by Sadie Beaton
It was unlike any conference I’ve attended. I arrived in stuffy conference duds only to discover that the 2012 Canadian Chef’s Congress was splayed across a wide sunny field. The warm, casual setting was designed to connect chefs with farmers, fishers, and foodies around the idea of a common Canadian food culture… and more literally, around a giant roasting pig, which plumed delicious smoke all day.
Amid the many opportunities to eat and drink were a series of workshops exploring the role chefs can play in advocating for and nurturing a more. I was encouraged by how engaged and keen many of the delegates seemed to be about fomenting ‘a delicious revolution’. What remains to be seen, of course, is how chefs will carry out the insurgency now that the foodie honeymoon is over and the hangover of our broken food system has presumably hit under the harsh lights of restaurant kitchens across the nation.
In a breezy beach house overlooking the Bay of Fundy, representatives from SeaChoice, OceanWise, Off the Hook CSF, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and the Chedabucto Bay Trap Shrimp fishery introduced a workshop on seafood provenance and sustainability. A discussion ensued that could have easily turned into its own two-day summit. Closed-containment salmon, community supported fisheries, trap shrimp, hand-dug clams, and the potential for a local dive-caught scallop fishery right in the Bay were all explored…. and sampled.
The marketing success of British Columbia’s spot prawn fishery was particularly enchanting. These shrimp, caught by small-scale vessels using low-impact trap gear, were long exported to far-off Asian markets. In the last six or so years, however, Vancouver chefs- working with NGOs- played a pivotal role in creating a lively local market. By building excitement around the prawn’s seasonality and provenance at festivals and on chic restaurant menus, chefs worked together to foster a local culture of connection around the now hotly anticipated BC spot prawn season.
Alen Newell, a Nova Scotia trap shrimp fisherman, listened with interest. He painted a captivating picture of Chedabucto Bay’s small-scale trap shrimp fishery for the delegates, who were fascinated to learn about this eight boat fleet that set their traps as little as ten minutes off shore. While the trappers too have finally secured a decent export price for their top quality haul- their shrimp have not yet garnered the same local recognition.
After a delicious tasting, prepared by Chef Chris Whittaker of the BC Chef’s Table Society, delegates lamented how Nova Scotians- Canadians even- have been unable celebrate these amazing shrimp. There was palpable enthusiasm in the room about helping to grow a domestic market for Chedabucto Bay trap shrimp and several chefs clamoured to get their hands on the shrimp when the season starts later this fall.
I was inspired by the genuine fervor swirling along with the pig smoke throughout the congress. There was an air of decadence, of course, but not depravity. Between bites and sips, delegates spoke earnestly about their responsibility to nurture and create a sustainable food culture. All of the delegates took home a ‘2012 Chef’s Declaration for Healthy Oceans’, recognizing chefs power to help shift the demand for ocean-friendly seafood, their ability to influence consumer attitudes and choices, and… crucially, that the time to take action is NOW.
I’m excited to see tantalizing descriptions of Nova Scotia’s winter gem, the Chedabucto Bay trap-caught shrimp, on menus from Halifax to Toronto and beyond. And I’ll swell with pride so when it is finally recognized as part of what could one day be a rich, sustainable and diverse local food culture. …Suffice to say, the congress left me feeling optimistic that ‘delicious revolution’ is possible. And that’s not just the booze talking.