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April 24, 2015

Trend Report from Taste of Vail

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Photo credit: Zach Malone for Taste of Vail

In the mountain town of Vail, Colorado, there’s a ritual that has become a rite of spring for the last 25 years—the Taste of Vail. Distinguished from other food events by its mountaintop picnic, The Taste also features an American Lamb Cook-Off and a Grand Tasting. This year the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner, with national and local chefs, arrived in Vail in conjunction with the Taste. All the events were a good way to wake up winter dormant taste buds and find out what foods may be on everyone’s plate in the coming season.

1) Semolina gnocchi
With a consistency and flavor profile that’s a cross between polenta and mashed potatoes but with no potatoes in sight, semolina gnocchi shaped in patties can be the base for any number of meat or vegetable presentations. These Roman gnocchi, as they’re known, pre-dated the potato kind. Coincidentally, Cook’s Illustrated is featuring a recipe for semolina gnocchi in its current issue.

2) Tartare, carpaccio, ceviche, crudo
Raw food movement and food safety concerns aside, raw or lightly cooked are a good way to get out of the heat and avoid the kitchen. Everything is fair game—beef, elk, tuna—but it’s crudo that’s making creative chefs salivate. Technically crudo means “raw” in Italian but this new approach to raw sliced fish kicks it up a notch for seafood. A tuna crudo nicorise played off the tuna nicoise concept using quail eggs and spring peas. The restaurant’s goal: offering a cool “raw” dish as a foil to other cooked dishes on the menu.

3) Octopus
A restaurant dish if ever there was one, octopus is attracting a new fan base, one that’s ready to give octopus a place on the menu, with dishes such as Octopus Fra Diavolo. Sure, the consumer can prepare octopus at home, but you know, there are those eight legs to deal with.

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Photo credit: Zach Malone for Taste of Vail

4) Mushrooms
Trumpet mushrooms, morels, chanterelles—mix and match—but call the mushrooms by their names for a little added cachet.  

5) Romesco sauce
For years and now and with help from celebrity chef Jose Andres, Spain has been making inroads, one small tapas restaurant at a time. But, is Romesco sauce poised to be the next pesto or hummus? The few main ingredients, roasted red pepper, almonds, olive oil, and so forth are ripe for variations on a theme as more people become familiar with the concept and its multi-uses.   

6) Pickled
Onions, carrots, mushrooms, anything that can top a sandwich or taco is fair game for the pickling jar.

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Photo credit: Zach Malone for Taste of Vail

7) Beignets
You say doughnut, we say beignet. Either way the fried square puffy dough is filled with cool fillings, making it éclair-like, but not.

8) Rhubarb
This time of year, rhubarb is on the menu, usually coupled with strawberries in a pie. But rhubarb’s tartness can be offset as it was in a rhubarb sorbet – giving it a refreshing spin on springtime.

9) New spins on (really) old favorites
Put aside the California onion dip. Roasted Poblano Onion Dip with housemade potato chips was a fave at the fest. Now why didn’t we think of that?

10) Korean influences
Pungent kimchee aside, Korean food has other dishes to offer. The hit of the festival was a dish straight out of Cinderella’s fairy godmother’s mouth: Bibimbop (also spelled bibimbap) was a crowd pleaser. The all-in-one bowl rice dish and the Korean chile paste called gochujang can be made with or without slices of beef, with or without a raw or cooked egg, and with any vegetables on hand

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