Chef Collaborations: The Source of Canadian Food Trends?
Sabotage, secrecy and tantrums -- that's what heats up when you put two chefs in a kitchen, or so the stereotype goes. But these days, cutting-edge Canadian chefs are willingly inviting their colleagues from near and far into their kitchens. More often than not, the results are fun and delicious and promote the kind of open discussion that sparks new and exciting food combinations.
Montréal en Lumière
Chef collaborations are a strong 14-year-old tradition at the Montréal en Lumière festival. Scores of chefs are invited each year from featured parts of the world and paired with the city's hometown chefs for a series of dinners that run in conjunction with arts and cultural events. The festival closes by kicking off Nuit Blanche.
West's guest chef series
Last autumn, Quang Dang, the executive chef at Vancouver's West Restaurant + Bar, invited three of the executive chefs he liked and respected from across Canada and the U.S. into his kitchen for his Guest Chefs Series. The dinners featured Jeremy Charles of Raymonds in St. John's, N.L. (whom Dang met at a Canadian Chefs' Congress in British Columbia), Marc Lepine of Ottawa's Atelier, who was crowned Canadian Culinary Champion at last year's Gold Medal Plates Finale, and Mourad Lahlou of Michelin-starred Aziza in San Francisco. "These chefs represent the next generation of culinary achievement across North America," says Dang. "They are truly some of the finest talents on the continent."
Charles' visit, aptly titled East Meets West, amounted to a truly cross-Canada experience, from the northern razor clam ceviche to the Atlantic cod from Burgeo with Newfoundland parsnips. "It was wonderful to see what Quang was doing on his end of the country," says Charles, adding that he enjoyed the opportunity to showcase Newfoundland ingredients to Vancouver diners.
Dang says that the dinner series was great for the cooks, who were excited to learn new techniques since different chefs have different styles of cooking. Dang plans to bring more chefs from across North America to West this year.
The Group of Seven Chefs
About two years ago, Scott Vivian, the executive chef at Toronto's Beast Restaurant, organized seven of his fellow colleagues to cook a dinner at Beast. "The whole point was to bring attention to the Toronto culinary scene," says Vivian.
They had so much fun working together, they decided to collaborate more often and formalized themselves into a company known as The Group of Seven Chefs. In March 2011, they created a sustainable-seafood menu in executive chef Matty Matheson's kitchen at Parts & Labour.
Their collaborative dinners were noticed as far away as New York City, where the group was asked to prepare a dinner at the James Beard House last September (the event sold out). Next, the chefs invited Rhode Island executive chef Matt Jennings to Toronto for a Dairy Dinner at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November. Now, Vivian is reaching out to chefs in Ottawa, Montreal and New England to form an even bigger group of collaborators with the working title of The Northern Alliance. "This group will come together to discuss new culinary concepts, host events and raise appreciation for fine cuisine," says Vivian.
Diners lucky enough to attend these events get exposure to fresh tastes from other cities, kind of like dinner-chair travelling. The rest of us might have to wait a bit longer for a taste, but any great new food trends that are born out of chef collaborations are sure to trickle down into local cafés, grocery stores and home kitchens soon enough.
The Group of Seven Chefs, from far left: Kevin McKenna, Mark Cutrara, Scott Vivian, Mark Dufour, Chris Brown, Bertrand Alépée, collaborator Nick Liu and Matty Matheson.
Photography, Mary Elizabeth Armstrong.