It’s been ten years since the organization, Cuisine Canada, was founded in Montreal, Québec. A group of stubborn and dedicated food professionals collected to write the Charter and start an association which, over the ensuing years, has raised the consciousness of the regional foods of our nation. In September 2004, many of that same group gathered along with many new members, in Kelowna, British Columbia, to taste, listen, network and learn about one of the newest and richest culinary regions in Canada.
Few Canadians need an introduction to the stunning Okanagan climate; hot, dry and glorious in the summer with a vibrant wine scene and mild yet snowy enough in the winter for great skiing on the surrounding mountains.
Known originally for its tender fruit production, it is now one of Canada’s most successful viticulture areas with well over 50 wineries producing varietals from pinot gris to merlot. It is the birthplace of Canadian ice wine and is even growing some lusty, hot-blooded syrah.
Rewind the picture to the early 1990s. Canada was in a recession and in the restaurants of the nation, great food was judged by the distance it had traveled. Moving such mountains in the second largest nation on earth has been no easy task, particularly since there is not one national culinary publication. Even nations like Australia and New Zealand with their smaller population base have multitudinous food and wine magazines. Gastronomy, no matter where it flourishes on earth, all comes back to words and, till Cuisine Canada’s inception, our nation had few.
Northern Bounty, originally named by noted culinary historian and bibliographer, Elizabeth Driver, has moved back and forth across the nation from Vancouver to Halifax then to south-central Alberta, then back to Guelph, Ontario. The University of Guelph co-sponsors The Cuisine Canada Culinary Book Awards to honour the best in food books written by Canadian authors and published in Canada during the previous year. The awards dinner menu centres on dishes from the winning entries of the past year.
At each bi-annual conference, The Edna is bestowed, an award honouring a person from within the host region who has made an outstanding contribution to food in Canada. Last year’s winner was the irascible Vancouverite Mona Brun, journalist and raconteur.
Because it is so seldom that such a high-profile culinary group lands in any region, the Okanagan rolled out its wine-coloured carpet. Delegates were shuttled to Gellatly Nut Orchard, the ‘cradle of hardy nut-growing and breeding in North America’, onto a mountain side to forage for wild mushrooms and to a Slow Food Convivium leader’s fabulous B&B, JOIE Gastronomic Guesthouse and Farm Cooking School. With the full moon hanging over the valley, super-star Chef Michael Allemeier prepared one of the finest meals in Canadian culinary history.
But feeding the body went hand in hand with feeding the mind. Sessions ran the gamut from panels of risk communication (“Eating our words: Communications in Troubled Times”) to a discussion of the importance of local initiatives that can produce global results (‘The Flavour Economy’) with Dr Sinclair Philip, well-known Slow Foodist. Practical sessions featured a tasting of the finest Okanagan wines (“The Reign of Terroir”) and a lengthy discussion on alternate wine closures (‘Tainted Love’).
Northern Bounty 7 will be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 2006. For full details on membership in the organization and the Okanagan conference, log onto www.cuisinecanada.ca.
Gastronomer Anita Stewart is the Founder of Cuisine Canada and a Member of The Jury for the Slow Food Award for the Protection of Biodiversity.