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The Yukon’s growing food scene served up at annual food fest

The Yukon Culinary Festival kicks off this week
Eric Pateman, lead organizer of the Yukon Culinary Festival, says the Yukon’s food scene has seen a lot of growth during the last five years. The festival, the main attractions of which run from Aug. 1 to 4, showcases what the Yukon has to offer. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Wild boar, juicy Dawson City tomatoes, foraged indigenous plants — quintessentially the Yukon and now folded into its cuisine.

This transition occurred quickly, apparently. Five years, according to one foodie, to go from an undefined scene to one bursting at the seams.

“There’s more restaurants in Whitehorse that have opened in the last year than in the last six,” said Eric Pateman, a culinary consultant and businessperson who’s worked around the world, plugging Wood Street Ramen and the Wayfarer Oyster House. “It’s just an exciting time to be part of the food scene right now.”

There’s going to be a giant, multiday spread this week where that’s showcased, if you can afford it. The Yukon Culinary Festival, Pateman being the lead organizer, is going to serve as a link between residents and more than 15 local and three out-of-territory chefs, farmers and some of the industry’s movers and shakers.

The event, which runs from Aug. 1 to 4, will takeover some of Whitehorse’s landmarks, transforming them into food-fueled bashes (There are two satellite events in advance of these dates, one at Wood Street Ramen, the other at Well Bread Culinary Centre on July 30 and 31, respectively.)

Pateman said the night of Aug. 3 will be the “coolest.”

“In my mind, it’ll probably be the best dinner you have in the Yukon in the 12 months of the year,” he said.

Priced at $140, a fire pit behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre will be used to roast local goats, wild boar and “tonnes” of Arctic char. A group of people will scour Miles Canyon foraging local plants for meals.

On the final day, guests will head to Horse Haven Ranch, where they will partake in roasting a flank of beef in a bail of hay. There will also be a taco bar. The family-friendly event is $65.

Carson Schiffkorn, owner of Inn on the Lake located in Marsh Lake, is behind Aug. 2’s event. The S.S. Klondike will be host to a cocktail party — think 1950’s epoch coupled with a contemporary twist (the event is sold out.)

“I’m taking ingredients and product that has been here, let’s say in the Yukon River valley, including Marsh Lake, where all the boats travelled between here and Dawson, what was hunted, what was foraged, what was fished, what was grown and stylizing that with the cultures and people of the Yukon,” Schiffkorn said.

Vietnamese meatballs made from bison, Arctic char tartar with coconut milk and lime and spanakopitas with whitefish from Little Atlin Lake are some of the plates.

“Sort of gifting it back to the people who form our cultures today. It’s really creating an awareness of the products that we have here that are pretty fresh and good.”

Pateman said interest has grown since 2013 when the festival was established. This, he added, has everything to do with knowing what’s up, what’s available and all the while fostering what Yukoners are good at.

There are 150 farms here, Pateman said.

“For the population base for what the Yukon is, and such a small geographic area, that’s an extraordinary number of farms. The product’s always been there and I think it’s continuing to grow. Now the market demand is there, it continues to feed that machine, right?

“Now there’s this, like, critical mass of people going like, ‘We’ve got some really cool stuff.’ It comes back to fishing. It comes back to game meat. It comes back to amazing produce that’s grown under the midnight sun.”

The work isn’t over.

Downtown hotels are packed to the gills right now, Pateman said, speaking from experience (he’s from Vancouver.) Give it a few months, though, and that won’t be the case.

The trick is to get people up here during the shoulder seasons, he said. Food is part of the answer, using it as a marketing tool, one of Pateman’s specialties.

When people think of the Yukon, they think about treks through bucolic wilderness and everything that comes with that, he said.

“I think the biggest things are gonna be stretching the season right now, so it’s gonna be using food as an accentuator to experiences.”

Contact Julien Gignac at