JUST as one should never go grocery shopping when hungry, one should not pick up a tasty book before supper.
From the benefits of fresh fish and wild game to Canadian-made quality charcuterie, the Toronto-based Jacob Richler looks at where Canadian cuisine has been -- and where it's going.
The combination of his knowledge and experience with his expressive writing style makes My Canada Includes Fois Gras a reader's treat.
A noted food writer, cookbook author and restaurant critic, Richler began to learn about food early as he helped his mother in the kitchen and accompanied his late father, Mordecai, to his favourite restaurants in Montreal.
Some chapters are essays about a certain culinary point in his life, such as taking his children for their first Peking duck or packing up his mother's 50-year-old cookbook collection.
Richler (who was the fictional subject of Mordecai's Jacob Two-Two books) has the knack of describing every meal he makes as effortless and simple, with hearty and delicious results, such as his mother's lobster pasta (recipe included) and classics like beef bourguignon.
Other essays focus on different aspects of the Canadian (mostly Toronto, the West Coast and Montreal) restaurant scene, even as he mixes some of the personal into these stories. Alas, he seems to have flown over Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
As he moved his food-writing career forward, Richler inevitably came to know and befriend chefs and restaurateurs. Several make an appearance here, including Alsatian chef Marc Thuet, Iron Chef winner Rob Feenie, nouvelle cuisine star Susur Lee and charcuterie expert Rob Gentile.
Richler shares their conversations about the chefs' experiences with food and cooking, and introduces unfamiliar ingredients. While some items may be difficult to find in Winnipeg (like boudin noir -- blood sausages -- made the old-fashioned way), he makes them sound irresistible.
Richler doesn't shy away from strong opinions, either. He deeply wishes that governments would let chefs prepare and sell wild game in their restaurants. He even bravely weighs in on the debate on the best Montreal smoked meat.
He views calls to ban fois gras as misguided at best, and gives the celebrated liver dish his highest praise, writing about his first experience with it when served hot:
"I had never experienced the stuff in its hot, glorious apotheosis, with its melted fat coursing luxuriously bite after bite so exquisitely that medium-fat smoked meat would forever after seem like melba toast."
While not every recipe in the book is all that practical, such as one for (smuggled) Scottish grouse, they all sound delicious and are sure to spark a foodie's imagination with possibilities.
He manages to be critical without being derogatory, pointing out the good and the bad in restaurant trends and the work of chefs. While tasting menus are on the downturn, he's particularly interested in chefs moving beyond fine dining and into more upscale yet casual dining opportunities.
Sumptuously written and clearly showing his love of good food, this collection of Canadian cooking perspectives is sure to send you to the fridge looking for a decadent midnight snack.
Julie Kentner is a Winnipeg writer who is teaching herself to be a more adventurous and critical eater.
My Canada Includes Fois Gras
A Culinary Life
By Jacob Richler
Viking, 256 pages, $32