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Fresh Canadian Bistro

by Craig Flinn

There has long been a shortage of cookbooks that anthologize the recipes of Canadian chefs. Deserving and talented candidates of all ages and from across Canada draw international plaudits, yet to date, most publishers have been unwilling to tap that vein.

So kudos to Formac Lorimer Books for introducing a little flavour into their frequently lacklustre cookbook program with Fresh Canadian Bistro, a collection of 80 recipes from chefs across this land. Author Craig Flinn, co-owner and chef at Chives Canadian Bistro in Halifax, travelled across Canada in 2004 performing “stages” – short cooking internships – at numerous top-tier restaurants. As explained in his introduction, what he noticed was a dual cooking trend that saw locally produced artisanal ingredients being used in dishes inspired by the sort of tasty-yet-budget-conscious fare served in European bistros, trattorias, and pubs.

Bolstered by Alanna Jankov’s competent photography (though there’s the occasional goopy, under-styled dud), the recipes come from familiar names such as Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy and P.E.I.’s Michael Smith, as well as from lesser-knowns such as Regina’s Moe Mathieu or B.C.’s Ned Bell.

The 35 contributors provide a wide range of dishes that show distinct Canadianness in their ingredients and style, such as foie gras poutine, smoked haddock fishcakes, beer-braised pig cheeks, corn and cheddar soufflé, field strawberries with ice wine sabayon, and – perhaps most Canadian of them all – bison hump and Saskatoon berry perogies.

Naysayers often argue there is no such thing as Canadian cuisine, yet as Flinn points out, Marco Polo had to fetch noodles from China before pasta could become Italian. In order to forge a national cuisine, Canuck chefs had to start somewhere, and Fresh Canadian Bistro shows that they are now well on their way.