Food Matters – Summer Reading 2014

Sous Chef

Sous Chef

It looks like the next week, and hopefully weeks, are going to be hot and sunny across British Columbia. It’s time for the beach, your deck, or maybe just some air conditioned comfort. Because when it gets too hot to move, one of the best things to do is relax with a good book. When I relax with a book, of course it usually has something to do with food, and as I prepare to take a couple of weeks off, I’m willing to share my reading list with you.

Over the summer I like to leave most of the cookbooks on the shelf except when searching for some inspiration after shopping for the produce of the season, but otherwise I want something that will keep my whole attention occupied for chapters at a time. That includes non-fiction and fiction and this week I have curated a short list for foodies, as well as for kids who are interested in food.

The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

The Third Plate, by Dan Barber

A foodie friend of mine highly recommended The Third Plate, Field Notes on the Future of Food, by Dan Barber. She said this takes the books of food journalist Michael Pollan to another level. Pollan of course, is famous for his books called the Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, in which he urges us to get closer to a simpler food life, but The Third Plate goes to the source of food we get from farms. Dan Barber is an award-winning chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the Pocatino Hills just north of New York City. He describes “first plate” as a classic meal centered on meat with few vegetables. But he says many people are now eating from the “second plate,” the new ideal of organic, grass-fed meats and local vegetables. Barber says neither of those plates supports the long-term productivity of the land. His “third plate” is a new pattern of eating rooted in cooking with and celebrating the whole farm—an integrated system of vegetable, grain, and livestock production. So I’m really interested in reading that and seeing how he addresses the question of ‘whole farms’ being able to support our urban populations and whether farmers’ markets are seen as a help or a hindrance to his system.

The Third Plate spends a lot of time on the farm, something that takes us into a kitchen is  Sous Chef, 24 Hours on the Line, by Michael Gibney. This book is not quite Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential in that it’s not an autobiography. But the 24 hours in the kitchen of Gibney unfolds in second person narrative…so it puts YOU in the kitchen, experiencing everything that hardworking chefs go through behind the scenes at a breakneck pace in this fictional day that is based on the years of experience Gibney has had working at every single station in a kitchen from dishwasher up to chef.

I think ever since we started getting chef-centred shows on the Food Network, and then branching out onto other networks, young people have started viewing being a chef as quite a glamorous career, especially when you see how rich and famous chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain have become.  So we’ve seen more chef schools opening, enrolments going up…but I think a book like Sous Chef should be required reading so people know exactly what they are getting into if they decide the kitchen is a place for their career.

Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester

Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester

Sous Chef is a dose of reality for young adults, so for a good taste of food in fiction,I’ve just started reading the Neil Flambé series by Kevin Sylvester. People may remember Kevin as a sports host here on CBC Radio and he still turns up from time to time on network radio, but Kevin is also a very good artist and has a flair for a good mystery as well, based on his creation, Neil Flambé, a 14-year old chef who has people lined up to get into this restaurant. Not only is he a good chef, but he also likes to solve mysteries in his spare time. The first book of the series is called ‘Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders’, it opens with Marco Polo on his deathbed in Venice, then swoops ahead to the present to the theft of Marco Polo’s secret notebook, then straight to Neil’s restaurant where he is berating a fish monger on the phone for delivering a stinky salmon to him. And that’s all within the first few pages. I’m certainly not a young adult any more but I think I’m going to be hooked on Neil Flambé.

All Four Stars, by Tara Daiman

All Four Stars, by Tara Daiman

In turn, Kevin Sylvester has recommended another young adult novel that has today (July 10th) as it’s publication date and it sounds like a lot of fun. It’s called ‘All Four Stars’ by Tara Daiman. Here’s the synopsis: All Four Stars chronicles the adventures of 11-year old Gladys Gatsby, who, thanks to an unlikely series of events, suddenly becomes a professional good critic for a major New York City newspaper. Sounds like fun to me!





Angelica's Smile, by Andrea Camilleri

Angelica’s Smile, by Andrea Camilleri

Want something a little more racy? Just in time  for the summer comes another Inspector Montalbano mystery from the pen of Italian writer Andrea Camilleri called Angelica’s Smile. This time our inspector gets seduced over dinner by the Angelica in the title. And I have one more book for you that gives you some good reading as well as a bunch of Italian recipes. Donna Leon is the author of the Inspector Brunetti series of mysteries, set in Venice. Food always plays a role in the Brunetti family life and eventually people started demanding that Donna Leon supply the recipes for the meals described in her books.


