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Home cooking 

Eating closer to home was the story of 2007. Local produce, livestock and wines took centre stage in metro restaurants; it's a trend set to continue well into the new year.

And with this trend, we find ourselves moving closer to answering the elusive question of just what is modern Canadian cuisine. It's been a hard question to answer, that of just what makes cuisine Canadian. And little wonder: after all, Canada is a nation that has trouble defining itself.

The question of what is a Canadian is often answered by what we are not: we are not American. And since cuisine is based on who we are, how can we possibly define what we eat if we don't know who we are?

Oh, sure, specific foods come to mind: poutine, maple syrup. But these hardly provide a definitive answer. Part of our problem lies in the relative newness of our country. Foods from ancient civilizations, such as the Middle East and Far East, have remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, whereas we are a nation in flux: first the indigenous and aboriginal people, then Old World explorers and settlers from the Vikings through to other Europeans.The earliest immigrants brought with them ingredients and methods of preparation from their motherlands.

Canadian cuisine, depending on the time in history, has been dominated by wild game and grains, by livestock brought by settlers, by the catch of the day—be it seal or cod-—and in turn by English and French culture.

Being that Canada is still an open country with plenty of newcomers, our influences are constantly changing and reflected in explosions of popularity in ethnic cuisine— from Greek and Lebanese on the East Coast to Japanese and Thai on the West.

And then there's the sheer vastness of the country: Canadian cuisine cannot be a homogenized gastronomy common from Newfoundland to Nunavut; because of our geography, our cuisine must be regional. And as we cast aside such temporary food trends like molecular gastronomy, and forego searching for the most exotic, hard to find ingredient du jour such as Kobe beef, we turn to local. And it's this turning inward that's revealing what is Canadian cuisine.

In Nova Scotia this year, chefs and consumers moved toward locally produced seafood, livestock, produce and beverages for environmental and economical reasons, plus for simpler things like taste and quality.

The argument over whether the local food was organic became secondary—we've largely accepted that more traditionally raised crops are still better for the environment, due to the environmental cost (fuel, refrigeration) required for long haul trucking.

Chefs are returning to a more organic method of cooking, taking ingredients and presenting them as best they can be, without need of manipulation or excessive tarting up. We're using ingredients such as the historic aboriginal peoples did: salmon, deer, wild rice and corn. We're using the things that grow close to home, indigenous crops like blueberries, potatoes, and squash. We're raising livestock that was introduced by settlers but thrives in Nova Scotia: sheep, pigs and cows. And we're taking Old World techniques like wine-making and brewing, and adapting them to our climate and conditions.

And so, by "coming home," agriculturally and aquaculturally, we in Nova Scotia are finally defining our cuisine, just like people in other provinces and territories. And with it, we're solving our piece of the puzzle that is modern Canadian cuisine.

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Vol 24, No 27
December 1, 2016

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