If you’re familiar with food insecurity, you know that many people in our communities don’t have equal access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. In fact, many don’t know when or from where their next meal will come. This reality impacts adults and youth alike, but in Canada, the numbers are staggering. A May 2020 Statistics Canada survey revealed that more than one in 10 respondents experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. For children, that number is even higher: one in five children in Canada are food insecure.
May 28th marks World Hunger Day and a new campaign aims to spotlight youth hunger specifically through conversation and creativity by engaging those most impacted: kids.
Food for Thought, a new campaign by SkipTheDishes and Mealshare, is providing meals to Canadian youth while raising awareness of the issue through curated resources. The package includes child-friendly resources that are accessible online and that both parents and teachers can use to help start the conversation through creativity.
The package includes colouring, drawing and comic design activities, as well as story writing prompts. Kids are then encouraged to submit their work and for each submission, SkipTheDishes will donate five meals to a local children’s charity that is partnered with Mealshare. The food delivery service has already donated $25,000 to kickstart the initiative. The campaign runs until May 28.
By now, it’s a familiar story: many local restaurants have been forced to shut their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some of these restaurants have closed down for good, unable to continue absorbing the costs and challenges posed by the pandemic; with them going the creativity, unique offerings and livelihoods of entire culinary teams.
Last December, Restaurants Canada reported that 10,000 restaurants have already closed with upwards of 50 per cent expecting to close permanently if conditions don’t improve.
In a show of support, Canadians are coming together on April 15th for a second year in a row. Created by Canada Takeout (CTO) — an organization dedicated to all things takeout across the country — #TakeoutDay has also evolved into a weekly celebration of local eats, taking place each Wednesday.
To date, the hashtag has reached 52.9 million people and CTO’s hope Canadians will embrace eating from their favourite local spots on April 15th by ordering from restaurant takeout menus.
With the COVID-19 pandemic came the unprecedented shift towards working remotely for many Canadians, and some are looking to relocate to places better suited to their lifestyles, for good. With plant-based diets on the rise for health, ethical and environmental reasons, which cities are best suited to attract vegetarians?
The Vegetarian Cities Index for 2021 sought to answer this by ranking 75 of the most vegetarian-friendly cities in the world, and that list includes some Canadian standouts.
The index assessed the affordability and quality of each city’s vegetarian offerings (including plant-based diet staples such as fruits, veggies and proteins), the number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and lifestyle-related events.
The survey identified that while home cooking still played an important role for vegetarians over the last 12 months, plant-based restaurants played an important role in people’s lives (some of these restaurants were not only top rated vegetarian restaurants, but top rated restaurants overall).
Of the 75, Canada did not crack the top 30 list. However, four Canadian cities did offer established vegetarian-friendly “ecosystems,” with Ottawa leading as the most vegetarian-friendly city in Canada in 31st place. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal follow in 50th, 60th, and 66th place, respectively.
Out of these four, Ottawa had the most affordable grocery staples (fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins), while Montreal scored highest out of the four for vegetarian restaurant affordability. Toronto, on the other hand, had the highest number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, while Vancouver had the highest ratio of these restaurants with nearly a quarter offering vegetarian-friendly options.
As for which cities claimed the top spots? London (UK), Berlin and Munich were identified as the top three destinations for those opting for a meatless diet.
For Yasmeen Persad, food is all about community — and, as the trans program coordinator at Toronto’s non-profit organization The 519, she’s had plenty of opportunities to indulge in her passion for cooking and making memories. In particular, with the Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC), which is funded by the Toronto Urban Health Fund and runs out of The 519 (virtually during COVID-19). “There’s nothing like cooking together in the [519’s] kitchen in a circle and having conversations and seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Persad says. “There’s a social support component to it.”
While the program touches on a variety of topics, from sexual health to homemade recipes, food insecurity and trans nutrition are ones that pop up frequently. Considered a safe space by many in Toronto’s trans community, Persad believes these oft-taboo subjects are seeing the light during TPOC meetings because people feel more comfortable broaching the subjects. “If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, it will lower my self-esteem to ask for help to access food.’”