Brunetti's Cookbook,

Brunetti’s Cookbook, by Roberta Pianaro and Donna Leon

So, Brunetti’s Cookbook is a fantastic collection of recipes put together by Roberta Pianaro, interspersed with culinary stories from the chapters of Leon’s books. I love it, and I’ve made several recipes from this book already.

On another note, Vancouver Island’s Andrew Shepherd is in the running for a $100,000 business grant from in  The Globe and Mail’s Small Business Challenge ContestHe can really use this money to grow his Vancouver Island Salt Company and he is one of four semi-finalists from across the country and you can vote for him right here.

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Food Matters – Biscotti di Notte

Most food-based businesses these days start out with a business plan.  Planning for profit is important, of course, but what about a business plan that includes saving those profits for a trip to your homeland of Italy? That’s part of the plan for the island artisan I profiled on CBC Radio’s All Points West this week.

photo 2Traveling to Italy sounds like a very specific part of a business plan, but it was a clear dream for Mirella Trozzo of Qualicum Beach when she started her small baking company ten years ago. A couple of weeks ago I visited Mirella at her home-based business, Biscotti di Notte, where she has built a lovely little commercial kitchen in the garage. The whole business came about by way of a sort-of challenge from her husband: “I always wanted to visit Italy, I have never been since I got here, and my husband, typical Italian, seven years older than me, said, ‘where are you going to get the money?’ and since I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, I guess I needed to start some sort of home-based business, and that’s what I did.”


Mirella's almond biscotti

Mirella’s almond biscotti

The name of her business, Biscotti di Notte, means Biscotti, for the Italian twice-baked cookie commonly dunked into coffee, and Notte, for night. She started making the biscotti late at night, when her two young boys were asleep and she could get some time to herself. Once she had perfected her recipe, things started to take off: “I brought some to my son’s elementary school, and the teachers there went nuts for them and wanted to buy them, then some cafes started buying them from me, and now I’m also in Quality Foods, and they have a number of stores on the island, and I’m actually starting to have a problem keeping up with the demand.”


Mirella Trozzo

Mirella Trozzo

The first thing that makes them stand out is that they are actually different from most other store-bought biscotti. Mirella only bakes them once, but she bakes them on special stones in her oven and makes them in rectangular metal moulds she had specially made. It took her a year to perfect the recipe, which was adapted from her family’s original recipe. It’s a very labour intensive process, but Mirella is pleased with what she came up with: “I really love the result, the texture is beautiful and I try to stay true to using the best quality ingredients whenever possible, pure vanilla or vanilla beans, I roast all the nuts myself before putting them in the batter. And then I have come up with different flavours, so for Seedy Saturday I have an all-seed biscotti, and for our community event Fire and Ice I came up with a chocolate, lime and chilli biscotti, where you get the sweet chocolate when you first taste it and then you get the hot chilli.” 


Inside Mirella's kitchen

Inside Mirella’s kitchen

Mirella hasn’t restricted her business strictly to the biscotti, I brought in a couple of other treats as well…including an Italian shortbread, which is more ball-shaped than traditional flat shortbreads. It’s stuffed with roasted pecans, and coated with icing sugar. You also have a piece of chocolate cinnamon vanilla pizzelle there. Mirella says the pizzelle is the oldest cookie in the world, tracing roots to the 8th century in her home region of Abruzzo. This is the very flat wafer pressed and baked in a decorative iron press, traditionally made with the licorishy flavour from anise, but Mirella has come up with some more modern flavours.

But you know what? She’s been at this for ten years now and she still hasn’t made that trip to Italy! Life happens, she says. Two young teenage boys, so there are tutors and braces and sports and it just hasn’t happened yet, but she knows that someday soon it will, and she wants to use the trip to learn how to make even better products. 

DSC_3799I really hope she gets there. She came to Canada when she was just a baby, and I just know she will love Italy when she goes for her long-awaited visit. In the meantime, you will find Mirella at the Errington Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Come back to this page in a little bit, because I’m adding some photos of her wonderfully vintage decorated commercial kitchen which you can visit on certain days.

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Food Matters – Alcohol Sales at Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets are now in full swing across BC, with more and more crops coming into their harvest seasons, nugget potatoes, snap peas, early garlic, and…wine? Yes, very soon you will start seeing local wine, beer, mead and spirit producers with their own booths at BC farmers markets.

