July 30 is Food Day Canada, an initiative started nine years ago by Canadian food writer Anita Stewart to celebrate Canada’s food bounty and culinary skill. Chefs, restaurants and ordinary citizens all over the country will mark the occasion in their own special ways. In advance of Food Day Canada, we’re chatting with some of the chefs whose restaurants will celebrate Canadian food on July 30 to gauge their thoughts on our country’s food scene and traditions.
Last time, we spoke with chef Michael Howell of Tempest Restaurant in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. This time around, chef Jeffery Mickelson talks about his experiences cooking at Klondike Kate’s in Dawson City, Yukon. Mickelson, a B.C. native, worked from 2002 to 2007 at Klondike Kate’s before departing to spend some time working in kitchens around the world, including in Vancouver, Ottawa, Chicago, Mexico and England. He’s returned to the kitchen at Klondike Kate’s for 2011, and will be helping to prepare a menu celebrating the Yukon’s bounty for Food Day 2011.
What do you love about cooking in the Yukon?
Cooking in the Yukon is really no different than cooking anywhere else. Obviously getting stuff here is always a bit of a issue, but as far as local producers go, it’s great. We get fresh birch syrup from Uncle Berwyn, various wild and cultivated berries from an emu farm down river, lots of amazing produce from Grant Dowdell’s farm. Our season is much shorter, but the producers can grow large amounts of goods in the short time. Our customer base is territorial and worldwide. We serve lots of regular Yukoners, and when summer is in full swing, the tourists are reliving the Klondike adventure. Myself and Wade (co-chef/owner) are out foraging all summer long, for various stuff including, nettles, herbs, mushrooms, wild greens, spruce tips etc.
How have local factors such as geography, economics and demographics influenced your cooking style?
We grow fast and big, and store our goods for the off season. You really need to know how to store and preserve the produce to get local stuff all year round. Our biggest problem is getting local meat. There is no meat inspection building in the Yukon, so we rely on a portable abbitore to drive around to inspect and slaughter animals that are destined for restaurants or grocery stores. The costs are so high for this service that, in the restaurant, it is hard to get people to switch to a local product at twice the price. There are not enough producers to provide inspected meat for the entire territory, and the government does not want to lower the costs of production (inspection costs, subsidies, etc.) to get it to the restaurants. Our busy season is in the summer, the same time the food is being produced. Come fall when we’re closing up shop, the meat is being slaughtered, which is great if you’re stocking up your freezer for winter at home. But to buy stuff that’s been frozen for six months at almost twice the price is a hard one to swallow. It is getting better though.
How has the local food scene in your region evolved over the years?
There are more producers, and more organic, natural foods. The restaurant scene in the Yukon is young and slowly evolving.
What are your thoughts on the idea that there is a “Canadian cuisine”?
We definitely do have a defined style of food, almost identical to the U.S. After all, we all came here at the same time, just spread out to different spots. If you look at any historical cookbook, Canadian or American, the recipes and food styles are almost identical.
How is Klondike Kate’s celebrating Food Day Canada?
Everyday at Kate’s is food day. We use all the local goods we can get our hands on and thrive on fresh product coming in the back door in season. We will be doing a Food Day-themed menu paired with Canadian wines.