Posts tagged ‘travel’

May 26, 2013

Explaining Canada’s tourism strategy

Ottawa-Rideau-Canal

Ottawa hosted this year’s Rendez-vous Canada industry conference. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

[This column was first published in Vacay.ca on May 17, 2013, and later appeared on the Huffington Post.]

OTTAWA, ONTARIO — The Canadian Tourism Commission has come under unwanted and ignorant criticism this month. The truth is, any of us would be hard-pressed to find a government agency that manages to do more with less than the CTC. Its budget has been slashed by 20% to $58.5 million from the 2012 level of $72 million, a sum that had also been reduced from previous years. Yet, the Canadian tourism industry grew 4.2% in 2012, increasing its revenue to $81.9 billion. A $100-billion target has been set for 2015.

“We’re the little engine that could,” Michele McKenzie said on May 3 in Cape Breton while attending that Nova Scotia region’s annual tourism conference and she underscored that sentiment a week later at Rendez-vous Canada, a yearly gathering of Canada’s tourism and trade industry.

In the face of relentless competition and staggering budget cuts, the CTC has deployed a strategy that involves provincial and municipal tourism boards and agencies focusing on traditional markets like the United States. On the federal level, the CTC is pushing all of its efforts toward attracting consumers from Brazil, India, China and Australia — nations where revenue potential is immense. The economies of Brazil, India and China are going to continue to grow and their citizens are will travel farther afield, and Canada has an opportunity to ensure consistent travel from those populations. Australians are used to long flights and the ascent in value of their currency allows many of them to fulfill the dream of venturing to Canada.

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April 14, 2013

Rene Redzepi speaks from the heart in Toronto

[This article and video were first published on Vacay.ca on April 10, 2013.]

The world knows Rene Redzepi can cook, but who knew he could write?

On Monday afternoon, Redzepi stood in front of 500 attendees at the Terroir Symposium in Toronto and read from a manuscript he prepared especially for the conference. Candidly, he detailed his passion for food, the roots of that passion that go back to his childhood in rural Denmark, how being true to his desires propelled his culinary success, and why losing sight of those desires led to standing on a beach in Mexico and contemplating running away from Noma and the mania surrounding it. His words about the dangers of burning out were a generous gift to chefs in the audience striving to attain what Redzepi has accomplished at his Danish restaurant. They were also extremely well thought out sentences, carefully chosen nouns and verbs that resonated with emotion.

Redzepi spoke about how so many people were advising him to go against the ethic of Noma, which has always been about food and flavours first and foremost. The restaurant, which has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for three straight years, has never had the finest silverware or the most fashionable wait staff, but Redzepi has been encouraged in recent years to add such pretentiousness. Advisors told him to reach for more accolades and that meant more material luxury in his rustic dining space “as if a fucking bowtie would make the food taste better.” On top of those influences was the intense pressure of running a business that has faced more scrutiny in the culinary world than any other restaurant on the planet in the past four years.

“I said, ‘Why am I doing this?’” Redzepi said to the crowd at Terroir, an annual gathering that brings together international food industry professionals to discuss sustainability and better practices.

Afterwards, he told Vacay.ca and other media, “We got very confused at Noma when we first started having success. I went to cooking school to learn to whip a bernaise, not how to deal with the New York Times in a press conference.”

Like many accidental celebrities, Redzepi found himself performing tasks he never endeavoured to perform and, on top of 85-hour work weeks at the restaurant, the demands on his time resulted in a wish to escape. However, his drive to improve overwhelmed any thoughts of quitting. After introspection about how to deal with the stress and what it was doing to him, the 35-year-old said he chose to clutch onto the beliefs that made him so celebrated in the first place.

“I feel more energized than ever,” he said, explaining that any downbeat sentiments in his story were there as a cautionary note to other chefs. He urged them to not lose their vision, or allow it to be circumvented by people who feel they are better at business or public relations or management. “This was a story about memories and also a story about sticking to what you know.”

What Redzepi understands better than just about anyone is how to make the most of the quality of food within your grasp. When speaking about the use of unusual ingredients in his cuisine, he said, “It is all about a search for flavours, it has nothing to do with shock value.”

The ants that he uses in his dishes are “little tiny creatures” that have what he describes as an explosive taste exotic to Scandinavians. “Here we are in cold, grey, shitty, Protestant Denmark with our potatoes and our beet root, and suddenly you have the flavours of ginger and lemongrass to put on your beet root. That is magnificent.”

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February 17, 2013

Chef Michael Smith shows Canadians how to cook

[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on January 10, 2013 and then syndicated on the Huffington Post Canada.]

HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO — Michael Smith told me he has built a career out of reminding Canadians that cooking is about the people you share the meal with rather than the perfection of the recipe. He then went about showing what he meant.

In a wildly entertaining weekend at Deerhurst Resort, Smith held court and kitchen in the Muskoka property most famous for hosting Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the G8 leaders during their 2010 summit. Smith didn’t have the security detail of those politicians, although he could have used one given the fact his contingent of female fans have a voracious appetite for him as well as his food. Clearly enjoying the attention, Smith hugged, kissed and signed autographs of his latest cookbook, Fast Flavours — 110 Simple Speedy Recipes, for the roughly 200 people who showed up to be in the presence of Canada’s most famous chef.