Serving SeaCider

Serving SeaCider

In a bid to update many of our archaic liquor laws, the provincial government is now allowing the sale of beer, wine, cider and spirits at farmers’ markets across BC. And because we are talking farmers’ markets, the organizers at many farmers’ markets will apply the same standards as they do to their other vendors, in that they will focus on local producers of these beverages. I’ve seen wines and spirits for sale at farmers’ markets in Oregon and all over Europe. You can get a little taste of what the producers are selling, and it all seems to take place in a quite civilized manner. After all, people are not buying drinks, they are just getting little sips to try.

Of course there are some regulations. I spoke with Elizabeth Quinn, the executive director of the BC Farmers’ Market Association, and she’s just sent the regulations out to her member markets. She says many of the regulations came about with the association’s direct consultation with the provincial government. Any liquor vendor at a market will have to have their ‘Serving It Right’ certificate, and they also must have an existing storefront where people can already buy their products. Some markets have let her know they are not interested in having the beverage producers there, while others are wholeheartedly embracing it. She says how each farmers’ market decides to integrate the producers will be up to the individual market, since they all have their own unique culture, and some municipal bylaws may have to be amended if they don’t already allow liquor sales to take place at public venues like the markets.

I’ve received a variety of reactions from some of the beverage producers I know on the Island.  Stephen Schacte in Duncan has been planning and building his Ampersand distillery for the past three and a half years and he’s just about ready to start producing gin and some specialty liquors like a tayberry-infused vodka made from berries at Sol Farm, which he and his wife Ramona own. They have already been selling their fruits and vegetables at the market, so now he’s really looking forward to being able to greet their regular customers and new ones at the market with his products. I’m going to go out and visit his distillery for a future column because he tells me the still he’s building is unlike any other.

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

Peter Kimmerly of Island Spirits Distillery

But up at Hornby Island, Peter Kimmerly from Island Spirits Distillery (the folks that make pHrog gin and vodka) says he’s not interested in doing farmers’ markets, especially off-island, because he has more than enough people coming right to his door these days, and a lot of his profit can be eaten up by just taking the ferry to the mainland.

One of the larger producers near me in Cobble Hill is Merridale Cidery, where co-owner Rick Pipes helped lead the way in getting liquor laws friendlier to the artisan distilling industry. Rick’s wife Janet Docherty says she thinks the idea of being able to promote your craft at local markets is great; she’ll definitely look into it, likely won’t bother sampling their ciders there, but they would like to get people tasting and more familiar with their distilled products such as their apple and pear brandies. And I got the same reaction from Linda Holford at Rocky Creek Winery and Marilyn Schulze at the Venturi-Schulze Vineyards. Linda already has her application in to the Duncan Farmers’ Market so I wouldn’t be surprised if Rocky Creek is one of the first producers will we see at a market here on Vancouver Island.

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Spirits from Merridale Estate Cidery

Potential downsides to this? As Marilyn Schulze said to me today, the devil is in the details. Anything new to established set-ups or a cultural change may take a little while to settle out. Each market will have to determine how they will deal with the new vendors coming in. Steve Schacte was concerned all the producers may get lumped into one area, where he would rather just add on to his established table for his farm. Elizabeth Quinn told me the Whistler Farmers’ market has already decided to limit their vendors to one craft brewery, one distillery and one winery each week, and they will rotate among the different producers who want to come in so no one gets an exclusive run at the market. So I just hope that the markets themselves don’t add on too many unnecessary or cumbersome regulations that would end up driving the artisans away instead of encouraging them, because I think this has the potential to be a great way to encourage more local spirit production in this province.

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Food Matters – Foodie Film Fest

fffThree words for the weekend. Food, film and fun. The second annual Foodie Film Festival kicks off in Victoria tomorrow and the organizers are sure they have chosen a delicious line-up. I have to admit I totally missed it, somehow it was not on my radar last year but I know all about it this year and people who like film and like food are in for a treat. It’s not a big festival, but does give you a good taste for some of the more entertaining and informative food films that are out there right now. I talked with Kathy Kay from the Victoria Film Festival, who also curates this weekend’s festivities, and she told me that they came up with this idea in the first place as something to fill in the gap between the film festival dates, and thought they might as well do combine things that people like to do in Victoria, like eat, drink and watch films.

