Karen Gelbart, co-chair of the Taste Canada Awards, speaks about the upcoming Awards Gala taking place in Toronto.
Foodserviceworld: Next month the 15th Annual Taste Canada Awards Gala will take place in Toronto at the Arcadian Court. Tell us a little about this event and what it entails? This program is the only one recognizing food writing. How did this originate?
Karen Gelbert: The Taste Canada Awards is a yearly event that recognizes excellence in food and beverage writing and publishing. When we give out the awards on November 5th, we will be completing a cycle that starts in January with the call for submissions and continues through the year, with the selection of volunteer committees, the submission of the books by publishers, and a massive amount of work by our judges and coordinators who read all the books and test a variety of recipes. A total of 24 culinary professionals from across Canada serve on our committees.
The awards originated – as the Canadian Culinary Book Awards – 15 years ago as a project championed by Jo Marie Powers and administered through a partnership between Cuisine Canada and the University of Guelph.The University Library remains as a partner.
FW: You and Michael Bonacini will be chairing this year’s event and it’s now being held at the Arcadian Court. How many people are expected to attend the gala this year?
KG: We’re hoping for a big crowd, several hundred people authors, chefs, publishers – all the “big mouths” in the industry.
FW: Karen, with your background as a champion of the industry having launched the Food Network 10 years ago, how do you feel about the evolution of this program and the reverence food now has in society.
KG: There’s no question about the increasingly powerful role that food now plays in our culture. It’s not only because of the Food Network; it’s also because of the growing awareness that eating right can lead to better health, cooking at home can save us money, and the family dinner is a powerful ritual – not to mention all of the Canadian suppliers across the country: the farmers and producers who grow great products that are becoming more and more available in our markets.
FW: There’s a collaborative effort in how this event is produced. Can you tell us a little about the players involved?
KG: Our awards are managed by a core team of seven: Karen Baxter (project manager); Debby de Groot (publicist); Maureen O’Connor (Chair, English-Language Committees); Jean-François Lacroix, (Chair French-Language Books); Charmian Christie (Webmaster); Sabrina Falone (Stage Manager of our student competition, Taste Canada Cooks the Books); and myself as National Chair.
FW: Is this event promoted to the trade and consumers alike?
KG: We reach out to everyone we can think of to make them aware of Taste Canada. The event deserves more visibility. Cuisine Canada started the book awards component many years ago.
FW: The program has evolved in recent years to encompass more than just cookbooks, but food writing. With the growing popularity of cookbooks and books about food, how many books are being featured and awarded this year. Has that grown in recent years?
KG: This year we had 73 submitted books, which is a fairly typical number, 29 of which were in French.
FW: How many categories do you award?
KG: We have four categories in English and the same four in French. They are: Culinary Narratives; Regional/Cultural Cookbooks; Single-Subject Cookbooks and General Cookbooks.
FW: Which chefs are up for awards this year?
KG: There are four TV chefs: David Rocco; Michael Smith; Stefano Faita and Josée di Stasio, and many other chefs who toil in restaurants or in their own businesses.
FW: It used to be that cookbooks were written by cookbook authors. Today, many chefs are launching cookbooks and revealing their trade secrets for home cooks. Does this surprise you? What do you think motivated this phenomenon?
KG: Chefs are the new rock stars and books are their brand extensions. We want to cook like them and be like them. But it wasn’t always so. The professional kitchen used to be the “inner sanctum” of chefs, penetrated by very few of us mere mortals. Television really broke down those barriers and showed us that great food is for everyone.
FW: Do such cookbooks create more interest in the restaurant the chef works in, and in the restaurant industry at large?
KG: The growing popularity of chefs, cookbooks, and food writing is good for all parts of the industry: for restaurants, for bookstores, for cookware retailers, for manufacturers, for suppliers, for broadcasters, newspapers, magazines – we all win.
FW: What do you think makes a great cookbook?
KG: Great recipes; great writing, great presentation. But you also need to ask, is this unique in the marketplace?
FW In terms of the event, Canadian food will be the core of the Gala Reception – a celebration of our own agricultural resources – From Field to Table through Cook Books. Do you think we have a distinctive Canadian cuisine? How would you define Canadian cuisine?
KG: Ah, the million dollar question. People have been asking me this for more than a decade. My answer: fresh food made with regional and seasonal ingredients and defined by diversity (like so much of Canada). This would include: a pie made with Ontario peaches, planked BC salmon, lake-caught pickerel, fiddleheads, bison and….Nanaimo bars!
If you’re interested in attending Taste Canada, visit tastecanada.org/awards.
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