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The 11th annual Terroir Symposium – Canada’s biggest celebration of the country’s gastronomy – brought together more than 1,000 chefs, writers, food industry and hospitality leaders for a one-day conference at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario. From seal meat tastings, to a story of procuring Arctic sea urchin for Kate and William, to Canadian sparkling rosé at the Shangri-La Hotel, the event was a delicious and importing networking event, attracting the movers and shakers of the hospitality industry from coast to coast.
The symposium was once again a great success, featuring an array of speakers on topics ranging from Indigenous chefs in fine dining to the science of bread and grain, to iconic Canadian foods, to the importance of mentorship for the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition.
Here are the top 10 things you need to know about Terroir 2017.
1. Turtle Island Corn
Canada, part of Turtle Island or North America, as it’s called by its Indigenous population, has its own nixtamalized and ground white corn tradition, similar to traditional lime-treated masa harina used for Mexican tortillas. Jennifer Dewasha, a member of the Wahta Mohawks First Nations, currently the Executive Chef of Colette Grand Café and formerly of DB Brasserie and Café Boulud, told the story of how the Mohawk people a higher protein version of corn that was less sweet than the yellow corn predominant eaten in North America today. The kernels were traditionally repeatedly boiled with hardwood ashes to remove their thick skins before being ground. Often eaten as a corn soup (like she served at her own wedding), it’s also commonly referred to as “mush” and eaten as a porridge, which she liked sweetened with local strawberries and maple syrup.
2. Barcoding Life
Canadian universities and research centres are at the forefront of agricultural development, producing high-demand varieties of fruits and vegetables, including potatoes (the Yukon Gold is a Canadian hybrid), haskap berries and even a strain of malting barley that kickstarted the country’s beer-brewing tradition. The Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding is a home of expertise in biodiversity science, with applications ranging from sequencing the DNA of heirloom wheats to helping create more delicious sour cherries.
3. Golden Opportunities: S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition
The future of the world-renowned Bocuse d’Or competition in Canada could be golden – if the country set up a mentorship program like in the US, said Relais & Chateau chef Normand Laprise of Toqué! restaurant in Montreal, himself a mentor in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition. In a discussion called “Youth, Mentorship and the Future of Food,” Laprise said, “The chef from the USA worked six months, five days a week doing the same dishes again and again.” To succeed, you need to have a strong base, he added, which includes both a knowledge of technique and an ability to delegate to your team. In the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition, he said, what surprised him most was the difference between a 24-year-old competitor and a 29-year-old competitor. “It’s about experience.”
4. A Gelateria in Manhattan and Staging Outside of Europe
No longer does staging necessarily mean spending time in a big kitchen in France, England or Spain. "Now, top toques are hiring young chefs who’ve had a broader experience, which includes understanding the importance of cooking locally and being exposed to different cooking techniques", says Daniel Burns, former chef of one-Michelin-Star Luksus in Brooklyn, former pastry chef at Noma and former head of R&D at Momofuku’s New York test kitchen.
“People have opened up to Mr. Redzepi squeezing some mangoes in Mexico,” he joked during a session about Canadian chefs working abroad. To him, Central and South American destinations are now welcome additions to a CV. He also snuck in a line about his future plans to next open a gelato shop in Manhattan. The question is: In terms of flavours, should we expect balsam fir or soursop?
5. Poutine Appropriation
While Canada is known for the dish of French fries, gravy and squeaky cheese curds, in the same session about Canadian chefs working abroad, James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and celebrity chef Hugh Acheson called out chefs outside of Canada tossing together beef brisket, cheddar cheese and sorry excuses for gravy and calling it poutine.
“Poutine shouldn’t be the outstretched arm of globalization. It’s usually made by a young chef who read about it somewhere and is doing a bad interpretation,” he said. “We got over fusion food. Wasabi mashed potatoes was the stupidest thing ever.”
6. Flavour, Nutrients and Fake Food
How dangerous is fake food? That was the question posed by author Mark Schatzker in a panel called “The Science of Flavour.” The author of The Dorito Effect joined Cambridge University PhD student and Nordic Food Lab alum Joshua Evans and Toronto master sommelier and writer John Szabo in a discussion on how the body is tricked into thinking it’s eating nutritional food, when it eats delicious junk food and what that means for our food choices – leaving the audience to ponder what that means with respect to everything from their afternoon snack to a fine dining modernist dinner.
7. Canada’s Top Products
Chefs throughout the day named their favourite well-known, underrated and up-and-coming Canadian ingredients, products and dishes (that weren’t poutine). These included moose, (sustainable) beluga whale, muskox (the chops of which can be as beautifully marbled as Kobe beef), sea urchin, Artic char, morel mushrooms, red dulse, caribou, and sparkling wine. Just because things like chanterelle mushrooms, char and truffles can be found in other places, doesn’t mean they’re not also Canadian, argued Edmonton-based Cree chef Shane Chartrand.
8. Bubbling Over with Potential
Canada is turning into an impressive producer of sparkling wine, thanks to its cool climate wine producing regions, said Toronto-based Master of Wine Eugene Mlynczyk. “Sparkling is as suitable as ice wine is in Canada,” he said during a wine tasting session featuring Blanc de Noirs, Brut Natures and rosés from Nova Scotia to Ontario to British Columbia, where some of the country’s top sommeliers sniffed, swirled and spit their way through an impressive new wave of Canadian bubbly.
9. The World’s Only Wild and Sustainable Caviar
The Canadian province of New Brunswick is the home of the world’s only wild and sustainable caviar, according to Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc. owner Cornel Ceapa. He produces both farmed and wild sturgeon caviar, selling the farmed eggs to eastern countries trying to repopulate sturgeon in the overfished Baltic Sea.
10. The Next Vacation Destination: Whisky Weekends in the Canadian Arctic
Fine Dining Lovers should have a new exotic locale on their bucket lists: The Yukon Territories. Whisky Weekends, an initiative by Air North, feature dogsledding, Aurora Borealis-viewing, a rustic dinner overlooking a frozen Arctic lake, elk from a local farm, some of Canada’s best whiskies and cocktails made with local bitters. The special event includes airfare from Vancouver to the Whitehorse, two nights’ accommodations at the Inn on the Lake and a whisky dinner as part of a twelve-hour dining experience.