According to a Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends $214 per month on groceries. However, racialized trans and non-binary people in Canada face higher levels of discrimination than others, resulting in housing inequality, a lack of job opportunities and food insecurity.
To combat the issue and raise awareness, TPOC focused their efforts on crafting Cooking With Trans People of Colour, a cookbook that offers a plethora of diverse recipes inspired by group leaders and program participants. In addition, among its many vibrant pages, are nutrition facts and sexual health stats. “The cookbook represents a history of racialized trans people, [both] those who have passed away and folks who are present,” Persad explains. “We want this to be a celebration for all trans people of colour across the board. We want this to be a recognition and a celebration.”
With Trans Day of Visibility coming up on March 31, 2021, we chatted with Yasmeen Persad about the cookbook, food insecurity in the trans community and how Canadians can take action.
How would you define food insecurity and how does the TPOC program help?
“Food security — for a number of the people that access our programs — has always been a challenge. [This is] because of their identities and the lack of access to places that offers food that represents them. It’s a struggle not just to get food, but to get healthy food. The program was designed to look at that issue specifically because racialized trans people experience higher levels of food insecurity. This is for many reasons: race, identity, being a newcomer to Canada or a refugee. The way we decided to address this issue was to create a cooking program where trans people of colour could come in and talk while cooking at the same time — sharing food, sharing recipes, sharing stories. This way, folks would get good food and also a meal to take home with them.”
Tell us about how the cookbook came together.
“So much work and love went into it. [The recipes are] quite different than the average ones you would probably encounter because most of the folks that come to the program weren’t born in Canada. They’re either an immigrant or a refugee. Whenever we cooked together [before COVID-19] the staff would pass by and everybody would say, ‘Oh my god, what smells so good? Can I get the recipe?’ And that’s where [the idea] stemmed into a cookbook we could share with people. However, we didn’t want to just do a general cookbook. We wanted to add different components to it to make it a lot more interesting — by addressing sexual health and adding some fun pieces to it.”
The TPOC team, featuring (top L-R): Evana Ortigoza and Angel Glady, and (bottom L-R): Mariana Cortes, Yasmeen Persad and Christy Joseph.
How would you describe the link between food insecurity and racism?
“Folks who are racialized often find that the types of food they would want to cook or experience — or any food they might get through food banks or drop-ins — don’t necessarily reflect [the meals] of racialized people. Therefore, a lot of folks might not go to a general cooking program because they’re like, ‘This food doesn’t represent me, I don’t know what to do with this food, I can’t cook this food, it’s not a part of who I am or part of my culture.’ And that was really a key part of this — the [TPOC] participants would come, we’d ask them what they would like to cook and we’d try to bridge [the gap] between racism and food insecurity.”
Primavera Beef With Plantains and Black Beans, a recipe by Evana Ortigoza in the Cooking With Trans People of Colour cookbook
How has food insecurity in the trans community been affected by COVID?
“It’s been affected terribly because, prior to this, people could have come to physically get the food. That has been a real challenge. However, the way we decided to address the food insecurity [that arose from the pandemic] was by still cooking and having people come pick up the food. That was part of the way The 519 as a whole, and embedded with TPOC, has been addressing food insecurity.”
There is a lack of research on trans nutrition. Is this something that comes up often during discussions at TPOC meetings?
“It does. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around the trans community, in general, and what food is available in terms of how it impacts hormones, surgeries and health benefits. In the cookbook, we promote hormones and healthy eating and TPOC participants would often ask during our discussions, ‘I started hormones, is there maybe something that I shouldn’t be eating too much or less of?’ Of course, we’re not nutritionists, but we try to draw from our own lived experiences to guide folks through that process.”
Many of the nutritional needs discussed in the program and cookbook are based on lived realities. Can you speak to that a bit?
“We wanted the cookbook to represent real people’s lives — we really wanted to bring a trans human experience to it. Because the group is also strongly embedded in talking about sexual health, we wanted to address those pieces and talk about it in an affirming way. Often, when you talk about trans people living with or affected by HIV, there are so many negative stigmas attached to it. Similarly, with hormone therapy. We want to make this real, but we also want to shine on this in a positive light. We want it to show that you can be someone living with HIV and have a healthy life — and you don’t have to eat food that’s not desirable to you.”
