Several restaurants last weekend across the North Peace offered their patrons a gastronomic glimpse into what their region has to offer in the way of local fare. The Taste of the Town event, asked various local restaurants to prepare dishes featuring local ingredients as part of the city's Be a Tourist in Your Own Town Week.
Fort St. John Visitor Services Coordinator, Doug Craig explained to the Alaska Highway News the two events complement one another nicely.
"We had it last Fall and it was such a huge success we thought we'd do it twice a year," said Craig, adding that the tourism awareness week presented an ideal fit.
"The whole idea of eating locally falls in with building awareness of what the area has to offer, both in dining and produce," Craig continued.
He said the staff at the Visitor Information Centre were busy throughout the week, letting interested residents know where they could sink their teeth into local dishes.
"We heard a lot of positive comments," said Craig, "There was certainly some interest."
While it may have been easy to generate interest in eating local fare, one of the chefs participating in the event explained it is a little harder to come up with a locally produced dish so early in the growing season, especially following one of the region's harsher winters in recent years.
Bernard Gingras, chef at one of the restaurants that participated in the last event, held late this past summer, said that while it's not usually hard to come up with locally produced food, this past winter presented some unique challenges.
This time around, he created a dish based around locally raised lamb, however said they were hard to come by given the winter. In addition, he acknowledged it's a tad early to be digging for potatoes in the Peace.
Despite this, Gingras did find enough lamb to pull it off, which he seasoned with spices grown in his garden and accompanied by potatoes and carrots, which could conceivably be grown in the region later on in the year.
Last time, the local chef picked Bison and he commented that the reasons for picking local meats are obvious.
Gingras said while patrons often choose local produce because of its superior quality, he has yet to notice any significant consumer pressure based on the principle alone.
Although he hasn't noticed any pressure from clientele, there are more and more suppliers approaching him to buy locally raised beef, and bison, in addition to wild game such as deer, moose, elk and wild fish.
"I always try and buy local when I can," said Gingras, "We get most of our steak from ranches in Dawson Creek and we have a guy that brings us freshly-caught Halibut, but it's hard when you go through so much of it."
During the winter months, keeping the menu local is impossible, according to Gingras. Without hot houses or a temperate climate just about the only locally grown foods he can get his hands on in the winter are jams and jellies.
Gingras also noted that local produce comes with a much higher cost that is worthwhile to the discriminating in taste, but inconsequential for the majority of local diners who prefer steak and potatoes to almost anything else, regardless of where it comes from.
Taylor's John Curtis knows a thing or two about local food production, given his more than 40 years spent running a local market garden. He said he's noticed an upswing in people concerned about getting local produce, but said they seem to care more about how fresh the veggies are than how many greenhouse gases they're eliminating.
He explained it's virtually impossible for any of the restaurants who participated in the recent event to have featured local vegetables.
"We don't start getting anything to put on the table until around July," said Curtis, "We start seeing things like peas and maybe some pickling cucumbers ready around that time."
However, the majority of the Peace's bounty isn't ready until mid-August when carrots can be pulled, potatoes dug, and tomatoes picked.
Addressing the region's potential for buttressing its food security by increasing production into the winter months, Curtis explained he doesn't expect that anytime soon.
"That's a long ways away on account of the heating problem," Curtis said, adding the costs would make the produce unaffordable.
Craig of the Visitors Centre said residents can look forward to another installment of Taste of the Town, closer to the Fall, "when it makes a little more sense."
The participating restaurants included Casey's Pub, Century Bar and Grill, CJ's Java On Main, Diner on 93rd, Jackfish Dundee's, Patch Java and Whole Wheat and Honey Cafe.