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CHEF’S TABLE: Festival season, fairs and gastronomy

‘As a child, I remember all the sights and smells of my first harvest festival. The aroma of popcorn lingering with the sensuous scent of deep-fried treats was intoxicating, says the food columnist.

The end of summer is in sight and for me August is a busy month. A few family barbecues, a couple of birthdays, and the end of our summer semester at Georgian College all come together to remind me that this is the twilight of yet another summer.

So many things happening. There is much to see and do picnics, beach days, kids at camp, and our farmers bringing in the summer harvest. Mid-season work is in full swing and they now have a good look at what the fall harvest will bring.

Once the hay is cut and baled, the hustle and bustle of the season slows down and there’s a little time to come together, take a break and loosen up a bit. Maybe even have a salty or sweet snack?

We are lucky here in Simcoe County to have many world-class summer festivals and events. Mariposa Folk Festival, Kempenfest, Boot and Hearts and Barrie Fall Fair.

So what do all these great events have in common? Good food of course!

Whenever you get people together, there has to be good food. All of these events have an army of food and beverage service staff working to ensure everyone gets what they need.

From hot dog carts, beer gardens, or VIP food truck services, these events all rely on the skilled work provided by the hands of our hospitality staff.

Large-scale festivals and fairs have also had a great influence on our food culture. The culinary landscape would not be where it is without the exposure and spotlight that takes new food trends and tastes and introduces them to the masses.

So what were we doing before the era of TikTok tutorials and YouTube channels? We had the big fairs. There were two that stand out in the annals of culinary innovation and development: the 1904 World’s Fair and Expo 67.

First, the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Those three summer months in Missouri saw the introduction of the ice cream cone, French mustard, the popularization of Dr. Pepper, cotton candy, and made hot dogs a mainstream favorite. It was as if the classic American fast foods appeared overnight.

In second place would be Expo 67, organized in Montreal, which had a more subtle and very Canadian style of influence on our collective culinary identity. For many people, the food halls of the world and exotic offerings were an experience like no other. This was a time before world travel was not as accessible as it is now and was only a privilege of the wealthy few.

“For a lot of people, it might have been their first experience eating somewhere that wasn’t a Chinese-Canadian restaurant or a pasta place,” explains Dr. Lenore Newman of the University of the Fraser Valley, author of the book. Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. “I mean, there were hardly any restaurants as we know them today. It was not a time for foodies.”

Needless to say, the experience had a huge effect on audience tastes, creating new demand for a much broader range of restaurants across the country.

However, more than a world food fair, Expo 67 marked the centenary of the Confederation of the country. It also presented a new vision of our Canadian identity. One that was open, modern and multicultural.

“The Expo 67 kitchen was aspirational in the sense that it really helped start that discussion about multiculturalism,” says Newman.

Politicians of the time would promote this new image of a diverse, multicultural nation where people could embrace their differences, reinvent themselves, and create a new narrative. Multiculturalism was a reinvention of the ethos of our country and Expo 67 was the beginning. A new vision for Canadian food and for our own country.

As a child, I remember all the sights and smells of my first harvest festival. The lingering popcorn smell with the sultry aroma of fried treats was intoxicating. Bright red candy apples and huge clouds of multicolored cotton candy caught and drew my eyes. It was like going to a junk food Shangri-La!

In addition to satisfying all those junk food and snack cravings and testing your mettle midway, our fall fairs serve another higher purpose. They connect us with our agricultural roots. They provide a platform for those in our community who produce our food to showcase, educate and celebrate all that farm and rural life entails. Barrie is lucky enough to have its own amazing fall fair.

The dedicated and hard-working team of staff and volunteers plan, produce and put on an amazing event year after year. The Essa and District Agricultural Society (EDAS) has been in existence since 1853. Formerly the Barrie and District Agricultural Society, the organization was formed to host the region’s annual fall community fair.

EDAS is a non-profit organization with many benefits for its community. Its objectives are to promote knowledge of agriculture and promote improvement in the quality of life of our community, both rural and urban.

Farmers and producers, both professional and recreational, can showcase the best they have to offer. Ranging from home crafts, baking, livestock and poultry categories, each entrant’s submission is a source of pride and well worth checking out. So, this year I encourage you to get out there and check out this year’s performances!

The annual Barrie Fair returns from Thursday, August 25 to Sunday, August 28. And hey, the demolition derby and tractor pulls are a great place to sit back, grab a hot dog, and enjoy the show.

For more information and what to expect, visit their website by clicking here.

“May all your days at the fair be filled with fun, good food and best friends. The memories we create at the fair will last a lifetime!”

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