In Culinary | By Fogo Island Inn | September 26, 2018

A Food Circle, Revisited

“We can change our relationship to food, how it is made, and even consumed, by changing our relationships with each other. And maybe open up the possibility of creating a better world.”

(Michael Carolan - No One Eats Alone)

In the broadest sense, this was the topic of conversation for over 100 participants who gathered recently on one of the hottest nights of Fogo Island’s summer season. An enthusiastic group of participants from renowned chefs, to food writers, artists, community activists, food growers, naturalists, fishers, musicians, children and participants from all walks of life gathered for Fogo Island’s first ever Food Circle, held at the repurposed St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Barr’d Islands. They came with stories, songs, food lore and a wealth of knowledge to share. Everyday experiences, commonalities and distinctions between cultures, local and national traditions and even distinctions within households over something we all have in common: Food. 

“In talking about food, in a way we are talking about life,” opened Zita Cobb, founder and CEO of Shorefast, a registered Canadian charity that hosted the event. “Food embodies all of the many complex relationships that exist in our lives.”

With guests comfortably seated and iced rhubarb lemonade in hand, thus began an exuberant evening filled with multi-layered conversations by an array of speakers and community participants alike. 

The food circle, inspired by a traditional song circle, is essentially a way to spark dialogue and sharing (of food and story), and for all who show up “at the table,” an opportunity to participate in an important, and often neglected topic on Fogo Island, and indeed, the world at large. As human beings rethink what it means to belong to the world and the position that our communities hold, food can act as a focal point from which to explore more respectful relationships between the past and future, balancing the human need, with the needs of nature.

Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation opened the floor by inviting participants to consider the personal in their own food stories. “What meal would you recommend to a visitor seeking to understand Fogo Island through food? And when you’re away from Fogo Island, what food or meal do you miss most?”  These questions sparked much dialogue. Stories were told and recipes recalled in playful ways. Fried cod, salt cod, pea soup, Jiggs dinner, fish and brewis, salt meat, doughboys, and fish cakes appeared to top the list of favourite Newfoundland dishes. In a casual poll, Jiggs dinner was the meal people missed most when away from home. Bill Bryden of Lumsden, made a case for growing mushrooms as an important and available resource.

“The only way for a visitor to understand Fogo Island through food isn’t through any specific meal. It’s being in someone’s home,” noted Ian Sheridan, co-owner of the newly opened Bangbelly Cafe in the community of Fogo. “Basically, you enjoy a meal with family, the way an individual family does it. There are standards that pop up in every home with Jigg’s dinner, fish and brewis, or whether it’s a fishcake in the morning. We get a little wild and put poached eggs on ours.”

Foodways, culinary traditions, and the journey of food from hyper-local to hyper-global and back again were up for discussion. Each of the speakers, in their own way, spoke of their relationship with food while growing up, sharing some of their fondest memories. Guest speaker, Bonnie Stern, Canada’s foremost cookbook author recalled the satisfying comfort of using her mother’s recipe to make brisket, while Jonathan Gushue, Executive Chef of Fogo Island Inn recounted how he “accidentally” learned to cook by spending time with his father and spoke of their shared interest in the food traditions of Italy.

Fogo Island Arts’ international artist-in-residence, Steffen Jagenburg, a renowned photographer turned food activist shared his concept of The Open Restaurant as a way to bring people together around ideas of local and organic food and sustainability. Through the Open Restaurant concept, community members gather with local growers and producers to share knowledge inherent to the food traditions on the island. Folks who may not otherwise interact in meaningful ways around food production and consumption have an opportunity, through meals sourced and prepared from local ingredients and the sharing of food knowledge specific to the island’s communities; a cultural stronghold. This is a way to open ideas around food, and perhaps some of the cultural and social implications of the changes we are all facing.

As the evening grew on and the scent of carefully prepared dishes wafted through the old church hall, Mitchell Davis concluded “the place you don’t want to be, is between you and the food; which is where I find myself now.”  With that, the crowd made their way to the table to sample an offering from Chef Gushue and his kitchen team, following a very rousing a cappella rendition of “This Beautiful Island of Mine” by Tilting resident, Greg Foley and traditional instrumental tunes by Seldom’s Aaron Cobb.

The food tables included dishes of smoked turbot, porchetta, charcuterie, caraway wieners, pork terrine, basil and strawberries and flat bread. Not surprisingly, all the talk was about favourite foods.

Judging by the enthusiasm that permeated the evening, there will be many more such conversations to come, as we continue to ponder the big and small questions that were raised by Zita Cobb at the start of the evening.

”How are we all going to feed ourselves?"
“And what are we going to have tonight?”

The next Fogo Island Food Circle is scheduled for Sunday, October 21, 2018.