How can Canadians help and take action?
“Everyone should look at food insecurity as a social health issue. Just as we have access to medical care, we should think of food in the same way. The way people could help support us is by donating to The 519 website. The cookbook will have a donate button and that would continue to help support the program and help to give racialized trans folks access to healthy food. [Food insecurity] is also not talked about enough — and when it is, it’s always negative. If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that. Together [we] can talk about it in such a way that helps people see it in a different light.”
Where to buy the cookbook
Digital Copy: Download the PDF via The 519 website as of March 26, 2021. Price: Donate what you can. Hard Copy: Swing by Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. Price: Still to be announced.
The Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC) fosters affirming support, greater access to food security and access to meaningful sexual health promotion information for racialized trans folks. TPOC is an integral component of The 519’s support of BIPOC 2Spirit, trans and non-binary community members within The 519 — and has continued to provide support through the pandemic. Between 2019-2020, TPOC had over 300 visits to the drop-in. To learn more about TPOC, visit their website.
Long before she married into royalty, Meghan Markle extolled the virtues on healthy eating on her now-defunct blog, The Tig. During her seven years living in Toronto filming the legal drama Suits, the now Duchess of Sussex carved out her own online space to write about health and wellness, often sharing quick cooking tips.
But it was an interview she did with Delish in 2018 that garnered the most attention: she said she loved making a three-ingredient zucchini pasta sauce. A veggie-forward Bolognese, if you will. Using only zucchini, bouillon cubes and water, she said it was a “filthy, sexy mush” that she loved. With the duchess in the news as of late, this dish has recently been trending on the Internet all over again. It doesn’t exactly sound delicious, but I thought I’d give it a shot.
So, go ahead, cook like a duchess with this messy, mushy, sexy, filthy three-ingredient slow cooker concoction. For personal preference, I’ve added one more ingredient (an onion: I couldn’t resist) and options for additional seasonings, if desired. (Spoiler alert: it’s a lot more delicious than it looks, I swear!).
5-6 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped (optional)
2 bouillon cubes
½ cup water
Salt and pepper (optional)
1 package penne or rigatoni
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In one large slow cooker (or Dutch oven), add zucchini, onion, bouillon cubes and water. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
2. Set timer to cook for four hours on low heat, stirring once or twice in that timeframe. The zucchini will start to get nice and mushy – that’s what we want!
It’s simple, it’s hearty (I didn’t need more than one serving before I felt full) and it smells surprisingly delicious as it simmers away in the slow cooker. Was it tasty (read: sexy)? Absolutely. Would I make it again? Probably. Was it worth the nearly five-hour wait? Not really.
When the Girl Guides of Canada come a-knockin’, the gut reaction for many Canadians is to pull out their wallet and loosen their belts. Few Canucks can resist a box (or two) of Girl Guide cookies, famed for their chocolate and vanilla icing, squeezed between crunchy cookie layers.
But did you know that the now famous cookies were invented on the Canadian Prairies? It started in 1927, when one Girl Guide leader in Regina, Saskatchewan baked and packaged batches of cookies for her troupe to sell, hoping to raise funds for uniforms and camping equipment. Little did she know that her tasty treats would kick off a feeding frenzy spanning close to a century! Seeing the sales of the Regina troupe, Girl Guides of Canada joined the party in 1929, making cookie sales the official fundraising activity for the organization.
However, the types of treats have evolved throughout the decades, starting with vanilla creme, maple cream and shortbread cookies in 1946. It wasn’t until 1953 that the classic chocolate and vanilla-flavoured sandwich cookies first made a cameo on the sweets scene. Finally, in 1995, a new kid on the block was born: crunchy, chocolatey cookies with a cool mint filling. But one thing hasn’t changed; the cookie craze across Canada continues almost 100 years later, with several million boxes of cookies sold in Ontario alone. If the boxes were laid down on a road, it would reach from Windsor to Timmins. That’s a lot of cookie love!
