Eating local has never been easier, says one Yukon chef, and the territory has plenty of bounty to offer.
“A lot of people always thought in the Yukon, we don’t have a lot of fresh (products) or we don’t have a lot of our own products, but that, I think, is a bit of a misnomer because previous to the Alaska Highway being built, we pretty much sole-sourced from ourselves,” Marsh Lake’s Inn on the Lake owner and chef Carson Schiffkorn said.
He’s one of seven special guest chefs at this year’s Yukon Culinary Festival in Whitehorse, a celebration of local ingredients and food culture that kicked off Aug. 24 with cooking demonstrations at the Fireweed Market and a party at Woodcutter’s Blanket. The festival was organized by the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon and bolstered with a $35,000 contribution from the Yukon government.
For both professional and at-home culinary wizards, Yukon-grown, foraged or raised products are more accessible than ever and leave cooks with no shortage of ingredients to work with, Schiffkorn said.
“Fresh right now, berries are really plentiful — raspberries, we’re past the strawberries, currants, cranberries are coming, blueberries are coming. Then there are some introduced products — haskap berries are really plentiful here, we always get good crops of Saskatoon berries,” he said.
Root vegetables also grow “incredibly well” in the Yukon and tend to be sweeter than those grown elsewhere because of the cold soil, Schiffkorn continued, and there’s also a plethora of meats and fish to work with.
“You can infuse all those things with wild sages, junipers, juniper berries, spruce tip, roasting spruce bows to give a bit of a citrusy flavour to your food,” he said. “You might use caribou or you might use elk, or you might use beef or pork, but then you infuse it with different Yukon flavours.… Butter-poaching elk and serving it with a red-wine reduction with cranberries is a delicious dinner that you’ll only find in the Yukon.”
And when in doubt about how to use something in a dish — or to check if it’s edible at all — look no further than your favourite internet search engine.
“Just look out your window and say, ‘I’m going to Google spruce, edible spruce,’ or something like that. You’re going to get a bunch of ideas of what you can do with spruce bows, with spruce tips, with spruce sap that may work really, really well in culinary,” Schiffkorn said. “… If it works, wonderful, if it doesn’t, don’t make it again.”
Getting a taste of the Yukon doesn’t always need to be a time-consuming or complicated process, either, he added.
“A quick meal, I’m talking about a 10-or-15-minute meal, grab local products and make a stir fry,” Schiffkorn suggested.
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