ELORA — As eating locally becomes more popular than ever, a group of chefs kicking off Food Day Canada reflected on the legacy left behind by a pioneer of the movement.
Longtime Elora resident Anita Stewart was the driving force behind this day and a lifelong champion of Canadian cuisine, earning her the Order of Canada and title of University of Guelph Food Laureate.
Stewart died in October of last year.
Jeff Stewart, Anita’ son and Food Day Canada representative, explained his mother was talking about the benefits of local food well before it was popular to do so.
“She started probably in the early 80s before anybody was really talking about regional, seasonal food,” he said.
He noted her first book was inspired by going to different farmers markets across Ontario looking at different products and asking them how they would cook it and what their favourite family recipes featuring the product were.
“Then she also figured out there’s a lot of other recipes that aren’t just about the farmers market but about our history and culinary heritage in Canada,” Stewart said.
Food Day Canada first started in 2003 as a way to show support for Canadian beef farmers who were suffering through the mad cow disease crisis but Stewart said it has become a celebration of all things his mother championed throughout her life.
“It’s an opportunity for people to celebrate all things that are Canadian in our food system,” Stewart said.
“It’s also about connecting farmers with chefs and with farmers markets, growers, the retail system and to make people appreciate what it is we have in Canada for our foods that are uniquely Canadian and different from anywhere else in the world.”
To kick Food Day Canada off, a group of nine chefs gathered at LaFontana in Elora for a nine-course dinner that also served as a tribute to Anita Stewart. Proceeds from the dinner and a silent auction will go towards the Anita Stewart Tribute Fund at the U of G.
The courses include albacore tuna, wild salmon confit, stuffed zucchini and peri peri duck among other Canadian dishes.
Jason Bangerter, chef at Cambridge’s Langdon Hall, said the resulting menu is a showcase of the diversity of Canadian cuisine.
“I think it’s pretty amazing when the question went out to everyone, ‘what do you want to do?’ everything was different and it all just worked out perfectly,” Bangerter said.
Jason Parsons, chef at Peller Estate Winery, said he thinks it’s a testament to Anita Stewart that nine chefs came out with no questions asked even as they are increasingly busy as the industry opens again.
“When Anita’s name came up, everybody just said ‘absolutely, what time, when and where?’” Parsons said.
Bangerter said he’s taken lessons he’s learned from Anita Stewart into his everyday life and career.
“I think the main thing she always said was look outside your window and know what’s happening in your community, go to the market,” Bangerter said.
“I think she just really turned everyone on to being more aware of what they’re cooking and then making sure it was supporting your community and first and foremost supporting Canada.”
“You should be able to eat a plate, and not know where you are, but get a snapshot of where you are,” Parsons added. “It’s not just location but a moment in time, it’s seasons.”
Arron Carley, chef for Keystone Hospitality Group, noted how great Anita Stewart was at community building and getting them thinking about how locals can enhance their creative process.
Stewart agreed that his mother was great at making connections which was made all the more crucial during the pandemic.
“She has always been bringing people together from across Canada virtually.”
“The pandemic only exemplified that we’re all disconnected but she continued to connect people and that’s the great thing about food, it’s a great connector.”
Anita Stewart’s legacy will live on at the U of G with a new food laboratory and culinary studio named in her honour under construction.