This is more than just simple screenings with popcorn and soda. Your ticket price includes snacks themed to match the ethnicity of the films, as well as beverages, including cocktails.  All the films being shown at the David Foster Foundation Theatre at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel have food conceived of by executive chef Iain Rennie, things like samosas and curries for the Indian-based movie, noodle box for the Japanese film, and so on. One of the screenings even takes place at the de Vine winery in Saanichton, with snacks from Chiarellis. The Food and Beverage team at the hotel has also been busy coming up with beer and cocktail pairings for the showings there. 

I have to confess that I have watched an advance copy of Jadoo: Kings of Curry, about the feuding restaurateur brothers and it really is charming and funny and you will definitely be hungry if you don’t have something to eat before you see the film.

People are cocktail crazy in Victoria with all the different bars and lounges and even the Art of the Cocktail festival. In the Hey Bartender documentary viewers will see an almost fanatical dedication to the craft of making a cocktail in that film, and a real variety of characters who work and tend bar at the various venues featured in the movie.  A reminder that tickets are sold only in advance to the festival, use the link above to get to the box office.

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Foodie Film Fest – Sneak Preview

fffExtra, extra, listen to this! Some great foodie films are on offer at the Victoria Foodie Film Festival this weekend. I’ll be talking about it in detail on Thursday on my Food Matters column on CBC’s All Points West, but here’s a special sneak preview of the film fest via an audio clip from Victoria Foodie Film Festival Director Kathy Kay.

I’ve seen all of the trailers for the films and they all look like great foodie films. And I’ve watched the entirety of Jadoo: Kings of Curry (here’s the trailer) and it is not to be missed. Funny, touching and makes you hungry all in one go.

Two things to remember: One: Tickets are for sale IN ADVANCE ONLY. To purchase go to this link. Two: I will have some tickets to give away on my column on Thursday afternoon. Two tickets to the de Vine screening on Saturday, and two tickets to the Hey Bartender screening at Oak Bay Beach Hotel to give away. But don’t wait to win, go and buy some tickets now!


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Food Matters – Dairy Cow Abuse

The widespread circulation of an undercover video showing dairy cows being abused at a large farm in Chilliwack is having a ripple effect on the dairy industry. This week on Food Matters, I try help you navigate the maze of dairy products available here on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.


George Boyes and Jersey calf at Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz

George Boyes and Jersey calf at Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz

That video certainly wasn’t pleasant to look at and it was very unpleasant to see people who clearly did not have any thoughts for the welfare of the animals they were abusing. I think part of the problem with that particular farm in the size of the operation, 3500 cows. The animal rights organization that shot the video, however, is saying that because this was the first farm in which it managed to place an undercover worker, it thinks that the abuse is widespread. Personally speaking, though, with any dairy farm I have ever been to anywhere in BC, I found nothing but farmers who really care for their animals and their welfare. It’s part of their nature and part of their business…production from dairy animals, especially cows, can really drop off if they are stressed, injured or sick.

Nonetheless, the reputation of dairy farmers has taken a hit because of this news. On Tuesday morning when the news broke, I posted a Facebook status that basically said, don’t tar all dairy farmers with the same brush. And while I received a lot of support for that statement via likes and comments, some of my friends were still asking, ‘well, where can I get dairy products that I can trust come from animals that haven’t been abused?’

There is no easy answer to that question. I’d love to say that there is no abuse of farm animals in BC but we’ve just seen the proof that there is. But I can certainly point you in directions where you have a much great assurance that you are purchasing quality products from dairy animals that are treated with care and respect. So, let’s consider the main dairy products we purchase here on the island. Milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream. Let’s start with the easiest category, cheese. Many of the cheesemakers here on the island either source their milk from animals on their own farm, or a single dairy farm close by that they have carefully selected. Companies that make cheese from their own dairy herd would include Moonstruck organic cheeses on Salt Spring Island, and Little Qualicum Cheeses in Parksville.

