Four years ago Michele Genest published The Boreal Gourmet (see GFR coverage here) a cookbook full of recipes and descriptions of the foodways from her adopted home of The Yukon. It was a both a groundbreaking and very much on trend book since ,while the subject of Northern Canadian cuisine had received little attention, the practices of foraging and learning to source food off of the land were very much in line with the growing momentum of the locavore movement. Genest second book, The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey Through The North, extends the scope of her first by tying the cuisine of the Canadian North with that of Northern Scandinavia, where she traveled extensively in search of connections between our cultures. The book is organized around a series of feasts inspired by her life in Whitehorse and her journeys through Norway, Sweden and Finland, including a meal based on a dinner at Fäviken Magasinet with chef Magnus Nilsson. Why, one wonders, as one leafs through this beautifully produced cookbook, alternating between bright food shots of berries and salmon and landscape shot replete with reindeer or caribou, didn’t anyone in Canada make this connection before?
I sat down with Genest briefly when she was in Toronto to promote the new book. She explained that her interest in Scandinavia was piqued in part by, of all things, the Stieg Larsson series of books, although her sister-in-law (whose family’s recipes make their way into The Boreal Feast) is also Swedish. In any event, she described how much she enjoyed and felt at home in Scandinavia: “The landscape is very similar to the Canadian North, but with architecture.” In the end, though, it was a magazine piece chef Nilsson at Fäviken that made her decide to go.
Genest’s book introduces old world concepts and culinary traditions to Canadian ingredients, so , for example, spot prawns are substituted for crayfish. I asked her if there was a big difference between what she found in, say Lapland, to what she finds in The Yukon. She said she was happy to find many species that showed up in both. She also said she was very much taken with the Swedish concept of Allemansträtten. Translated as “every man’s right” it’s law that allows anyone to forage freely for wild foods. She was also taken with the afternoon ritual of fika. One other thing about Scandinavia that Genest wishes Canadians would adopt was the absence of junk food, even in the far north and the persistence of traditional foods made with simple ingredients.