Canada’s Food Day

photo: local chefs gather at  Homegrown Café in Chesterfield, ON to celebrate Food Day in 2009.

In 2003, The World’s Longest Barbecue was a national first. City folk, country folk, Canadians all, “gathered” together from all three coasts (That’s right. There are three) to celebrate Canadian beef. Anita Stewart, Food Day founder, had come up with a simple premise: at 6:00 PM “Your Time”, fire up the BBQ, invite some friends and celebrate Canada as a culinary nation. By golly, people from all over the country flamed burgers and T-bones, prime ribs, porterhouses and sirloins. Side dishes sang the praises of beans, corn, and potatoes. Desserts ranged from raspberry pie to blueberry cobbler. And what kind of day would it have been without washing it all down with micro-brews, real cider, and a little VQA vino. Anita invited folks to email her their BBQ stories to post on-line. And they did, by the dozen–restaurateurs, suppliers, growers, farmers and people who just plain like to eat (I noticed a few poiticians’ missives as well). That 6,000 mile long BBQ has evolved into Food Day in honour of nation’s diverse bounty.

I caught up with Anita over a thick grilled Ontario cheddar cheese sandwich a few weeks back. This pioneer of Canada’s food culture was heading full speed toward a day of celebrating Canadian cuisine.  She told me that it makes sense for Food Day to happen the first weekend in August because, in most parts of Canada there’s a holiday Monday attached. “Since The World’s Longest BBQ I have challenged Canadians to bbq/cook using local/regional ingredients on the Saturday of the August long weekend and share their menus on a dedicated website. Anita says. “Food day, however, is different than other ‘days’’, she continues. “Fathers’ Day, Mothers’ Day and Valentine’s Day are about the eaters…the restaurant customers and their personal celebrations. But this special day is about the farmers and fishers who feed us so very, very well and about our young chefs, their talent, how they innovate and strut their stuff. (This year at least 136 restaurants are on board with Food Day).” Anita championed this new breed of chefs in an interview with the Canadian Tourism Commission. She admires their energy, stamina and passion for creativity, and dedication to connect with the growers and producers. As well, Anita also lauds countryside producers that are coming up with new ventures: whether [humanely] raising a particular breed of animal or a new kind of vegetable. “All sorts of new connections being made. These people are making a difference [to our cuisine.]” says Anita.

Anita really started something back with that 2003 BBQ. This year beef will not be the only star. Cattle will share billing with bison, pork and poultry, salmon and scallops, halibut and haddock. Then there’s the chorus of first-of-the season sweet corn and baby zucchini. Don’t eschew grilling those greens either–romaine lettuce, kale and Swiss chard and bok choy. Berry cobblers will be the grand finale, guaranteed.  My goodness! I think I’ve caught Anita’s fever.

Happy Food Day, Canada! (Oh, and don’t forget the beer!)

Join in on July 31st, 2010 for the 8th annual coast-to-coast-to-coast Food Day, to celebrate Canada’s regional diversity, culinary creativity and reputation for throwing an heckuva party! Visit www.foodday.ca to post your Food Day story.

BC Restaurants celebrating Food Day include:

Okanagan:

Waterfront Restaurant & Wine Bar, Kelowna

Summerhill Sunset Bistro, Kelowna

Cedar Creek Terrace Restaurant, Kelowna

Old Vines Restaurant, Quails’ Gate Winery, Kelowna

Local Lounge and Grill, Summerland

Hotel Eldorado, Kelowna

Whistler:

Araxi Restaurant and Bar

Vancouver:

Bishop’s Restaurant

Raincity Grill

Blue Water Café + Raw Bar

Gulf Islands:

Harbour House Hotel & Organic Farm, Salt Spring Island

Vancouver Island:

Stone Soup Inn, Farm Restaurant, B&B, Cowichan

Camille’s Restaurant, Victoria

Locals, Courtney

Sooke Harbour House, Sooke

The Wickanninish Inn & Pointe Restaurant, Tofino

SoBo, Tofino

Radio Canada International’s programme, The Link, has picked up the Food Day ball and an invitation has gone out around the globe to listeners to Cook Canadian on July 31st. This programme is a window on the Canadian experience for tens of thousands of global listeners.

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