Ricardo Larrivée talks about what makes Canadian food special ahead of English magazine launch

Caitlin McCormack
Caitlin McCormack
Shine On
(Ricardo Larrivée)

Cook, winemaker, television personality and magazine publisher – Ricardo Larrivée is a chef with many hats.

As the longest-serving host of a daily cooking show in Canada, he knows a thing or two about how Canadians eat – having crossed the country for his work more times than he can count.  Later this year, he’ll receive the Order of Canada for his efforts to bring back the family meal.

We spoke with Ricardo ahead of the English magazine’s September 15th launch to get his take on what makes Canadian food so special and why he fights so tirelessly to bring back family mealtime. Plus, we share an exclusive recipe from the magazine’s first issue that’s sure to bring everyone around your kitchen table.

On What Makes Canadian Food Special

“Canada is a basket of ingredients for recipes,” he says. “We’ve got great cheese, we’ve got great meats, we’ve got dairy. We have all sorts of great basic stuff to create recipes and it’s all top quality.”

While the French are known for their pastries and Italians for their pasta, Ricardo says Canadians as a whole are still forging their culinary identity.

“We have to just realize how much potential we have, how much value we can add to our culture by being different from one region to another.”

He notes that the quality of local foods can’t be matched by imported items – a strawberry grown in Canada will always have a better, deeper flavour than one shipped from California.

Another thing that makes Canadian food special, according to Ricardo, is that we have to work with the seasons. This gives Canadians an abundance of healthful foods to choose from all year long.

What food does he think is most representative of Canada’s food? Not poutine or maple syrup, but the humble pie.

“The pie is something important because we have sweet pie and savory pie. If you’re in the middle of the country you will have a pie with meat, whereas if you’re in the Maritimes you will have a pie with seafood, and for dessert we’ll have strawberry pie, blueberry pie, apple pie. We are a pie country in my opinion.”

Ultimately though, he believes that the best Canadian food is something that makes your family feel secure. “I always say to parents, ‘Don’t try to be a restaurant, we already have restaurants. We don’t care – if you can make 10 recipes you’re good at then so be it. If the kids love your spaghetti, make it until they’re tired of it they’re happy with it.’”

On Teaching the Next Generation

When it comes to teaching the next generation of Canadian foodies, Ricardo’s philosophy is simple: it has to be fun.

“I always say it’s more important the people you eat with than what you eat.  Don’t eat alone. Try to take this time with your family with your friends – it’s all about that for food.”

One of the best ways to teach your kids about food is to cook with them.

“I love when kids and people are cooking together and they’re trying new things because it works on their self-esteem,” he says. “There’s nothing better than that when you have prepared something whether you’re 12 years old or 92, you feel great because you have spent time with the people you love.”

We also need to teach our children about where their food comes from. As Ricardo explains, the current generation of children is likely going to be the first in Canada to have no direct link with the farming community. Whereas in the past you or your uncle or a friend would own or work on a farm, that’s no longer the case as people continue to move into cities and food is produced on a mass scale.

“It’s going to be part of our responsibility to try to make it real,” he says, “To show that chicken doesn’t come in a bucket.”

Respect is crucial when it comes to sharing food with the next generation.

“If we have killed an animal, we have to respect it enough to not throw it away,” he says. “We have to eat it from tail to the nose. If we have to kill it to feed ourselves, we have to realize that it can’t be just for free. You don’t kill for fun. We harvest to sustain ourselves and that’s an important value.”

On the Value of Food

“We have to realize that we can do so much more as urban gardeners and the urban gardening is not only because we don’t want to water grass,” says Ricardo. “It’s stupid to water something that you won’t do nothing with it except look at it.”

He encourages those with a balcony of a little piece of land to start growing their own food. Something as small as a tomato or cucumber plant can have a huge impact.  

“My children, when they harvest their tomatoes, they don’t want to throw any away because they have worked for them. We have to realize how much work there is behind what we eat. It’s so simple to just buy something at a grocery store.”

While he understands today’s families are often in a rush or tired at the end of a long day, the value of taking the time to cook at eat a meal together is one that shouldn’t be ignored.

“All the numbers are there – families and friends that cook and eat together, there’s less drop out at school, there’s less obesity, there’s less social problems. The family that eats together gets to stay together.”

So while it’s tempting to come home and dial up the neighbourhood pizza shop, for the cost of that large pizza and the time delivery would take, you can whip up a simple, healthful meal and still have leftovers for lunch the next day with a little bit of planning ahead of time.

His Favourite Foods

If Ricardo could only eat one thing for the rest of his life? “That’s very tough, he says. “For a dessert I would eat a huge dessert with lemon. A huge pie or cake with meringue and lemon – I’m crazy about lemon. And for something savory, probably my General Tao tofu.”

And if there were three ingredients every home cook should have in their pantry, he says they should be potatoes, butter and meat. He says you can create so many great dishes with these three items – everything from soup to casseroles and stews.

“We are a potato land and a dairy country,” he says, adding, “I can turn this into all sorts of things from Asian to Indian to Chinese. With a bit of spice you can turn these ingredients into a new world every day.”

Feeling inspired? Cook up this Yahoo Canada exclusive recipe from the first issue of Ricardo’s new English-language magazine – a pie! Featuring Ricardo’s favourites: Canadian meat, dairy and potatoes.

Ricardo’s Sausage Shepherd’s Pie

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time:  1 hour and 15 minutes

Serves 6 to 8 people. Freezes well.

Mashed Potatoes

4 cups (740 g) peeled and cubed yellow potatoes

¼ cup (57 g) butter

½ cup (125 ml) milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups (200 g) grated sharp cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

Filling

1 ½ lb (675 g) Toulouse or mild Italian sausage meat

(5 to 6 sausages)

3 tbsp (42 g) butter

2 onions, thinly sliced

8 oz (225 g) white button mushrooms, quartered

2 cups (200 g) shredded green cabbage, firmly packed

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup (250 ml) chicken broth

1 cup (135 g) frozen peas

Mashed Potatoes

1) In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes until very tender. Drain. Mash with the butter. Add the milk and egg and combine until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add half of the cheese. Set aside.

Filling

2) With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

3) In a non-stick skillet over high heat, brown the sausage in

2 tbsp (28 g) of the butter, breaking the meat with a wooden spoon. Spread in an 11 x 8-inch (28 x 20 cm) baking dish. Set aside.

4) In the same skillet over medium-high heat, brown the onions and mushrooms with the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cabbage and garlic and soften for 2 minutes. Deglaze with the broth. Add the peas, spread over the sausage meat and press lightly.

5) Spread the mashed potatoes over the vegetables. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.