I was one of the one thousand people lucky enough to have a seat at Canada’s Table. That the soggy summer of 2017 allowed such a splendid evening was a truly miraculous thing, and the thousand-foot table that ran the length of Parliament Hill was marquee-free beneath a clear blue sky.
Dreamed up two years ago by restaurateur Stephen Beckta, Canada’s Table had two key missions: to celebrate Canadian cuisine and wines in the late summer of the country’s 150th anniversary, and to raise money for at-risk communities to access wholesome food. The venue was Parliament Hill. Stretching the length of Wellington, from Elgin to O’Connor was one tremendously long chefs’ table, draped in linen, decorated with pine, and fed by some of the country’s finest chefs from Newfoundland to BC.
We are a vast country that struggles with a culinary identity, as many young countries do. This event was a rare food tour, a seven-thousand-kilometre culinary road trip delivered to our capital city in front of its most iconic landmark. On the plates were Canadian ingredients, ancient and modern, placed by chefs who delight in showing off the product of their respective lands and waters, from the mighty lentil to the gentle sea asparagus, spot prawns to boreal caribou, Mac apples to Digby scallops. Food of many places, delivered to one.
We were a giddy bunch around our particular stretch of the long table, closest to Elgin Street, in the ‘Atlantic’ section, served by chefs Todd Perrin, Matthew Krizan, Jon Svazas, and Yannick Anton – two from away and two from home.
Our dinner began in the little fishing hamlet of Quidi Vidi. Visiting chef Todd Perrin of (the 18th century wooden-thatched) Mallard Cottage plated a magnificent Newfoundland cod cheek escabeche, with smoked and pickled carrots, dill fronds and a crumble of hardtack, to remind us of ships’ biscuits on sea journeys.
The smell of a cedar woods floated off (Fauna, Bar Laurel) chef Jon Svazas’ plate of caribou carpaccio, the succulent sheets of meat subtly enhanced and pressed into a puck, anointed with cedar oil and sprinkled with cedar ‘dust’, served with pickled mushrooms, juniper crackers, salty dobs of a soy emulsion, and a pliant stretch of dry-cured egg yolk, like a golden yellow ribbon gilding the package.
Back east for the next course, to Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, where chef Matthew Krizan of Mateus Bistro nestled crusted scallops, butter-poached lobster and slender stalks of samphire in a scallop shell, surrounded with sea kelp.
Then home again, to Signatures Restaurant for the sweet ending. Chef Yannick Anton and his Le Cordon Bleu team gave us a bittersweet tarte Tatin, maple glazed and set on a shortcrust biscuit, sharpened with an iced cider gelée, moistened with a smear of apple-scented pastry cream, and topped with a fascinator of apple chip.
Wines at our Atlantic dinner were all Ontario and fine matches for the food. The delicate 2016 Pinot Gris from Closson Chase was served with Perrin’s cod cheeks; the 2014 Pinot Noir VQA from Stanners Vineyard in Prince Edward County paired with Fauna’s carpaccio; from Tawse Vineyards in Niagara, its 2013 Quarry Road Chardonnay was splendid with Krizan’s seafood; and finally, teamed up with chef Anton’s tarte Tatin, Cave Spring’s ‘Indian Summer’ Late Harvest Riesling. Our wine industry too, is vast and young, but like our country’s cuisine, has come a very long way in a very short time.
Chocolates arrived as the sun set behind West Block, the evening capped with the Sound and Light Show beaming off Centre Block. It was an extraordinary event, with all profits headed for food security projects like the Growing Futures program by the Parkdale Food Centre, and The Kitchen Renovation undertaking at the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa.
Huge congratulations are due the team that dreamed it up and pulled it off: Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta and chef Michael Moffatt (of Beckta, Play and Gezellig), Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering, the massive team of helping hands bolstering them, along with the brigade of chefs who fed the thousand.
From where I sat, it was a triumph, not only for the fine weather, company and food, but also for the precious chance to taste modern, regional Canadian cuisine, and meet the men and women who work to define and elevate it.
The twenty chefs from west to east:
Vikram Vij, Vij’s Group, Vancouver
Melissa Craig, Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler
Paul Rogalski, Rouge Restaurant/Bistro Rouge, Calgary
Dale MacKay, Ayden Kitchen & Bar, Saskatoon
Carolyn Reid, Scaramouche, Toronto
Scott Vivian, Beast Restaurant, Toronto
Michael Blackie, NeXT, Stittsville
Jordan Holley, Riviera, Ottawa
Marc Doiron, Town, Ottawa
Ross Fraser, Fraser Café, Ottawa
Chris Deraiche, Wellington Gastropub, Ottawa
Tim Stock, Play, Ottawa
Joe Thottungal, Coconut Lagoon, Ottawa
Marc Lepine, Atelier, Ottawa
Jon Svazas, Fauna/Bar Laurel, Ottawa
Yannick Anton, Signatures, Ottawa
Daniel Vézina, Laurie Raphael, Montreal & Quebec City
Normand Laprise, Toqué! /Brasserie T!, Montreal
Matthew Krizan, Mateus Bistro, Mahone Bay, NS
Todd Perrin, Mallard Cottage, Quidi Vidi, NL