Eric Pateman with seal pappardelle—a delicious dish
The idea to put seal on the menu came to Pateman about six months ago. He was looking for inspiration for his upcoming “Across the Top of Canada” culinary adventure. It’s a Big Deal. A once in a lifetime opportunity.
Sixty Canadians will hop on a private Air North 737 with eight of the country’s best chefs. They’ll visit and dine in a number of remote places. The journey will coincide with the northern summer solstice (itself a unique experience) of Canada’s 150th birthday.
The group will fly from Vancouver to Whitehorse, Yellowknife, Iqualuit, Rankin Inlet and St Johns Newfoundland and back to Vancouver. (At this time there may be seats still open if you want to hop aboard.)
Obviously, the adventure fits well with Edible Canada’s identity. But a good part of the program involves awareness of Inuit cultures, touching base with First Nations.
“Seal is a part of that menu, so I wanted to have an understanding before we got up there,” says Pateman.
A story to tell
“Dine Out offered the perfect opportunity to focus on the North and support the Inuit culture, the hunters of the west and north coasts, to give them an outlet for their meat.”
The seal meat comes from last year’s harvest. And for the first time, instead of left to rot on an ice floe, it’s winding up on plates in Vancouver.
Pateman notes that “at the end of the day fur drives the industry.” He says 80 percent of the meat is never even used.
“The bigger story is: how do we support these communities? This isn’t just about the seal hunt. It’s about livelihood.”
Pateman feels it’s very much his role to get the message out.
“In our retail store we have about 500 end products. It’s about telling those peoples’ stories, about helping them find a distribution channel. This is no different. It’s about engaging with those communities to get that product out here.”
Canadian Cuisine, eh?
That age old question of just what defines Canadian cuisine pops up again. In fact, says Pateman, at Edible Canada it never really goes away.
Part of what we’ve always done here is playing around with different ingredients and different styles. As in: what is Canadian food?”
“If you look at the (Federal) Ministry of Agriculture’s website, it says: in Canada this is what we grow, therefore this is what we are. It’s not very sexy. The reality is we’re a commodity based country, but also so much more than that!”
The challenge. he says, is how to take those ingredients and do something that tells the story of what is Canadian food.
A Sense of Purpose
Since Day One, Edible Canada has been at the fore with a handful of truly focused Vancouver kitchens that take Canadian cuisine very seriously.
He says the bistro’s mantra is: ‘Local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients in the hands of many cultures.’”
Pateman says they asked themselves what they could do with seal. And tried making any number of dishes.
“We’re using the loin. Most seal meat comes from the back under a layer of fat. It’s only got about 2 percent fat. It’s incredibly lean, one of the richest meats in the world in iron, and really dense in flavour. The fat also has a very low flashpoint. It actually just melts away.
“From seal tourtière, poke to tacos, and even seal curry we tried everything. We used all the different cuts. We were just thrilled with the results of what the protein could do.”
Walking the Talk
Pateman says the reality is that this has started a conversation.
Even the Humane Society of Canada has expressed an interest in meeting for a ‘friendly’ conversation to share each others’ points of view.
Says the restaurateur, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. It’s a fair position. But I run a restaurant that’s known for serving meat. And we’ll always serve meat. So just lets make sure we’re choosing the right meat. And having an understanding of why we’re serving it.”
This year’s hunt takes place in May. Patemen says he’s going to partake in it.
“I’m a fourth generation Vancouverite. I’ve never held a gun in my life. If I’m going to talk the talk, I should be able to walk the walk.”
But what does seal taste like?
Well, not like chicken, that’s for sure.
The main dish on Edible’s Dine Out menu is ‘Newfoundland Seal pappardelle.’ It’s a riff on the Italian classic that’s deliberately not an Inuit dish.