TORONTO - Hundreds of chefs and home cooks across the country are expected to showcase Canuck ingredients this Saturday as they celebrate Food Day Canada.
The event, which food writer Anita Stewart started nine years ago as a reaction to the BSE crisis, is set to feature 275 restaurants serving up menus with a distinct Canadian flavour.
"They know the ingredients that they're using, they know their suppliers and whatever they do is fine by me as long as we have one day that Canadians cannot ignore the fact that we've got marvellous ingredients here and some of the top culinary talent on the planet," said Stewart, author or co-author of 14 books.
"When we started to write about Canadian cuisine it was an oxymoron and restaurants were judging themselves as fabulous by how much they could bring from how far away and now it's exactly the opposite."
This weekend's celebration, said Stewart, won't be confined to restaurants. She's also urging participants to create their own spreads from produce bought at a roadside stand or farmers' market. Such meals don't have to be served in traditional environs, adds Stewart, suggesting they could be cooked over a campfire, or served at a potluck in a park.
Menus and stories can be posted on the Food Day Canada website.
Many professional chefs, meanwhile, have plans of their own.
Chef Steve Watson of Central Dairy in St. John's, N.L., expects to welcome Food Day Canada at midnight Friday from Signal Hill in his role as Town Crier for Mount Pearl, southwest of St. John's.
Stewart plans to be in Prince Edward Island with chef Michael Smith, host of the Food Network Canada shows "Chef Abroad" and "Chef at Home," and the winners of Love Your Lentils Canada, a contest sponsored by Food Day Canada and Canadian Lentils. Canadians were given the opportunity to vote online for their favourite lentil recipes created by 25 Canadian chefs.
Chef Norman Aitken from Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar in Ottawa was singled out for his lentil wild mushroom ravioli while chef Charles Part from Les Fougères in Chelsea, Que., was recognized for a beluga lentil burger. Vanessa Leggett of Mississauga, Ont., won a random draw and will join the culinary adventure.
"We'll be touring Prince Edward Island with Michael, foraging and gathering ingredients, and then we'll be cooking a meal, a Food Day Canada celebration, on the dock at The Inn at Bay Fortune," said Stewart, who was named a Member of the Order of Canada in the spring for her contributions as a journalist, author and culinary activist.
The Food Day Canada interactive website features a map with the locations of farmers markets and Food Day restaurants across the country. People can pin the location of their own event on it as well as post their menus or describe their Food Day plans.
The University of Guelph, which houses the largest Canadian cookbook collection, will present an award for the most innovative menu based on Canadian ingredients.
Food Day Canada, originally called The World's Longest Barbecue, was launched by Stewart during the height of the BSE crisis in 2003, when Canadian beef exports were sanctioned after mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, was discovered in Alberta and threatened the livelihood of Canada's beef producers. She encouraged colleagues and home cooks across the country to barbecue Canadian beef at 6 p.m. in their time zone.
The time element has been removed, but Stewart still asks Canadians to celebrate the producers of Canada on the same day across the country.
"Every year until 2010 I did basically the same thing and it was publicly driven," Stewart explained in a telephone interview from Elora, Ont. "It had very little restaurant participation and then I started to realize I've got this huge resource of restaurants and chefs that I know. Why not tap into that?"
Now she has endorsed restaurants from such far-flung locations as Tofino, B.C., home of the Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn on the Pacific Ocean, the most westerly participant, to Lighthouse Picnics in Ferryland, N.L., Food Day's most easterly participant, and four northern locations in Yukon.
"The pendulum has swung so dramatically in the way of regional local food that people are really excited about what they can do and it's a way of differentiating themselves from everywhere else," she said.
"It gives the restaurant goer an opportunity to get a sense of place and that to me is what it's all about."
For more information, visit fooddaycanada.ca.