The Local Food Movement is Inspiring Chefs to Look at Canadian Ingredients Differently



Canada’s bounty is an embarrassment of riches – from the “three sisters” of corn, beans and squash, which are the foundation of First Nations agriculture, and Prince Edward Island blueberries, to bison from the Great Plains and Red Fife wheat. But despite the prevalence of ingredients grown coast-to-coast, culinary activist Anita Stewart wrote in her book Canada: The Food, The Recipes, The Stories, Canadians face the “collective challenge” of building connections between producers and consumers, between urban and rural.

And whether chefs are following the 100-km diet or choosing to source ingredients within their own city, province or Canada as a whole, it’s clear the local-food movement is constantly changing. Jamie Kennedy, owner of Toronto-based Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, describes it as “a feeling, a consciousness, a crystallization that’s happening all over North America. He adds, “The local-food agenda is working against a very finely tuned global food-distribution system, and one that has been honed and entrenched since the world restructured and reorganized itself in the years after the Second World War.

But these days, ‘local’ is the buzzword in many restaurants. “Restaurants boast about being local, says Trevor Bird, chef-owner of Fable Kitchen in Vancouver. “It’s very nature-based, but it’s not a trend. It’s a way that people want to eat. They feel better about themselves.

Bird’s menu walks the talk. Fable Kitchen’s wild salmon dish with beets, a fennel confit, potatoes and dill yogurt ($24) uses fish caught weekly from runs in a number of B.C. rivers, which means selections can vary Ñ from spring salmon, to coho, to ivory. “The beets are cellared from local farms, usually Klippers Organics in Cawston or North Arm Farm in Pemberton, while the dill is grown in a greenhouse by Windset Farms in Delta, B.C., he says. For the tuna Niçoise salad ($22), he uses Pacific albacore tuna caught off the coast and pork cheek for the guanciale from Gelderman Farms of Abbotsford.

To continue the momentum of the local-food movement, it takes more than just an appreciation of the ingredient. Kristin Peters Snider, director of Operations at Calgary’s River Café says “You need a very creative chef who can take a humble ingredient (like a local turnip or carrot) and turn it into something delicious and menu-worthy. River Café, recognized as a pioneer in the local-food movement when it opened in 1991, was, along with Toronto’s Canoe restaurant, one of a few restaurants focused on Canadian regional, seasonal cuisine, according to Snider. The menu reflects the local terroir with items such as Olds, Alta.-based Kolb Farms’ bison hump rubaboo (a type of stew) with yellow-foot chanterelles, Saskatoon berries, foraged ramp, fried sage, Hakurei turnips and Poplar Bluff potato; and the Fish & Game Board featuring bison pemmican, smoked Steelhead trout, game terrine, wild boar prosciutto, house-cured salami and Albacore tuna rillette ($32).

But, according to Snider, chefs are combating rising food costs by moving away from primal cuts of meat, into secondary, less expensive cuts – such as pork and lamb belly, flat-iron beef and bison striploin – that require more imagination and culinary finesse. “In the case of our current menu, we’re serving a pork rib chop instead of, for example, pork loin; bison hump instead of bison tenderloin.

River trout -which River Café serves with Great Northern white beans, smoked mussel vinaigrette, trout crackling and Sudo Farms butternut squash ($40) – bullberries, pulses and other raw ingredients that are grown in the west, she adds, can also generate a good return on investment.

When it comes to making purchasing decisions, Kennedy recognizes a disparity between how independent owner-operators – what he calls “fiefdoms of 10 to 12 employees –  and the larger institutions can adapt locally sourced foods to their menus. “That fiefdom can make those [local food] decisions. It’s much harder to do through the greater public sector, institutions and colleges. But, the question of whether or not local food can make money for a restaurant is not really the issue, Kennedy readily admits. “Quite honestly, at the end of the day, it’s not going to make too much difference to the bottom-line whether you source locally or whether you have a mixed bag.

Training and education are key components to the local-food movement and, for many, it starts with culinary students. At Holland College in P.E.I., which is home to the Culinary Institute of Canada, the curriculum explores the food history of regions across the continent and local products, ingredients and traditional dishes. At Ontario’s Stratford Chefs School, instructor Randi Rudner says the school addresses the themes of local food and sustainability over the course of the two-year program. “In a commodities course, we address how considerations of sustainability might affect purchasing decisions, Rudner says. “Each week, a group of students gives a presentation tangentially related to the course material, but focusing on the politics and ethical questions that arise. For example, when we studied eggs, the presentation examined the supply-management system that governs egg sales, and how that adversely affects small and niche suppliers.

It’s clear the discourse around the local-food movement is changing. A crop grown in a specific region of Canada can become a natural part of a menu and not a “political stand, says Kennedy. “It’s creating an economy where there wasn’t one before. That means money back into the local economy.

Volume 48, Number 2

Story By:  Andrew Coppolino   


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