The Road Map to Exceptional
Earlier this week, I wrote that Terroir 2017 was full of inspiring presentations by leaders in the foodservice and hospitality community. “The Road Map to Exceptional” featured four speakers who talked about their travels (national and international), focusing on how travel inspires them, and how chefs and restaurateurs can use their experiences to build a culinary profile. Here’s what two of those speakers had to say.
Benjamin Ryan, Chief Commercial Officer of Air North
Air North was once known for serving rustic meat and cheese boards to its passengers. Now they take pride in cultivating a unique culinary tradition. Benjamin Ryan, Chief Commercial Officer, spoke about how the airline uses the quality of its food to distinguish themselves. This excellence has been noticed: their executive chef, Michael Bock, was one of only 50 chefs featured in the Great Canadian Masters cookbook, issued by Museum Canada in honour of Canada 150.
“Memorable food is a great way to accentuate seasonality and create experiences,” says Ryan, explaining that the focus at Air North is on the local. Much of the food that Air North serves in-flight is prepared fresh in the Whitehorse-based flight kitchen. They are proud to feature local products on their flights, including Yukon Brewing beer and Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters. The company is proud of its strong connection to Yukon and its people: 1 in 15 Yukoners is either employed by Air North or holds equity in the company.
Ryan always looks for opportunities to create partnerships that combine the experiential and the culinary. For example, every April they co-sponsor a Yukon Whisky Weekend, and they host a booth at Whitehorse’s Rotary Wine and Food Festival. He encourages other restaurateurs to look for similar opportunities to form partnerships, where the quality of the food adds immeasurably to the overall experience.
Naomi Duguid, Cookbook author and culinary travel writer
Writer Naomi Duguid says, “Food is the lens through which I travel.” Listening to her speak, it’s also clearly the lens through which she lives. She shared three observations about working with food, that she learned from her travels:
Many of the places she travels are cultures where they eat less meat and more grains. These aren’t self-limitations, or diets – it’s how they actually live, and they’ve been eating like that for generations.
We might think eating locally and simply is more difficult in colder places, but Duguid disagrees. She gave the example of the Caucasus, where the climate is like ours, “but more like the Garden of Eden.” The people there preserve fruit in different ways to keep it through the cold season. They dry fruit into leather, which keeps all winter and which they use to season stews. And they preserve fruit by cooking moraba, a Persian jam made from whole fruits.
Figure out how you can use it
Learn what is grown locally and what can be foraged – and then learn how to use it. She said the constraints on Caucasus residents “force them to be creative” – and constraints can have the same impact on us. She told us about a Senegalese woman who, every time she needed honey, visited the spot under the eaves of her house where the beehive was, and took what she needed. It’s always worth hearing where things come from, so you fully appreciate the ingredients, and gave the example of a woman who made salt from the sand near the seashore. It’s too much work for most of us to do the same – but doesn’t the story help us respect the ingredients more?
Choice vs. necessity
When we try to use what’s seasonal and local, we get to know our ingredients better. “The more you restrict yourself, the more your creativity is pushed.” She suggested that we try to grow fresh herbs through the winter, and use legumes instead of meat. Although she loves lemons and limes, she suggested we occasionally experiment with local flavours like Damson plums or sour cherries in our dishes.
Travel, whether local or international, is a great way to inspire your food. “People from other areas automatically bring a deeper level of awareness,” she says. That intentionality can bring more thoughtfulness to your travels, and to your cooking when you get back home.
Check out my notes on the other speakers in the session, Ivy Knight and Aman Dosanj.