Photos of water buffalo and their owner, Darrell Archer, at Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria. (where they use Natural Pastures water buffalo mozzarella)

Photos of Fairburn Farm water buffalo and their owner, Darrell Archer, at Pizzeria Prima Strada in Victoria. (where they use Natural Pastures water buffalo mozzarella)

Today I got an email from the wife of the farm manager at Little Qualicum, who told me that farm is the only SPCA-certified dairy farm in British Columbia and that her husband loves the cows more than he loves her, ha ha ha. Any certified organic farms also give you another layer of inspection that may turn up anything untoward in the treatment of animals. Other cheesemakers like The Creamery at Cheese Point Farm, Natural Pastures, Salt Spring Island Cheese, all get their milk from local sources they’ve carefully selected, be they goat, sheep or dairy farms.  Any water buffalo mozzarella you purchase from Natural Pastures comes from the very well-loved herd at Fairburn Farm in the Cowichan Valley.




Goats at Snap Dragon Dairy, milked for Legato Gelato

Goats at Snap Dragon Dairy, milked for Legato Gelato

So if you are purchasing a locally-made artisan cheese you have a pretty good assurance the milk is from a smaller family farm that takes care of their animals. And this would also hold true for businesses like Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt near Courtenay, and the Legato Gelato people near Fanny Bay. Legato Gelato has their own milking herd of goats, and Tree Island gets their milk from one farm in Comox that they carefully chose not only for the quality of the milk, but the kind of care given to the animals.

It becomes more difficult to know about the source of the milk you’re consuming when you’re purchasing products such as cheese, butter, yogurts and milk that are processed and packaged by large processors. They need large quantities of milk, which is available through the Milk Marketing Board quota system, and that milk is a pool of milk which may be produced anywhere in the province. So there is no way of knowing that a litre of Island Farms milk or ice cream, while produced here on the island, comes from Island farms, or farms that you may have visited here and have seen humane treatment of animals. And an individual can’t just go to any dairy farm in BC and purchase milk directly from the farmer….although I am aware of people who purchase something called ‘cowshares’ at dairy farms because they want to purchase raw, unpasteurized milk. It’s a way to try to circumvent the law in BC that prevents the sale of unpasteurized milk. I’m not part of one of those systems but I presume anyone who is would have access to having a tour of the farm, since they own shares in it, after all.

 Trying to buy dairy and other products if you want to keep in mind animal welfare, nutrition and growing practices is hard work! And the animal welfare nature of this particular story gives us another important angle to think about, but I still maintain you can put your trust in smaller, family owned and operated dairy farms in this area. I certainly can’t claim to have all the answers, but over the years I’ve met some very fine producers of dairy products here on the Islands. Check out this story about Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz, and this story about two different dairy farms in the Fraser Valley, goat and cow.

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Food Matters – Lantzville Market and Sausages

Good weather means barbecue. Barbecue quite often means sausages. Great for serving a crowd, but of course you want a good quality sausage on the grill or dinner could quite easily go up in flames. I’ve returned from my early summer vacation with some tips on where to get a good sausage.

Lantzville Market

Lantzville Market

Is finding a good sausage kind of like finding the Holy Grail? Of course! Luckily I think there is more than one Holy Grail of sausages here on Vancouver Island but I am always interested in tasting the products of another artisan sausage maker here, and this week I acted on a tip from a friend who lives in Lantzville, just north of Nanaimo. If you’ve never been to Lantzville it’s a bit of a hidden treat most people just drive by on the highway. But it has a pub, a great restaurant called Riso (more on that later), spectacular ocean views and easy waterfront access…AND, the Lantzville Market, where you can find Darrell’s Sausages.


Darrell Pirozzini

Darrell Pirozzini

Darrell Pirozzini and his brother Dean have operated the Lantzville Market for the past 25 years. Tucked into one corner of the market is Darrell’s meat cutting and sausage operation. He likes getting in whole cuts of beef and pork, cutting and grinding and mixing them and stuffing them into casings pretty much by himself, with a little bit of help. And these sausages have become one of the main features of the market, especially Darrell’s Famous Bratwursts. That’s what they’re called and Darrell explained there’s a reason for that. “Well, years ago I used to work in this butcher shop with a German guy who made bratwurst. It took me years to get the recipe, he didn’t want to give it up. Then I finally got it, and now I’m not going to give it up…but the bratwurst is very popular, I sell anywhere from 80 to 150 pounds of it a week.”


Top: Beef and Sun-dried Tomato. Middle: Bratwurst. Bottom: Breakfast.

I grilled all the sausages for tasting today, and Darrell passed on a perfect method that I’ve used twice now. Barbecue on medium heat. Do NOT prick the sausages to let any fat out, because there just isn’t that much fat and you don’t want to dry them out. Turn a few times on each side, and when the casing starts to crack open, they are done.

