Story by Adrian Brijbassi
According to a Restaurants Canada survey, residents of this nation rank dining out as their most preferred social activity. So perhaps it should be no wonder that when presented with the opportunity for a meal of a lifetime at the best restaurant in the country the reaction would be enthusiastic. That’s been the case since Vacay.ca announced the 2015 Food.ee of the Year Contest earlier this month. Entries from every province have been received as Canadians express their love of food — from dining out to family recipes to the therapeutic effects of cooking for family and friends.
A jury of food experts will select the winner in May and award a prize that includes airfare to St. John’s, a three-night stay at the Sheraton Newfoundland and dinner at Raymonds, selected by Vacay.ca judges as the No. 1 Restaurant in Canada in 2014.
Entrants also vote for their favourite restaurant in the country. The establishment with the most votes receives the People’s Choice Award when this year’s Top Restaurants in Canada is announced in June. Leading vote-getters so far include Raymonds, and two Vancouver favourites, Hawksworth and Vij’s.
Here is a selection of the Food.ee of the Year submissions that have been received so far from the public (deadline for entries is May 20):
University of Guelph student Melissa Pulvermacher, an aspiring sommelier, detailed her ardour for gastronomy. She noted her obsession originates with her love and fond memories of her grandmother. “We lost my grandmother to dementia, but even though she had lost her memory, every memory I’ve ever had of her has and will continue to stick with me. As a child, I can remember the smell of my grandmother’s home. She was the best home cook I have ever known and no matter the event or the amount of company, my grandmother had the table full of personally cooked dishes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. When we lost my grandmother, I only asked for one thing … her cookbooks. My most prized possessions remain those hand-written recipe books that have and will continue to fuel my love and passion for food and cooking.”
Susie Nixon of Lethbridge, Alberta, nominated Hawksworth as the best restaurant in Canada. “Staff truly looked at us when we arrived, welcomed us with sincere smiles, ensured that we were comfortably seated, made themselves accessible to answer all our questions, considerately and clearly informed us about menu offerings, were rapidly attentive to any of our service needs while they thoughtfully respected our privacy during our dining conversation,” she writes. “Our food arrived appearing as art on a plate.”
Another Albertan, Stephen Oakley, calls himself the “Slumdog Millionaire of gourmet food” because he grew up in a family that focused on quantity not quality of food. Having travelled to many nations, Oakley, an oil-field worker, has “discovered a world flavours.” He endeavours to find cuisine “to challenge my palate and to stimulate my senses.”
Melissa Mersereau of Beaver Dam, New Brunswick, points out how important food is to the quality of a traveller’s experience. “My absolute favourite thing to do when travelling is to experience new foods, whether they be cultural favourites or a local delicacy. The first thing I start researching when choosing a new trip is what food there is to try, and where to find the favourite local eating digs. What is available in any area, at a local favourite eating spot, says so much about the resources available in that area, the culture and history that has defined that area, the influences to its cuisine, and of course what the locals are like!”
Diane Davis wants to win the contest’s grand prize, even though it wouldn’t take her far from home. The resident of Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador is a Grade 4 teacher who maintains a blog about her travels and culinary finds. She voted for the Fogo Island Inn as the nation’s best restaurant “because the chef is working with the ingredients in season, grown locally and elevating traditional techniques to delicious levels.”
Lisa Vaters of Embrun, Ontario, meanwhile, is eager to be crowned Food.ee of the Year because it would mean returning the province where she was born. ”When I was growing up in Glenwood, NL it was my mom and my nan in Grand Falls-Windsor who instilled in me the love of cooking and baking. My fondest memories are of baking tea buns with Nan and cooking my first full meal (pork chops and mashed potatoes) in Grade 9 for my whole family,” she writes. “To be able to win a trip to Raymonds is a dream as it is on my bucket list of places to visit.”