Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Canadian Cuisine ?

This posting I would like to introduce a guest writer, Heather Cameron to whom food is not just fuel but an exploration on many levels.

Here’s the question: Which is the more Canadian dish? A plate of poutine made with potatoes from Idaho, cheese from Holland, and canned Heinz gravy from Pennsylvania, or a Chicken Chow Mein made with all ingredients sourced from your own (assuming you live in Canada) back yard? It brings up the old chestnut of Canadian identity crisis: being essentially a nation of immigrants, what makes us Canadian?

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark is quoted as saying, "Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord." Read more here.This is in keeping with the Canadian model of the cultural mosaic, as opposed to the American melting pot. The celebration of diversity is one of the hallmarks of the tolerant, small “l” liberal society we aspire to.

I was thinking about this after reading a less than enthusiastic review of the burgeoning trend of including “Canadian cuisine” on the menus of Vancouver restaurants. It is not enough to include butter tarts, maple syrup or pea soup and be able to pass as Canadian. Sourcing ingredients directly from a local farmer, fisherman or butcher comes a lot closer, but, given the Canadian climate, some things just have to come from other places. Olive oil, coffee, and chocolate are some of the essential items that would be very hard to live without.

As near as I can figure, having watched Chef Bruce Wood in action over the past several months, the notion of “terroir” is the most important factor in defining, first of all, good food; and second, the national character or style of the dish. Terroir is a French term that comes from the word for land, and denotes the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place contribute to the unique qualities of the food grown there. Working from the idea of terroir, Chef Bruce creates very Canadian menus that draw upon his vast knowledge of culinary traditions, yet have a freshness, flavor and quality that say “Here. This place, and this taste, are one.”
I checked Catharine Parr Traill’s “Canadian Settler’s Guide” (published in 1855) to find out if this feisty British woman had anything to say about the unique food she encountered in her new country. Lots of recipes for maple syrup, suggestions for substitutes for hard-to-come-by items like coffee and tea, an enthusiastic endorsement of “Indian – Corn” and tips on how to deal with venison show that Traill took a no-nonsense approach to feeding her family with the bounty of the land. She also states the dual loyalty of the emigrant experience with her closing lines:
“I trust you will find kind hearts and friends, and much prosperity, in the land of your adoption: never forgetting you still belong to that land, which is the glory of all lands, and are the subjects to a mild and merciful Sovereign, who is no less beloved in her Province of Canada, than she is by her loyal people of Britain.”
Anita Stewart summed it up in an interview about the national celebration she started in 2003, Canada Food Day, which fell on July 30th this year:
“Canadian cuisine is a menu of stories in a land of ultimate culinary possibilities! The richness and biodiversity of the indigenous harvest – our original palate – is the foundation of it all. Built solidly upon that base are our iconic ingredients – wheat, beef, apples – enriching and embroidering the culinary traditions of a multitude of immigrant groups who have gathered together from the four corners of the globe, men and women with a passion for this land which they now call “home.” Canadian cuisine is at once a reflection of climate, history, immigration pattern and cultural traditions. It’s about pride and tenacity — and it’s about the pure sensual pleasure of tasting the richness of Canada on every level, from the physical to the intellectual.”

1 comment:

Farmerod said...

Kudos to you, Bruce, for walkin' the walk. Looking forward to growing a greater variety of crops over winter and next season to supply the locals.