On the subject of the revival of ancient grains in today’s modern menu, everything old is new again. A growing number of chefs in the fast-casual space have been turning to the virtually unchanged grains, and no, we’re not just talking about quinoa.
The significant rise in interest from customers is telling of this generation’s evolved understanding of nutrition and health. Nowadays, there is a blatant demand for food that is not only flavourful but is also high-quality and rich in nutrients. In saying this, restaurateurs and café owners are forced to step up to the plate and create a range of dishes that cater to this need.
We sat down with the owners of Kawau Kitchen to discuss how they’ve incorporated ancient grains into their menu and the role it plays in today’s culinary scene.
Dietitians have branded ancient grains as nutritional powerhouses, and why wouldn’t they? The unyielding grains have fed various civilisations from the Aztecs to the Greeks and later to the Egyptians. Jigisha Patel, co-owner of Kawau Kitchen, recognised its potential early on and saw its Auckland Airport location as an advantage for attracting customers on the hunt for that instant boost of nutrition. “Our clientele is a good mix of corporate and travellers that are coming in and out,” said Patel. “So, when we were creating the menu, we needed to make sure that it was really fresh and nutritious, and we’ve found that using ancient grains is a really clever way of doing that because of its nutritional properties that don’t add extra weight to the meal.”
With more and more Kiwis shifting to a plant-based diet or atleast reducing their meat intake, ancient grains reign supreme. With its unique flavours and textures, each ancient grain offers something different that can appeal to various customers. Additionally, the protein-rich grains are a fantastic alternative to its meat counterpart.
“As the plant-based trend continues, so does the need for more alternatives,” explained Patel. “We use buckwheat and rice in a lot of our dishes. Both can be consumed in a lot of different ways and provide customers with meal options.”
THE RISE OF RICE
According to Kawau Kitchen an ancient grain that deserves more recognition is rice. Although normally found in oriental cuisines as a side dish, the potential for the humble grain remains untapped in fast-casual establishments.
“I think most people shy away from using rice enough. Even Café-based restaurants don’t really utilise it as much, but it’s such a beautiful green and it’s so easily digested as well,” said Patel. “It’s always been around, but it has a lot of potential to really be a star in a meal.”
It’s safe to say that the possibilities for ancient grains in the New Zealand food scene remain endless. With an increasing number of restaurateurs making it accessible to the everyday customer, we expect more and more people to include it in their diets and use it as a protein alternative. Although its popularity seems to be exclusive to restaurants that cater to a niche market, we foresee more mass-market restaurants following suit.