Bests and 'best-ers' from 2014 

How much better can the joy of eating get?

click to enlarge PHOTO BY BRAD KASSELMAN - At Araxi, Asian-influenced dishes are just part of the restaurant's West Coast style. Here, Chef Yutaka sears B.C. tuna to make tuna tataki.
  • Photo by Brad Kasselman
  • At Araxi, Asian-influenced dishes are just part of the restaurant's West Coast style. Here, Chef Yutaka sears B.C. tuna to make tuna tataki.

Year-end — we love it, especially for the kinds of reviews, reassessments, recollections and roundups we do as we watch the present year recede in our collective rearview mirror and look forward to the new one.

So here, with a nod to Pique's annual Best of Whistler, is my take on some of the best food stuff we've seen and the "best-ers" yet to come.

BEST OF THE BEST

Wow! Who can deny that Araxi ruled 2014 as best of the best in Whistler's mondo resto scene? In Pique's "Best of Whistler" showdown, the iconic Whistler eatery has grabbed five bests, including best restaurant and best chef, namely James Walt.

James has anchored Whistler's food scene like the Rock of Gibraltar for decades now, repeatedly inventing and reinventing the Araxi eating experience many times over, always staying one step ahead in an honest, authentic way without sensationalizing or, worse, patronizing.

It's kind of ironic that at the end of 2013, the top "best" food trend that Forbes predicted for 2014 was eating local.

That made me laugh at the time because Whistler's food scene — from the wild popularity of local farmers' markets to the plethora of local offerings at grocery stores and eateries — has been predicated on eating locally. For years.

Nowhere is that truer than at Araxi, where James has consistently been the authentic early adapter, working tirelessly with local farmers in Sea to Sky country to grow and produce key ingredients for finely-tuned menus highlighting the best of our terroir, season in, season out. The thing is, he's been doing that for years, too.

So hats off to James and Araxi, for a job better than well done, continuously stepping way out in front of the curve and delivering where it counts most — locally and on the plate.

THE BEST IS YET TO COME

If something is good, including in the food world, you're pretty lucky if it only gets better. Looks like we're in luck.

In a kind of cool, ongoing repudiation of industrial agriculture run amok, the U.S. National Restaurant Association is predicting that the "bests" topping the list for 2015 food trends will carry on in the same vein as Forbes' 2014 prediction.

According to the NRA website, local sourcing, sustainability and nutrition top their list of menu trends for the coming year.

I and I'm sure many others are thrilled to see that their survey of nearly 1,300 chefs shows that environmental sustainability tops the charts of culinary themes. The top predicted trend for appetizers — vegetarian ones — reflects another growing trend that's super healthy for all concerned. Top trend predicted for main dishes/centre of the plate: locally sourced meats and seafood.

Overall, by the NRA's intel, the top food trends for 2015 — ranging from hyper-local sourcing and artisan cheeses to sustainable seafood and food waste reduction — show that good things are only going to get better in the New Year.

THE BEST (SUSTAINABLE) THING I MADE ALL YEAR

I've never been a "recipe cook." Instead, I'd rather create dishes, much as I would a food column or a drawing.

For years my mom has made a super good and easy one-dish salad based on two common ingredients: iceberg lettuce and minced onion — that's it — topped with a simple dressing of vinegar, sugar, salt and a kiss of what used to be called salad oil added right in the bowl. No messy dressing utensils to wash.

Typically, she'd whip it up with grilled chicken or burgers, or maybe in the back of the camper on a road trip to go with a round of Kraft Dinner or hot dogs. It's perfect for camping and the like because cleanup is a breeze and the ingredients are so simple you usually have them on hand.

This year I took my mom's iceberg lettuce salad to a new level, making what I and at least a few friends and family members think is the best salad ever. It's also pretty sustainable if you use homegrown and/or organic ingredients.

We grow spearmint in our kitchen garden, which was key to upgrading this winner, along with green onions and fresh lemons.

The holidays are a perfect time for this simple, easy salad. Everyone loves it, kids included, and it livens up leftover turkey as easily as exotic curries with its minty notes of early spring.

You can find fresh mint at your favourite grocery store, likewise green onions. And right now, the organic iceberg lettuce heads coming out of California are huge monsters that can make half a dozen salads.

Here's how you do it. Happy holidays!

FRESH MINT LETTUCE SALAD

For two servings, shred about three cups of iceberg lettuce, cutting across the grain to get a good cross-section of green and not-so-green parts. Throw it in a bowl. Add two fat or three medium green onions, finely chopped on the bias, and about a half cup of fresh mint leaves, washed, blotted dry with a towel and sliced or broken into pieces.

Sprinkle the greens with the following:

  • Fresh lemon juice, to taste. If you use an organic lemon and one of those great little Mexican lemon/lime squeezers, you'll only need about half a lemon but if you hand-squeeze a regular lemon I bet you'll want the juice from a whole lemon.
  • A light sprinkling of what used to be called salad oil. Grapeseed or any light oil like canola will do.
  • A few drops of a nice light vinegar. Rice or prosecco vinegar is righteous.
  • A scant half teaspoon of good sugar to take the edge off the acidity. Those delicious, raw organic, fair-trade sugars coming out of Paraguay lately are perfect.
  • A sprinkling of your favourite salt.

Mix it all thoroughly in a single bowl and serve promptly. This juicy salad won't keep.

Fresh, crunchy, minty, delicious. For the holidays sprinkle on a few deep red pomegranate gems at the end for a festive touch, and you've got it made. (Don't toss the pomegranate seeds: they'll drool red juice all over the greens, making for a not so appetizing appearance.)

See you next year!

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who likes to make things up.

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