Now available from Promethus Books (avail in the UK, Canada, and the US)

English language Edition
Korean language edition (Samcheeoli Publishing, South Korea)

Proud Board Member of

Canada's only nonfiction literary festival: Oct 17-26, 2014

Misc
Sunday
Jan272013

Vancouver's Draft Food Strategy just released

Vancouver, British Columbia, leads the way again in Canada. The city just released the draft of its Food Strategy, a 150-page document. Click here to go to the Vancouver Food Policy Council (which links to the report).

It seems that Vancouver city council is supportive of urban agriculture. One of the main goals of its "Greenest City" initiative is to become a global leader in urban food systems by 2020.  It already has a vibrant urban food scene thanks to very supportive city bylaws. And now it has a blueprint for an even more edible future. Congrats Vancouver.

Sunday
Jan202013

Why we need more dining events like the Mushroom Festival at Sage in Edmonton

The dirt-lovin' dozen mushrooms we'd eat at Sage Restaurant forr the Mushroom Festival Media PreviewLast week, my old friend Cam invited me and Mike to Sage restaurant at River Cree Casino and Resort. Cam, Mike, and I all went to high school together. Throughout the years, we’ve bumped into one another and enjoyed how much and how little changes, and this was another long-overdue opportunity to reconnect. (I am starting to appreciate these friendships more and more. It can be years between conversations, yet we just pick up where we last left off. Edmonton is very much like a village that way for those of us who have been here all or most of our lives.)

Anyway, back to Sage restaurant at River Cree. Cam put us on the list for the media preview of the Mushroom Festival. (The Mushroom Festival officially happens this week, January 24, and it’s only $60 per person.) Mike even got dressed up – sort of, in his own cheeky way. And we drove through the blizzard and ridiculous cold that is Edmonton in January to celebrate mushrooms. I’m so glad we did.

First, we hadn’t been out to dine at Sage since Christophe Ithurrize had been lured away from Las Vegas over three years ago. Ithurrize is a French chef, of Basque blood. Good cooking should be encoded in his DNA. He’d also spent a decade+ with chefs in Las Vegas, where I assumed he’d have acquired some flair for the dramatic. I had high hopes for this mushroom feast.

Second, I love the idea of menus built around a seasonal ingredient. It happens all the time in Europe. I can recall the exact flavours of an asparagus menu at a restaurant in Berne, Switzerland — tender, white asparagus with a vinegary Béarnaise, velvety asparagus soup, etc. — and that was over 20 years ago. Menus built around a specific's vegetable perfection are few and far between in Canada. Rod Butters, chef/owner at RauDZ Regional Table in Kelowna, creates tomato menus each summer when the Okanagan farms can hardly keep up with the production. And Dana Ewart and Cameron Smith of Joy Road build their “cuisine de terroir” and their al fresco vineyard dinners largely around is sprouting or fruiting that very week in the Okanagan. These meals always end up being more than the sum of their parts.

Chef Christophe Ithurrize of Sage at River Cree Casino and Resort

I knew we were off to a good start when chef Ithurrize brought out the platter with the 12 different mushrooms we’d be eating, in one form or another, that night. As the meal progressed, I realized why I was loved these types of meals. A typical dinner actually makes no sense: a random soup or a random salad, some starch and protein, and then a topper of gluttony at the end. But a meal like Ithurrize and his second-in-command Robbie Oram were creating was like going to an gallery opening of a favorite local artist. So much more interesting given the constraints and context. 

First course: sous-vide poached egg and yellowfoot and oyster mushrooms on toasted brioche with mushroom oil greens on top2nd course: org chick breast, mushroom bread pud, shreds of king mushroom and porcini jus 4th course: steak with enoki mushroom 'hay' and whipped mash potatoes w/ Poplar Grove 2008 MerlotCocoa nibs and porcini dust with meringue mushrooms for dessert

Ithurrize, Oram, and the rest of the kitchen at Sage came out to take a bow at the end. We applauded not so much because it was an extraordinarily good meal (it was), but because it was an extraordinary idea. Five courses in honour of a food that peaks in darkness and chill of winter. Strangers gathered around a table who become friends throughout a meal. This was exactly what we should be celebrating, especially in a place like Edmonton, on a -25 Celsius night like it was.

