Festival explores the diverse flavours of Canada

We get the low-down on Canadian cuisine ahead of the Taste of Canada festival in Abu Dhabi.

Chef Josh Kucharick rolls out the dough for his bannocks stuffed with spiced pumpkin at Fire and Ice restaurant in Raffles Hotel, Dubai. Photos by Jaime Puebla / The National
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Although it may not have such an easily identifiable a style as Italian, French or Japanese cooking, Canada has its own unique food history and cuisine, as any Canadian will be sure to tell you.

John Cordeaux was born in the UK, but moved to Canada at a young age, living in Montreal and Toronto for many years before moving to Abu Dhabi in 2009, to take on the role of executive chef at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr. He says that thanks to the influx of immigrants from all over the world during the country's formative years, Canada has several different "food personalities", which differ not just from one end of the country to another, but from province to province.

Despite this variety, Cordeaux believes that the common theme is the quality of ingredients. "The produce that is available in Canada is phenomenal. You've got amazing east coast lobster, scallops and salmon, fantastic meat such as buffalo, venison and elk and artisan cheeses from Quebec, which I think are up there with the best that France has to offer. It is quite simply a great food-producing nation."

It is this pride in his country's ingredients that was the inspiration behind Taste of Canada, a food festival that will be held at the Fairmont starting on Friday, running until the end of the month.

Over the next couple of weeks, Canadian ingredients such as sablefish, blue mussels, elk, scallops and tuna will all feature on the menu at the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, all in various guises. The recipe for the smoked Georgia Strait sablefish with corn and potato hash follows, if you would like to recreate it at home.

Meanwhile, at CuiScene, the hotel's all-day dining restaurant, homesick expatriates can get their fill of poutine (the much-loved Quebecois dish of French fries topped with cheese curd and gravy), as well as pumpkin pie, buttermilk pancakes and many a maple syrup-glazed dish.

Cordeaux says that this is a great opportunity not only to promote what he believes to be top-quality ingredients, but also to introduce them to people living in the UAE. At the moment, many of us may be unfamiliar with the taste of bison, dismissive of poutine, or intimidated by the thought of eating elk - a visit to the Fairmont this month could change that.

This certainly isn't necessary for the Canadian-born Samer Kamal, who has been living in the UAE for six years. He is a big game fan and describes elk - one of his favourite meats - as "very richly flavoured, but not at all fatty or heavy. The taste is clean and pronounced and really quite unique".

When Kamal craves Canadian food, he visits The Rib Room in Dubai, where bison is on the menu, or Asado at The Palace, The Old Town, to seek out the Canadian veal. For him, nothing beats eating out in Toronto, however, where he says the diversity of the ethnic enclaves mean that the food is second to none. "Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world; you can find great Greek, Chinese and Italian food, all within easy reach of each other."

There is also a place in his heart for poutine, particularly when it is served in elevated form. "There's a restaurant in Toronto called Bymark, where they serve butter-braised lobster poutine with hollandaise sauce. It is one of the best things that I have ever eaten in my life," he says.

Jenny Armstrong, another Canadian native living in Dubai, is not a fan of poutine. For her, no Canadian restaurant experience is complete without a Caesar, the drink that was invented in Calgary, Alberta in 1969.

"It's very similar to a Bloody Mary," she explains, "but no one seems to know about it outside of Canada. The Clamato juice [a mixture of clam broth and tomato juice] just takes it to another level. Ideally, the rim of the glass should be dusted with celery salt and I like mine pepped up with fresh horseradish. It's spicy, savoury and delicious - there is nothing better," she concludes.

Maria Herman is also a Caesar devotee. She professes to being a dab hand at knocking up the drink and says that after four and a half years living in the UAE, many of her non-Canadian friends have been converted to it.

Herman is also passionate about the food of her homeland. Her tales of drizzling maple syrup over fresh snow, at a traditional sugar shack during sugaring-off season (the time when maple trees are tapped for sap and maple syrup is made), are enough to make simply spooning syrup over pancakes feel positively mundane.

