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Canada’s Kitchen: The country’s next star chefs share their favourite feel

Apr 18, 2024Apr 18, 2024

As the restaurant industry recovers from two perilous years, chefs across Canada continue to feed people any way they can in elegant dining rooms, casual cafés, homes and pop-ups, all while supporting local growers and producers and keeping culinary traditions alive for future generations. We asked talented chefs from each province and territory to share a dish that celebrates their region and personal style, and captures a sense of place.

Chefs Stacy Johnston and Minette Lotz are a talented team when it comes to showcasing the bounty of the Naramata Bench. Partners in life and in the kitchen, they work closely with a community of farmers and foragers in the B.C. Interior and source sustainable seafood from the West Coast. Chef de cuisine Johnston, 31, leads the kitchen while Lotz, 29, is passionate about fermenting, and foraging wild ingredients – both are committed to modelling and encouraging thoughtful, sustainable cooking and eating habits.

If you can, support your local forager by buying their hand-foraged hazelnuts. Black garlic is aged under specific conditions, transforming it to something dark, sticky and complex – the honey is a tasty addition to a cheese board or a good piece of sourdough. Ricotta is simple to make, and so delicious it’s worth the effort.

In a small bowl, combine honey, black garlic and salt. Transfer mixture into a clean container and leave on the counter overnight.

Line a colander with two layers of water-dampened cheesecloth. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat the milk and salt to 185 F, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t scorch. Reduce the temperature to low and add the vinegar all at once.

Slowly stir the mixture for one minute; the more you stir, the more you cut the curd and will get a grainier ricotta. Remove from heat, put the lid on the pot and let sit for 20 minutes.

Gently ladle the ricotta over the cheesecloth and let drain for about eight minutes.

Remove the cheese from the cheesecloth and let cool completely.

Transfer the ricotta to the bowl of a stand mixer, add whipping cream and using the paddle attachment, whip until creamy and slightly fluffy. You may want to add another pinch of salt here to bring out the tanginess of the cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 F and roast the hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet until the skins darken slightly and lift. Transfer to a clean towel and rub the skins away.

Once clean (a few bits of dark skin won’t hurt), transfer nuts to a bowl and top with honey, salt and wild foraged sumac (it grows everywhere in the Okanagan; its dried fruit is a common spice that adds a tart flavour). Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread out with a spatula, return to the oven and bake, stirring every three minutes, until the honey is bubbling and the hazelnuts start to turn golden, about 10-12 minutes. Spread into a single layer and cool completely.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Run the blade of a sharp paring knife along the crease of the plum, all the way around. Gently pull the fruit from the stone so you are left with two halves. Toss with oil, sprinkle with salt and lay cut-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for about eight minutes, or until the plum softens when gently pressed. Let cool slightly.

Spread the creamy ricotta on your plate or platter and top with the roasted plums (save the juices – they’re delicious drizzled on top). Drizzle with black garlic honey and finish with the candied hazelnuts. Crack some fresh pepper on top, sprinkle with some sumac and enjoy.

Chef Tracy Little grew up playing restaurant in the forest, gathering berries and pine cones to feed her animal friends. Now 36, she has found her roots in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, and everyone is invited to dinner. Depending on the day and season, guests may discover pine flour sourdough, foraged greens, chaga mushroom “foie gras” or daisy fritters on her tasting menus. Both meat (“The Hunter”) and plant-based (“The Gatherer”) menus pay homage to myriad ingredients foraged from fields, forests and steams to create unique, ever-changing dining experiences that generate an intense sense of place.

Spruce needles add a uniquely herbal, citrusy flavour and are packed with vitamin C. White Spruce, Blue Spruce or Norway Spruce are quite common in Canada and easy to identify; stay away from any conifer with flat needles, or needles that grow in pairs – these can be the dangerous Yew tree or endangered species of pine. Please never take from young trees and ask permission if it is on someone else’s property. When sourcing ricotta, grocery-store quality contains less moisture, and is easier to work with.

Gently remove any excess moisture from the ricotta by placing it in a coffee filter or cheesecloth-lined strainer. Cover and store in the fridge for at least a few hours or overnight. Keep the liquid.

In a bowl (or food processor if you have one) combine the ricotta, egg yolks and salt. When uniformly mixed, begin adding the flour. This will get really sticky – you may find it easier to wear latex gloves to mix the dough until it’s uniformly combined. Using a small dusting of flour and bare, washed hands, flatten dough in the bowl and transfer to the fridge for one hour to rest.

