Local Flavors: Ottawa, Canada - #105

BURT WOLF: Every town in the world has a local flavor, a flavor that comes from its signature dishes, from a group of preferred ingredients or a type of restaurant that is popular.  It's a flavor that comes from appreciating a particular piece of equipment or a cooking technique. There are dozens of things that make up a local flavor.  But the most important influences are always the result of history, geography and economics. This is Ottawa, the capital city of Canada.  It's the town to tour of the oldest farmer’s market in the nation.  To taste the beaver tail and find out why it's Ottawa's favorite snack.  To learn why people picnic, and have one of our own, and cook some great tasting food.  So please join me, Burt Wolf, for a taste of the local flavors of Ottawa, Canada. The city of Ottawa sits on the banks of the Ottawa River, between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.  The first Europeans into the area were fur traders who arrived in the 1600s.  They traveled in and out of the territory on the Ottawa River and much of their trading took place at the junction between the Ottawa, Gatineau, and Rideau Rivers, the spot where the city now stands.

Ottawa is actually a native word meaning "the trading place."

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: The first settlers showed up in the early 1800s and quickly realized that the high acid content of the soil made it a difficult place to farm.  So they turned to the forests and quickly logged onto the lumber business.  But transporting those logs was where the real money was at.

BURT WOLF: As the raftsmen floated their logs downriver to Montreal, they encountered Ottawa's Chaudiere Falls.  They had to take their rafts apart and then re-assemble them at the bottom of the falls, which gave them an opportunity to stock up on supplies.  And the suppliers of the supplies were the shopkeepers of Ottawa.  During the 1850s, the falls were put to use as the source of power for a series of mills.  At about the same time, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa for Canada's capital, which brought in politicians, lobbyists, businessmen, and the representatives of foreign governments.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Traders on the river, a little farming, a little logging, a little milling, and lots of ministries.  Add to that the immigrants that arrived during the 20th century and you've got the major forces influencing the local flavors of Ottawa.

BURT WOLF: A good spot to start looking at what's cooking in Ottawa is the historic By Ward Market.  Opened in 1846, this is Canada's oldest continuously operated farmer's market, with cobblestone courtyards, historic buildings, and the feeling of a traditional marketplace. In recent years, however, it has become a bustling center for boutique shopping, restaurants, and entertainment.  The By Ward Market building was the original structure where farmers and loggers did business and socialized back in the 1800s.  It's been restored and now houses specialty shops, delis, cafes, and artisans. David McGillivray is the executive chef at the Chateau Laurier and often shops the market for fresh produce.  He does his shopping at 8 a.m., which I consider a reasonable hour, so I tagged along.  We're putting together the ingredients for a picnic menu that we'll cook when we get back from the market. But first, coffee and a croissant at the French baker. Jerome Mantel was working for a real estate developer in Paris when he realized that his true love was baking, not building.  So he enrolled and then graduated from the finest baking school in Paris and he immigrated to Ottawa and opened a French bakery.  His pastry is excellent.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I'm drinking a macchiato.  A macchiato is an espresso with a little bit of warm milk and no foam, as opposed to a cappuccino, which is an espresso with a lot of warm milk and a lot of foam, they were developed by Italian truck drivers who wanted to have a little warm milk in their coffee in the morning but didn't want to pay for it.  So they would order an espresso, and as it was coming they'd say "can I have a little bit of warm milk in there?" I really shouldn't tell this story in a French bakery.  But originally croissants were not French.  In 1680 there was a siege of the city of Vienna by the Turks.  The city was completely surrounded. Nobody could get in or out.  Very early one morning a baker was working in his shop, which was right over the city walls, and he heard something going on under his bakery.  He called the guards.  The Turks were trying to tunnel through. The guards went down, attacked the Turks in the tunnel, and then used the tunnel to counter-attack the main body of the Turkish forces and broke the siege.  And the king of Vienna said to the baker, "I will reward you by giving you the exclusive right to bake a bread in the shape of the crescent on the Turkish flag to show the people of Vienna that every morning we can devour the Turks."

BURT WOLF: After we got out of our breakfast we headed into the market to pick out the foods for our picnic.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: The strawberries are beautiful. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I was reading the other day that they've been picked by people since neolithic times.  But they were teeny little things that you had to eat right where you found them because they were so delicate you couldn't carry them.  And during the Middle Ages they were thought of as a medicine.  That's kind of interesting to me, because now scientists are telling us they're high vitamin C and potassium and fiber and that they may be cancer blockers.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: This is what we're looking for.


DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Home-grown tomatoes.  When I buy tomatoes, the one thing I check for is the smell.  I like to smell the plants. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It smells like a tomato.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It's a tomato.



DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: So we are going to need some tomatoes for our picnic.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Look at this cauliflower.  Are they beautiful?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Beautiful, for sure.  Snow white.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Somebody once said that cauliflower was a cabbage with a college education.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: I would agree with that.  I would definitely agree with that.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Because a cabbage puts all of its energy into the leaves


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And here you put all the energy into the flower.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: And speaking of cabbage we have to get some because we're going to make coleslaw.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: That's right. We'll need to get some.





WOMAN ON CAMERA: Fine. Yourself?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Good.  Could I get a head of fresh cabbage, please.

WOMAN ON CAMERA: Yes.  How many?  One?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Just one is fine. Thank you.

WOMAN ON CAMERA: Which one you want?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: I would like ... this one looks pretty good. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Now, what did you see that you liked about that?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: I didn't see any holes in the leaves.

WOMAN ON CAMERA: Fine.  Thank you. Have a good day, sir.



DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Look at the beautiful zucchini, too. You know, in the market, a lot of the vendors sell maple syrup.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY: And the reason for that is the Northeast and North America is the only place on the globe where you can produce maple syrup.

BURT WOLF: And I gather it's not just because of the trees, because you can find maple trees other places.  It's that balance of temperature where you have very hot days and very cold nights,

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: and that makes the sap run in sufficient quantities. It's actually just the opposite with me.  

BURT WOLF: Ah, yes, the Beaver Tail. A local variation on an ancient dish that has become a signature food in Ottawa. Pastry dough stretched out, deep fried in soy oil, and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.  It is similar to the classic deep fried French pastry called the beignet or a galette,  which is a similar dough that was pan fried by Canadian trappers during the 1700s. 


So how did these get started?

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Well, it’s an old family recipe, actually, the Hooker family.  Grant Hooker's grandmother from Germany immigrated and brought the reci ... emigrated from Germany and brought the recipe with her.  And then in 1980 they opened their first booth, and that's the original booth right there.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I read that they had franchised them  into 100 places all over the world.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Apparently so. They're very, very popular.  

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: It's like a donut that a truck ran over.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Sort of, yeah.  A very good donut. They're extremely popular, especially in the wintertime on the Rideau Canal with all the ice skaters. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Canal freezes over.

DAVID McGILLIVRAY ON CAMERA: Exactly.  That's what they ...

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You come and you have a hot beaver tail.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Not a very attractive name, but it's quite a tasty dish.

MAN ON CAMERA: Uh-huh.  It's an Ottawa institution.

BURT WOLF: Properly stocked, we headed back to the Chateau Laurier kitchen to start cooking for the picnic.  David has already prepared an herb roasted chicken, and I'll tell you how to get the written recipe for it and all the other dishes in this series at the end of the program.  Next, quick bread cranberry muffins. Until late 1800s breads were raised with yeast, air trapped in well-beaten eggs, or baking soda.  Then in 1892 a German pharmacist named August Oetker introduced the first successful version of baking powder.  It was foolproof while the other rising agents weren’t.  And it was quick. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Breads that were made with baking powder became known as quick breads.  And when it comes to muffins, that is certainly the operative word. The ingredients are mixed together quickly and lightly for maximum tenderness, and then baked off in small cups where they bake much faster than they would if they were in a large pan.

BURT WOLF: David is using a Silverstone 12-cup muffin tin which we tested for “The New Cooks’ Catalogue”.  It's non-stick, its seamless cups are bonded securely to the frame, each one is almost three inches across, and holds about four ounces ... just right for regular-size muffins. David is also making minted coleslaw.  The word coleslaw comes from the Dutch word "koolsla," "kool" meaning cabbage and "sla" meaning salad.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA:  It shows up in North American cooking as early as 1790.  Cabbage was very popular with the settlers because it stayed fresh and crisp well into the winter, long after other vegetables had been lost to frost. 

BURT WOLF: Cabbage and carrots are cut in a food  processor, which can be used to slice vegetables, grate cheese, make mayonnaise, and chop parsley in a fraction of the time it takes to do these jobs by hand. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Full-sized food processors start with a nine-cup capacity, but I think you will find the 11 to 14-cup capacity a lot more versatile. Food processors are classed according to the amount of dry ingredients that the work bowl will hold.  But the amount of liquid ingredients it will hold is half of the dry ingredient.  That's because if you add liquids above the edge here of the blade housing it's quite possible for the liquid to drip out while the processor is running.

