Cookbooks today tend to fall into two categories: ones that you splatter with sauces, and ones that you display on your coffee table.
One is not better than the other, and often this categorization depends on the reader. For this reader, as much as I wanted to dive into cooking with Feast, it didn’t start out in my kitchen.
Feast does make a stunning hardcover coffee table book. Almost 300 pages are filled with beautiful photography and more than 80 recipes. Recipes were contributed by a diverse range of Canadians the two young authors met while on an epic cross-country road trip in a two-wheel drive hatchback.
“Using This Book” is one of the first chapters, and is a necessity for its “Alternative Ingredients” section, offering substitutions for such Boreal ingredients as Red Fife flour (spelt), muskox meat (lean beef), partridge berries (cranberries) and Spruce tips (flat-leaf parsley).
This regionality of ingredients is what prevented Feast from immediately joining my kitchen library. For me, an applied cookbook means I can choose a dinner recipe in the afternoon, and with little errand running, have a meal that night. Despite being in Canada’s capital, I had trouble finding a supper recipe from this Canadian compendium that didn’t require significant foraging.
Then again, much like this magazine, Feast is a kick in the pants to get out and explore. It’s a reminder of our country’s vast geography, incredible diversity, dedicated chefs, hard-working farmers, fisherman, and First Nations’ heritage. As the authors explain: “Before you use the alternatives, we encourage you to try to source the originals first—it may take you to a grocery store or butcher shop you’d never thought to visit, or even better, out into the woods!”
Incorporating this spirit of adventure is the cover design, which was inspired by vintage Canadian travel posters. In addition, recipes are peppered with travel tips such as “Road Trip Snacks,” and “Car Camping.” With even some nods to Taste&Travel contributors (Michele Genest, Anita Stewart) the duo aim to continue documenting the many cultures and kilometres that define “Canadian food.”
This documentation is a bit meandering. Although recipes follow the traditional cookbook ordering (breakfast, appetizers, mains, salads and sides, desserts…), amidst these chapters are short essays on our provinces, as well as commentary on different activities such as fishing in Nova Scotia and qulliq lighting in the arctic. The result is a serendipitous narrative. For example, within the Seafood Mains chapter we read about Ontario; two pages later we have a recipe for East Coast Seafood Chowder; and two pages after that we stumble upon a description of tasting whale meat in Nunavut (which is fascinating).
While this zigzag embodies the spirit of exploration, it makes it a bit difficult for the home chef to find a local recipe.
This resulted in Feast first taking up residence on my coffee table. Until reading it front to back—and adding bookmarks to create my own roadmap—I couldn’t begin to cook from its pages.
When I did, I started with recipes that offered ingredients I could find without much foraging. Dishes such as Eggs Galiano, and drinks like the Moscow Mule. Although I may be cooking with somewhat international ingredients, I am learning about my country’s diverse culinary identity.
As the authors write: “these recipes and stories are a way for you to explore places in Canada you have not yet visited.”
Whether via hatchback or hardback, coffee table or kitchen counter, we encourage all culinary explorers to get out there and discover this country’s winding, colourful, and complex cuisine. And with that, I’m off to track down some muskox and Spruce tips.