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In Celebration of the Nation’s Table

25 Jun

Their Excellencies and the recipients

Just got back from two action-packed days in Ottawa, attending the glorious festivities surrounding the inaugural ceremony of the Governor General’s awards in celebration of the Nation’s Table. This is the brainchild of His Excellency Jean-Daniel Lafond, first conceived in 2006 after the Cuvée event in Niagara and developed ever since with meetings, conversations and shared enthusiasms across the length and breadth of Canada. Essentially these awards are gastronomical “G-Gs,” recognizing gastronomy as an art form and as a cultural cornerstone of the nation. This is not just another way of patting top chefs and food writers on the back. It goes much deeper than that, embracing as broad a slice of Canada as possible and considering gastronomy in its broadest possible sense. I was honoured to be part of the 12-person advisory committee who decided the recipients of these inaugural awards. But I was not prepared for the extravaganza involved last night. When Rideau Hall decides to throw a party, a party is truly thrown. There was pomp and circumstance – the granting of armorial bearings to the proceedings by Claire Boudreau, Chief Herald of Canada; aides de camp resplendent in ceremonial uniforms; many military chamber orchestras in many different rooms playing everything from Brahms to tango to Roy Orbison; soldiers in bearskins standing guard over Ruth Klassen’s cheeses; the entire residence thrown open for public inspection; Their Excellencies thoroughly involved, charming the multitude, posing for photographs with the Stratford high-school student-chefs of the Screaming Avocado Club, who assisted the resident culinary brigade of Rideau Hall for two days leading up to the great gala.
Was such ceremony of value? Emphatically, yes. It legitimizes gastronomy as an artistic medium of equal merit to literature, acting, music, dance and all the more conventional forms of enhanced human self-expression. It sets culinary Canada in all its many facets – from farmer’s fields and fishermen’s nets to university laboratories and food writers’ laptops, from vineyard to forest, meadow and mountain, from dairy to diner to haut cuisine – onto a new pedestal. I hope it makes us think a little more and a little harder about this country’s extraordinary foodways, and about how damn good we are when we try.
The recipients – each introduced by a member of the advisory committee who had nominated them – were delightfully free with their remarks and though the room was warm (Rideau Hall’s air conditioning is like an Ottawa earthquake – experienced rarely and only by some) none of us would have wished to have been anywhere else. After the ceremony, the party lasted late, with guests discovering that many of the residence’s state rooms were splendid with food and wine. Then many of us moved to the excellent and tolerant Restaurant 18 in Byward Market so see if we could stay awake until dawn.
But such antics are less interesting, I suspect, than the true heroes of the day. Here is an extract from the official report of proceedings, from www.gg.ca , beginning with a speech from His Excellency, Jean-Daniel Lafond, that explains the inspiration for the awards:

