It all started when I read that poutine was voted this years' quintessential Whistler dish in Pique's annual "Best of Whistler." That, along with an interview I heard on CBC Radio with Frédéric Morin and Dave McMillan, the boys creating a flurry with their Joe Beef resto in Montreal, and their subsequent book based on same.
Joe Beef is a small room (only 30 seats) making a big splash. It's located in Montreal's funky Little Burgundy district, where Oscar Peterson grew up.
It — the resto, and the area — smack of an authenticity people gobble up. On any night you can find the place packed with hipsters and oldsters; English and French; the pretentious and unpretentious. Basically, people who like food and a vibe that says hi, I'm good; I'm relaxed; I'm fun and down-home, and unique to my creators, in this case Fred and Dave, who riff on things that catch their fancy: marjolaine they engineered their own pan for; cauliflower gratin that turns out like Kraft Dinner; Maple Leaf's tinned Vienna cocktail sausages in a martini.
But back to the poutine shouting, Whistler! or so readers said, upstaging sushi, previously voted the best all-Whistler dish two years in a row, and nachos, this year's runner-up.
Sushi? Nachos? Quintessential Whistler? At least poutine is from Quebec.
So what the heck is the quintessential Canadian dish?
Meat and potatoes, like my mom says? But that's so British Isles (like she is). A grilled cheese sandwich? Kraft Dinner? Hawkins Cheezies? After all, they're made in Bellevue, Ontario, from real Canadian cheese. Cheddar cheese, straight up? Or anything cheese? After all they don't call us cheese-heads for nothing.
Maple syrup? Baked beans? Back bacon? Canadian beef?
Hamburgers? No, they're from the States.
Don't forget First Nations' food. But then you have to navigate regional variations. Salmon on the West Coast, cedar-planked or not, doesn't cut it in central Manitoba. And even if you aren't native, we still have miles of regional diversity, including lobster out east, and 101 local dishes in-between: Perogies on the prairies? Mennonite sausage? Surely not sushi.
Then there's the lens of time, since food trends come and go, and come back again, like a retro meat loaf gone wild. Plus the urban/rural divide. What with most Canadians, in fact, most people on Earth, now living in cities, dishes that made sense on farms get a rewrite or are obliterated completely with urbanization.
These many questions were puzzling my little grey cells. So I started asking around.
The first person I called was Rolf Gunther, chef and owner of RimRock Café, voted time and again as best resto in Whistler. With its big food, bigger fireplaces and unpretentious vibe, it seems like one of the most authentic, and Canadian, places around. Like Joe Beef, only in the mountains.