Operating a small grocery store is tough this days. And yet this little market in Lantzville has stayed alive for 25 years now. Darrell says they have major competition in the area from Costco, Overwaitea and Walmart, but he says they survive on being there for people in the small town, selling top quality meats and sausages and relying on word of mouth. Darrell also sticks to something he learned when he was growing up in the business. “If it’s something you wouldn’t buy yourself, don’t sell it. And I stick to that rule today.”

The art of sausage making is still alive and well on Vancouver Island. Other sausages I have know and loved: Galloping Goose Sausage Company, Ravenstone Farm Artisan Meats, McLennan’s Island Meat and Seafood, and Nanaimo Sausage House.

Riso LunchIf you are in the Greater Nanaimo area I am hosting a market lunch and book signing with some of the artisans in that area at Riso Restaurant in Lantzville on the 17th of this month. Visit the Stir Cooking School Facebook page for more info, and hope to see you there! Oh, if you missed the column on the radio, click here to listen…

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Food Matters – Lentils

Courtesy of Canadian Lentils

Courtesy of Canadian Lentils

Fact: Sixty-seven percent of the world crop of lentils is grown in Saskatchewan. Fact: You can buy red lentils that are grown right here on Vancouver Island. Fact: The Saskatchewan Pulse Growers want to make sure you start eating a lot more lentils.

Even armed with those facts, although most people know what they look like and maybe even what they taste like, they’re not really part of our daily diet. The vast majority of those lentils grown in Saskatchewan are shipped out of the country and around the world. A nutritionist friend of mine who visited a lentil farm in Saskatchewan asked the farmers how they liked eating their lentils and they admitted to her, ‘we just grow them, we don’t eat them!’ But lentils have been cultivated for thousands of years in Egypt and have been found in prehistoric sites in Europe. They have the highest protein content of all vegetables at around 25 percent. They are in the legume family but more properly are called a pulse, which is the dried version of a legume. The protein made them a great substitute for meat in Roman Catholic countries during Lent, but that’s not where the name comes from. The Latin name, lens culinaris, comes from the lentil’s resemblance to a lens, and from lens we get lentils.

Lentil HunterA hoped-for rise in Canadian lentil consumption grabbed my attention while watching Top Chef Canada on the Food Network. And in episode 4, in the Quickfire Challenge that starts every show, the chefs were challenged to create a dish using Canadian lentils. The winner received a cash prize of five thousand dollars, courtesy of Canadian Lentils, the entity that is in charge of promoting lentils grown by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. So I got to see some creative uses of lentils. Then, also on the Food Network, I see a promo for a show called Lentil Hunter. Each webisode features everyone’s favourite tall chef, Michael Smith, travelling around the world in search of the world’s best lentil recipes. In a press release, Chef Smith says, “This is a big deal, just moving that needle 1%, keeping 1% more of those lentils here in Canada, would be huge for our farmers. It would be ever so much more profitable for them.” So there you have it, the campaign is aimed at getting more money into the hands of farmers since they would probably make more money actually selling lentils in Canada than shipping them overseas, and it seems like they are spending a lot of money in order to make money. That being said, lentils are a healthy and nutritious food item, so I can’t really argue with the idea of getting us to eat more lentils…and of course Chef Smith and Canadian Lentils are providing us with lots of recipes.

As far as buying local is concerned, you can find lentils grown right here on Vancouver Island. I have not yet tried this product, but my friend Chef Heidi Fink has, and here’s a link to her article about the lentils grown at Saanichton Farm on my blog. They grow red lentils there, and they are sold as the whole pulse, what we usually buy at the store are split red lentils, but it’s great that they are growing them and I think I should be doing a visit out there this summer to see how they’re grown.

Is this campaign is going to result in us eating more lentils? I think the timing is right, Canadians want to eat more local food, and they probably didn’t know that lentils are grown right here, and for those people trying to put less meat in their diet but still want some protein, here are lentils. You can even use them to cut down on the amount of butter in a cookie recipe, using pureed lentils instead. And they are not expensive. If you’re not a fan yet, give them a try.

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Food Matters – Gunnar’s Pastries

It’s often said food is art you can eat. The only problem with that is then it’s gone. A chef or baker could spend hours creating one small piece of edible art, only to have it devoured in minutes. Today on my Food Matters column on CBC Radio Victoria, I told the  story of a granddaughter who wanted to pay tribute to her grandfather’s creations.

