Before the explosion of visual media and social sharing, it was always believed that the next big things in foodservice would emanate from the haute cuisine capitals of the world like London, Paris, New York or Tokyo. While it’s still nice to check in on what select restaurants in locales like these do to justify a $300 per plate meal, the world has transitioned towards a more grassroots approach to new food trends, with the tireless efforts of the ‘little guys’ like food truck owners and suburban or rural startups finally receiving the praise they deserve.
While discussing the modern food revolution in such broad strokes shouldn’t be news to anyone in the hotel industry, it nonetheless should serve as a powerful reminder of two important mental shifts. First, never let your location hold you back from being as inventive as you yearn to be – there are no longer any geographic stigmas for where a restaurant is situated. Second, with the democratic nature of social media, everyone is constantly learning about the many exciting things coming from chefs across the globe and customers now expect just that every time they dine at.
It’s this second point that would clue you into the pressing need for continuous innovation in the kitchen. If you aren’t offering restaurant patrons something new, then they’ll go somewhere else. Between Google and Yelp, they’ll be able to find a fun place to eat that’s nearby within seconds. Presentation matters, as do contemporary trends like locally sourced ingredients and meeting dietary restrictions.
With food and beverage now becoming an increasingly critical factor in the hotel purchasing decision, you cannot let it count against you. But there’s a subtle balance act at work here in terms of weighing the audaciously original with the familiar and the comfortable.
A Canadian Example
To showcase one such success story so that you can draw some inspiration, I approached Chef Ronny Belkin who I knew back when he was the executive chef at St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, but is now the head chef at Soulfood, a seasonal, organic and farm-to-table restaurant in Cranbrook, British Columbia that is soon expanding to a 100-seat location with a heavy focus on frozen ‘grab and go’ meals.
For reference, Cranbrook is a town of about 20,000 people and well over four hours’ drive from the nearest major city. It’s hardly the place where one would traditionally think of the food revolution taking hold, and yet Soulfood represents but one of an innumerous coterie of new restaurants that are constantly challenging the idea of where the best cuisine should be found.
At the first glance, the menu at this semi-rural establishment may not seem at all outrageous or particularly offbeat, but that’s because the focus is on meals that are ‘the same but different’. The menu is totally recognizable, except that everything is made in house and from scratch, from the sauces, sodas and fermented vegetables all the way to the flour blends and baked goods (where there is a particular focus on vegan and gluten free).
Other Ideas on How to Improve
Soulfood has also built its menu around the idea of complete meals. That is, they try to ensure that every meal is nutrient-packed through small additions to the plate so that, even though you may not plow through a 12oz ribeye, you are still leaving fully fueled for the day. With subtle contributors like sprouts, microgreens, chopped nuts or seeds, you can help to put eaters just over the satiety edge so they aren’t craving junk food within two hours.
While a menu in the Rockies that’s locally authentic might include such feature ingredients that are ostensibly unique to the region like bison or huckleberries, these are often hard to source year-round. There is, for instance, only one major bison supplier in the area and Chef Belkin does his best to secure a couple animals to fill out a full season’s menu. Wild-foraged mushrooms are incorporated whenever possible while honey berries and wild nettle from Soulfood’s own gardens work their way into dishes.
Above all, the restaurant has partnered with several local farmers who are strongly focused on biodiversity and what grows best in the area. This farm-to-table supply chain is emphasized on the website and on the menu to further reinforce the restaurant’s core values for customers.
To some a taste of the unknown, though, Chef Belkin is helping introduce Levantine cuisine to Cranbrook. While everyone has experienced a bastardized form of falafel, kabobs or shawarma, this is hardly an accurate depiction of the Middle East’s culinary fare. Stemming from his Israeli background and from growing up in Toronto where this kind of food is abundant, he started experimenting by adding a dish or two to see how they were received.
Obvious in hindsight but the tastes were greatly appreciated whereby, over the course of several seasons, a solid Levantine theme has emerged. But alas, with changes occurring at three-month intervals, it is time to innovate yet gain.
Part of running a successful kitchen is giving your chefs the freedom to explore their roots, their passions or letting them try new menu items for no other reason than that they want to try a few new things. While they may not hit a home run every time, continuous innovation will ensure that you are constantly giving your guests something new, and occasionally you will stumble upon a particular dish that is especially popular.
(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, originally published in Hotel News Now on October 24, 2018)