Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 21, 2017
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A taste of the nation

Bone marrow on toast, cupcakes gone classy — what will Canadian foodies think of next?

Ask for a definition of Canadian food, and you'll get a lot of different answers depending on who you're talking to and where you're standing. In this vast territory, cuisines vary from region to region, and from season to season. While some preferences can be traced back to practices of First Nations people and early pioneers, Canada's rich multiculturalism also influences the culinary landscape, as the country adopts faraway flavours as its own.

A survey of recent food trends shows Canadians to be very much on the cutting edge. From boutique bakeries in big cities to farmhouse cheeses in rural settings, we seem to have one foot in the Old World and the other in the new.

Crazy for Cupcakes
Follow the trail of crumbs to the many cute and kitschy boutique bakeries popping up across the country. Canada's new crop of cupcake emporiums usually share a few things in common: an appealing retro aesthetic, a management team of young, hip women and an array of irresistible, adorable treats topped with luscious icing, sprinkles and sparkles. Most shops also offer cupcake creations as an alternative to the traditional wedding cake. If this sounds like a recipe for success, it is.

The three sisters who run Crave Cookies and Cupcakes (1107 Kensington Road NW, Calgary; tel: 403-270-2728; www.cravecookies.com) in Calgary were inspired by watching their mother in the kitchen while growing up on a farm near High River, Alberta. Their shop features voluptuous creations like Va Va Vanilla — a vanilla cake topped with pink vanilla buttercream and pink sparkles, and the Dirty Blonde, which has a golden base with chocolate butter cream icing on top. The Cupcake Shoppe (2417 Yonge Street, Toronto; tel: 416-322-6648; www.thecup cakeshoppe.ca) is often credited with sweetening the market in Toronto. It takes the nut-free route, combining chocolate-buttermilk cake with chocolate buttercream in the "James Brown" and adding a swirl of maple buttercream to vanilla cake in the "All-Canadian Eh?"

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Heather White and Lori Kliman of Cupcakes (1116 Denman Street, Vancouver; tel: 604-974-1300; www.cupcakesonline.com) whip up the raspberry-infused chocolate Denman and the Kookoo, topped with shredded coconut, along with a few seasonal treats, like a cupcake made with pumpkin and cream cheese.

Back to the Bone
The title of Jennifer McLagan's wildly successful new cookbook says it all. Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore (Morrow, 2005) is a celebration of back-to-basics meat on the bone in all its glorious forms. Amid recipes for beef, veal, pork, lamb, poultry, fish and game, the Toronto food stylist and writer bemoans the rise of the boneless chicken breast and frozen fish filet, sings the praises of roasted bone marrow scooped out and spread onto toast, and encourages cooks to slow down and think about the ingredients they are using in order to better respect meat and where it comes from.

Echoing this culinary consciousness, new restaurants across the nation have been bringing the pleasures of a bold bistro classic back to the table. In Toronto, stylish bistro and bakery Thuet (609 King Street West, Toronto: tel: 416-603-2777; www.thuet.ca) won accolades when it paired unctuous Kobe beef marrow with warm truffle vinaigrette. In Montreal, roasted bone marrow, oysters and other sinfully good things are mainstays at Joe Beef (2491 Notre-Dame Street West, Montreal; tel: 514-935-6504), a low-key project for chefs David McMillan and Fred Morin, that has become the darling of the city's dining scene. The Rosemeade Dining Room (429 Lampson Street, Victoria; tel: 250-412-7673; www.englishinnresort.com), a glamorous eatery located at the English Inn and Resort in Victoria, brings together Alaskan scallops with bone marrow and veal jus, alongside dandelion greens and a fennel purée for an utterly inspired indulgence.

Viable Vineyards
When Ottawa-born actor-comedian Dan Ackroyd invested over $1 million in Niagara Cellars a few months ago, local wine aficionados didn't need him to confirm that Canadian-grown grapes deserve more attention. Canadian vineyards are turning out not just ice wines and dessert wines, but fine table wines as well, and the boutique wineries of the Niagara region are a case in point.

Malivoire (4260 King Street East, Beamsville; tel: 866-644-2244; www.mali voire.com), on the Beamsville Bench of the Niagara Peninsula, is a largely organic, gravity-driven winery. It makes use of the natural inclines of the property, so that gravitational forces do some of the work in moving the wine along the process from crushing to bottling, thus reducing the need for mechanical intervention. In addition, Malivoire's goal is to be pesticide and herbicide free, and the 2004 vintage from its Moira estate was the first of its wines to be certified organic. Its Gewürtztraminer and Gamay are standouts.

Nearby Thirteenth Street Winery (3983 13th Street, Jordan Station; tel: 905-562-9463; www.13thstreetwines.com) is a cooperative that specializes in small lots of estate-grown and handcrafted wines under the labels, Sandstone, 13th Street and Funk Vineyards, this last with a well-received Reisling. This is boutique wine in the truest sense; production can be as low as 3000 cases a year. Grapes are hand-picked, and the winery relies on cold processing and small-lot fermentation to yield its trademark varietal intensity and silky mouth-feel. The personalized process also helps to minimize the amount of additives normally employed to stabilize wines.

