Food industry symposium Forage explores evolving story of Canadian cuisine

A night you decide to dine out, you ponder what you’re in the mood for… Indian, Asian, Canadian—wait, Canadian? What’s that? To food writer Anita Stewart, who’s researched the topic for over 30 years, Canadian cuisine is not just fine dining in high-end, locally-focused restaurants, but also what you, the home cook, eat today.

Stewart joined chef Jeremy Charles in a panel discussion to kick off Forage, a two-day food tourism summit held last month in PEI. She’s witnessed an upsurge of creativity in Canadian cuisine recently, which she attributed to looking within our country for culinary inspiration. Charles, head chef at renowned restaurant Raymonds in St John’s, spoke of his own path to gaining confidence in cooking with local ingredients. Maximizing their use within such a short growing season remains a challenge. However, he rallied that with challenge comes creativity. For Charles, it’s about infusing a sense of place. “That’s why people come to the restaurant; to taste the lay of the land.”

Storytelling speaker Jordan Bowers, and Sally Bernard, co-owner of Barnyard Organics at the roving feast Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Highlighting growing creativity in Canadian cuisine, the symposium invited eight trendsetters to share their stories; most of whom were uncomfortable being identified as such. Yet, there’s no doubt Adam MacLean has a strong following, of sheep no less. The local shepherd-entrepreneur-scientist spoke passionately of regenerative agriculture, emphasizing that while animal agriculture contributes to climate change, through grazing and sequestering carbon in soil it can also help stabilize it. On the trend toward more plant-based diets, MacLean said, “Truthfully, I’m all for plant-based meats. My animals only eat plants.”

On the same day edible cannabis products became legal in Canada, Victoria Dekker of Organigram explained how the Moncton-based company is using the creativity of science to re-imagine edibles. Dekker attested that their premium cannabis-infused chocolates offer far more safety and consistency in experience than those brownies you may have tried at a party once when things got weird.

From getting-high-products to using by-products, Joel Albert of NorthTaste wants to do more with less. As CEO of his family business in up-cycled seafood by-products, Albert embraces the challenge to stay creative. From their beginnings making supplements for livestock, the company now offers natural lobster stock that can be used in soups, sauces, and eventually cocktails, while reducing lobster waste by-product by 46 percent.

Attendees work on their business ideas Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

Adorned in overalls—the only pants he wears—keynote speaker Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden spoke of pioneering sustainable agriculture. After his parents lost everything in a hailstorm in the 1980s, Jones returned to Ohio to help rebuild the family farm. Today, they grow specialty crops for top chefs, laying on the cutting edge of considering produce in entirely new ways. Tomatoes in champagne, anyone? With a research lab on-site, they’re perpetually learning how to maximize flavour while growing in full accord with nature.

Anita Stewart, chef Michael Smith, and chef Jeremy Charles discuss Canadian food Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

For Jones, social and sustainable purposes of agriculture are “the warm and fuzzies” everybody gets; less want to discuss the financial realities of running a viable farm. Given the bad chapter in his family’s story, Jones was adamant that farmers value their product and charge enough to stay in business.

Bad chapters or good, storytelling speaker Jordan Bowers said the best audience experiences convey emotion. He believes we’ve entered the identity economy, striving to define ourselves in changing narratives such as what it means to be a farmer today. For Bowers, storytelling is no longer about the nuts and bolts of where we came from, but about helping others identify where they want to go. Pausing within his talk to let out a squeal and shake off his nervous energy, Bowers recommended sharing your vulnerability in storytelling while also putting yourself in the audience’s shoes to understand how this shared vulnerability serves them.

Chef Jeremy Charles, Farmer Lee Jones, and Brian Inglis enjoy some food at the roving feast Photo credit: Cheryl Young/Salty

In the vein of helping others refine business ideas, day one of Forage concluded with an idea-sharing workshop before enjoying a roving feast at the Culinary Institute. Huddled around large pieces of paper with markers and pens in hand, culinary students, experienced chefs, local producers, and entrepreneurs gathered in small groups, laying ideas on the table like newly foraged ingredients and asking, what can we cook up with this?

About Tara Callaghan

Decisions are not Tara’s friend. For this reason her passion cannot be reduced to one subject. She has always needed to write, keeping a journal since she was in the single digits. Her career began studying ecology and creative writing. From there she went on to study Landscape Architecture, working professionally for the last 10 years. More recently she launched Little Victory Microfarms; a small farm in Charlottetown and New Glasgow, PEI. With her mother, they grow a wide variety of fresh herbs and vegetables for market and wholesale.
While continuing to feed her passions for designing landscapes and growing food, Tara also feeds her passion to write though an eclectic blog and articles for Salty.

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