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Fairmont Chateau Whistler chef wins big at Food Day Canada

Derek Bendig earns gold for his seven-course feast celebrating regional ingredients
food day winner The Fairmont Chateau Whistler's executive sous chef Derek Bendig. PHOTO submitted

By now, Food Day Canada is old hat for Fairmont Chateau Whistler executive sous chef Derek Bendig.

An annual celebration of Canadian ingredients held at restaurants and homes across the country, Food Day Canada has led to yet another gold for Bendig, who was awarded for the multi-course menu he crafted exclusively for the event back in August. Announced last week, it's Bendig's third gold in four years.

Reflecting on his success with the judges, Bendig credits the win to his deep "respect for where we are."

"You can't really sum up Canada's cuisine in just one spot; we're such a large country," he added. "It makes you really think about what's local, what's around and what inspires us."

For Bendig, the inspiration stemmed first and foremost from the products he sourced. His seven-course feast featured everything from grassfed highland beef to Berezan shrimp grown at a Langley fish farm (a landlocked farm, not the open-net variety that has garnered much controversy of late) and smoked Gindara sablefish from Vancouver Island that is produced in partnership with local First Nations.

The idea was to highlight not only the bounty of ingredients this region has in abundance, but also the ethical harvesting and production techniques that are available. "The whole point was to showcase these technologies that are around and that we can do this stuff properly, sustainably, put out a great product and have it done in a way that we can be proud of," Bendig said.

Bendig also takes the "from your own backyard" approach quite literally, sourcing produce from the Fairmont's rooftop garden as well as his own plot in Cheakamus Crossing's community garden.

"The theme this year, rather than a locality, was about starting a conversation about agriculture, aquaculture and where it's going," explained Bendig. "We went back to the traditional idea of growing our own vegetables out of our own yards. That was the point: to start that conversation and have people come together at this event to think about where our food comes from, food security, food scarcity. Those are all going to be much more important things to think about as we move forward."

Food Day Canada originated as "The World's Longest BBQ" in response to a single recorded case of mad-cow disease in Alberta that led to a trade embargo on Canadian beef back in 2003. Since then, the annual event, held on the Saturday of the August long weekend, has evolved into a celebration by chefs across the country,

It also prompts chefs to conceptualize what Canadian cuisine means to them, and, in a nation full of such diverse cultural and culinary influences, that can sometimes be a tough thing to pin down. "This is a question that gets asked all the time. It's not that it's hard to answer, but I think Canadian cuisine is wherever you are in this country," Bendig said. "Yes, we have different influences, but that's Canada and Canada has influences from every nation in the world with the people who have immigrated here. Those influences are all part of Canadian culture."

The 2019 Food Day Canada is scheduled for Aug. 3. The Fairmont Chateau Whistler will offer a special menu for the event at The Wildflower, starting at 6 p.m.

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