Cauliflower crisis: Restaurants pull signature dishes as price of produce soars

TORONTO -- The soaring price of cauliflower is forcing restaurants offering signature dishes featuring the popular cabbage relative to rethink their menus and hike prices.

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Over the past few years, the vegetable once considered boring has been springing up on menus in innovative ways.

Some roast it whole, while others serve it as a taco. Others please their vegan diners by using it to create a cheese sauce substitute.

However, the sliding loonie and a drought in California have helped drive cauliflower prices toward double digits a head, causing a cauliflower crisis. At least one restaurant chain famous for its take on cauliflower is passing on some of the extra costs to its customers.

In Vancouver, diners frequent Nuba restaurants just to taste Najib's Special, said founder Victor Bouzide. The dish, named after his father, is a crispy cauliflower concoction based on his grandmother's recipe.

Since the new year, Bouzide's raised the price by about a dollar. A plate now costs $13, while the appetizer runs customers $9.75.

"We can't give it away," he said in an interview.

The restaurant now pays more than double what it used to for a case of the cruciferous vegetable, up to $60 a case. That means Nuba needs 100 cases a week to feed its cauliflower-loving customers.

Still, Bouzide can't fathom discontinuing the dish, like some others have opted to do.

Toronto's Fat Pasha drew accolades for its whole roasted cauliflower head when it opened in 2014. About a month ago, the offering disappeared from the menu.

"As much as people love it, if we're losing money on it or we're charging too much, no one's going to feel good about it," chef Kevin Gilmour said.

The dish cost $18, he said, but with the cost of the main ingredient, the restaurant would have to charge up to $40 for it now.

That just wasn't viable, said Gilmour, who replaced it with a local, more price-consistent option: acorn squash.

Squash may be the next go-to ingredient for chefs looking for a new heir to cauliflower's popularity since many other vegetables, not just cauliflower, are steadily increasing in price.

Celery, cucumber, tomatoes are all slowly taking themselves out of the running.

"If it's not a root vegetable or it's not a squash," Gilmour said, "then chances are it's gone up significantly."

Edgar Gutierrez, the chef at Rostizado in Edmonton, has been experimenting with the fennel with some success. He thinks fennel could be versatile enough to resonate with diners this year.

Still, he says he's keeping his popular pan-roasted cauliflower with pork fat on the menu, at a higher price than before, because of high demand despite the extra cost to his bottom line.

"It's not easy to create excitement around a vegetable," he said.


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