“My wife has told you a bit about the official story of how this award began when I was at Cuvee in 2006, but like all good stories, this version is only half of it. I would like to share with you now the other half…the less official half, if you will.
“It was a very cold and blustery day in February in the Niagara Region. Those of you from that area who are with us tonight can attest that no place feels colder than a vineyard in the middle of an ice storm, with the wind howling in off Lake Ontario.
“I had been asked by the Niagara Community Foundation to present a wine award at the Cuvee gala and to say a few words about Canadian wine as their patron. But, what to say? That was the question.
“I am a great lover of wine and I had been to Niagara before with my family and but I had never been to Cuvee before and my English…well, it was, to everyone’s great surprise, including mine, not that bad.
“My original plan was to improvise, as I so love to do. Then I decided I would jot down a few notes over breakfast about Canadian wine and its contribution to our society. But, when I was sitting at my table in the hotel room, eating my lovely fruit with cheese, bread and coffee, it struck me. I needed to talk about more than that. I needed to talk about how what we eat and what we drink and how it gets to the table is a crucial part of our culture. It is what joins us together. It is what makes us who we are. It is what sustains us as a people. And then, I had an idea…
“I quickly called my team together, sat them down, offered them coffee and brioche (always a good strategy for getting people on your side) and then told them of my little idea.
“Since there are Governor General’s Awards to celebrate literature, the performing arts, media arts, architecture and other endeavours that are vital to the cultural fabric of our country, why could there not also be an award to celebrate the culinary and table arts.
“My team was not hard to convince (especially with their mouths full at the time) and we decided to float the idea out at Cuvee. While I did not have a chance to run it by my wife, I knew she would agree because like me, she believes in the fundamental place of the table in the discourse of our lives. And, she did. She loved, and loves, the idea, as you can see.
“J’avais quelques bonnes bouteilles rapportées des vignobles ontariens, qui ont su ajouter les vertus du vin à ma capacité de convaincre : mon épouse a reçu avec le plus grand enthousiasme le projet d’un prix du gouverneur général des arts de la table, et tous nos collaborateurs ont fait de même.
“So, in my speech that night at Cuvee, I said, ‘I have one final idea that is percolating.’ (and now that you know the inside story, you can appreciate the word choice…?percolating’ was a reminder of our discussion over coffee in the morning.)
“The response to the idea was overwhelming. Some of you who are here tonight, were present that night at Cuvee and I want to take this opportunity to thank you, and all the people like you across the country who have helped make this award possible, for your support, for your vision and for your shared passion.
“This passion is something that has been a huge part of my life ever since I was a young boy. I come from a culture of food and wine. I was born in France and during my formative years, the land was as much a part of my education as literature, geography, sociology, psychology and philosophy. My grandparents and great-grandparents cultivated the land and made their own wine. And my father tended his library, his kitchen and his cellar, all with the same care and passion.
“When I was older and moved to Canada, the table became the space around which I established my connections with society. After all, a table is not just a space to tantalize the taste buds. It is a place for conversation and sharing; where ideas flow as fully as the flavours of the meal. It is there where people of all ages, all cultures and all walks of life, gather to share their hopes, their fears and dreams. It is around a table where our collective stories are told and passed from one generation to the next.
“You will no doubt agree from your own experience, that around the table can be heard tall tales of great adventure and simple words of welcome; and whether there is a physical table or not, the act of hospitality itself conveys a message: when we break bread together, we are sharing the best that life has to offer, and what is more, the privilege of having food to share.
“At a time when, too often, each of us thinks more of ourselves than the other, when imagination and initiative take a back seat to the daily hustle and bustle, when fast food and ready-made meals serve as culinary rituals, it is reassuring to have a central place and cultural forum for exchange, heedless of our differences.
“It is in this spirit of exchange that this award was created.
“Over the last four years, we, my wife and my daughter and I, have travelled across this country, both geographically and gastronomically. We have consulted with hundreds of people who contribute everyday to the bounty of our nation’s table: farmers, food writers, sommeliers, chefs, cheese makers, fishers, teachers, students, hunters and tea makers. We gathered around tables in culinary schools, hotel kitchens, farmers’ markets and old firehalls and broke bread together – exchanging ideas, stories and points of view; and it is from the fruits of those discussions that you find the very heart of this award.
“We completely agreed that this award had to be different from other awards. It had to recognize the human values we share around the table, and around the country. It could not be about the specific accomplishment of one chef, one winemaker or one food producer. It needed to recognize those who inspire us, who teach us and who delight us with their contributions to the nation’s table. It needed to recognize those with a passion for what links us together as Canadians.
“You know, life is a circle. When my wife was first designated as Governor General, our predecessors invited us to come, meet with them and see the residence. Do you know where the tour started and ended? You guessed it, the kitchen, the garden and the table. Like my wife and me, Mme Clarkson and Mr. Saul believed fervently in the importance of the culture and bounty of the nation’s table. Over the last four years, we have strengthened those beliefs and closed the circle with the creation of this award.
“This year during my speech at Cuvee, I said, “Before the fall harvest arrives, we will present the first Governor General’s Award in celebration of the Nation’s Table.” I am proud to be here today to fulfill that promise and to honour the first recipients of this award whom you will see, represent in their actions and their passion, the full extent of the nation’s table and all the values this award was conceived to exalt.
“I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait any longer, so let’s discover the wonder of the nation’s table and meet this year’s recipients.”