Ever since Girl Guides started selling door-to-door, Girl Guide cookies have become one of Canada’s best-loved food traditions — one that’s held a special place in Canada’s culinary history. During the Gulf War in the 1990s, every Canadian soldier was given a box of cookies upon arrival in Saudi Arabia and there are photographs of Canadian astronaut (and former Girl Guide) Roberta Bondar juggling vanilla and chocolate cookies in space.
The best part? Snacking on these crunchy and creamy cookies benefits more than your belly. The dough (no pun intended) goes towards supporting Girl Guides of Canada’s programming, which provides opportunities for girls to discover, explore, be adventurous and make a difference, while building the leadership and life skills.
It’s clear within minutes of our three-way phone chat that Emily Pearce and Jennifer Huether love talking about wine, from the terroir to the nitty-gritty details of winemaking. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, there’s something refreshing about hearing two women at the top of their game speak passionately about the grape. Not only do the Toronto-based entrepreneurs boast an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject, but they’ve also enjoyed massive success with Femmes du Vin — a non-profit organization that launched less than five years ago.
“The story of Femmes du Vin is really about grassroots growth. It started in 2016 in my backyard in Toronto,” says founding president Pearce. “I got this idea to have a social event that was a safe space for women in the wine industry to come together to have a place to network, discuss successes and analyze challenges.”
What started as a small gathering has since transformed into the massively successful Harvest Seminars where speakers and attendees tune in from around the world to talk wine and culture.
For decades, women sommeliers or wine enthusiasts have been few and far between, with men dominating the conversation and top positions. Now, Pearce and Huether, master sommelier and director of education at Femmes du Vin, are pushing for more inclusion of women in the wine world.
Tell us about the genesis and evolution of Femmes du Vin and why it’s needed in the wine industry today.
Emily Pearce: “Eventually, [the backyard event] outgrew me setting up a tent and making homemade sushi in my backyard. We had our first brick and mortar event [in 2019] and it continued to grow out of community demand to what it was [in 2020] — which was an amazing virtual event with speakers and attendees from across the world. It speaks to the hunger in our industry for these safe places in our community for women to connect. While there are still challenges women face — be it wage discrepancies that still exist or issues around discrimination or harassment — I really just wanted to create a place where women could build stronger networks.”
What were your earliest experiences in an industry dominated by men?
Jennifer Huether: “That’s a great question. Personally, I started out in the wine business about 22 years ago. I fell in love with wine, started taking some courses and became a sommelier. I can honestly say to you that, back then, I would look around and I could name maybe two other women sommeliers in Toronto — a massive, metropolitan city. And that certainly felt like the case wherever I went — whether I was flying to England for exams or on wine trips that were led by different countries, we [women] were always a very small minority in the group. At that time it was also a bit surprising for people to come across you, so they would unintentionally start mansplaining wine to you because they didn’t understand that you’d studied it or worked in it for several years.”
What shifts have you started to see since starting Femmes du Vin in 2016?
EP: “It’s two steps forward, one step back. I look at the top positions in our area [of Toronto] and we’re seeing a proliferation of women in top positions. But, on the other side, you see a continuation of discouraging things — whether that’s discrimination against women or perhaps harassment or other obstacles that still exist. I’ve worked very hard and I’m grateful for the positions I’ve held in the wine industry, but I’ve been on the other side of the table. I still think there are clear obstacles facing women. Having a family, for a woman in our industry, is tremendously challenging [for example].”
How can Canadian wineries work toward including more women?
JH: “Some confidential conversations I’ve had with [female] winemakers said it was a really, really tough road for them. What they’ve done, sort of like what we’re doing, is create a bit of a community for each other where they’ll get together and chat and support each other.”
EP: “And what Femmes du Vin is doing is we’re working on a really exciting project with two wineries [The Grange from Prince Edward County and Benjamin Bridge from Nova Scotia] and we’re going to be doing a private label Femmes du Vin wine which is very exciting. We’re working with a local winemaking school to offer internships for women — hopefully BIPOC women — to work with head winemakers for these custom private labels for Femmes du Vin. It will provide them with professional one-on-one experience with head winemakers that they can actually put on their resumes to make them more professionally competitive when it comes to the market… It’s a small thing that might only help a handful of women each year, but we’re really excited to be able to leverage our network and work toward change. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of those wines will also be going into our scholarship fund for women in wine.”
