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Finding True North: Redefining Canada's culinary identity

New cookbook celebrates the rich diversity of Canadian cuisine



In 2013, the Canadian government sent a fleet of food trucks down to Mexico in an effort to promote our national cuisine abroad.

Hawking everything from poutine to maple syrup to lomo Canadiense (peameal bacon), the trucks offered many Mexicans their first taste of Canuck cuisine, which turned out to be quite helpful considering only about a third of customers were able to name a typical Canadian food product beforehand.

Some will highlight that last point as evidence that Canada lacks a clear gastronomic identity, but that argument ignores the fact that a country's cuisine will always be more than the sum of its parts. To boil Canadian cuisine down to a handful of easily recognizable dishes is to ignore our rich diversity of culture, geography and ingredients.

From P.E.I. potatoes on one coast to Pacific salmon on the other, Canadian cuisine is literally and figuratively all over the map, a fact that was reinforced for food writer Chris Johns as he toured the Great White North with one of the country's most talented chefs, Derek Dammann, the creative force behind beloved Montreal hotspots DNA and Maison Publique. (To try out one of Dammann's recipes, check out this week's Chef's Choice feature:

"I don't think we can say with any certainty what Canadian cuisine is, and sometimes I feel like it's even a mistake to say, 'Oh this is Italian food' or 'This is Chinese food,' because if you look close enough at any of those cuisines, you find they break down into these regional genres," said Johns. "So I think it's a little bit unfair to assume we could even have a Canadian cuisine, but if there is anything like that, and I think it's still evolving since we're a really young country, it's built on our ingredients and the people that give them to us — the farmers, the fishermen, the chefs."

Johns and Dammann have paired up to write True North: Canadian Cuisine from Coast to Coast, part-cookbook, part-travelogue that saw them sample and celebrate the many ingredients to be found across our home and native land.

"It started as just a book of straight recipes from Derek's former restaurant, and then through the course of putting together the proposal and getting to know each other, we expanded the scope to be something more like what you see today, which is more of a travel-recipe compendium that looks at some of our favourite farmers, fishermen, winemakers and chefs from across the country," Johns said.

Along the way Johns and Dammann sipped fine wine in the Okanagan, dropped a fishing line off Vancouver Island, and laid out a massive six-metre shellfish platter in Prince Edward County, Ont. It was the kind of epic, sea-spanning road trip that gave Johns a deeper appreciation for what makes Canada's food producers tick. "The book just confirmed for me what made me fall in love with food and cooking in the first place: this generosity of spirit that's built into people that have a love of food, of sharing meals and who want to do the best they can for their friends and family in that way," he said.

Dammann and Johns will be in Whistler next month for a Q&A and book signing at the library on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. The next day Dammann will be at the Whistler Conference Centre showing off a few of the recipes from the book, while Johns will pair those culinary creations with a selection of B.C. wines. The event starts at 2 p.m. and tickets go for $40. Visit to register.