ELORA, Ont. — Canada’s food community was saddened and shocked last week to hear of the passing of Anita Stewart, who as a cookbook author, food advocate and founder of Food Day Canada, was a passionate and tireless champion of Canadian cuisine.
Stewart authored 14 books on the subject of Canadian cuisine and was a respected and leading authority on the subject. She was instrumental in launching Cuisine Canada in the early ’90s, at a time when local, regional cuisine was not de rigueur. Along with Jo Marie Powers, and as part of Cuisine Canada, she launched a national food conference called Northern Bounty, which legitimized Canadian cuisine. She worked closely with chefs, growers, fishers and suppliers to promote Canadian ingredients and dishes.
In 2003, Stewart founded Food Day Canada, a day-long celebration on the holiday long weekend in August, where she motivated Canadians to celebrate Canada’s rich bounty. The idea was fuelled by the ban on Canadian beef due to Mad Cow disease. In an effort to help struggling beef producers during this challenging time, Stewart organized the precursor to Food Day Canada, which was originally called “The World’s Longest Barbecue,” aimed at getting Canadians to use beef products.
In 2012, Stewart was appointed food laureate at the University of Guelph, with which she has had a long association. It was from that perch that she promoted the school’s culinary contributions from its hospitality and agricultural programs. Earlier this summer, the University announced it would be building a new $1.33 million food lab named after Stewart — the Anita Stewart Alumni Food Laboratory. In a press release issued by the university during the summer, Stewart was quoted as saying, “We will be able to bring many of Canada’s locally inspired chefs, including winners from the University of Guelph’s Food Innovation Awards, to campus to showcase their talents as well as the talents of our researchers. The broadcast capabilities are going to be phenomenal.”
While all the awards and distinctions she earned are too many to list, in 2009, Stewart was inducted as an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Federation of Chefs de Cuisine; last year Stewart was named as one of Canada’s national treasures by George Brown College and nine years ago, Stewart was named to the Order of Canada. In accepting that accolade, Stewart said “My goal is to continue to explore how U of G has set our national and international tables with both talent and ingredients. And, while I’m at it, I intend to recognize some very real culinary heroes whom all of Canada can celebrate.”
Last week, a day after her passing on October 29, Niagara Falls was lit up in red and white as a tribute to honour the Canadian icon. Since her passing, a who’s who of the foodservice community have spoken her praises, remembering an exceptional woman who mentored, advocated and educated so many. According to chef Michel Allemeier, quoted in a story by Dan Clapson on the website EatNorth.com, “I’ve matured and grown up with her. As far as my career is concerned, she has always been my north star,” said the chef, who met Stewart in the early 1990s at the Sooke Harbour House. “You could never have spent any time with Anita without becoming infected with her belief system,” he said.
David Garcelon, now GM at the Fairmont Banff Springs, but for many years an executive chef with Fairmont Hotels, was a good friend of Stewart’s during his tenure as chef. “No one had such a breadth of knowledge on the subject of Canadian cuisine,” said Garcelon. “She leaves us with a massive gap but thankfully her writing will always be with us.”
Stewart is survived by her four sons: Jeff, Brad, Mark and Paul, 12 grandchildren and the father of her children, Wayne Stewart. In lieu of flowers, donations would be appreciated to the “Anita Stewart Tribute Fund,” at the University of Guelph.