JH: “Can we give you a wine region or a style? [laughs] For me, we’ve got to go to France and we’ve got to go to Burgundy. Then we have to go with white wine — a Chardonnay. They’re the most intriguing wines in the world.”
EP: “I would have to concur — a beautiful Chardonnay from Burgundy. Anything with the word Montrachet in it. It’s so expressive with its terroir [the natural environment where it’s produced] and it’s versatile with food. It’s something that is a treat — a desert island wine that is irresistible.”
The next time you’re in Halifax, skip the lobster boil and go straight to the pizza shop instead. After all, that’s where you’ll find the city’s official snack: the Halifax donair.
Unless you’re a native Bluenoser, you may never have tasted this popular late-night snack, and experienced the unavoidable drip of garlicky donair sauce down your chin. The sloppy sandwich is a pita filled with spit roasted shaved beef, served with tomatoes and onions, slathered in the signature sauce.
“It’s spicy, eaten normally at midnight,” says Alain Bossé, a top chef from Pictou, Nova Scotia and ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada. “After a long night out, you line up at a pizza corner in Halifax. It’s a great hangover food!”
As the story goes, the Halifax donair was first invented in the 1970s by Peter Gamoulakos. Originally from Greece, he started selling Greek gyros (a pita stuffed with grilled lamb and tzatziki) from his restaurant located off the Bedford Highway. But the sandwich just didn’t jive with the East Coast’s “meat and potatoes” palate.
Swapping lamb for beef, the brothers whipped up a sweet “donair sauce” and tried again. This time, however, a feeding frenzy erupted and Halifax’s signature dish was born. The late-night favourite has become so popular that in 2015, Halifax city council voted to make it the city’s official food.
“There’s something about this dish that’s unique to Atlantic Canada,” says Chef Alain Bossé. “People will drive miles for a donair!”
Today, almost every pizza place in the province sells the sloppy and sumptuous late-night eat, some even selling more donairs than pies. Every East Coaster has a favourite spot, but The King of Donair and Tony’s Donair have long been local favourites. Both spots have been serving the snack since the 1970s. Recently though, donair-mania has infiltrated swankier eateries.
“Now that Halifax has proclaimed the donair as the food of choice, restaurants and hotels are serving donairs,” says Chef Alain. “Some are serving miniature canapés with donair meat.”
Playful renditions aside, there are traditional techniques to making the beloved sandwich. First, spiced ground beef is moulded into an elongated log that’s roasted on a spit. The donair meat is then shaved, sautéed and stuffed into a pita, along with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a special sweet sauce made with sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. As Chef Alain says, it’s adding the donair sauce that makes it.
“The sweet sauce is what makes a difference between a donair and a gyro,” he says. “My favourite? Sam’s Pizza in New Glasgow. They make their own pita, so it’s always fresh and soft.”
For decades, the Halifax donair largely remained a hidden treasure, scarcely found on menus outside Nova Scotia.But as more Nova Scotians started settling across the country and with the advent social media, there’s a growing appetite for this late-night nosh outside of the province. Canadian chefs are incorporating this trendy food item onto their menus and even getting creative with the recipe.
“The donair sauce is being used as an add-on,” says Chef Alain. “A lot of burger places are making burgers with donair sauce. There’s also pepperoni pizza with donair sauce.”
If you’re looking to truly replicate the original recipe, Mr. Donair — once the Gamoulakos brothers’ company — sells a do-it-yourself Halifax Donair kit, complete with pita bread, donair sauce and a pound of donair meat. The kits are sold in grocery stores, frequently used by chefs, and are gaining popularity in every nook and cranny of Canada.
“Those kits are really starting to infiltrate the camps in Fort McMurray!” says Chef Alain. “With the kit, sauté the meat in a frying pan, crisping it. Then stuff your pita and just eat away.”
