HE EDITORIAL TEAM always has a good deal of fun debating potential themes for our annual cooking issues, as the heated back-and-forth usually unfolds over a long lunch in our boardroom (the back snug at P.J. O’Brien’s Irish Pub). But this year, no such luck: we had the concept settled and agreed upon before our opening round was half-downed. There was nothing to debate: Canada’s 150th anniversary necessitated that we shine a spotlight on Canadian cooking, simple as that.
Clearly the best way to do that was to focus on the best local ingredients. For these are the building blocks of regional cuisine everywhere, and the main thing that keeps cooking different from one place to another despite the homogenizing influence of social media (see our story on the influence of Instagram on page 36).
So to begin, we asked some of our best chefs to identify their favourite Canadian ingredients—the products that above all others made them happy to be cooking in Canada. Then we asked them to showcase those products with new recipes, and tell us the stories behind them.
Naturally, some chefs had trouble deciding what to run with. For example, consider the inimitable Jeremy Charles, of Raymonds, who spearheaded the unexpected culinary awakening of St. John’s on the strength of wild, local products. Torn between cod and moose, he asked us what we preferred.
As it happened, Newfoundland chef Murray McDonald (then at Fogo Island Inn, now at Cluny Bistro in Toronto) gave us a beautiful recipe for a modern pease pudding and cod for our recipe issue in 2015. And this summer, The New York Times ran a travel section opener on the new Newfoundland cuisine, titled “Moose, anyone?” because it featured chef Charles’ moose carpaccio. So we went with the flow—and took it further. So, on page 76 you will find the recipe for chef Charles’ spectacular moose heart tartare—along with the story of the pre-seasoned edition that a bald eagle made away with last year.
If you are vegetarian, you should probably turn instead to page 92, for a recipe for saskatoon berry ice cream with fermented oats and salted plum from the inspired chef Jason Carter of Dandylion (Toronto). Elsewhere, John Winter Russell (Candide, Montreal) took on his favourite vegetable, the humble carrot, and paired it with smoked goose. Julie Marteleira (Leña, Toronto) served up her favourite Canadian seafood, spot prawns. Other great chefs applied their considerable expertise to everything from Quebec’s legendary St-Canut suckling pig, B.C.’s treasured matsutake mushrooms, P.E.I.’s Colville Bay oysters, Pacific ocean perch, Alberta hogget and Ontario-grown agretti (saltwort). We think it is an exciting sampling of what we do best right now.
Meanwhile, you cannot have a discussion about contemporary Canadian fine dining without the conversation coming around at some point to one great restaurant that has been promoting and elevating that cause, reinterpreting and modernizing our best regional styles, and showcasing our great products both wild and cultivated for 22 years. I am of course speaking of Canoe.
And there—at the top of downtown Toronto’s TD Centre, overlooking Lake Ontario—is where we shot our main feature, a spectacular feast of Canadiana prepared by some heroic Canoe chefs past and present (thank you Anthony Walsh, John Horne, Paul Brans and Ron McKinlay). We asked them to prepare their idea of the ultimate Canadian feast and they exceeded that mandate so thoroughly that we could have filled the entire magazine with it—but instead, we settled for a cover and a six-page spread.
We hope you find those pages as dazzling as we do—along with the rest of the magazine, which has an entirely new look courtesy of our terrific new design team, art director Eng C. Lau and associate art director Robin Dickie. We are very happy to have them on-board, and looking forward to working with them—and lunching with them— as we finalize plans for our 2018 ranking issue, coming in March.
Until then, happy cooking.
Follow Jacob on @JacobRichler