Anita Stewart is the University of Guelph’s first food laureate, president of Food Day Canada, a cookbook author and a culinary activist. She has been highlighting the diversity of Canadian terroir with Food Day Canada, an annual celebration of our homegrown cuisine. The first event was held on August 2nd, 2003, when Stewart launched The World’s Longest Barbecue to support the cattle and beef industry, which had been affected by cross border sanctions due specifically to the BSE crisis (mad cow disease). The event was larger and more widespread than anyone could have imagined, with participants from across Canada, as well as Canadians living abroad. Since then Food Day Canada has evolved into an annual mid-summer celebration held on the Saturday of the August long weekend. Some of my favourite restaurants participate, like The Berlin, Fork and Cork, and Bauer Kitchen in Kitchener, Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Miijidaa in Guelph, Buca, Boralia and Edulis in Toronto, and Mercer in Stratford. Here is a brief look at four participating Food Day Canada restaurants.
“A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community,” sums up Stratford’s The Red Rabbit’s ethos. Building from their love of local food and the bond they have forged with local farmers and producers around them, the team cooks food inspired by local ingredients and artisan products. In past years The Red Rabbit received a Food Day Canada Good Food Innovation Award for their efforts. It proudly offers items from Church Hill Farms, Perth Pork Products, Soiled Reputation, Black Swan Brewery, Junction 56 Distillery, Chateau des Charmes, Mountainoak Cheese, and many other local, artisanal and sustainable producers. Jessie Votary says, “We kind of just fell into it. We have always served Canadian product so it seemed obvious for us.”
I recently caught up with Chef Arron Carley of The Bruce Hotel in Stratford, at a Norman Hardie Winemaker’s Dinner. Chef is a proponent of Food Day Canada and originally heard about the movement through a friend. Carley has been on mission to imbue and personalize the Canadian culinary landscape with his personal style and a narrative receptive to the local terroir and seasons. Speaking with Carley and Chef Gilead Rosenberg at the dinner, I asked about their mission to reimagine Canadian cuisine by redefining and reinterpreting “Canadiana” on their own terms. Carley believes that every day is Food Day at The Bruce. “I know that it sounds corny, but it’s true. Every day we celebrate the landscape of this beautiful nation and strive to use and showcase more organic and local foods. It’s our ethos to try to only use Canadian ingredients, and we have stayed that course for almost three years. We still have so much undiscovered territory and endless opportunity in Canada,” says Carley.
In London, Chef Dave Lamers believes in engagement between, farmers, chefs and the general public, and sees Food Day Canada as a great way to give back to the community. Lamers became involved with FDC when he was looking for a way to promote Abruzzi (the restaurant he co-owns with Rob D’Amico) for using local ingredients, and also the hard working farmers for supplying the best ingredients. Lamers initially contacted Anita Stewart, who he had met earlier in his career at the Inn at Spry Point in P.E.I. When Lamers sources ingredients to
develop his menus for Food Day Canada he includes the contacts for each farmer and local supplier. He believes it’s important to build relationships with local farmers and producers, as it makes cooking exciting. “When a farmer calls and says ‘I have six pounds of the first of the season’s asparagus,’ it feels like winning the lottery, and you only get that opportunity if a relationship has already been established. One supplier we have used for seven years is Loco Fields. Mindy Griffiths was a server at a restaurant where I previously worked and when I heard that she and her partner Ryan Bergman were beginning to develop an organic farm, I was the first chef to purchase produce from them. It has been an amazing relationship. Not only do they have some of the best produce, but also they will grow vegetables just for us, and will store produce for us throughout the winter. Andrew and Paige at Sungold Organics are two other farmers we started supporting this past year and they also do an amazing job. Their flowering broccoli is a favourite of ours. Little Sisters Chicken is a new supplier for us and their GMO/antibiotics-free, pasture-raised chickens are now a menu staple. I believe that the better the ingredients, the easier my job is as a chef. FDC is important as it helps brings awareness to shopping locally.” As a result, Chef Lamers hopes shoppers will become more selective when they go to the store or farmers’ market and consider purchasing local first, and sourcing ingredients that support the farmers and all the people that bring local food directly to you. For three consecutive years Chef Lamers and Abruzzi Restaurant have won the University of Guelph’s Food Day Canada Good Food Innovation Silver Award.
