LIVING

Canadian content in the kitchen

MALCOLM GRAY July 20 1987
LIVING

Canadian content in the kitchen

MALCOLM GRAY July 20 1987

Canadian content in the kitchen

LIVING

The what victory surprising. was sweet—and In 1984 somefive chefs from Canada defeated competitors from 28 countries to become overall champions at the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, West Germany. That gold medal was earned with distinctive Canadian dishes featuring wild Quebec duck and northern pike, and it confirmed that the country’s cuisine had come of age. It also convinced the World Association of Cooks Societies to approve a four-day competition in Vancouver—the largest culinary contest ever staged in North America. As it got under way on July 9, another five-chef Canadian team was displaying the same willingness to take its chances with local flavor. The Canadian entry at the inaugural World Culinary Arts Festival featured such dishes as arctic turbot and roasted loin of musk-ox.

The Vancouver event attracted 750 top chefs—in five-member national and regional teams—from 16 countries, including the United States, Australia, Luxembourg, West Germany and Switzerland. Festival organizers and officials of the association—an international or-

ganization of professional cooks with members in 40 countries—had a common objective: to publicize the high level of skills in hotel and restaurant kitchens. And despite different recipes and techniques, almost all the chefs who arrived in Vancouver displayed a cooking style that is now favored by restaurant patrons and amateur cooks alike. Essentially it relies heavily on regional recipes and uses local ingredients and fresh local produce. As well, the portions of food prepared in that way are smaller and lighter than the calorie-laden, heavily sauced traditional French cuisine that once signified good dining.

Still, in preparing those smaller servings, festival organizers estimated that the cooks used about 2,000 lb. of red meat, poultry and fish and another 2,000 lb. of vegetables during the competition. And craftsmen who usually perform behind closed kitchen doors displayed their skills in public. Crowds of up to 20,000 food lovers paid a $12 admission fee to watch the chefs create their dishes in five open kitchens that were erected in the World Trade and Convention Centre, the waterfront site of the Canadian pavilion during Expo 86. Then

many of the spectators lined up to sample the offerings, paying an additional $30 for one of the 150 hot fish and meat dinners prepared by each national team.

The Canadian chefs—using training and experience gained in restaurant kitchens in Switzerland, Austria, Britain and Japan—presented dishes that featured arctic char, Baffin Island turbot and wild rice. They did so in part because the Northwest Territories government was one of 150 sponsors that helped defray the $1.2-million cost of staging the contest by contributing money, food and equipment. In return, the territorial government gained exposure for an ambitious $3-million program that is designed to foster consumer awareness of such northern foodstuffs as spicy musk-ox sausage and gamy reindeer steaks. Government officials stressed that musk-oxen, reindeer and caribou are not endangered species—and that the lean meat from those animals contains fewer chemicals than cuts taken from fully domesticated animals.

The initial spark for that campaign came from the success achieved by such items as musk-ox burgers and arctic

char dishes at Expo 86. The staff at Icicles, a restaurant in the Northwest Territories pavilion, rang up $2 million worth of sales during the fair’s sixmonth run. And that total underlines the fact that the restaurant business is booming. Robert Young, a spokesman for the Toronto-based Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association, said

that Canadians spend 35 per cent of their food dollars on meals prepared in restaurants—a five-per-cent increase since 1984. In 1986, according to the Toronto consulting firm of Panned, Kerr and Forster, Canadians spent $15.4 billion in establishments that ranged from fastfood outlets to restaurants designed for elegant dining. Creations prepared at the Vancouver competition are unlikely to show up in fried chicken outlets. But festival organizers said that many chefs

from better restaurants were studying the dishes and techniques that were on display. And they noted that the goldmedal win in Frankfurt has focused international attention on Team Canada. Its members—two from Vancouver, two from Edmonton and one from

Calgary—were chosen by the 1,200member Canadian Federation of Chefs. Indeed, festival director Bruce Wilson said that the Canadian chefs’ use of northern foods simply underscored the country’s lead in a worldwide cooking trend to regional dishes. Declared Wilson: “You don’t just find French names on a menu anymore.”

Certainly some chefs, dining critics and cookbook authors say that Canada’s rich and varied cooking heritage— including such dishes as Quebec’s famed tourtière meat pie —has been enlivened by recipes brought by more recent arrivals from Vietnam and the Caribbean. And Maurice O’Flynn, the Welsh-born manager of Team Canada, said that he is frequently asked about Canadian cooking when he travels abroad. In response, O’Flynn says that he now defines Canadian

cuisine “as the sum of its regions, just as much as it is in France.” In the same way, Elizabeth Baird, a widely known cook and author, said that she believes Canadian prowess in international cooking contests encourages reliance on homegrown ingredi-

ents. For one thing, local produce is certainly fresher—and cheaper—than foreign fruits and vegetables that ripen en route to Canadian food stores. Declared the Toronto-based author of such books as Elizabeth Baird ’s Favorites: 150 Great Canadian Recipes: “Victories like the one in Frankfurt focus attention on what we have here. We have great produce and fruits. Potatoes, berries, wild rice, plums and cherries—they’re all here.” Added Joanne Kates, a food critic who writes regularly for the Toronto Globe and Mail: “Ten years ago there was a mediocre aping of French cooking. Now there’s a growing generation of young chefs, both immigrants and Canadianborn, who are learning to think for themselves. I love French cooking, but we can’t replicate it accurately here.” Last week, in fact, Baird returned from an eight-day trip to Newfoundland, where she had been seeking recipes for a book of regional recipes that she is writing. And in the Stone House, a St. John’s restaurant, she found cooks using such local ingredients as partridge berries and preparing lightly sauced portions of Labrador caribou. The cooking philosophy down east, in fact, was similar to that exhibited by the chefs displaying their wares across the country in Vancouver.

MALCOLM GRAY

MIRO CERNETIG

MARY McIVER