Food Day Canada falls on the August long weekend each year. It’s a coast-to-coast-to-coast celebration of our national bounty. For the last 11 years, food activist, historian and author Anita Stewart has challenged home cooks and chefs across the country to create and share a meal made only with local ingredients, for the occasion.
Last year I spent the day on Prince Edward Island with Chef Michael Smith and met potato farmers, vodka distillers, lobster fishers for a Maritimes feast and dancing on the wharf. This year I celebrated Food Day Canada on the edge of the Atlantic, looking out to Iceberg Alley, Newfoundland, from the dining room at Fogo Island Inn, where Chef Murray McDonald has been experimenting with everything from caribou moss to salt pork to crowberries to put a contemporary spin on traditional Newfoundland fare. Here he talks us through his tasting menu, which uses ingredients uniquely from Fogo Island.
Crab, Sea Salt and Seaside Greens
“In March last year, when the slob ice came in, we went out to get seawater to make our own salt. On one side of the island, we couldn’t get down to the shore, because there were such big waves, so we tried the other side. Same thing. There were these 40-50 foot waves crashing down–all white–crashing down on the rocks. It was awe inspiring. I remember looking down and seeing this crab, all smashed up by the waves. It inspired this dish: a sea salt meringue, with crab, seaside rocket, sea celery and plantain.”
Salt Cod, Praties, Drawn Butter
“Here traditional salt cod is rehydrated and served up with a couple of new potatoes crushed up on the plate with butter. Simple! ‘Praties’ is the Irish slang term for potatoes. Salt cod is fresh cod, split and dried. It gets done on flakes. It’s hard to find nowadays; I got some from Alf Coffin, a local fisher/gardener, and Aidan Peyton, a fisher/carpenter.”
Seal, Crowberries and Caribou Moss
“Seal is a common thing to eat here and for centuries was essential to survival. I support any kind of hunt with regulations and quotas. The thing I don’t support is fishing for shark fins, where people pillage the fins then thrown the animal back into the water to suffer. I slow-cook my seal. It tastes kind of like fishy duck.”
“Caribou moss is a lichen that caribou eat. The caribou have enzymes in their stomach that can break it down. It’s extremely acidic, so if you eat it raw, it will give you a slightly bad stomach. It’s not going to kill you. In survival guides they do say you should eat it, if it’s your only option, because it has all the nutrients necessary to keep you alive. Caribou moss takes on the flavours of whatever you cook it with. It has an interesting texture: spongy and seaweedy.”
Fresh Cod, Scrunchions, Mustard Pickles
“Cod is so popular on Fogo Island, that people don’t even call it ‘cod,’ they call it ‘fish.’ Scrunchions is salt-pork fat cut into small pieces, and cooked down, so it’s nice and crunchy. And mustard pickles are another traditional food. Pickling is a big part of the culture here: The growing season is short, so people have always preserved vegetables and fruit for the winter months.”
Free-run Chicken, New Vegetables, Crispy Skin and Rich Broth
“The chicken is from Winston, a local oil painter who also farms. The broth gets poured on at the table, just as it’s served. This dish is our take on French coq au vin.”
Smoked Lamb, Beets
“The lambs are from Tilting, an Irish community on the island. Beets grow very well here and are popular, because they can be held in the root cellars for a long time. Local gardeners do fennel, Swiss chard, zucchini and all kinds of greens here too these days, but it takes a lot of time. Back in the day, they did easier stuff because they were so busy fishing.”
Eggs, Wild Berries
“For dessert, I’m doing meringue and foam with wild foraged berries. Local foragers, like Mona Brown, who also runs the Hart House Museum, pick fruits for the inn. We’re going to do blueberries, partridge berries and bakeapples.”
“Blueberries grow wild here intertwined with the juniper, so they have an incredible gin-like flavour to them. Partridge berries are most people’s favourite berries in Newfoundland; they’re very tart. I put in the minimal amount of sugar to focus on their tannic flavours. Bakeapples kind of taste like sweet stinky socks–they’re the blue cheese of berries, so you either love them or hate them. I love them! ”
Happy Food Day Canada!
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Fogo Island Inn‘s restaurant has just been shortlisted for enRoute magazine’s best new Canadian restaurant award–the only Atlantic-Canada restaurant on the list this year. Find out more about all the nominees and vote for your favourites here.