Sophia Burke, formerly of Vancouver and Salt Spring Island, (and a former student of my Food and Travel Writing course) is now making her living as a multimedia artist in Montreal. But she did come back for a visit recently, to launch her gallery called Gunnar’s Pastries at the Pod Contemporary Gallery in Ganges. (previously seen as Sweet Mementos in Montreal) I saw the exhibit when I was on Salt Spring a couple of weeks ago, and it is still running for two more weeks, and while you can look at some of the exhibit online, it is really worth it to see them in person.

Gunnar's Princess Cake

Gunnar’s Princess Cake

Sophia has printed very large format photos of the pastries her grandfather, Gunnar Gustafson used to make over the years in two bakeries in Vancouver, Elsie’s and Liberty. He finally retired at age 88 earlier this year. But the pastries are the only thing in the photo, small in size, compared with a large, plain white background. I missed Sophia while she was there, but caught up with her  after she had returned to Montreal, and asked her about the decision to showcase just the pastries. She told me she didn’t want to do the photos like traditional food photography: “I wanted somehow there to be some emotion in the photographs, and by putting them with this large white background I think that it both focuses on the pastry itself and its craftmanship, and because it is all by itself it feels kind of lonely.”

Sophia spent a lot of time with her grandparents in the bakeries as a youngster, and you can only imagine what that must be like as a child:  ”I would gladly hang out there all day, and just keep eating pastries. There’s one that he called a potato. I could maybe eat a quarter of one now. It’s covered in marzipan and cocoa powder and there’s cake and butter cream and brandy. I used to sneak one while I was in the bakery, thinking that he wouldn’t notice one missing out of the maybe 12 or 15 he was working on. And then I could probably eat another whole one, I can’t do that now!” 

It’s got me hungry just listening to the description. Sophia had been thinking for the past few years about how to capture the essence of the memories she has from the bakery, she took a lot of photos and video of the bakery and her grandparents, but it wasn’t until last year that she finally hit upon this way of stripping everything else away and getting to the essence of her grandfather’s craft.  I have to say that this exhibit, which also includes a short video of her grandfather icing a beautiful cake, to the music of Artie Shaw, which he always liked to have playing in the bakery, is not in the same vein as Sophia’s other work, which tends to be more abstract. Even in the video you only see his hands working on the cake. She likes to evoke emotion and narrative in her abstract work, so it was quite different for her to work in this format which started out as being very archival in nature: “In this work I use a much more representational type of photography, and video, but I still think it generates that type of emotion that I wanted it to. And even though it’s personal history, my personal story, I think it is accessible to other people as well, not only because it’s food, because food is cultural and exciting, and emotional to everybody, but the story is also very accessible, it’s not only my grandfather, but it could be somebody else’s grandfather who immigrated to Canada as well.”

And there’s really something in that, because I think of some of the old photos we have of my uncle, the only sibling of my father who was born in Italy, and there’s a photo of showing just him, trimming a big head of cauliflower in his garden, and it made me think of how he used his hands as a gardener all his life.  If you are on Salt Spring within the next two weeks you really should go and see them at the Pod Contemporary Gallery in Ganges, they are there until May 16th.

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Food Matters – Fermented Foods

Melanie Furman mixing kimchi

Melanie Furman mixing kimchi

Yogurt. Beer. Wine. Bread. Soy Sauce. They are all quite familiar food products that many of us eat every day. They all happen to be fermented food products. Sauerkraut and kimchi are not quite so familiar to us, and yet they are part of a growing trend in the consumption of fermented foods. This week on my Food Matters column on CBC Radio’s All Points West, I discovered that trend is feeding the growth of a couple of businesses in this region.

