In 2003, amidst the sanction by the U.S. of Canada’s beef exports and the dramatic hardship it imposed on this country’s agricultural community, it became obvious to at least one committed individual that action was needed.
That summer, renowned culinary activist Anita Stewart of Elora, Ont., founded The World’s Longest Barbecue. Thousands of Canadians were encouraged to fire up their grills on the August long weekend and support locally produced foods. The event has continued.
“The huge success of that venture has now evolved into Food Day, an annual mid-summer celebration when we share Canada’s rich culinary heritage,” says Stewart.
She still encourages Canadians to celebrate with friends and family around the barbecue on the Saturday of the long weekend, which this year is July 31.
But beginning this year, she is also recognizing restaurateurs, suppliers, growers and farmers who will join citizens to showcase the depth and breadth of Canada as a culinary nation. A very important component of this group are restaurants, she says.
“Who makes the difference in Canadian cuisine?” Stewart asks. “Well, quite often the real changes start with the restaurants across the country.”
She contacted restaurateurs and chefs she already knew, and thought if she was lucky she would get 25 or so to participate.
“It became very clear that was not going to be the case. I have 134 really good restaurants signed on,” she says with pride.
Stewart says that the establishments she approached and eventually chose “were the ones that walk the walk and talk the talk. They are the ones that give the diner an all-Canadian restaurant experience.”
Her list includes restaurants and other food suppliers from all corners of Canada. Every province and one territory is represented.
For example, three Yukon establishments, including Klondike Kate’s Restaurant and Cabins in Dawson City, Alpine Organic Bakery in Whitehorse and Inn on the Lake south of Whitehorse are on Stewart’s radar.
“So many food people in the boonies have been overlooked, even though they have been labouring in their own little corners of culinary Canada with such passion and utter dedication,” she says.
One such eatery that is garnering much attention is RauDZ Regional Table in Kelowna, B.C.
Chef Rod Butters focuses on local and regional ingredients for his restaurant’s eclectic menu. He feels strongly that the producers are a major force in the success of his menu.
The focal point of the establishment is a six-metre communal table made of reclaimed Midnight Heart pine. The whole idea is that friends and neighbours enjoy fresh local dishes in a comfortable relaxed space.
“Our patrons have totally embraced regional food,” says Butters.
For Food Day, he and his business partner, Audrey Surrao, plan to have a special insert in the menu featuring the harvest of the first summer tomatoes from the area.
“For me, every day is Food Day Canada. It’s not something unusual,” says Butters.
To learn more about Food Day and the restaurants participating in the event, visit foodday.ca.