BURT WOLF: All food processors come equipped with a clear plastic bowl that locks onto the base, which houses the motor.  The most effective and powerful machines have a work bowl and blade that sit directly on top of the motor rather than to one side.  They also have a lid with a feed tube for adding ingredients to the work bowl while the machine is running, an S-shaped blade for chopping, and an assortment of disks for slicing and shredding.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: A food processor will chop an onion or make a pastry dough, but it will not puree a soup into the smooth and silky texture that a blender will, and it's really not good for mashed potatoes.  Mashed potatoes should be processed in a potato ricer. 

BURT WOLF: The cabbage and the carrots are combined with raisons, mint and parsley.  Vinegar, oil, salt and pepper are blended and then mixed with the cabbage.  All that rests together for an hour and it's ready to join the chicken and the muffins on the picnic.

When it comes to unstructured meals, the preparation and presentation of a picnic is one of our most unstructured.  Like most of our gatherings and celebrations, picnics illustrate our desire to bring together the opposites in our lives. We like the idea of quitting our structured, civilized environment and traveling into the wilderness.  A picnic allows us to feel free and adventurous, while at the same time maintaining a nice safe structure in which we feel secure.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Ah, this is a huge tract of land with a grassy knoll.  What do you think about this grassy knoll here? Okay. 

BURT WOLF: Picking a proper place for a picnic has a lot to do with cultural heritage.  The English, for instance, were heavily influenced by the romantic and Victorian poets, so they always wanted a place with a magnificent view.  They wanted to be close to nature. We love the idea of being one with nature.  But the moment we get out there, the first thing we do is try to separate ourselves from it. We mark off our territory with a picnic cloth. We even hold down the edges with something that will act as a boundary stone. Then we take advantage of the gastronomic gifts of the countryside by covering the cloth with foods we cooked at home. 

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: You know, what we're really doing is we're trading the discomfort of our formal enclosed dining rooms and restaurants for prickly grass, sharp stones, biting insects, and undependable weather.  There's a lot to be said for the old saying "a change of aggravation is like a holiday."

BURT WOLF: At the other end of the spectrum would be a dinner party at an embassy.  And since Ottawa is the capital of Canada and all the foreign embassies are right here, I thought I'd see if I could get someone to throw a party for me so I could show you the other half of the story.  My in to the embassy life in Ottawa was Margaret Dickenson, whose husband Larry has been in the Canadian Government for over three decades, and was an ambassador for eight years. Most important, however, Margaret is the author of “From The Ambassador's Table”, a book that is a blueprint for entertaining.  The party is going to be given at the residence of the Mexican ambassador to Canada, and Margaret is preparing a few specialties from her book to add to the menu. 

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Well, we're going to make chocolate apricot oysters.  You open them up and you simply add a little bit of marzipan to it.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: And  half of a half of  walnut.  And you close the oyster and then you have your apricot oyster.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I heard somewhere the word  chocolate.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Chocolate is coming.  So what I like to do is I like to make a number of them.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Chill them in the refrigerator.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Oh, it doesn't matter ... half an hour.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Just so that the apricots and the marzipan and the walnuts settle together. 


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: And then I dip them.  So you just pick up the apricot by its nose, and you simply bathe the back of the apricot, the underside, and the topside, and you place it onto a sheet of wax paper. And you give it a little shake so that the chocolate's distributed.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I like that little step.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: I could do that.


BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Oyster's on the apricot shell.  My favorite.  Mmmm.

WOMAN ON CAMERA: And we're making pancake sachets with smoked salmon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Okay, let's make 'em.

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: So I'm going to take some pancakes that I've prepared this morning.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: And I'm just going to add about three quarters of a teaspoon of sour cream to the center of these crepes.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: And a little bit of horseradish mayonnaise, and that's nothing more than one tablespoon of horseradish relish and a cup of mayonnaise.  And I'm going to add about half a teaspoon.  And then some smoked salmon.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Any particular kind of smoked salmon you like?

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Oh, Canadian smoked salmon, of course.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Sorry I asked.  Okay. 

