Has Canada Finally Made It on the Global Food Scene?
Last spring, Toronto hosted the seventh annual Terroir Symposium, which brings together Canada's best and brightest food pros and gives them the chance to mingle with international chefs from Restaurant magazine's World's 50 Best Restaurants list. It was the perfect place to ask experts if they think Canada has "made it" on the international food scene.
Terroir event director Arlene Stein says that visiting chefs with Michelin stars, such as Danish chef Rene Redzepi (whose restaurant Noma was once ranked number 1 in the world and currently sits at number 2) and Sweden's Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken, were duly impressed with the food at the conference and around Toronto.
Pictured above: Canadian chefs Connie DeSousa and Jeremy Charles prepare to wow the visiting chefs at this year's Terrior Symposium.
"We have a lot of well-trained and talented chefs in Canada who absolutely hold their own against some of the world's top culinary talents," says Stein, who thinks Canadians might have a hard time recognizing homegrown talent due to the country's lack of an established national-awards system, like the James Beard Foundation in the U.S. "We're a very large country with a spread-out population, so many chefs, especially those in smaller communities, are working in isolation."
All the more reason why events such as Terroir are needed to bring them together. This year's conference shone a spotlight on Calgary's Connie DeSousa (Charcut Roast House), St. John's, N.L.'s Jeremy Charles (Raymonds) and Montreal's Normand Laprise (Toqué!), plus dozens of chefs from Toronto's buzzy restaurant scene.
Montreal-based food writer and restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman agrees that Canadians aren't giving their culinary scene the recognition it deserves, citing Quebec chef Martin Juneau as an example -- he's often overlooked by press outside his province. The chefs themselves might also be a little too modest, she adds. At this year's Vegas Uncork'd, an annual mega-chef festival in Las Vegas, Chesterman observed a marked difference in attitude between Canadian cooks and their American or European counterparts. "We're not self-endorsing, and we're not putting ourselves up on a pedestal," she explains, adding that celebrity chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Gordon Ramsay aren't shy about putting their names on restaurants, something their "humble" Canuck counterparts seem reluctant to do.
Is it another case of waiting for the U.S. to toot our horn for us? You could argue that Chuck Hughes, Susur Lee and Rob Feenie -- already established and celebrated chefs -- didn't really become household names until they battled it out on Iron Chef America. Whether it's a reliable indicator of who's the "best" or not, the chefs we talk about most may reach us first via our eyes, not our stomachs; we look to the Food Network's star system to help us appreciate what's in our own backyard (here's lookin' at you, Mark McEwan, Michael Smith and Lynn Crawford).
Homegrown chefs are cooking up so many interesting things, from fine dining to casual concepts, according to expat Food Network host, author and chef Bob Blumer, who makes his living travelling the world eating at restaurants. And, yet, despite this, he thinks that too many top Canadian restaurants are flying under the radar. On a recent trip, he noted, "I often wish I had the choice of restaurants in Los Angeles as I do in Toronto."
Photography, Pat Anderson.