I grew up in Don Mills, Canada’s first planned subdivision. Adjacent to the new neighbourhood was farmland owned by E.P. Taylor. It was lost on me at the time, but the land my house was built on was probably in the middle of a cornfield.
My family moved to the United States just as Julia Child was breaking onto the scene through television into the homes of thousands of Americans. My own experience growing up and occasionally dining in Chinese restaurants with my family coupled with seeing Julia Child demystifying French gastronomy on her show, The French Chef, captured my imagination. Back in Toronto, I embarked on a career in cooking by taking up an apprenticeship under Herbert Sonzogni and Ulrich Herzig at the Windsor Arms Hotel. I continue to cook for a living. It is through the art of gastronomy that I have found my passion in life.
I noticed early that the connection people have with food is a powerful one. In its most primal sense the act of eating sustains our life. In a more civilized sense the sharing of food instills a sense of well being, allowing people to share not only the food but the ideas that arise around the dinner table through conversation – as if, for a moment, we no longer had to concern ourselves with hunting, gathering and staying warm and that these primary concerns could be set aside in favour of letting our imaginations take flight.
Something about that phenomenon of sharing of food and ideas at the kitchen table has found its way into my work beyond simply providing food to fuel dreams.
During the past 25 years, I have begun to take a closer look at where our food comes from and the history and tradition that come with that. It seems as though the 20th century was a confused time for us, looking at things through the gastronomic lens. In many ways looking back 100 years ago affords us a better view of genuine food culture in southern Ontario than now.
This was a time when most people were farmers. Rural communities thrived and there was effective distribution of food from farms to the cities and towns. This was a time when our menu writing, even in the most modest sense, corresponded with the changing seasons and availability of food. This examination of history informs my thinking of how we currently approach food culture here in Ontario, and how we must think about it for future generations.
It has been gratifying to witness over the past two decades how our society gives credence to local food procurement practices again. This has possibly stemmed from many more platforms of concern that strengthen the position of people leading or active on the local food scene.
Food is the thread that weaves together all areas of growing concern; the environment, diminishing fossil fuel supply, food safety, food security, to name a few.
I welcome this opportunity to join TVO to further explore ideas that support food culture in Ontario.
Chef Jamie Kennedy has been instrumental in shaping the culinary landscape in Canada. He appears regularly as part of the food panel on The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
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