 

The same commitment to small-scale, eco-conscious production can be found on the West Coast, where the first certified organic vineyards appeared almost 10 years ago. Lotusland (28450 King Road, Abbotsford; tel: 604-857-4188; www.lotuslandvineyards.com) is an upstart operation in the Fraser Valley that so far is producing Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Noir and Merlot in limited availability.

The Big Cheese
Fine fromage is no longer the domain of France, and Canadian cows are out to prove it. Since 1998, the dairy industry's bi-annual Grand Prix of Cheese has been raising the profile of homegrown products. Its most recent event, which took place in the spring of 2006, boasted a record number of entries: almost 200 different cow-milk cheeses for judges to evaluate based on taste, colour, texture, body, firmness, general appearance and salt content.

Taking the top prize was La Sauvagine, a rich and creamy washed-rind cheese from La Fromagerie Alexis de Portneuf (70 St-Jacques Avenue, Saint-Raymond de Portneuf; tel: 866-901-3312; www.alexis deportneuf.com), a small-scale producer owned by cheese giant Saputo. It's not the first time a Quebec outfit earned grand champion status, which makes sense given the province's long and impressive history of artisanal cheese production.

Not to be outdone, entries from the Prairies and the Maritimes also earned the nod. Sylvan Star (RR1, Red Deer; tel: 403-340-1560), a low-key operation in Red Deer, Alberta, was honoured for its Dutch-inspired, extra-aged and smoked goudas. A firm gouda from Nova Scotia's That Dutchman's Farm (RR1 Upper Economy, Nova Scotia; tel: 902-647-2751; www.denhoek.ca), run by self-described "back-to-the-landers" Maja and Willem van den Hoek, was also awarded top marks. These cheeses can look forward to wider distribution in the future, thanks to the increasing number of specialty cheese shops that are making these items available to more consumers.

The Spicier Route
These days the traditional 12-spot spice rack can't hold what's needed for the variety of cuisines whipped up in many home kitchens. Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme share shelf space next to star anise, vanilla pods and other indigenous spices from all over the map. Whole spices can be sought out at ethnic grocery stores, but new specialty shops have arisen to meet demand.

Modern-day spice merchant Philippe de Vienne and his wife Ethné circle the globe in search of authentic ingredients, such as pasilla chilies from Oaxaca, nutmeg from Grenada and Lucknow fennel. His metal tins of "grand cru" spices share space with olive oils at Olives et Épices (7070 Henri-Julien Street, Montreal; tel: 514-271-0001) in Montreal's bustling Jean-Talon Market. In Toronto, a love of cuisine led Allison Johnston and Neil Bougourd to open a specialty organic spice shop called The Spice Trader (805 Queen Street West, Toronto; tel: 647-430-7085; www.thespice trader.ca). The list of seasonings on sale runs through the letters of the alphabet: ground annatto seed, galangal root powder, pink rose petals and ras el hanout — a Moroccan blend that's often believed to be an aphrodisiac.

These specialty shops also sell grinders for those committed to roasting and grinding their own cumin, fenugreek seeds, saffron, cinnamon, peppers, chilies and cardamom. Converts claim that once you start grinding your own, you'll never want pre-packaged spices again.

Chefs who Care
With obesity rates on the rise, soft-drink vending machines around every corner and processed foods taking over school cafeterias, concerns about healthy eating among children have caught the attention of more than a few celebrity cooks. Alice Waters, doyenne of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, was already famous for collaborating with nearby organic farms when she launched a project called The Edible Schoolyard, which allows students to earn credits for making healthy lunches in a kitchen classroom.

In the United Kingdom, Naked Chef Jamie Oliver recently pressured the government to earmark more funding for healthy eating among youth and set up a program to train disadvantaged youth in professional cooking practices.

That all means that Canadian chef-turned-culinary arts instructor Paul Finkelstein is in good international company on his crusade to save the school lunch. Proposing an alternative to corporate cafeteria fare, he set up the Screaming Avocado Café at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School in Ontario last year, offering students opportunities to prepare nutritious, gourmet meals like Moroccan braised lamb, frog legs and salads made with fresh organic produce. The initiative has earned the support of the Slow Food movement and well-known Toronto-area restaurateurs Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander. It is breaking ground for other schools across Canada that are seeking alternatives to junk food on campus.

Meanwhile in Montreal, former restaurateur and instructor at the Institut de tourisme et d'hôtellerie du Québec, Jean-Louis Thémis, has focused his sights further afield. Inspired by Doctors Without Borders, he launched Chefs Without Borders, a non-profit organization aimed at teaching poor and disadvantaged people in developing countries basic kitchen techniques. The first project of Cuisiniers Sans Frontières was launched in July 2006 in his native Madagascar, where he recruited participants from the street and paid them $1 a day to attend 350 hours of classes, with the goal of helping them find work in the restaurant, hotel or tourism industry.

 

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