Once the key ingredients are ready to go, get busy adding your own influence to this classic Canadian dish. However, Chef Alain says to stick with some of the core ingredients: “It’s not a donair unless there are onions and tomatoes. And make sure to grill your pita!”
First published in 1900 by the Michelin tire company as a guide to help French motorists find lodging on the road, the Michelin Guide is now exclusively devoted to fine dining. Over the decades, the guide has far surpassed its humble origins to become an almost-sacred tome to chefs, foodies, culinary experts and the restaurants who regard the guide as the final word in fine dining.
Worthy restaurants are rated on a system of one to three stars, but the process of attaining Michelin stars remains highly secretive, with specially trained Michelin inspectors paying anonymous visits to restaurants and submitting meticulous reports rating the service, decor and, of course, the cuisine.
In order to know which restaurants are worthy of review, inspectors will comb through websites, blogs and restaurant reviews in local magazines and newspapers — if a restaurant in a given city is generating buzz and word of mouth praise from customers, it may land on a reviewer’s radar.
Michelin gives out up to three stars, with only the world’s greatest dining establishments attaining that coveted third star. But exactly what does each star mean? According to the guide, one Michelin star represents a “very good restaurant in its category,” while two stars denotes a restaurant boasting “excellent cooking” that is “worth a detour.” Three stars, however, is the ultimate accolade, afforded only to those restaurants that offer “exceptional cuisine” that is “worth a special journey.”
Understandably, there’s a lot of grey area within those rating descriptions, and the process of receiving stars is meticulous and painstaking, typically taking several years. When a reviewer visits a restaurant for the first time, neither the restaurant’s owner nor chef will have any idea it even happened. If the reviewer loves the place, then another mystery visit will be paid the following year. Assuming the second visit goes as well as the first — preferably better — it’s at this point the reviewer may recommend the restaurant receive its first Michelin star.
Michelin remains secretive about the criteria and evaluation process used to award stars, but certain factors are known to be key, including: the quality of the products; a chef’s mastery of flavour and cooking techniques; the chef’s ability to imbue the cuisine with his or her culinary “personality;” and consistency between visits, not just when it comes to food but also encompassing the overall dining experience.
Earning one Michelin star is typically seen as a gift from the gods, but is not necessarily a golden ticket to receiving the second and third. For that to happen, it will take many more anonymous visits over ensuing years, and the stars must align perfectly. For example, if an otherwise extraordinary restaurant happens to have an off night while an inspector is visiting, that single experience could quash any future hopes of ever getting a star.
How to Earn Stars
Although the process is seemingly random from a restaurant’s perspective, there are in fact several steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood of receiving Michelin stars:
A restaurateur needs to treat every night as if it’s the night of a Michelin inspection, and chefs and staff must be meticulously trained to ensure everyone is working together and on the same page. By ensuring that every diner’s experience on any given night is as exceptional as possible, only then will a restaurant be in the running for a Michelin star.
2. Train Under Michelin-Starred Chefs
For a chef seeking a Michelin star, it can be beneficial to train under a chef who has already earned one or more. By becoming the protégé of a chef who’s already earned the respect of Michelin, an up-and-comer aspiring toward Michelin stardom can more easily get on Michelin’s radar.
It’s been said that cooking is an endless quest for perfection that can never be achieved. Only those with the desire and discipline to be the best will make the cut to become Michelin’s next culinary superstars.
While it may be tempting to bank a restaurant’s profits, that’s not going to win a Michelin star. The key is to use those profits to further invest in the restaurant to improve the decor, better train staff, source higher-quality ingredients, etc. If a Michelin inspector sees a restaurant, no matter how good, constantly striving to improve instead of simply resting on its laurels, this could make all the difference. It’s not unheard of for a restaurant to spend millions on improvements and then earn the money back (and then some) thanks to the increased revenues that can come from a Michelin star.
If you were raised in a kitchen in Spain where you learned the secrets of traditional Basque cuisine at your grandmother’s tutelage, why would you open a sushi restaurant in Tokyo? It makes sense for a chef to cook the type of food he or she is most comfortable with. Only by attaining a mastery of a particular cuisine will a chef then be able to push the boundaries and propel it in bold, new directions.
