Telling a story - Shawn Loughlin editorial
In May, the Michelin Guide announced it would be expanding to Canada, marking the first time that Canadian restaurants would be considered for Michelin Stars, considered by many as the highest honour in the world of food. I pitched this as an editorial topic at the time, not for what it meant for the restaurants of Huron County, but for the farms and producers of the region.
I’m no expert, but just in the last five years or so that I’ve been paying attention to this stuff, there has been a great shift in regional food. It’s not about who can cook the best steak or create the tastiest sauce, but about getting creative with the ingredients at your disposal and presenting, in the most creative and best-tasting way possible, what it means to be where you’re enjoying that night’s meal.
Foraging, for example, is a very traditional method of finding food (rooting around in the wild and picking what’s edible), but it has become popular with the best chefs in the world. That idea provides a snapshot of what it means to eat in a region and that landscape can’t be replicated anywhere else, establishing a real sense of place when it comes to one of our most universal activities: eating.
Locally (more or less), Naagan by Zach Keeshig has attracted attention for this. An established chef, Keeshig hosts a nine-course tasting menu dinner at his restaurant in Owen Sound based on his Indigenous background, comprised entirely of food he has foraged, grown or sourced locally. His menus would certainly tell a story not just of his heritage, but also of the area: a snapshot in time. Chefs who work this way seek to provide their diners with a plate of food that you couldn’t eat anywhere else in the world on that exact night.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have turned their sights on this idea working backwards, showing how the climate has changed through menus of the past.
The Atlantic published an extensive piece about the study by Ian Rose over the weekend. The authors of the study gathered menus from hundreds of restaurants in Vancouver, as well as other cities along the west coast, including locations in Alaska and California. They then dug up Vancouver restaurant menus dating back as far as the 1880s.
“Using their records, the scientists created an index called the Mean Temperature of Restaurant Seafood (MTRS), which reflects the water temperature at which the species on the menu like to live,” Rose wrote in his piece. “Predictably, they found that the MTRS of Los Angeles was higher than that of Anchorage, with Vancouver falling in the middle. But by analyzing how the MTRS for Vancouver has changed over time, they found a significant trend of warmer-water species becoming more common on restaurant menus. In the 1880s, the MTRS for Vancouver was roughly 10.7°C. Now it is 13.8°C.”
Rose notes that, in Vancouver, cool-water species like sockeye salmon have continued to decline (British Columbia had its lowest salmon catch in 70 years in 2019) with warmer weather creatures like the Humboldt squid taking its place in fishermen’s nets.
When Jess and I traversed Newfoundland in the summer of 2019, we feasted on bakeapple (cloudberries), cod tongues and, well, cod everything else. Every meal felt like it could not have been served anywhere but there.
That’s the beauty of regional food, rather than grabbing McDonald’s every four hours, which is universal by design. You can learn a lot about where you are by its food; both in the moment and looking back through the years.