Back when Canada’s 100 Best Holiday Cooking issue was in early planning, my thoughts turned to a conversation I had a decade or so back with chef Susur Lee, over digestifs at his great restaurant Susur.
We had been discussing the waning culinary dominance of Spain and all things elBulli, and the then-nascent rise of the new Nordic cuisine, spearheaded by Noma, in Copenhagen. Which is when Lee surprised me by spontaneously asserting that this roving culinary spotlight could one day soon settle on Canada.
His reasoning was simple. Cutting-edge cooking is invariably about the selective fusion of extant culinary styles—something borrowed, something new. And as Lee told it, the young Canadian chefs whom he was then working with were uniquely well-poised to exploit this because they were more comfortably versed in more varied cuisines than any others he had encountered or worked with anywhere else before.
The young Canadian chefs then in Lee’s employ included Jason Carter (Dandylion), Justin Cournoyer (Actinolite) and Dustin Gallagher (416 Snack Bar), so his enthusiasm was not misplaced. You’ll likely see it reflected in our 2017 ranking issue. But what interested me most about Lee’s thinking was the strength he perceived in our culinary diversity.
Every place in Canada that has been settled long enough to develop its own distinct, identifiable cuisine borrowed its foundation from elsewhere. Quebec cooking leans heavily on western European culinary traditions. So does Newfoundland’s. Elsewhere, in younger parts of the country, the mishmash in play tends to be far more diverse, and usually more Asian. One day, as Lee suggested, this might all coalesce into something uniquely Canadian; more likely it will keep changing, and fast.
Whichever way you see it unfolding, it seemed to us that the best way to celebrate the holidays here was to shine a spotlight on the many different ways that we celebrate them at the table. Not all the ways, obviously—no magazine is big enough for that. Just a few, select highlights from across the country. Great dishes from great chefs, selected from the 2016 Canada’s 100 Best ranking, with a view to presenting a snapshot of something of our great culinary range and our delicious differences.
That obviously extends to places where holiday cooking has nothing to do with Christmas. So for a taste of that, Vikram Vij takes us back to Old Delhi during Diwali, the festival of lights, and Nick Liu of DaiLo brings us home to his family table at Chinese New Year.
Then we have eight different takes on Christmas itself. Chefs David McMillan and the irrepressible Charles-Antoine Crête give their very different takes on Quebec tradition. Todd Perrin offers a sweet taste of Newfoundland. Riccardo Bertolino, Rob Gentile, Connie DeSousa, Anthony Walsh and Rob Feenie show us how it’s done in Italy, Portugal, Argentina and Alsace. And then, finally, Derek Dammann of Montreal’s Maison Publique and author of the bestselling cookbook True North provides his ultimate Canadian Christmas spread.
If eating all that or just reading about it makes your liver ache, you can read our piece on chefs’ cures for the dreaded crise de foie. If, instead, it excites you as it does me, you can settle in for a read with a tipple from our seasonal cocktail guide.
Enjoy—and happy holidays from all of us at Canada’s 100 Best.
Canada’s 100 Best Holiday Cooking issue is on newsstands November 14th.