The vibe at the Terroir Symposium this year was decidedly touchy-feely. Hundreds of chefs, restaurateurs, wine experts, activists, writers and all-purpose food enthusiasts congregated yesterday at the Arcadian Court for talks and panels about the stories and memories behind the food they eat. The impressive roster of speakers ran from Toronto eminences like O&B’s Peter Oliver to up-and-coming out-of-towners, like the editors of the hot new food magazine Fool. But the highlight of the day was the keynote address from the revered Danish chef René Redzepi, of Copenhagen’s Noma, which ended the symposium with a standing ovation. Below, seven things we learned at Terroir VII.
1. The narrative behind a dish can be as powerful as the food itself
The mandate of Fool—recently named the world’s best food magazine—is to feature the personalities of the people behind a dish. Editors Per-Anders and Lotta Jörgensen argued that “while it seems cool to be a chef, there should be celebrity farmers or fisherfolk too.” That message was underlined by the presence of Gillian Files and Brent Preston of The New Farm, an Ontario couple who left the crush of city life to become a top supplier for Toronto restaurants.
2. Despite the rise of recipe websites, cookbooks aren’t going anywhere
In 1983, only 500 cookbooks were published each year. Nowadays, said The Cookbook Store’s Alison Fryer, that number is more like 20,000. She argued that with their beautiful photography and built-in interactivity, cookbooks can engage readers in ways that printed novels can’t.
3. Consumers have lost touch with the meat they’re eating
Magnus Nilsson, of the Swedish restaurant Faviken, set out to “remind people of what meat really is.” His strategy for doing this: a short screening of Blood of the Beasts, a rather graphic French documentary about the slaughter of a horse. The young chef, whose restaurant has been described as having “kind of Viking bloodlust,” also provided a curious working definition of meat: “the remains of what was a living individual that we selfishly raised and killed with the sole purpose of feeding ourselves.”
4. Nostalgia for food can be a powerful thing
The central and oft-repeated question of René Redzepi’s talk was “why do I like food?” To answer that, Redzepi recounted a story of how the memory of roasting chicken over an open fire with his family helped pull him back from the brink of a mid-career burnout. “Food is everything,” he said. “Something that you can interact with the world with; have conversations over; transform the environment with…. [It’s] what makes life fun to live.”
5. Healthy food doesn’t have to be just for the rich
Nick Saul, the CEO of Community Food Centres Canada, made an impassioned plea for a national nutrition program to head off “a system where the rich get local and organic but the poor get diabetes.” Food activist Joshna Maharaj demonstrated how this could be accomplished on a smaller scale at The Scarborough Hospital, where patients are served wholesome food often made with locally sourced ingredients.
6. Canadians aren’t the only ones who crave validation from abroad…
In her talk, Scandinavian chef and cookbook author Trine Hahnemann noted that Danes only started to pay attention to Redzepi and Noma after the outside world recognized them.
7. … and foreign chefs are nothing to fear
Last year, Montreal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman took Toronto critics and diners to task for fawning over Momofuku when it opened here, arguing that an invasion of foreign chefs might not be the healthy for a developing food scene. In a panel discussion on the issue, however, Tobey Nemeth of Edulis didn’t see it that way: “There’s room for everyone here.”