Being on the cutting edge of new food trends, with a relentless pursuit of excellence combined with a drive to push the envelope, is a great way to attract Michelin’s attention. The Michelin Guide would have a tough time ignoring an innovative chef whose cuisine is being talked about as the “next big thing” in the food world.
7. The Finest Ingredients
As any great chef will confirm, ingredients are key. With this in mind, Michelin-starred chefs have been known to personally source unique, hard-to-find ingredients, forging relationships with farmers, artisan bakers, cheese-makers and the like in order to work with the only the best, most unique ingredients possible. Cutting corners is not the way to a Michelin star.
8. Walk to Canossa
This term refers to King Henry IV humbling himself before the pope and offering penance. It’s also the nickname for the practice (which was apparently quite common up through the 1980s) in which chefs aspiring toward Michelin stardom would journey to Paris in order to meet with the guide’s editors and make a case explaining why their restaurants deserved consideration. Although not as common as it once was, rumour has it this still takes place on occasion.
Oh, Canada! As proud Canucks, we certainly have our share quirky traits and tastes, from profusely apologizing with “soar-ee” to our love of ketchup chips, butter tarts and poutine. But did you know that bagged milk is also a uniquely Canadian invention?
Believe it or not, milk bags have been in Canadian fridges since the 1970s, selling mainly in Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes. Each package contains three un-resealable plastic pouches filled with milk, equaling 4 litres total. Insert a single bag into a pitcher, snip off the corner and start pouring. Then put the pitcher back in the fridge, until you need it next.
It wasn’t always this easy. Until the late 1960s, milk was packaged in heavy, breakable glass bottles, racking up big bills for the dairy industry to transport. Soon, alternatives started arriving on the market, such as cardboard cartons, plastic jugs and eventually, plastic bags.
As the story goes, DuPont, a Canadian food and packaging company, unveiled thin, plastic bags that could be used to store and sell milk in 1967. Gradually, the dairy industry began ditching glass bottles and adopting this newfangled plastic pouch, which was far more practical and cost-efficient. Plus, Canada’s conversion to the metric system in the 1970s made the switch a no-brainer: while plastic jugs and cardboard cartons had to be redesigned and manufactured to be sold in metric units, plastic bags could easily be re-sized.
But we’re not the only ones in the world who are rocking the plastic udder. Milk bags can be found in many other countries, such as South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Hungary and China. In Israel, there’s a Kankomat: soft, plastic milk bags with a knife built into a plastic container. So when it comes to milk, Canadians may march to the beat of their own drum, but there are many other nations playing alongside in the band.
These days, Canadians are doing some cool things with discarded “milk bladders.” Milkbags Unlimited, a volunteer network across the Greater Toronto Area, recycles milk bags into sleeping mats. Every adult-sized mat is made with approximately 400 milk bags, which are cleaned and cut into strips. Volunteers loop and fit each bag onto a frame, weaving it into the mattress that has a lifespan of approximately 25 years. In addition to the mats, milk bags are also used to stuff pillows and to weave into handbags. The milk bag mats offer a durable and washable alternative to sleeping on cold, damp, and dusty ground, and have particularly helped people living in disaster zones. When resources are scarce, health care professionals have even used these mattresses as substitutes for operating tables. Talk about MacGyver-style upcycling.
So the next time you snip off the corner of a milk bag, you should feel a twinge of Canadian pride. This may be one of our weird and wonderful national habits, but no one can say that Canucks aren’t resourceful!
How do you like your butter tart — firm or runny? With raisins or bacon bits? Made with butter or shortening? There are a gazillion and one ways to make (and eat!) a butter tart, but only one truly great place to enjoy them: in Canada, the birthplace of this sweet, satisfying treat. “The butter tart is 100 per cent Canadian,” says Anna Olson. “It’s an individual tart, as opposed to a full-sized pie.”
In case you’ve been in hibernation, a butter tart is a flaky, round pastry shell filled with a gooey buttery filling that’s semi-solid, with a crunchy top. Taste testing is almost a patriotic duty, offering a delicious way to sink your teeth into Canadian history.
