As a five-year-old, Gabriel Lamarche spent many summer days foraging for mushrooms in the forest.
“He was the perfect height for morel mushroom-picking, going out there with his own little knife and picking baskets full of mushrooms and coming back to the restaurant completely covered in black soot, just vibrating from excitement,” his mother recalls five years later.
She would pay her son for the mushrooms, wash them, then serve them in various dishes at her Dawson City restaurant.
“Seeing his little face after we bought the mushrooms and giving him the money and him running to the store to buy toys, just so excited about making his own money and buying his own things,” said Josee Savard, owner of Klondike Kate’s.
Local products like her son’s foraged morel mushrooms are what granted Klondike Kate’s an invitation to take part in this year’s Food Day on July 31.
Restaurants across Canada are selected, by invitation only, to create a one-day menu that showcases local and Canadian ingredients. Their special menus will be posted on the Food Day website and will be used in the restaurant on Saturday.
The annual event started eight years ago as The World’s Longest Barbeque. It was an attempt by culinary writer Anita Stewart to promote the then-suffering Canadian beef industry.
“I thought, heck, I can do something about it. So I did,” said Stewart.
Shortly after, it evolved into celebrating all Canadian ingredients, an important aspect of Klondike Kate’s philosophy.
“Use what’s around you,” said Savard. “Use your farmers. We’ve always done that as much as we can.”
“The more focus we can put on local ingredients, the better for us as a business and the better for the tourists and locals who are coming through the restaurant because it’s great to go somewhere and taste what local products are available.”
Savard and husband Philippe Lamarche, who runs the kitchen, make use of a variety of local products.
They serve beer from the Yukon Brewing Company in Whitehorse.
Their vodka is distilled right in West Dawson.
Some of their wines come from First Nation vintners in British Columbia.
A farmer down the river grows the juicy Saskatoon berries for their muffins and pies.
The wild salmon is alder smoked by the First Nations.
Fresh herbs and edible flowers come out of Savard’s own garden that she tends to with a big heart and a green thumb.
And farmer Grant Dowdell provides Kate’s with most of their fresh produce. He lives on an island upriver with no electricity on his farm. His plants are watered using gravitational power.
“It’s a partnership that you want to make sure you cherish and take care of,” said Savard.
The quality of the produce harvested on his farm is incredible, she added.
“The taste is so amazing that you want to share it with people that come through.”
Savard’s personal farm favourite is romanesco. It has the colour and flavour of a broccoli-cauliflower mix, but is unique at the same time, she said.
“It has the shape of a broccoli but instead of having the round shape of it, it’s all pointed tips. The only think I can think of is Madonna’s bra. That’s exactly how all the shapes are, but within the vegetable itself.”
She was excited by the shipment that came into the restaurant on Wednesday morning.
“I saw the big basket of romanesco and that vegetable for me is the most beautiful vegetable – the colour and just the shape of it and then when you cook it properly, it just tastes so fresh.”
In-season produce is especially a treat so far north.
“When you live in Dawson, the vegetables that come up here, the quality and the freshness at the end of the day when we go shopping, it’s not the best. So we truly appreciate when stuff is just picked and so fresh and so delicious.”
Savard’s dedication and love for homegrown products make her excited to be a part of Food Day.
“Anita Stewart is taking the time and effort to promote the chefs throughout Canada, their creativity and the time that’s involved in that and basically being able to showcase all the different products from all the different regions. It’s really a gift in itself and really showcases how Canada knows how to have a culinary treat for that day. It’s really great that she focuses and shows the rest of the world how great our culinary art is in Canada. It’s important, it’s something that when you own a restaurant, you take to heart.”
The event was by invitation only, so Savard was especially honoured that Klondike Kate’s was invited to participate.
One of Savard’s friends, who owns Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island, recommended Kate’s to the founder of Food Day.
“He gave her our name as people trying to do the best we can with our local ingredients and that’s how (Stewart) connected with me then invited us to participate in this great event,” said Savard.
Some of the dishes Klondike Kate’s will feature on Saturday include Yukon-made caribou and bison sausage with red potato mash and romanesco from farmer Dowdell, or a birch syrup-glazed Arctic char fillet with spruce tip salt, a rice pilaf and romanesco.
All dishes are from the Yukon, especially Dawson, except the BC wines and Navan liquor from France, which is exclusive to Klondike Kate’s, said Savard.
The menu items are paired with local drinks, like the Yukon-brewed beer or Dawson-distilled vodka.
The menu, created by chef Lamarche, showcases Kate’s culinary Canadiana and the importance of local ingredients “because that’s who we are. That’s why people come up here. That’s the beauty of living up north and being able to serve what’s around you. That makes it so special,” said Savard. “I mean, everyone can buy meat and serve burgers … but it just makes it so creative and so fulfilling to get the salmon when it’s in season, to use the edible flowers. And to create the economy within where you live is the most important.”
Contact Larissa Robyn Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org