This land was made for you and meeeeeeee: In defence of Canadian Cuisine

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Perhaps it’s due to having grown up in the capital, seeing the same iconic buildings over and over again desensitized me, but from my first visit to the Canadian West just before highschool, I’ve always felt as though the west is far more representative of the iconic Canada.

Was it the totem poles? We had one in Ottawa, in front of the Scouts Canada building. And there were some across the river in a museum. Surely it was the mountains. And the abundance of skiiers and snowboarders. The London Bridge tube station boasted large Ski Banff ads at the entrance of the Northern Line, which gave me a small sense of pride. The Lodgepole Pines or Alberta White Spruce might be what does it for me. The plaid shirts? The Moose?

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Calgary, to me, is a city of juxtapositions. Financially, it booms with the commerce of black gold, is the home constituency of our Conservative PM Harper, who incidentally, when I was in school, was tied with a group plotting to leave the country, similar to the more vocal strife of the Party Quebequois. There are a good deal of large, gas guzzling vehicles on the pro-car (ahem anti-pedestrian) infrastructure, plenty of privatization, right wing government. But while citizens are up-in-arms over the proposition of bike lanes, I see plenty of cyclists daily. Calgarians are great lovers of fish and seafood even though Alberta is land-locked and the province is known for its outstanding cattle. They also love Italian food and Tacos. Downtown is filled with art, maybe for the lack of an art gallery (okay, there is a small one), independent art stores are a regular sight, and they mayor is gay, muslim, and a lefty. He talks back on twitter and people love him for it.

Maybe Calgary is an excellent representation of Alberta, despite Edmonton being the capital, because geographically alberta is so varied, with its prairies, rocky mountains, foothills, and badlands. The demographic diversity here is reflective of the multicultural Canada. The US lives by a ‘melting pot’ rule, where dual citizenship is denied, the Canada I was taught about in school was about acceptance and diversity, a mosaic if you will.

Perhaps this is why it is appropriate that I’m employed at a fusion resto, a bilingual Ontarian with French culinary training working in an Asian influenced restaurant that pulls flavours from many cultures as well as local ingredients.

So when a “highly influencial” blogger from Vancouver, a city whose demographics are so varied that 52% of the population does not speak English as a first language (source: Wiki), balked at the diversity of the menu…

I stopped and thought about it.

Gorgon Ramsay has several general rules, outlined in Kitchen Nightmares, for running a successful restaurant. One is keep your menu to one page, the idea is that if you have a lot on your menu the likelyhood of making it all well plummets.

Another is to stick to one culture. But keep in mind, England is a bit more melt-potty than Canada. They are also really into classism. I feel as though the country prefers to, ahem, compartmentalize.  On the other hand, they serve curries in pubs. So technically, menus should have themes for coherence, boundaries if you will. Which I get, I totally get that concept.

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Canada, however, is the land of the free. From sea to sea.

And in Canada we don’t really have a lot of ‘Canadian’ restaurants. Because modern Canadian food is varied, influenced in part by the fact that only 32% of the population claim Canadian as their ethnic origin. And also the 9,984,670 square kilometres and the short growing season up here above the 49th parallel.

The point I’m trying to make here is that maybe in Canada, if the Chef knows flavours, it’s okay to serve pasta and tacos and tataki and tiramisu? Should it not be about GOOD FOOD rather than a category? I mean, if you CAN make good food Canadians like, who gives a shit?

TEQUI-LIME PIE

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Initially I think I was going to talk about food costs and politics and limes. But then I just got kinda pissed off and looked at my cowboy boots and thought about pine trees and the subject changed. But this dish still works, considering this is a mishmash of influences in a bowl.

I started with the idea of Key Lime Pie, something I’ve loved grudgingly for quite a while. When I discovered how it was made, condensed milk thickened with lime juice, I was bothered by the insistence that condensed milk be used, since I’m not one for highly processed ingredients. I wanted to make dish that was better than condensed milk, cause I’m a snob?

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Flash forward 4 years. I’m in England and it has just sunk in that posset is made with the same science, cream thickened with acid. I am determined to make this into a key lime pie. It takes me about a year, but it exists now.

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However, I decided to spice it up a bit with some multiculturalism, Canadianify it, eh?. Served frozen, I replaced the water in the meringue with Tequila, gave the limes a bit of kick with Thai chilli, and added coconut because a) it loves limes and b) we had some in the dry stores and I don’t like to be wasteful. I finished it with housemade graham crumbs and salted honey tuile. American-English-Mexican-Thai-Canadian.

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Fusion Confusion?

I haven’t heard any complaints, just that’s it’s fucking delicious. Maybe this is what we should strive for as Canadian chefs.

 

 

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