Once rested, roll the dough into ropes and use a knife or bench scraper to cut into pieces no bigger than 2 cm x 2 cm. Place a pot of salted water on to boil while you are cutting. Keep the workspace lightly dusted with flour so it’s easier to work and maintain the pasta shape, and make sure to dust each layer of cut pasta to prevent sticking. When all the dough is cut, drop into the salted boiling water. Simmer for three minutes, then strain the gnudi.

In boiling water, blanch the parsley and chives for 30 seconds or until they turn bright green. Place into an ice bath. Combine the parsley, chives, spruce needles and grapeseed oil in a blender and blend on high until the herbs are incorporated into the oil and there are no large pieces. Place a sieve over a bowl with a coffee filter or cheesecloth layered in it, and strain the oil.

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until it releases some fat and is partially cooked. Mix the butter and roasted garlic until it forms a paste, and add it to the pan along with the onion and mushrooms. When the bacon is cooked through and the onions are transparent, deglaze the pan with white wine.

Add the cooked gnudi and cream and allow it to reduce, stirring gently but frequently. Finish with the grated Parmesan; this will cause it to thicken further. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Fill a bowl with the saucy gnudi and drizzle with the oil.

In the kitchen at Homestead Bar À Vin in Regina, chef Elizabeth Aparicio Segura is responsible for so many delicious things, but is known for her pasta de mole, which she spends hours preparing – a process that gives her time to reflect, to show respect for her culture and those who kept culinary traditions alive. Born in Veracruz, Mexico, Segura has degrees in communications and sciences and a masters in administrative engineering. Now 39, she regularly spearheads week-long Mexican-themed pop-ups called La Casona, which quickly sell out – guests come from across the province for her food.

In Spanish, pasta translates to something with a pasty or pulpy texture like this rich, thick mole which can be stored in the fridge for at least a week. Use it to make tamales (pictured), enmoladas with corn tortillas and cabbage, chilaquiles, enchiladas, chicken and other dishes. Making it from scratch is a process, but is worth the effort; this recipe makes a very large batch, but is easily halved or quartered, and any extra can be frozen.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Clean all the chilies, removing the seeds and the stem end, and cook them separately on a sheet in the oven until they are coloured, watching that they don’t burn – it should take a few minutes. Cool to room temperature, then soak the chilies in hot water until soft. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid.

Heat some pork fat or vegetable oil in a skillet and toast (separately) the sesame seeds, walnuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts, raisins, plantains, onion, garlic, cinnamon and cloves, transferring them to a blender as you go. Add the soaked chilies and animalitos cookies or tostadas and blend to a smooth texture, using the reserved soaking water from the chilies as needed.

Heat the 700 g pork fat or vegetable oil in a large pot, add the mole mix and start to cook at medium temperature. When the mole is hot, add all the chocolate and sugar and stir until it has dissolved.

Cook the pasta, stirring in only one direction constantly using a big wooden spoon – this helps to not burn and split the mole. (It’s an artisanal job – in the first 40 minutes it’s easy because the mole is warm, but when the mole is hot it jumps a lots – that’s when we need to move more and more.) It will change in texture and colour; after three hours cooking you will have a dark-red pasta that will be heavy to move. It will be ready when the fat or oil comes up and you can smell all the ingredients in your kitchen. It sometimes takes five hours; cook the pasta de mole when you have other recipes to do at the same time.

On 660 forested acres on the outskirts of Winnipeg, the Buffalo Stone Café at FortWhyte is staffed by Manitobans living with intellectual challenges and supported by job coaches who assist with individual needs of the day. At the helm of the social enterprise, run by an organization called Something Beautiful, chef Zachary Ssenkungu draws inspiration from the cuisine of his childhood. Born and raised in Uganda, Ssenkungu grew up learning to cook using ingredients his family grew on their farm. The 28-year-old strives to work with Prairie growers and producers, and hopes to open a restaurant that focuses on the multifaceted cuisine of East Africa.

Rolex wraps are popular street food in Uganda – eggs and vegetables wrapped in chapati or other flatbread, picked up for a quick meal on the go.

To make the dough, combine the red onion and green pepper in a large bowl. Add the flour and toss well. Add the eggs, water, oil and salt, and mix until a soft dough forms. Roll into ball, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When you’re ready to cook, divide the dough into 10 equal portions. Roll each into a ball, and on a lightly floured surface, roll each into a flat circle about 10-12 inches in diameter. Heat a skillet over medium heat for five to six minutes and cook each flatbread for two to three minutes a side, or until just beginning to brown. Set aside.