Like many legendary dishes, the butter tart’s origins are fuzzy. It’s believed that filles à marier (“marriageable girls”) created a crude version in the 1600s. These newly arrived Québécois brides filled their French tarts with New World ingredients: maple sugar, freshly churned butter and dried fruit such as raisins.
“The idea of mixing a syrup with eggs and dried fruit to form a dessert is an old one — and was likely born out of necessity to make do with ingredients on hand,” says Dr. Lenore Newman, food security and environment director at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Others believe the butter tart has roots in pecan pie, brought to Canada by Americans or possibly is related to Québec’s sugar pie or even Scottish border tarts. And some experts credit pioneer cooks for creating the beloved version known today, tracing the earliest printed recipes back to the 1900s. Ultimately, no one knows for sure, but the tart’s origins are likely a combination of all of the above. “It just slowly evolved and appeared,” says Anna. “It looks like a lot of other tarts: like the French [Canadian] tarte au sucre or a treacle tart [a traditional British dessert].”
Four hundred years later, the butter tart has become the quintessential Canadian sweet treat. It was all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s one of the few authentically Canadian recipes that exists on paper.
“The butter tart’s success in Canada is likely linked to our general love of sweet desserts,” says Dr. Newman. “However I do feel that the butter tart is being influenced ever so slightly by Canada’s cuisine with its dedication to local foods. British and French settlers loved sugar, but butter tarts also fit a model of early Canadian foods that needed to pack a really high calorie load into each bite. We worked outside in the cold and needed to eat a lot more than we do now.”
Today, the craze continues. There are even butter tart trails that dessert lovers can follow, with Ontario’s Kawarthas Northumberland Region and Wellington County offering maps and self-guided itineraries to explore local bakeries and cafes. What’s even more incredible is the butter tart has become an international superstar.
“No matter where I am travelling, I’m always asked to demonstrate a butter tart,” says Anna. “I have demonstrated butter tarts in Argentina, Moscow, Dubai, all over Southeast Asia. I just hosted a chef from the Philippines and the one thing on his checklist was trying a butter tart. Because the world knows the butter tart as ubiquitously Canadian.”
What makes an “authentic” Canadian butter tart? It’s a hotly debated topic within the baking community, especially when it comes to three aspects: should the tart’s filling be runny or firm? Should it contain raisins? And how far can you stray from the original recipe? According to Anna, there’s no clear answers: it really depends on the baker and the proof is, well, in the pastry.
“The butter tart has as many recipes as there are people who make them,” says Anna. “But whether it’s a filling made with maple syrup or corn syrup is very particular to the [baker]. Some swear by lard pastry, others by butter. To call it a butter tart, you can’t change the shape or syrupy filling.”
Nonetheless, bakers and pastry chefs are making endless and ever-evolving variations on this favourite Canuck dessert. Some stuff the flaky pastry cup with toasted pecans instead of raisins or even chocolate or bacon fillings.
“The bacon butter tart has become a staple — it’s that salty crunch in the bottom,” says Anna. “I’m seeing more with chocolate melted into the syrupy filling. You could even put in marshmallows and chocolate chips for an s’mores butter tart!”
In recent years, some maverick chefs and bakers are even masterminding butter tart-flavoured foods, such as ice creams, cookies, cobblers and Butter Tart Cheesecake.
“While you may not change the butter tart, you can integrate those flavours and textures elsewhere,” says Anna. “For my new cookbook, I want to do a butter tart swirl cheesecake that has that the same pastry crunch, butteriness and drifty caramel swirl.”
It’s worth taking a tantalizing tart trip across Canada to try all the variations and recipes, with Anna naming Niagara’s 13th Street Winery and The Pie Plate Bakery & Café as being among the best. If you’re feeling adventurous at home, try mastering Anna’s Pecan Butter Tarts. For holiday entertaining, you could even build a butter tart buffet that will entice guests to the table.
Despite her playful renditions, there’s one thing that Anna is old-fashioned about when it comes to making a classic Canadian butter tart. “Can you make a low fat butter tart? No way!” she says. “But you could make them miniature sized.”
Published November 14, 2016, Updated January 1, 2018