Monday
Jan142013

Food and the City named among January Magazine's "Best of 2012"

Though Food and the City isn't a cookbook, I'm very happy to be listed among January Magazine's Best of 2012 list in the cookbook category. Here's what reviewer Sienna Powers has to say about it:

 

The stories are real, abundant and powerful. Food and the City is not glossy or even beautiful, but it is well-researched, well documented and absolutely inspirational. A food writer, this is journalist Cockrall-King’s beat and it shows. She brings passion, knowledge and even inspiration to her topic. You may never look at a concrete schoolyard or a bunch of supermarket grapes 3000 miles from their home in the same way again. -- Sienna Powers

Wednesday
Jan022013

What about Local Seeds?

You know where your meat comes from, but what about your seeds? I watched this video by Paolo Arrigo of Franchi Seeds of Italy / UK and it inspired this post.

This is the time of year when we gardeners go a bit squirrely. Thankfully, the seed catalogues arrive and we thumb through the full-colour pages and dream of having bumper harvests of Calabrese broccoli or Romanesco, another broccoli that produces those gorgeous fractual florets. But where do these seeds come from? And how do I know what varieties of lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, and such will grow easily, ripen and taste the best in my own garden in Western Canada?

I've been thinking about seeds a whole lot in the past year. Seven or eight years ago, I bought some green shiso seeds (Perilla frutescens, variety crispa) and grew beautiful bright green bushes of the floral Japanese herb that belongs to the mint family. I didn't save seeds and have been unable to buy the seeds ever since. Everywhere I asked, no one could give me an answer as to why this seed was impossible for me to find. When an answer was offered, I suspected it was a guess. I was told it wasn't a 'good seller' but really no one knew why I couldn't buy green shiso anymore. I just couldn't.

A couple of years ago, a chef friend had some red shiso growing in his rooftop garden his hotel in downtown Toronto. One of the plants had bolted and I asked if I could nick some of the seeds. At least I'd have red shiso, but it wasn't the same. The red leaves are tougher, furrier, and have a muskier aroma. It is no substitute for the crunchy, light, clean mint-basil perfume of the green.

This may not be the best example of what happens when a seed variety does a vanishing act, but imagine this happening on a massive scale. Many seed companies, producers of those drooly catalogues, don't actually produce their own seed, but buy from other sources. As the concentration happens, the selection withers. And some varieties just don't make the cut in a mass-market scenario. The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75% of crop biodiversity has been lost in the global food supply due to globalization and concentration of seeds under the commercial control of a handful of companies. (See The Economist, March 10, 2012, Agricultural Biodiversity: Banking Against Doomsday.)

It's all economics. Seed companies in countries and continents on the other side of the globe are simply not going to be interested in preserving local varieties of carrots, peas, tomatoes, etc. that have been developed to survive in places like Edmonton, Winnipeg, Yellowknife, or Kelowna. There is no money in it on such a local scale. Unfortunately, this means that often food grown locally will be a homogenous, standardized, product. Sigh.

What to do? I encourage you to buy seeds from the catalogues, but hopefully you can find local seed producers as close to your garden as possible. There are a number of great seed producers who are keeping the variety in our food supply alive but definitely need us to buy their seeds to keep their businesses viable. Seeds of Diversity has a fairly good up-to-date list of local seed producers here in Canada. I'm partial to a Kelowna seed producer, Jon Alcock, of Sunshine Farm. In the US, a good place to start is the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue and website. In the Eurozone (inlcuding UK), Franchi Seeds - a generational seed company from Italy - seems to be a good choice. But also in the UK, you can tap into the Heritage Seed Library and become a "seed guardian."

And after you've marked up your seed catalogues, the seed exchanges will begin in February. Go to the Seedy Saturday or Seedy Sunday exchanges in your community and buy seeds. They're cheap. I have packets of seeds that I bought just for fun. One day I'll plant them. Seeds are amazing structures. Kept in a dark, coolish location, you can store them for a few years until you're ready to watch them sprout.

Here's a listing of Canadian seed swap events from coast to coast via Seeds of Diversity.

 

Thursday
Dec062012

Local Food gets High Fashion Treatment

Are we in the midst of a "social obsession" about food? Is that such a bad thing? Sometimes I despair at the hipster food / food porn movement. It somehow diminishes (or detracts) from some of the more dire and serious insjustices and imbalances in food distribution, dwindling food biodiversity, and general lack of culinary literacy in many communities. Then again, I like tracking food trends, looking at cheeky marketing campaigns, and enjoying a bit of subversion (case in point, Hermes' Pommes de Terre juxtaposition in this photo.)

via http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671353/6-kooky-concepts-for-foodies-of-the-future#5

A friend sent me this link today 6 Kooky Concepts for the Foodies of the Future from Fast Company Magazine. This in turn led me to an interesting website called Food Thinking.

Such is the internet.