To make the filling for a single wrap, drizzle the oil in a hot skillet and sauté the carrots for about a minute. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork and pour over the carrots, sprinkle with green onion and cook for one to two minutes, then flip and cook one to two minutes longer. Top with cabbage and tomato. When the eggs are cooked, slide onto a warm wrap. Add mayo, fold the side edges over, then roll the wrap around the filling. Press the crease against the hot skillet to seal it shut. Slice diagonally in half and enjoy.

Chef Katsi’tsyo Tawnya Brant grew up off-grid, helping her mother and sisters tend their backyard garden while developing a love of cooking. She landed her first restaurant job at 12 and later, as a new parent, founded Yawékon Foods in her home village of Ohswé:ken. Yawékon translates to “it tastes good” in Mohawk; her business is not only about sharing delicious food, but generating a deeper understanding of Indigenous cuisine and traditional Haudenosaunee food culture, a reflection of her dedication to the Indigenous food sovereignty movement. Now 40, Brant is currently competing for the title of Top Chef on Season 10 of Top Chef Canada.

Bison, elk, venison, moose or other game can be used in this soup, and if you’re not a hunter, is often easier to find ground than in larger cuts. Ramps are a variety of wild spring onion; if you don’t have access to a powdered version, you can leave it out or add more onion powder.

To make the meatballs, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and roll into balls. Bake or pan-fry until thoroughly cooked and set aside, keeping the drippings in the pan.

To make the soup, sauté the vegetables in the meatball drippings, adding 1 tbsp lard if needed. Add broth to deglaze the pan, then add the tomatoes and seasonings. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender. Add the meatballs and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

At Île Flottante, chef Sean Murray Smith prioritizes plants on his remarkably elegant, seasonally-driven tasting menus. Though meat and seafood make an appearance, every dish has a vegan version available, and fresh produce is paramount – he brings his team to do their own shopping at Jean Talon Market daily to ensure everything is fresh and beautiful. At 34, Smith aims to connect with people through food, and show them the best experience possible; he’s known for his endlessly creative, multifaceted dishes, each a visually stunning arrangement of colours, shapes, angles and textures.

This poutine is a fun take on the Quebec classic and national dish using crispy sunchokes, fresh squeaky curd cheese and roasted sunflower seed gravy. It’s important to ensure that the skin of the sunchokes is clean and free of debris, dirt and sand; run cold water over them in a colander until it runs clear.

In a sauté pan, toast the sunflower seeds (out of their shells) until golden; cool and reserve.

Set a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the oil and cook the onion until soft and starting to turn golden, about seven minutes. Add brown sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved and starts to caramelize. At this point reserve a handful of roasted sunflower seeds for garnish and add the rest to the pot along with the garlic, bouillon cubes, salt, black pepper, thyme and bay leaves (if desired).

Add the white wine and water and stir to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer on medium low for 20 minutes, then cool. Remove thyme and bay leaves and add butter, vinegar and soy sauce and blend – in a blender or with a hand-held immersion blender right in the pot – until smooth. Return to the pot to reheat when needed.

Slice the sunchokes lengthwise into even wedges. In a three-litre pot or Dutch oven, heat about three inches of canola oil to 325 F. Cook the sunchoke wedges in small batches for four to five minutes, until soft with a little colour. Cool. Heat oil to 375 F and fry the wedges again until golden and crisp.

Divide your fries into serving bowls and top with a generous portion of curd cheese and warmed gravy. Garnish with reserved roasted seeds and organic sunflower petals, if you have them.

As travellers sought space and the outdoors during the pandemic, chef Etienne Buisson began cooking at Cielo Glamping Maritime – a unique cluster of luxurious oceanside domes that offer a breathtaking perspective of the Bay of St-Simon. There, the 30-year-old expands guests’ coastal experience through food, introducing them to the many local growers and producers who inspire him in the kitchen. Buisson creates everything from picnic baskets to seasonal weekly dinners that follow the rhythm of their garden, and preserves special sauces and condiments visitors can pack up to bring a taste of New Brunswick home.

This hearty, creamy chowder is classic East Coast fare, and can be made with any variety of fresh or frozen seafood. Buisson likes to garnish with a salad of raw veggies; thinly sliced radishes, julienned raw yellow beets and fennel.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, thyme and bay leaves, then the carrots and fennel. Season with salt and cook for five to eight minutes, until the vegetables are soft.

Deglaze with the white wine and continue to cook until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the clam juice and the water, toss in the potatoes and cook until tender. Add the cream, bring to a simmer, then add the scallops and cook for one minute. Add the corn, lobster, shrimp and clams and cook for five minutes. Add the fennel fronds and cook for one minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if needed, and serve.

