This past week, Toronto was home to Terroir, a multi-day gathering of many of Canada’s top chefs and culinary decision makers, as well as international guest chefs who are rallying behind the Canadian food scene. There was representation from coast to coast, including industry leaders such as Robert Belcham (Campagnolo – Vancouver), John Jackson & Connie DeSousa (Charcut – Calgary), Dale Mackay (Aiden – Saskatoon), Jeremy Charles (Raymonds – Newfoundland), plus many, many more. Even international heavy weights Daniel Boulud and David Chang played key roles in the events and discussions in this brain trust of culinary talent.
The purpose of Terroir was to provide an opportunity for learning and collaboration, as there are few events in Canada that bring together this much talent and influence in one place. With a day full of guest speakers (think Ted Talk), plus a myriad of side events, dinners and unofficial networking, Terroir creates action and plans that have the ability to shape Canadian culinary culture now and into the future.
One key phrase that I heard repeatedly was “a rising tide raises all boats”, and Toronto icon Peter Oliver stressed that we need to focus on collaboration, not competition as the importance of nurturing a Canadian food community is vital to the success of the industry on an international stage.
There was a consensus amongst most attendees I spoke with – chefs, farmers, artisans, winemakers, distillers, etc. that everyone involved in the industry needs to work together if Canada is to have a defined food culture that can be marketed internationally (or even locally) to inspire people to visit. While poutine, smoked salmon and maple syrup will always have their honorary places in our repertoire, it is the incredible ethnic diversity coupled with access to some of the best regional, farm fresh products in the world that will help to set Canada apart from other culinary destinations with a unique blend of inspired farm to table cuisine and multi-national influences.
David Chang (of Momofuko fame) was quick to point out that Canada really needs someone to step up and lead the charge if Canada has any chance of winning a seat at the international culinary table. He was also quick to point out that Canada has a tendency to celebrate mediocrity using a comparison of the culinary scene to the Toronto Maple leafs, who have not won a title since the 1960’s but who still have many fans!
There were also repeated comments throughout the conference about the significant challenges in recruiting and training the next generation of Canadian chefs as they are the ones that are going to have to help define and implement a new found “sense of place” and celebration of Canadian cuisine. The loss of technical skills and training, coupled with the acceptance of mediocrity is leading to a generation of young cooks and chefs who pull their creative inspiration from Instagram, and whose primary focus is on landing their own TV show so they do not have to work in the kitchen any more.
The Canadian culinary scene is at a very exciting juncture with an opportunity to truly start to define and celebrate our incredible ethnic and regional diversities. This could lead to a culinary culture that will bring international attention and visitors from afar to come and experience what our amazing chefs are creating from coast to coast and maybe, just maybe, we will see a “Canadian Food” category in the James Beard awards or some of our best restaurants being recognized on the “best of” international award lists. But none of this is possible without collaboration and the formation of a Canadian culinary community where everyone works towards this common goal. We need to focus on excellence, and ensure our young chefs are motivated and skilled to lead this charge in the decade to come. Will Terroir be the catalyst for this? It has the potential to…but only time will tell!
While most of the conference was certainly a lot of fun, it was the interview with Joe Beef chefs David MacMillian & Frederic Morin from Montreal that certainly had everyone laughing!
Question – How would you like to die?
Answer – “Confited”
Question – You serve horse meat, a Canadian delicacy. What do you call it?
Answer – Race Track Tuna
Question – Best way to eat beaver?
Answer – Stuffed
Question – Worst thing you have ever eaten?
Answer – Harvey’s
Question – What city is better – Toronto or Montreal
Answer – Ottawa