A fine speech, I think you will agree. Jean-Daniel Lafond devised the five award categories that recognize achievement in creativity and innovation, education and awareness, leadership, mentorship and inspiration, and stewardship and sustainability. A sixth category, youth, recognizes a young person with potential to inspire peers to become contributors to the nation’s table. Here are the 2010 recipients:

Creativity and Innovation
Recognizing those who have contributed original and distinct ideas, products, techniques or creations to the nation’s table that are imaginative and forward-thinking.
Christian Barthomeuf
Frelighsburg, Quebec
When Christian Barthomeuf first got the idea in 1989 to use icewine-making techniques to create the first ice cider in Quebec, his neighbours said he was an eccentric. Little did they know that, just 10 years later, this exceptional product would be one of the great agri-food success stories in Quebec and Canada, garnering worldwide recognition. Today, Mr. Barthomeuf is one of the pillars of this flourishing young industry. His work is based on simple production techniques and meticulous observation of natural cycles. In helping apple growers to produce high-quality ice cider, Mr. Barthomeuf has also helped to raise the profile of their challenging vocation, while yielding significant added value for their orchards. That assistance has saved many family businesses from certain financial ruin. This visionary has devoted considerable efforts to preserve heritage apple varieties, which he now grows organically in his Clos Saragnat vineyard, where he also produces straw wine and ice wine.
Alfred E. Slinkard
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Alfred Slinkard is synonymous with the development of the Canadian pulse industry. Pulses, commonly known as lentils and peas, are an increasing part of the Canadian diet. They are low in fat, a good source of iron, protein, fibre, minerals, calcium and ‘B’ vitamins. Since 1972, Dr. Slinkard has worked tirelessly with researchers and industry leaders to promote the production and consumption of pulses. His innovative research at the Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan included the creation and development of the Laird and Eston lentil varieties. His work has helped lead the way for Canada to become a major exporter of peas and lentils, with Canadian farmers producing over 7.5-million acres of pulses in 2009. As professor emeritus, Dr. Slinkard continues his food research developing spice crops. In honouring Dr. Slinkard, we acknowledge the enormous value of plant researchers in Canada over the last 100 years. Their work, like that of Dr. Slinkard, has changed not only what our farmers produce, but also what we eat.

Education and Awareness
Recognizing those who have raised awareness and increased our collective knowledge of the nation’s table to the enrichment of all
John Bishop
Vancouver, British Columbia
John Bishop opened Bishop’s Restaurant in 1985 with a commitment to organic, local produce. He was a pioneer on 4th Avenue in Vancouver long before it became the West Side’s hippest food corridor. There is a kind of lyrical sensibility in his approach to both life and his influence in the culinary arts. It’s an unspoken eloquence, a touch of risk-taking tempered by poetic license and an unwavering belief that it’s the simple things that deliver the most memorable moments in life. This award-winning author, chef, veteran maître d’ and restaurateur is a model for hospitality, and a pioneer of local ingredient sourcing and menu development doctrine—a doctrine that has become conventional wisdom in Canada. With a natural ability to select, educate and transform up-and-coming chefs and budding hospitality students to become culinary leaders, Mr. Bishop’s influence can be traced from British Columbia’s most renowned restaurants, through to a culinary institute in California, and all the way to an exclusive hotel in Borneo. John Bishop has improved the quality of Canada’s gastronomy by transforming our food culture with an infusion of new flavours and techniques that ceaselessly highlight and promote the worth and potential of Canada’s backyard.
Robert McLaughlin
Guelph, Ontario
With good humour, Robert McLaughlin has dedicated his life to actively promoting the growth and study of our distinctly Canadian food culture. In his tenure as dean of the Ontario Agricultural College, he managed three colleges and a number of research stations. As inaugural chair of the Guelph Food Council, Dr. McLaughlin pioneered the linking of agricultural production to ingredients. This concept laid the foundation for the creation of the Guelph Food Technology Centre and the Guelph Food Inventory, institutions that have greatly enhanced the work of students and educators. As vice-president of Alumni Affairs and Development, he managed the successful Science of Life, Art of Living campaign. During his tenure as president and chair of the board of The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, he ensured the longevity of the Canadian Culinary Book Awards. He is past board chair of the George Morris Centre, Canada’s agricultural think tank; of the Ontario Agricultural Experience Inc.; and of the Ontario Agricultural Leadership Trust. He is a born educator.

