City Bites

CHEW ON THIS: What is Food Day anyway?

It’s Food Day tomorrow, eh Canada?

What’s that? You’ve never heard of Food Day? Apparently neither have some of the restaurants listed as participants on the Food Day website.

What began as one woman’s vision of a nation-wide barbecue to support local farmers during the BSE crisis of 2003 has “evolved into a network of local celebrations, aimed at encouraging people to think about the importance of food and community,” explains culinary activist, educator, and writer Anita Stewart on her website. This year, Stewart says 300 restaurants are set to celebrate Food Day across Canada on June 30.

As far as I can tell it’s a bit like Mother’s Day. Sure, it would be nice if we celebrated our moms every day, but thanks to greeting card companies, flower shops, and women’s magazines, we’re gently reminded to dedicate one particular Sunday each year to celebrating the woman who gave us life. Likewise, Food Day is a day dedicated to eating and celebrating Canadian Food. We may eat food every day — we might even eat Canadian food every day, but Ms. Stewart believes Canadian food deserves a day in the spotlight.

Ross Fraser of Fraser Café says the beauty of Food Day is that it’s in the hands of the participants to decide what it is. Like last year, he intends to put a list of farmers and suppliers on the back of his menu on Saturday. “It’s great that these things exist,” he says. “It’s one of the small things people can do to support the Canadian food scene.”

Chef Chris Deraiche of The Wellington Gastropub says he’s taking the opportunity to do something different with his menu for Food Day. His seasonally inspired and overwhelmingly locally sourced menu already changes daily, but on Saturday night he’s offering a $50, three-course menu with two choices for each course. An optional $39 wine pairing will feature wines from BC and Ontario. He wasn’t sure what other chefs in town had planned for the night but said he was surprised that there hadn’t been more buzz leading up to it.

Steve Beckta who has been billed as one of the “cornerstones of Food Day Canada 2011” says he’s happy to help promote awareness about eating locally and seasonally. “We are already doing this as much as we can,” says Beckta referring to both of his restuarants, Beckta and Play. “Anita came up with it and we signed on to do it for her,” he says. His chefs have created a special Food Day three-course table d’hôte menu featuring “all local stuff” on Saturday night at Beckta. He also revealed there would be two special “super-local” dishes added to the menu at Play tomorrow.

And what about the King of Canadian Cuisine himself? John Taylor says he plans to make reference to Food Day on the top of the menu on Saturday. “I’m not sure if we’ll do something too special,” he said. “At Domus it’s pretty much what we do every day.”

At The Urban Pear, there will be no Food Day celebration. Surprised to learn he has been listed on the Food Day website as a participant, as the restaurant is actually closed this Saturday. A few other places I called seemed equally befuddled about Food Day — others seemed to be spurred into action by my phone call.

Judging by the Ottawa restaurants involved (click here to see the full list of participating restaurants in Ottawa), my suspicion is that most places that are signed up are already offering menus that feature as much local and/or Canadian food and wine as possible throughout the year. So is it nothing more than a case of the Emperor’s New Tasting Menu? Will we all turn up to visit our favourite restaurants on Saturday to discover they are serving the same things they always serve? Perhaps it’s just that every day is Food Day in many Ottawa restaurants?

I am all for supporting local farmers and eating Canadian food, but Food Day gives me the same feeling I get on Mother’s Day — hey, what about celebrating me the rest of the year?