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Yes, indeed.  And then we're going to tie them into little sachet.  So to do this I just pick up the circumference of the crepe and I make vertical pleats like that.  You see how the crepes are actually standing up?  The trick is to keep it all at the same level.  And I'm ... I'm holding it now with my left hand and all the contents are in this ball.  Taking a chive stem, just place it between your little finger and the next finger and just catch it there. Wrap it around the sachet, just above the contents, and simply knot the chive. Trim off the little tails.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: That's it.  That's wonderful.  Yeah.

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Isn't that nice? And we can just add it to our little box of pancake sachets.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Strawberries on basil carpets.


MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Doesn't that sound exotic?

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Yep.  Let's go.

MARGARET DICKENSON ON CAMERA: Okay.  So I take the strawberries and I cut them in half and I bathe them for about five minutes in this sugar-vinegar syrup.  Now, you can see that that's going to be used as my glue.  Because when I add the basil leaves, they go on like that, and they won’t worry about slipping off the spoons.  And then we add another touch of almond cream cheese and just plant a piece of a toasted almond into the sour cream to hold into position. And finally we take our strawberries and you add them to the spoons, planting them down securely.  And you have strawberries on basil carpets.

BURT WOLF: The dinner party is being given by his excellency, Ezequiel Padilla, ambassador of Mexico to Canada, and his wife Carmen.  Their chef is Raul Guerrero, and he's going to give me a lesson in tortilla making.  The tortilla is the ancient bread of Mexico, and the fresher they are the better.  As you might expect, the kitchen at the residence prepares them for almost every meal. The dough is made by mixing together masa herina flour and water, and then rolling that mixture into walnut-sized balls.  The essential piece of equipment is a simple heavy-duty tortilla press like this one.  It consists of two rounds of flat-cast aluminum plates with a hinge at one end and a long handle at the other.  Most presses operate on a simple mechanism.  When pressure is exerted on the handle, the two flat plates of the press force the dough into a flat disk.

BURT WOLF ON CAMERA: Building up those muscles.

BURT WOLF: Raul is also preparing a classic salsa, and he believes that the best texture can only be obtained with the use of a lava stone, mortar and pestle.  The traditional Mexican mortar and pestle looks like a pre-Colombian artifact.  Made of porous, rough textured dark gray volcanic stone, these tools are still preferred by serious Mexican cooks for blending and grinding together sauce ingredients, ingredients that would lose much of their texture if they were pureed in a blender.  If you enjoy cooking Mexican recipes at home, you will love these tools. 


BURT WOLF: A party like this is about structure and position.  The first hour is set aside for cocktails and introductions.  The hostess introduces the guests. This is the first moment where your place in the structure is indicated. Introductions take place with the lower rank being introduced to the upper rank, as in "your majesty, I would like you to meet Burt Wolf," as opposed to "Hey, Burt, meet the king." When the cocktail hour is over we are ushered towards the dining room. The butler stands at the entrance with a chart that tells each person where they are seated.  They go directly to their place.  The place cards confirm that you are where you should be.  But how did this get to be your proper place? Well, that decision was made by the host and the hostess according to a set of rules.  The highest ranking female sits to the right of the male host.  The highest ranking male sits to the right of the  female host. And that process continues. Boy, girl, right rank until the table is completed.  The side of the seating card that faces the table also has your name just in case anyone forgets who you are.  The flatware is placed according to use.  The implements you need first are on the outside and you eat your way in.  Except for the spoon and fork at the top of your place, which will be used at dessert.  Bread plate to your left, wine glasses to your right. The candles are here to add a soft light to the table, but they are also here to remind people that life the candles burns brightly but only for a limited time, and then it's snuffed out. We should enjoy being together while we can. The first course was a mousse made from a fungus that grows on corn.  Now, that doesn't sound so good, but it tasted great.  And it was helpful to keep in mind that mushrooms and truffles are basically in the same category as this fungus. The second course was a zucchini flower soup. The salsa was on the table and fresh tortillas were passed.  The main course was salmon with cilantro sauce, asparagus and wild rice.  Dessert was fruit pastry blossoms with fresh mango.  Along with the dessert came a music course.

Well, that's a small taste of Ottawa's local flavors.  I hope you have enjoyed it, and I hope you will join me next time.  I'm Burt Wolf.    

If you would like free copies of the recipes from this program, or hundreds of other recipes from Burt’s programs, to read his special reports from around the world and interviews with leading food authorities or to order a copy of The New Cooks’ Catalogue, a critical guide that tells you what to look for when purchasing cooking equipment and utensils, with over 1,000 color photographs and recipes, just visit Burt online at BURTWOLF.COM.