Interview By Everett Potter
On July 30, 2011, chefs, farmers and backyard barbecue fans will celebrate Canada’s bounty by cooking, eating and raising a glass at Food Day Canada. This is a nationwide event that was created by culinary activist, educator, and writer Anita Stewart. For more than 25 years, Stewart has been a tireless speaker and advocate for Canadian farmers, fishermen, chefs and restaurants. In her 14 books, she’s tapped into the culinary history of this vast country, from the French cuisine in rural Quebec and the food of First Nations’ communities to chic restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto. Long before the term “locavore” was in vogue, Stewart was all about local, regional and seasonal. As Food Day Canada approaches, she took a few minutes to talk about the big day and her work.
Everett Potter: Anita, what will happen on Food Day Canada ?
Anita Stewart: It’s the largest locavore celebration in Canadian history. It’s a big, continent-wide party that is driven by the participation of an invited community of great chefs. Many of them are the innovators and opinion leaders, the food voices that make a difference. In most cities I have the A list restaurants. Others are not famous nor renowned but are deeply committed to their regional community of producers. On Saturday, July 30th, they virtually join hands, cook Canadian, and tell the world. The menus are posted at www.fooddaycanada.ca .
There’s also a public component. After all, public involvement is where it began with the World’s Longest Barbecue, which I organized in 2003. Over the years, the menus have been posted from the high Arctic to B.C. Gulf Islands to rural Atlantic Canada. You know I like to say that there’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and Valentine’s Day, they are all about the eaters. Food Day Canada is about the producers and the ingredients and the chefs, a real time for them to strut their stuff.
EP: Give us an idea of the kinds of events that will occur on Food Day Canada.
AS: Events are just now being developed but I do know for sure that the chefs of St John’s Newfoundland will greet the sunrise on Signal Hill at 5:37 a.m. Signal Hill is one of Canada’s National Historic Sites, the reception point of the first transatlantic wireless signal by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901. So the chefs, lead by Roary MacPherson a born and bred islander, will kicking off Food Day Canada before heading back to the Sheraton St. John’s to serve forth a typical Newfoundland breakfast complete with salt fish and baked beans and scrunchions.They are donating most of the $10 cost to the St. John’s food bank. Then Food Day Canada follows the sun with restaurant events all across the nation and finally ending at The Wickaninnish Inn with a Dungeness crab boil on Chesterman Beach in Tofino. (FYI…The Wick, has just been named as the #1 Top Resort in Canada, #1 overall top Accommodation property in Canada and the Inn’s Ancient Cedars Spa was also voted the#1 Best Hotel Spa in Canada and #3 Best Hotel Spa in the USA and Canada in the 2011 Travel + Leisure Magazine’s World’s Best Awards.) There will be food events at a dozen or so of our National Historic Sites as well, such as Fort Louisbourg in Nova Scotia.
EP: How many restaurants are participating and what are they doing for Food Day Canada?
AS: About 290 and I am still adding them so we are looking at 300. Even though I have been traveling and eating my way around Canada for three decades, a lot has changed. We have an incredibly dynamic food community. I have asked them to do what they”re most comfortable with, from a small prix fixe to a longer menu in honor of Food Day Canada. Some are student run, like at Benchmark at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara, where the food is paired with the medal winning wines, which are also produced by students. There will be an amazing picnic on the rocky headlands of Ferryland lighthouse which, by the way, is the most easterly point where there’s foodservice in Canada.
EP: How aware are Canadians — and Americans, for that matter — of Canada’s bounty and abundance?
For both Canada and the U.S., food is so elemental that’s it’s been traditionally taken for granted. However, the good news is that times are changing and we are wisely exploring our own food sheds. We wonder, we question. Suffice it to say that we’re getting there. But we have a long, long way to go. And this is the journey that I want to encourage and perhaps, for a while yet, lead.
Visit Food Day Canada