Having been at the helm in the kitchen of the tiny, dinner-focused eatery Field Guide in her hometown of Halifax for the past eight years, chef Natalie Rosen is now in the midst of opening Fawn, which will have a much larger dining room, and will be open all day – from coffee in the morning to after-dinner drinks. Partnered with the two friends and colleagues who are also behind Field Guide, 29-year-old Rosen describes her food as ingredient-driven and uncomplicated and her creative menus serve as an opportunity to highlight East Coast growers and producers.

These mussels are currently on the menu at Field Guide, and are a tourist favourite. Some mussels don’t want to open – never eat an unopened mussel.

Drizzle the oil into a searing hot pot over high heat; add the fennel and red onion and cook until you see colour start to appear.

Reduce heat to medium-high and add half of the butter, garlic, tarragon, grainy mustard, chili flakes and salt. Cook for 30 seconds, then add your mussels and white wine.

Cover with a lid and steam for five to six minutes, or until most of the mussels have opened. Remove the mussels from the broth, add cream and reduce the liquid over high heat for one minute. Turn off the heat and finish with the remaining butter. While your liquid is reducing, arrange the mussels artfully. (Discard any mussels that won’t open.)

Pour the broth over top and place the fennel and red onion on top. Garnish with fresh tarragon.

Known to most as Nick of the North, chef Nick Chindamo describes himself as a wild food enthusiast and storyteller. Having spent 15 years cooking in kitchens around the world, the 29-year-old is now a professional forager, educator and conservationist who spends his time exploring the connections between food, art, science and culture. Chindamo takes a philosophical approach to food, sparking conversation about how we eat, whether he’s foraging sea plants like sea truffle and seaside arrowgrass with culinary students, in the woods gathering mushrooms to DNA sequence, gathering greens from abandoned farmsteads, or around the table at his intimate zero-waste dinner series, the Solo Collective.

If you don’t have access to fresh bladderwrack, bayberry and sweet flag leaves, kombu, bay leaf and lemongrass work as substitutions.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a medium skillet over low heat and sweat the shallots, seasoning with salt, until translucent, being careful not to brown them. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth and wine and simmer over medium heat until nearly all of the liquid has evaporated.

Add the clam juice (strained of any shell fragments) and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the cream and a small bundle of fresh thyme. Bring to a gentle simmer, but do not boil, and reduce the sauce slowly until the flavours meld together and it has thickened slightly, which should take about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer, season if necessary, and keep warm.

Carefully filet and portion the striped bass. Fill a pot halfway with water and add your fresh bladderwrack, bayberry and sweetflag leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Set a steaming basket over the tea and allow your aromatic steam to flow.

Once you can smell each of your aromatics separately, season your bass and gently set it in the steaming basket. Cover and steam until just cooked, or the internal temperature reaches 120 F. Gently lift the fish out and set it in a warm, shallow bowl. Carefully remove the skin – if it’s cooked perfectly, the skin will come cleanly off. With a pastry brush, gently brush away any of the coagulated white fat that may have accumulated under the skin.

To serve, ensure your sauce is hot and froth it a few times with a hand blender. Spoon a generous amount over the striped bass.

Newfoundland’s unique culinary traditions and breathtaking terroir provide inspiration for pastry chef Celeste Mah, who loves to play with techniques and unexpected flavour combinations. Now the co-owner (with husband chef Ross Larkin) of Portage, a new casual eatery in St John’s, Mah doesn’t shy away from sliding mushrooms into pound cake, parsnips into ice cream or turning sea urchins into macarons. Driven by a community of local famers and foragers, Mah also strives for sustainability, whether it’s minimizing waste in the kitchen or prioritizing a comfortable work-life balance for herself as well as their team.

Delicate, slightly citrusy chanterelle mushrooms add a unique earthiness to this cake, as well as the maple sugar crumble added as a sweet, crunchy finish.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment. In a high-powered blender or food processor combine the flour, dried mushrooms, baking powder and salt and blend until everything is well mixed and the mushrooms have turned to powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Alternate adding the milk and the dry ingredients in two additions, scraping down the side of the bowl after each addition, and mixing just until combined. Take the bowl off the mixer and fold in the blueberries.

Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until golden and the top springs back when lightly pressed in the middle. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then remove from pan to cool completely.

In a high-sided pot (the syrup bubbles up quite a bit) bring the maple syrup to a boil and cook until it looks darker and thicker in consistency and/or reaches 260 F. Remove from the heat, add the mushrooms and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The syrup will start to look lighter and opaque in colour and eventually start to solidify, then granulate. Dump out onto a parchment or foil-lined sheet pan and let cool completely. When cool, put into the blender and pulse to the coarseness you desire. Set aside.