For me sauerkraut has been a special occasion food served to complement sausages or a choucroute garni, the Alsatian dish which includes sauerkraut and smoked and cured meats. Kimchi I eat mostly whenever I eat Korean food, but you won’t likely find a jar of it in my fridge and a jar of sauerkraut could sit in the fridge for months. But…these fermented foods are growing in popularity as people discover they are helpful as a digestive aid and have been associated with easing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It hasn’t hit the fever pitch of the yogurt market, you walk down the aisle of a supermarket you’re likely to see 20 more kinds of yogurt as opposed to sauerkraut or kimchi…

Melanie Furman of 'culturalive'

Melanie Furman of ‘culturalive’

For food manufacturers yogurt is cheap and fast to make. Made in a few hours, and some yogurts don’t even have milk in them, just modified milk products. Sauerkraut and kimchi, on the other hand, take weeks or even months to ferment, and there is a lot of chopping and mixing involved with the cabbage and other vegetables used in the mix. That hasn’t stopped people from going into the business, though. Earlier this week I visited Melanie Furman in her commercial kitchen on Salt Spring Island, where she makes her ‘culturalive’ sauerkrauts and kimchis for sale at the Salt Spring markets and about a dozen stores. Like many artisans I’ve met here, they get into a food business not because they thought it was a great business idea, but because of their own experience with the food:

I had a bit of a health crisis, I was working a few jobs and going to school full-time and racing back and forth from Salt Spring to Vancouver Island…and my system kind of crashed. I started doing some research to see what I could do to get my health back up. I went on a few different diets and tried fermenting and I discovered that eating fermented foods  helped my body to actually digest the food as well as absorb it.

As Melanie became adept at making her own fermented vegetables, eventually the business seed was planted, curiously enough when she was teaching people about nutrition in Zimbabwe. It turns out they had a lot to teach her as well:

And I learned from the indigenous people of Zimbabwe that they had been creating fermented foods for who knows how long, their ancestors and ancestors before that. As I started to do more research I realized that almost every culture in the world does some sort of fermenting, whether it’s grains, vegetables, or fruit, or meat. So if every culture is doing this there must be some reason, some benefit, and then I looked for sauerkraut companies in Canada and found only one, so, why not start another one?


Mixing Kimchi

Mixing Kimchi

So now she’s been doing it for the past four years, just created a commercial kitchen in a renovated trailer and does all of her production and bottling in there. A lot of chopping and cutting goes into creating her products. She has an industrial food processor that helps her with the slicing of some of the vegetables, but the cabbage that goes into her kimchis, for example, is all cut by hand. After a first fermentation in a large food-grade plastic pail, the various recipes go into German-made crock pots to age in a temperature controlled closet…and those crock pots are expensive! The large ones cost $400 each, about half that for half the size, but even a small one costs about $150 dollars, but they create the ideal environment with a one way seal that lets gas from the fermented veggies out, but doesn’t allow any air to get in.

A Selection of culturalive Products

A Selection of culturalive Products

Fermented foods are supposed to be so good for you on a number of fronts, according to Melanie. First, the fermentation creates probiotic bacteria, and enzymes, which have started to break down the vegetables in the kraut or kimchi, so your body doesn’t have to take on the whole job of doing the digestion, and byproduct of the fermentation also includes lactic acid, which helps create an environment in your gut where bad bacteria or yeasts or viruses can’t grow. She has also used her knowledge of herbs and spices to use them in her products to add to the benefits already inherent in the ferments, so some of her products have spices like coriander and cumin and fennel seed in them, as well as fresh roots like turmeric, ginger and fennel. Her newest product is called Green Gold sauerkraut, all organic ingredients, including cabbage of course, but also fennel and fennel seed, stinging nettle, kale and orange zest. I also had host Jo-Ann Roberts try the spicy kimchi. I have found myself just eating these two products straight out of the far, they are very fresh tasting and not too salty, and Melanie likes to use as much locally grown vegetables in her products as she can:

Yeah, I’m very grateful to have three local farmers growing vegetables for me this year. Im so happy I can guarantee them sales which is always a challenge for a farmer. So they’re growing carrots, onions, cabbage, garlic, hopefully some sui choi and daikon radish this year. I can get the produce right from the island, the farmers harvest it the day I need it and I can pay them that day, it’s a great cycle.


Zed Squared Food Co.’s smoked kimchi

Melanie isn’t alone in her passion for creating fermented foods. A young chef named Zac Zorisky at Z-Squared Food Company in Ladysmith has been working on a line of kimchis, ever since he was introduced to it when visiting South Korea a few years ago. His most unique product at this point is one he calls Zac-chi, and it is a smoked kimchi. What I’m really looking forward to is his soya sauce. Yes, he’s fermenting an artisan style soy sauce, which can take months if not more than a year to make. But I am very excited by that prospect, and excited in general that we have two artisan sauerkraut and kimchi makers in the South Vancouver Island area. 

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