Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, June 8, 2012

What is "Canadian Cuisine"?

This past Saturday was Heritage Day in Stratford, inspiring the folks at Savour Stratford to put together an expert panel to discuss Canada's culinary heritage and explore the question "What is Canadian Cuisine?". 

The four panelists included none other than author Anita Stewart (the undisputed maven of all-things-Canadian when it comes to food!); Jeff Crump (graduate of the Stratford Chefs School, Chef at the highly acclaimed Ancaster Mill restaurant, and author of Earth to Table); Paul Finkelstein (also a Stratford Chefs School grad who is well known for his work teaching culinary arts out of The Screaming Avocado Cafe); and Monforte Dairy cheesemaker Daniel Szoller.

But without a doubt, the best way to kick off a discussion of Canadian cuisine was to eat some truly Canadian food!

When Anita Stewart introduced the special lunch that preceded the discussion at The Prune restaurant she described Chef Bryan Steele as a national treasure. The dishes we were presented with affirmed that high praise and showcased what can be done with Canadian food in the hands of a true culinary master.

The asparagus soup with smoked mushroom crostini was a beautiful expression of springtime in Ontario.

Chef Steele explained that the salt-baked trout was farmed nearby but tasted absolutely pristine because it was raised in ever-flowing spring water. I loved how it looked and tasted with the bright green anise accent of the tarragon foam.

Of course any lunch presenting our local culinary heritage here in Perth County had to have some pork: Chef Steele worked with the rare English Black heritage pork raised at nearby Churchill Farm to create (from left to right) a savoury head cheese; a sausage served atop an incredible German potato salad; and a lily-white, melt-in-your-mouth pork loin.

My apologies: Unfortunately the rhubarb compote desert with seabuckthorn berries looked and tasted so good I finished it before I remembered I was supposed to be taking pictures!

Luckily, when it comes to real Canadian food my appetite is insatiable... so I was happy to see that Paul Finkelstein's students had prepared some great canapes for the debate at Stratford City Hall. I dug right into the moose (that's moose, not mousse) and seal (yes, seal, get over it lots of Canadians eat it) terrine with pickled wild leeks (above).

The debate itself kicked-off with the panelists responding to a scenario proposed by moderator Malcolm Jolley (of Good Food Media): What they would do if aliens landed and demanded "Take us to see some Canadian cuisine!"?:

The discussion was lively, with many audience members sharing their opinions on whether or not Canada has a true cuisine. The panel seemed to reach a consensus that our cuisine, like our country, is defined by diversity and countless cultural, geographic and socioeconomic influences (which paradoxically renders it undefinable):

Finally, the panelists were asked to describe their quintessential Canadian dining experience:

The exploration of Canada's food history and culture is not just for Heritage Day here in Stratford: This year's Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival's theme is "Heritage: Celebrating Our Culinary Roots", and if this debate is any indication it should provide for a really interesting and delicious weekend celebrating all the great food that makes us such a special nation!

And by the way, in the second clip Anita Stewart mentions to Fink that the recent trip his culinary arts class took to Cape Dorset Nunavut should be shared with everyone through online video. Stratford Central High School videographer Ryan Butler (also known as Justin Bieber's close personal homeboy) was along for the adventure and put together a fantastic video... check it out Anita!

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