, kibbeh and falafel.
More than just a hot drink after a long day (though simply drinking tea is getting more popular), using tea and tea leaves in both cooking and cocktails is purported to be on the rise this year. From steaming to sprinkling to foaming these delicate leaves, tea infuses a subtle flavor to dishes that pleases the palate.
Try it here: Terra Bistro at the Vail Mountain Lodge and Spa has “Tea Smoked Rocky Mountain Trout” as an appetizer.
Ice cream sandwiches
While cupcakes and doughnuts have been the belles of the sugar ball for the past several years, they’re expected to be supplanted by a princess wreathed in nostalgia: the ice cream sandwich. Expect to see gourmet, hand-crafted ice cream sandwiches on menus once the weather warms up here in Colorado.
Try it here: Local ice cream company Scoop Vail is partnering with the new Colorado Cheesesteak Company in Eagle to create homemade ice cream sandwiches, which will be available at the restaurant in time for Spring Break. Larkspur offers a gluten-free version made with gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and a choice of house-made vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Stop by the lounge at The Sebastian at Vail to sample Howland’s ice cream sandwiches as part of the daily amuse at the pool and lounge in June.