Place everything into the blender and blend until smooth, adding more blueberries or sugar in order to reach a thick but pourable consistency. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and use right away; place the cake on the wire rack over a sheet pan and pour the glaze over top, then sprinkle with maple chanterelle sugar.

Having worked in kitchens since his early teens, chef Klayton McColl now leads one in an eatery housed in the two oldest buildings still in use in Whitehorse – what was once a tent frame structure known as MacMillan’s Bakery back in 1900. Inspired by the northern landscape, McColl is focused on local traditions and regional ingredients like fish and wild game, smoked meats and seasonal berries. Even his sourdough has a deep Klondike history, each loaf beginning its life with a sourdough starter that was born back in 1898.

If you like, garnish with your choice of fresh herbs or microgreens and a lemon wedge.

To make the dill sauce, whisk together the sour cream, mustard and chopped dill and set aside.

Peel the potatoes if you like, or leave the skins on. Quarter them and put them into a pot, cover with water, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until soft. Drain and mash with the butter, cream and roasted garlic, along with a pinch of salt.

Drain the salmon, and remove and discard any bones and skin. In a large bowl, combine the salmon, celery, onion, eggs, chili flakes, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Stir in the mashed potatoes.

Put the flour, eggs and panko into separate shallow bowls, and beat the eggs with a fork. Shape the salmon mixture into 13 patties and dip each into the flour to coat, and then into the eggs, and then the panko.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add a generous drizzle of olive oil. Cook the patties until golden brown on both sides – roughly five minutes a side.

Smear a dollop of dill sauce onto each serving plate, and place two patties on top. If you like, garnish with greens and a lemon wedge.

Like so many chefs, Calvin Rossouw got a job as a dishwasher as a young teenager, and fell in love with the kitchen. Born and raised in Yellowknife, the 27-year-old now runs the kitchen in the cozy Sundog Trading Post Café, which opened in a historic log building in Old Town Yellowknife during the pandemic. He’s best known for his made-from-scratch ice creams, flavoured with locally foraged ingredients like wild mint, Arctic rose, spruce tips and birch syrup.

This recipe is a play on butterscotch, highlighting the distinct and complex flavours of birch syrup, preferably late-season syrup that has a strong, dark, robust flavour. It’s perfect for swirling into or drizzling over ice cream. If you can’t source birch syrup, you can use pure maple syrup.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, birch syrup, salt and vanilla.

Set aside to come to room temperature.

In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter. Attach a candy thermometer and cook the caramel over medium high heat; bring the mixture to 240 F, stirring often.

Immediately remove from heat and carefully stir the birch-cream mixture into the caramel. Whisk until fully combined. Strain the finished caramel into a heat-proof container and cool. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks or in the freezer for up to three months.

Chef Eduardo Delascio Bufarah grew up cooking with his Italian and Lebanese family, tasting and experimenting with flavours. Now 41, Bufarah was lawyer in Brazil when a volunteer position with La Tablée des Chefs in Montreal a decade ago inspired him to sign up for culinary school. An invitation to work in Nunavut led to his position as executive chef at the Discovery Hotel and to oversee the Tammattaavik Boarding Home in Iqaluit. There, he prepares and serves seal, caribou, beluga, muskox and narwhal, while building relationships with hunters and fishermen in the community and teaching his techniques to younger generations.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. To make the gratin, warm the cream and milk with the garlic, rosemary and nutmeg; strain through a fine sieve to remove the solids. Butter a 9.5 x 9.5-inch gratin dish and layer the potatoes with the Gruyère, saving some to scatter overtop. Pour the infused cream over the potatoes and top with Gruyère. Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes, then uncover and bake for 10, until the potatoes are tender and the top is bubbly and golden. As it bakes, toss the broccoli and cauliflower with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, spread in a single layer in a baking dish and bake alongside the gratin for the last 10-15 minutes.

To make the salsa, put the red onions in a bowl and cover with lemon juice. Let marinate for at least 10 minutes, then add the mango, tomato, blueberries and cilantro. Dress with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Season the steak with salt and pepper and sear in a hot pan with a drizzle of canola oil and the butter; cook for three to four minutes on each side for medium-rare, or to your desired doneness. Cook the arctic char skin-side down for seven to eight minutes, then flip to another minute. (For sous vide, cook in the thermocirculator at 122 F for 20 minutes, then pan sear on the skin side.)

After searing the caribou steak, warm the peppercorns in the pan drippings; add a drizzle of olive oil, add shallots and garlic, deglaze with cognac, add beef stock and reduce to your desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Serve the steak thinly sliced, topped with peppercorn sauce and the char topped with salsa, with the gratin and veggies on the side.

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