She says that when in Toronto, she loves eating Ontario sweetcorn with butter, salt and cayenne pepper, but adds: "I was born in Montreal and while Australians think they have a lock on meat pies, nothing beats a tourtiere."

Josh Kucharick, the head chef at Fire and Ice in Dubai's Raffles hotel, might well contest that. He hails from Bryson, a small town in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec, and says that his mother's cipaille or sea pie (a layered mixed meat pie) is something special. "During holiday season, my family will have a pot-luck dinner. My mother always makes her cipaille, because she is the best at it. My aunt will prepare meatballs and my uncle is in charge of the roast turkey - everyone has their area of expertise," he explains.

Being a chef, Kucharick could potentially recreate a number of the dishes that he misses. However, the ingredients aren't exactly easy to come by over here. Because of this, he says: "Whenever I go home, I always make sure that I eat my fill of caribou (reindeer). It's my favourite meat - gamey, sweet and tender." On a less carnivorous note, he professes to adoring grassleaf lettuce served with sour cream dressing, onions and a little salt and pepper, but says that he has never found the lettuce outside of Canada.

The ingredients for his take on bannock (fry) bread, a First Nation's staple, are rather easier to source in the UAE and the recipe is given here.

Smoked Georgia Strait sablefish with corn and potato hash

Prepared by John Cordeaux and soon to be on the menu at Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill. Serves 4.


4 x180g fillets sablefish or other firm white fish
15g dark brown sugar
30ml soy sauce
15ml maple syrup
100ml apple juice
15ml liquid smoke (optional)
2 tbsp oil

For the corn and potato hash:

1 tbsp oil
10g butter
white onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
300g potatoes (fingerling variety if possible)
150g corn niblets (cooked on a barbecue is best, although tinned can be used as an alternative)
75ml cream
2 tbsp chopped parsley

To garnish:

30g chanterelle mushrooms
4 baby carrots, peeled
pea purée (optional)
cabbage sprouts (optional)
salt and black pepper

Mix the sugar, soy sauce, maple syrup, apple juice and liquid smoke (if using) together in a large bowl. Add the fish fillets and leave to marinate for 45 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water, until tender when pierced with a knife. Drain well and when they are cool enough to handle, cut into small dice.

Blanch the carrots briefly in boiling water, then refresh in iced water to stop the cooking process.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan, then add the butter followed by the onion and garlic and sauté for two to three minutes. Add the cooked potatoes and the corn, season with salt and black pepper and cook for eight to 10 minutes. Stir in the cream and the parsley.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a pan, add the fish fillets (shaking off any excess marinade) and cook for three minutes on each side, or until just cooked through. Remove from the pan and leave to rest. Place the same pan over a high heat, add the blanched carrots and the chanterelles, season with salt and black pepper and cook for two to three minutes.

To serve, spoon a pile of the corn and potato hash on to each plate. Place the fish on top, arrange the mushrooms and carrots around the edge and add a spoonful or two of pea purée, if using. Finish with a piece of cabbage sprout, if you wish.

Bannock bread stuffed with spiced pumpkin

For the filling:

30g butter
400g pumpkin, peeled and diced
80g pecans, chopped
3 tbsp caster sugar
tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste
tsp ground nutmeg, or to taste

For the dough:

240g plain flour
4 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
120g cold butter, diced
60-120ml cold water
vegetable oil, for frying

To serve:

maple syrup

To make the pumpkin filling, melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium-low heat. Add the pumpkin and cook, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes, or until tender and beginning to caramelise.

Stir in the pecans, caster sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and cook for a further five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Rub in the cold butter, then add just enough water to bring the mixture together to form a dough. Knead briefly, then roll the dough out to a thickness of approximately 0.5cm. Use a pastry cutter to cut out several circles.

Brush the outer edge of the pastry circles with water, then put a spoonful of filling in the centre of each one. Fold the dough over the filling to make a half moon shape, then press or crimp the edges together. Heat a thin layer of vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the pieces of stuffed bannock bread and cook for six minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and serve with plenty of maple syrup.