Leadership
Recognizing those who have led their peers, colleagues and fellow citizens to build stronger communities connected to the nation’s table in all its aspects
James and Linda Gourlay
Bedford, Nova Scotia
James and Linda Gourlay are innovators, catalysts and creative doers who have inspired Canadians and raised awareness of the intricate connection of farm to table. With the creation of their monthly magazine, Saltscapes, they showed Canadians the role the table plays as a cultural forum for exchanging and sharing culinary and other ideas. They put the spotlight on creative, “outside-the-box” food and wine initiatives in Atlantic Canada and promoted them at the national level. Mr. and Mrs. Gourlay are the driving force behind Atlantic Canada’s most popular fair, Saltscapes East Coast Expo. Attended by thousands of Canadians each year, the Expo features culinary demonstrations, tastings and innovative shows that highlight the wealth of Atlantic flavours and the newest ways to prepare food. It provides a platform for producers and artisans from throughout the region to demonstrate their work in the food, wine, interior decorating, travel and gardening industries. With the Saltscapes brand, Mr. and Mrs. Gourlay have led Canadians to think differently when they purchase and consume food and drink. Their passion for superior quality regional products has allowed them to promote and institute new trends and ideas that continue to strengthen Canada’s farm-to-table connection.
Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer
Toronto, Ontario and Singhampton, Ontario
Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtländer—two individuals—two careers—two lives—separate, yet inseparable—in our eyes and perhaps even in theirs. Toronto-born Kennedy traveled to Europe for a classical chef’s education, where he apprenticed with German-born Stadtländer. They became friends and colleagues, moving to Toronto and forming the opening team at Scaramouche—unimaginably young, but leaders from the start. The sheer number of young apprentices that have emerged from their kitchens and gone on to fulfilling and important careers in growing, preparing, preserving and serving food is extraordinary. They were the original locavores and Toronto’s first celebrity chefs. Over two decades ago, the two chefs founded Knives and Forks, an organization that brought farmers and cooks together to discuss and initiate important changes to our food supply line. They understood then that they must change the infrastructure before they could change what is on the plate if their vision was to endure. In the last 30 years, chefs Kennedy and Stadtländer have never waivered from their beliefs. It is impossible to articulate the impact these two men have had on the culinary arts in Canada. They are chefs, artists, environmentalists and activists. Their food is sublime and they are leaders in the field.

Mentorship and Inspiration
Recognizing role models and those who inspire their peers and fellow Canadians about the ways in which we think about, appreciate and participate in the nation’s table
Jean-Luc Boulay
City of Québec, Quebec
As the co-owner of the Le Saint-Amour restaurant in Old Québec City for over 30 years, Jean-Luc Boulay has drawn on his training and experience in France to create a distinctively Canadian and Quebec gastronomy. He was one of the first chefs to promote local food, both in Canada and in other countries, using local ingredients to showcase regional producers and to help them improve their products and grow their businesses. On the leading edge of the latest technologies in his field, Mr. Boulay has always placed great importance on his role as a chef mentor, taking fledgling cooks under his wing. He trains them with passion and patience to take part in numerous high-profile competitions, and organizes internships in prestigious establishments to hone their know-how and versatility, while strengthening their love for their vocation. Mr. Boulay is a favourite as a judge in culinary competitions, conducts specialized training throughout Quebec, and is involved in various associations that support emerging practitioners of the culinary arts. His exceptional career has made him one of the few Canadians ever to be awarded France’s National Order of Agricultural Merit.
Sinclair and Frédérique Philip
Sooke, British Columbia
Over the last 30 years, Sinclair and Frédérique Philip have painstakingly created and maintained an incubator for regional and sustainable food philosophies. With the inexhaustible food knowledge of Sinclair and the artistic eye of Frédérique, Sooke Harbour House has mentored and produced some of this country’s most respected chefs. With its network of local fishers, foragers and artisanal food producers, this dynamic couple have created one of the most internationally recognized and acclaimed inns in this country. By working their own extensive gardens and building strong relationships with local growers, Mr. and Mrs. Philip are an unsurpassed testament to quality and commitment to a regional economy. Never willing to rest, they are now both incredibly active in the international Slow Food movement.