Woodstock’s Chef Eric Boyar of Sixthirtynine is a proponent of and participant in Food Day Canada. Boyar’s culinary repertoire, rooted in classical French technique, was developed in such Toronto hotspots as Splendido, Mistura, Goldfish and the Metropolitan Hotel. More recently chef has completed stages at Nightingale and Hawksworth in Vancouver. Chef and his wife Jennifer returned to Woodstock in 2005, and opened sixthirtynine with his mother Pauline Bucek. Pauline and Jennifer are hands-on partners and work front of house. Boyar delivers a homegrown Oxford County from-scratch farm-to-table experience and is among the leading-edge Canadian chefs showcasing distinctive regional cooking while safeguarding rural knowledge and its wisdom, as well as its farming and culinary traditions. Dedicated to building and nurturing strong personal relationships with farmers and producers, Boyar travels straight to the source to procure items for his Oxford County driven menus.
Food Day Canada will be held this year on Saturday, August 3, 2018. It is an opportunity for Canadians coast to coast to coast, to come together in a national collective celebration to showcase our time-honoured culinary traditions and the rich culinary heritage. The goal as stated by Food Day Canada, “is primarily for celebrating, appreciating, and supporting local farmers, fishers, food producers, chefs and researchers and, above all, our home cook.”
Photos courtesy of Lavery Culinary Group.
A Conversation with Anita Stewart
What does being the first-ever food laureate at the University of Guelph mean to you, and what responsibility do you feel that it entails?
Anita Stewart (AS): Firstly, it’s an honour to hold the title. The responsibility to tell the University’s story in the larger Canadian context is very real. No matter where a person eats, there’s a U of G food story nearby, whether it’s that honey you like on your buttered toast, or the ketchup on your grilled sausage.
Can you tell us about the Culinary Archives at Guelph University and how the McLaughlin Library Canadian Culinary Arts Collection came to be?
AS: The Culinary Archives really began with an enormous donation of cookbooks from the late Una Abrahamson who was once a food editor. She was a serious collector and some of her books are irreplaceable. That was the foundation, but since then other food writers/scholars have donated their archives, letters and cookbooks… hundreds of them. They are an incredible resource for anyone studying food/agriculture/cultural history.
What role did you play as culinary advisor to the Governor General?
AS: We developed The Nation’s Table Awards a few years ago when Michaëlle Jean and Jean-Daniel Lafond were at Rideau Hall. Only one set of awards was presented before Their Excellencies returned to private life and since then no one has picked up the challenge. Pity!
Despite your many contributions to the Canadian culinary culture and narrative, were you surprised to be named to the Order of Canada in 2012?
AS: Absolutely! I felt like I needed to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was amazing, and to be in the company of some of the others, who I admire so much, like Paul Martin and Scotty Bowman and Eric Peterson, was absolutely incredible.
How would you like to see Food Day Canada evolve in the future?
AS: I’d like it to be more inclusive. Our chefs are brand advocates for local ingredients and I know that Canada is already celebrating them on that weekend since the harvest is in everywhere.
What do you think is the best way for people to understand and articulate the concept of a Canadian cuisine?
AS: It begins in the farms, forests and oceans and ends on our tables when we use these ingredients in our own special fashion … be it an Italian pasta or Indian dhal or good old-fashioned British roast beef.
After authoring numerous cookbooks, do you have something new on the horizon?
AS: On May 16 we are heading to the Beard House to cook in Manhattan. That’s taking up a lot of my energy. Mind you, I’m always dreaming.
This is Food Day’s 15th anniversary … you’ll remember it began in 2003 with the World’s Longest Barbecue. So this year it’ll be a reunion of sorts and an anniversary party.