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Chef central

The 2012 Canadian Culinary Convention is bringing some of the industry’s heavy hitters to the city---from big name corporate food companies to local entrepreneurs---to discuss where they can meet in the middle.

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This weekend chefs from across Canada will convene at the 2012 Canadian Culinary Convention to focus on sustainable food systems. "It's a really hot topic," says Don "Busch" Dubay, the 2012 National Convention Chairman and President of the Nova Scotia Association of Chefs and Cooks. Nova Scotia, he feels, couldn't be a better venue for this discussion.

"We've got seafood, we've got beef, cattle, chicken, we've got fruits, vegetables and herbs from the Valley---we're very lucky," says Dubay.

Tom Mueller is also very lucky. Surrounded by olive trees in western Italy, Mueller lives, breathes and writes olive oil. His book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, is about the fraud that surrounds grocery store olive oils: adulterated oils, cheapened with other additives. Olive oil, a global staple, is a great unifier when it comes to globalization and sustainability.

"Great olive oil is sustainable in the truest sense of the word," says Mueller. "Properly cared-for trees can live for 2000 years and more, and in many parts of the world form part of the landscape as well as part of the farmscape."

While Nova Scotia's agricultural community is relatively young and doesn't have the roots of Italy's food system, there are commonalities. And what we lack in history, Mueller feels we make up for in enthusiasm.

"In many young food cultures the consumer may not know about a given food, but they are often ready, even eager, to learn about them," he says. "Appreciation of quality can grow quickly---as it has in many parts of North America regarding wine, coffee, microbrew beer, artisanal cheeses and other foods."

Lil MacPherson's dedication to quality foods, organic produce and sustainable agriculture is the foundation on which she built her restaurant, The Wooden Monkey. During the convention, she will bring junior chefs on a tour of the farmers' market, highlighting the importance of the local food system and the role of chefs and restaurateurs in creating a sustainable province.

"Restaurants are very powerful and buy a lot of food, so if we buy food from the right people we are growing our local economy and the food system. I'm going to introduce them to suppliers and the challenges that I went through eight years ago when people thought a restaurant like the Monkey wouldn't work," she says.

The first time she brought freshly cut local lettuce into the restaurant, her staff actually called her into the kitchen to look at it, shocked by the difference. "I come from that vision," she says.

A vision that doesn't seem, at first glance, to share a sightline with corporate food companies. So the convention will house an interesting dialogue with sponsors like Sysco, Saputo Foodservice, Unilever Food Solutions and High Liner Foodservice. While each of these companies have gone on the record with sustainability initiatives, their corporate messages are still---from a consumer standpoint---very much tied to things like frozen food, palm oil and global shipping.

Mueller was originally a part of the convention's schedule, but is no longer slated to appear in any official capacity. "The organizers were quite enthusiastic about my presence, but then one of the sponsors objected to some of my statements about olive oil quality...as a result of this I was removed from the program," he says. MacPherson still looks forward to the conversation.

"There are going to be some big players there. I'm not against them, I think 'let's talk and let's move this movement.' We all have the same common thought pattern---we all want to feed people."

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