Stewardship and Sustainability
Recognizing the fundamental role of the gatekeepers and caretakers of the nation’s table in safeguarding our environment, food security and health
Avataq Cultural Institute
Nunavik, Quebec
Founded in 1980 by the Nunavik Inuit Elders’ Conference, the Avataq Cultural Institute is dedicated to protecting and promoting the rich language and culture of Inuit in Canada and throughout the world, by supporting a wide variety of projects. One of them, the creation of five Northern Delights herbal teas, helps not only to fund numerous activities for this northern community, but also to preserve ancestral knowledge of medicinal plants of the tundra and how they were used by previous generations. It also helps to forge precious ties between elders and youth, by keeping that traditional knowledge alive. The Northern Delights herbal teas project also provides jobs to those in the community who need them most. All the plants are gathered in accordance with strict organic rules that ensure the sustainability of this fragile resource. Thanks to the Northern Delights herbal teas project, Inuit communities in Nunavik can draw on their regional plant resources to market and sell a highly symbolic product that reflects their unique culture.
Award was accepted by Charles Arngak, President of the Avataq Cultural Institute
David Cohlmeyer
Thorton, Ontario
David Cohlmeyer came to Canada from the United States in 1972 and quickly became a gentle but powerful alternative voice, as chef and restaurateur at Beggar’s Banquet, as food and agriculture columnist of The Globe and Mail, and as the founder of the Toronto Culinary Guild. But he is best known as a farmer. He founded Cookstown Greens in 1988, a farm supplying our leading chefs with fantastically inspiring produce—everything from edible flowers to heritage vegetables to obscure herbs and perfect asparagus. A tireless advocate for locally grown foods, a generous contributor to innumerable causes and events, he is a pioneer, a leader and the environmental conscience of everyone who knows him.

Youth
Recognizing young Canadians who have shown immense potential to improve the quality, variety, awareness and sustainability of the nation’s table through creativity, innovation, inspiration, leadership and stewardship
Ricky Sze Ho Lam
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Ricky Sze Ho Lam is one of the new generation of outstanding food researchers in Canada. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Guelph, he received an Undergraduate Student Research Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario Scholarship to start his research interests in the physical properties of edible oils and fats. In his master’s studies at the University of Saskatchewan, under the direction of Dr. Michael Rogers, he continues to focus on the food applications of edible oils and fats using the Canadian Light Source (CLS). He has published two peer-reviewed articles on his research and has demonstrated significant potential as a food researcher. He plans to continue his studies at the doctoral level, where he is sure to inspire others and lead by his enthusiastic and dynamic example.

So there you have it. An exceptionally broad and diverse selection of Canadian food-and-drink movers and shakers – or so we hope. I was honoured to introduce Dr Alfred Slinkard last night. The awards will be an annual event. There is much work still to be done to establish them in the country’s consciousness. But I think it is a fine thing that we are applauding and celebrating Canada’s gastronomic champions in such a way. It’s okay to blow our own trumpet occasionally – our red-and-white gustatory vuvuzela. We eat very well in this country: it’s good to remember why.

photo © 2010 Office of the Secretary to the Governor General of Canada

 


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  1. Simone

    August 20, 2010 at 10:52 am

    This is a wonderful story, and it is so wonderful for members of the Canadian culinary community to be recognized on the same high plane as art, literature, music and other cultural arts that are so important to Canadian life. Bravo, Jean-Daniel Lafond and James Chatto.