Gone fishin’ Once out of office, Mayor Brian Bowman looks forward to spending more time on a boat and in the kitchen
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Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman is still in the thick of his official duties the day we meet. Life is busy but come Nov. 1 he’s done; after two terms in office the 50-year-old states he has no desire to run again.
It is often the simplest of foods that evoke the strongest of emotions.
That first cup of tea as dawn breaks, standing still before life comes crowding in. The perfumed sweetness of a fuzzy peach. A grilled cheese scarfed down in a rush between activities, leaving your tongue slightly burned. The smell of buttery popcorn, salty on lips as you lean in for a first kiss at the cinema.
Homemade: Downtown Edition is a monthly series inviting a person who works in Winnipeg’s downtown to cook and talk about their favourite comfort food; if we are what we eat, then who are you?
This series would not have been made possible without the generosity of staff at RRC Polytech, Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, who kindly permitted us to use the kitchens of Jane’s restaurant.
“But not having the jurisdiction and resources of other levels of government makes the changes we like to make a little more difficult… but then that’s the nature of municipal government,” he sighs.
But enough of that. Bowman — masked up due to COVID protocols, although there’s no hiding his famous grin — is here today to cook, not chat about policy and goals and checkmarks.
He gets to work quickly, clattering down his cooler containing six deftly filleted pickerel — “I got it from Gimli Fish,” he says, senses honed to anticipate questions — and vegetables, each prepped and neatly packed in its own little container: beets, zucchini, broccoli and carrots.
From another bag he pulls out dredging materials: a packet of flour and a small tray of eggs together with a baggie of “secret” herbs and spices with which to coat the fish.
“I’m making pan-fried pickerel and roasted vegetables. What we would do as a family is use whatever is in season in the garden, but these ones (the vegetables) are store-bought.
“My parents had a very large vegetable garden and one of the things they had done was make sure we would grow what we could eat. We had a cold room, and we would make really good use of it.”
It’s a fitting dish to make. Pickerel is abundant in the Winnipeg River system and Bowman, the grandson of a fisherman, is a Winnipegger born and bred.
“This is a very basic recipe — we fry it in a little bit of butter, include some herbs that we have in the garden, have it with some lemon. It’s kind of a nice comfort food; it was quite a common dish on the dinner table.
“Before I was born my grandfather was a commercial fisherman and I had family and friends in the Victoria Beach area. So I’ve grown up going out and pulling out the nets. We ate a lot of pickerel growing up; it’s something we eat all season,” he says.
Fishing is a big part of his life. In the summer Bowman and his two children fish every second weekend, checking out different places. The hope is to get a boat so “it will be nicer to go into little crannies and lakes.”
It’s hard to get a sense of who Bowman really is; the mask doesn’t slip, and, like most politicians, words are used deliberately and carefully. The tone is measured and the pauses long… there’s no chance of off-the-cuff remarks here.
Until he starts talking about Tracy, his wife of 17 years, that is.
“She is honestly the rock star of our family. She has her career, she is the default for our children’s activities, she’s a marathon runner…” he trails off, suddenly sounding like a shy and smitten teenager.
“I’ve been riding her coattails since 1994, which is when we first started dating.”
Bowman cooked to woo her, making a spinach salad with berries and honey-toasted walnuts, and a pizza.
“It was spinach, chicken, artichoke and I made the dough from scratch, which I’d never done before, and she liked it — that was the only reason I got a second date.”
The couple, both University of Manitoba alumni, met at a political studies class 29 years ago and started dating a year later. Their two boys swim competitively and the family like to cook together, taking time to visit as they make dinner.
“I really appreciate doing it. When I don’t have events, I like to just have an evening to have nice family time. We both try to cook, although lately Tracy has been the one cooking more in the family. That’s what I am most looking forward to, to have more time to cook.”
“The kitchen is the common living space and so both of our boys like cooking. Our youngest son is really into baking and cooking.”
The fish on the pans sizzles happily in its buttery bath, while Bowman expertly bastes them. They will be served with store-bought bannock and a mix of white and wild rice.
“I’ve never thought so much about what I’m cooking,” he says, flipping his fillets. “This stove is way hotter than I would normally have.”
But he’s needlessly worried — the fish comes out perfectly, as do the veggies, which have been happily roasting. And right on time, the rice arrives in its snazzy rice-cooker, hand-delivered by Bowman’s assistant Cathy.
He’s made a lot of food — there’s enough to take back to his office to share with staff members. Cathy, whose birthday it is, gets the first taste before we plate up for photographs.
“I mean, it’s not going to be the Mona Lisa — it’s fried fish, you know,” he says slightly ruefully before looking up to the camera, taking off his mask and unleashing a megawatt smile for the camera on cue.
Pan-fried pickerel with roasted vegetables, bannock and rice
2 large eggs
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
Spices of your choice
A mix of seasonal vegetables, cut into equal sizes so they all cook at the same time
Packet of bannock (or homemade if you prefer)
Packet of wild rice and packet of white rice mixed together.
1. Heat the oven to 200 C (400 F).
2. Toss the vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper before placing them on an oven tray and roasting for approximately 30 to 35 minutes, depending on the type of vegetables you will be using. Root veggies will take longer to cook than something like broccoli or cauliflower.
3. Crack and lightly whip eggs in a bowl before transferring them to a plate. In another plate, tip the flour and mix in your spices of choice together with the salt and pepper.
4. Put the fish in the egg and then dredge in flour just to give it a bit of a light batter.
5. Gently heat enough butter to coat the bottom of a pan. Place the fish in the pan once the butter starts bubbling. Fry for a few minutes on each side, making sure to keep the heat on medium-low so as to not burn the fish. Remove from heat as soon as the flesh of the fish changes from translucent to flaky white
6. Cook the rice according to packet instructions, adding a dash of olive oil for flavour.
7. Plate up the dish once all the elements have come together, serving with lemon wedges and some bannock, if you like.