Miche Genest had no idea how her “Delirious Goat” dish would turn out.
The local writer and food junkie was working her creative process a few months ago for her now-released cookbook, The Boreal Gourmet, by mixing a local ingredient with new flavours.
This time the local element was goat. While available in the wild, this meat was raised by friends Brian Lendrum and Susan Ross on their Lake Laberge farm.
Genest decided to braise the goat with citrus-flavoured spruce tips, another local ingredient long-used in teas by First Nations.
On the exotic side, she went for lemon preserve, a staple in Moroccan cooking.
“It’s vaguely Thai,” says Genest during an interview while on tour for her new book.
“I have no idea why the combination of spruce tips and lemon preserve create the effect of lime leaves and coconut, but they do.”
The result was one of the tasty innovations that now grace the pages of The Boreal Gourmet: Adventures in Northern Cooking, published by Harbour Publishing and launched this week in Whitehorse at the Old Fire Hall.
Genest is now in full promotional swing. After a demonstration and sampling at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cook Store in Vancouver yesterday, she’ll fly to Toronto for a slew of events, including an appearance on Canada AM on Monday June 7 at 8:40 am.
The marketing gig is more like a promotion of the whole territory – and not just it’s food. The 250-page cookbook is an introduction to the Yukon itself. With recipes from well-known locals and flavours any Yukoner would have sampled before, the book is like a taste-driven tour of the Yukon’s cultural heritage.
But the book is no compendium of Yukon ephemera that Genest just collected. She’s put a lot of elbow grease into developing her own recipes, which turned up some surprisingly naturally-melding dishes.
“The point was to work with a northern ingredient and build a recipe around it,” said Genest.
She would pick a staple and start researching. She studied the cookbooks around her, but it was the user-driven power of the internet that gave her creativity real traction.
“The internet is the greatest boon to the modern cook that there could be because so many people are posting experiments,” she said.
She spent a week developing “Braised Moose Ribs with Espresso Stout and Chocolate,” another of the book’s more enticing entrees.
Genest was mixing ingredient ideas found on the internet when her friend and collaborator, Cathie Archbould, suggested using coffee.
Genest was already toying with beer-drenched wild game recipes.
“So I thought ‘what about Midnight Sun Espresso Stout?’” she said.
“That evolved into a Mexican mole kind of dish which really combines old French Canadian techniques of cooking game in coffee and the Mexican tradition of adding chocolate to a meat sauce.”
“There was an idea at the starting point and then it evolved.”
Genest shares the stories behind the transformations in her book, as well as snippets on gathering the at-times inaccessible northern ingredients.
Archbould was Genest’s personal game provider, providing moose, grouse and goat for the experiments. Genest also recounts stories of berry-picking in the Yukon wild.
Having to hunt and search for ingredients – from shopping around for a local hunter to finding a new cranberry patch every season – makes northern cooking a lot like being a high-end chef.
In the big leagues, a chef and his underlings have to shop around and find markets with the freshest, best-tasting ingredients, and stocking the kitchen can be half the battle when creating a feast.
“(Northern cooking) is a completely different experience than going to the supermarket and getting something ready-made,” said Genest.
“You can’t guarantee you’re going to get berries or that they’ll be in the same place,” she said. “There’s a real element of surprise and also skill and shared knowledge. You talk to your friends to see if they’re getting anything this year and if the picking’s good.”
Of course, you don’t need a gun and a rucksack for every recipe in The Boreal Gourmet.
Genest included dozens of variations on the Yukon classic, sourdough. And there’s exciting variations on fish, like “Chum Wrapped in Prosciutto and Braised in Tomatoes, Olives and Capers.”
Genest began cooking by learning from her mother growing up in Toronto. One night, when Genest was seven, her mom had meatloaf, broccoli and potatoes on the go and brought her daughter in to teach her the art of timing.
“She was timing everything so that they would all be done at the same time and I was completely impressed,” she said. “I also figured that this is something that could be mastered.”
Genest frequented restaurants with friends in her teenage years, and took a summer job at a large resort out West.
“That was my only experience in a professional kitchen,” she said.
She worked as the dining editor for En Route Magazine, and took a job at the Chocolate Claim on Strickland St. when she first arrived in Whitehorse 17 years ago.
Now, many dirty dishes and full stomachs later, she says her favourite dish is the one she least expected to blossom – Delirious Goat.
“When I think about the whole experience (of cooking), there was a lot of anxiety,” she said. “(But Delirious Goat) was totally free of anxiety and I was totally winging it.”
“And if you cook at all, that’s when cooking is fun – when you’re just winging it.”
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