Standing 6-foot-7, Smith came across as a gentle and affable giant with a great deal of admiration for his adopted country. He was the head of food operations in the Athletes’ Village at the 2010 Winter Olympicsin Vancouver, turning out up to 12,000 plates a day for the competitors and delegates in a role he called the highlight of his career. Currently the only chef on the Food Network Canada with an instructional cooking program, “Chef Michael’s Kitchen,” Smith has lived in Prince Edward Island since immigrating from New York more than 20 years ago. He elevated the Inn at Bay Fortune on PEI to recognition as one of the nation’s finest restaurants before his cookbooks and television shows took off, rocketing him to stardom.

“I miss some aspects about being a chef in a restaurant, but I don’t miss the hours or the lifestyle,” Smith said, reiterating that he has no plans to open an eatery.

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January 26, 2013

Diamond Rings takes on the world

[This article was published last month in Vacay.ca as part of its Rock ‘n Roll Road Trips series. Diamond Rings has since been nominated for a SiriusXM Canadian Indie Music Award, whose show takes place March 22, 2013 during Canadian Music Week in Toronto.]

Diamond rings, John O’Regan says, are glamorous and tough. That’s why they’re the namesake of his on-stage persona, an act that has busted out of the Toronto music scene to earn superlative-laden reviews across the continent. One reason for the success is the fact diamond rings are mesmerizing too.

It’s difficult not to keep your eyes on O’Regan. For one thing, you have to make up your mind whether his act is an artistic form of self-expression or a schtick. One listen of his hit “I’m Just Me” should convince you he’s much more Ziggy Stardustthan Gary Glitter, which is to say that Diamond Rings has substance and cred. It’s quite possible the persona O’Regan has created is the most interesting act to come out of Canada since Arcade Fire. “I’m Just Me” comes across as a mantra for the sexually uncertain, the androgynous or the transgender, but like any great song it has universality to it, appealing to anyone who embraces their individuality when it clashes with bullies or the sensibilities of the establishment. There’s both a rebelliousness and a sweetness to the song, underscoring the duality O’Regan talks about in himself and his performance.

While most audiences are now hearing about Diamond Rings for the first time, O’Regan isn’t an overnight success. He’s been toiling in Toronto for several years, fronting the electro-pop band The D’urbervilles, recently renamed Matters. In Toronto, the 27-year-old spends his days in Roncesvalles, a historic neighbourhood known for its Polish heritage and proximity to High Park.

“I tend not to leave that neighbourhood when I’m at home. Being away, being in a rock band there is so much stimulation, a lot of long nights, a lot of loud music and loud clubs, and although Toronto is great for all that stuff, when I’m home it’s rarely what I want to do,” O’Regan said during an interview three weeks ago in a suite in the Ritz-Carlton Toronto.

Roncesvalles is beyond West Queen West, an area that’s become a cultural hub for the city, with vintage clothing stores, nightclubs, and a pair of notable boutique hotels, the Gladstone and the Drake, that are a breeding ground for artists of all sorts. O’Regan’s part of town is much more low key, although it does have two of the city’s best new restaurants in Hopgood’s Foodliner and Barque. Despite his flamboyant stage presence, O’Regan struck me as very much an introspective artist devoted to pushing himself and his work as far as he can, and that makes Roncesvalles a fit for him. It lacks the bustle and distractions of other areas of the city, allowing him to hole up and make music.

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December 29, 2012

Best of Canadian Travel in 2012

calgary-stampede-rodeo

The rodeo is only part of the excitement at the Calgary Stampede. (Julia Pelish photo)

[This article was previously published in Vacay.ca and the Huffington Post in December 2012.]

Jenna Skinner and Adam Carmichael reminded me of something I’ve known for a few years now: Travelling the world is great in part because it puts into context Canada and what makes it an amazing country. I met Skinner and Carmichael at Quidi Vidi Brewery, one of those Canadian finds few people outside of its region ever hears about.

Newlyweds in their early 20s, Skinner and Carmichael were spending their last days of summer travelling the nation’s east coast, doing what Canadians have done for decades — hitting the open road with gas in the tank and camping gear in the back. They left from Sauble Beach, a picturesque spot in Ontario that’s three hours northwest of Toronto. Heading east, they drove all the way to the edge of the continent. Gros Morne National Park struck them for its beauty, while Newfoundland as a whole earned praise for its welcoming spirit.

“It’s so different from Ontario,” Skinner said. “Canada is so big that you forget how unique different parts of it are.”

Both Skinner and Carmichael have travelled abroad extensively, which is a prerequisite, I think, for truly understanding what a remarkable nation we have here.

“We’ve been to other places and you learn to appreciate Canada. My priority now is to see Canada first,” Carmichael said.

Like the newlyweds, I spent the summer on the road, touching down in nine of the 10 provinces (see you in 2013, Manitoba). My impression is Canada is changing, fast. The wealth in Alberta and Saskatchewan is giving cities like Calgary and Saskatoon the chance to re-invent themselves, and thanks to artists, chefs, visionary politicians and proud communities, they’re doing it. The buzz in the west is palpable. In many ways, those provinces are the engine that’s driving the nation’s future. Meanwhile, Newfoundland has struck oil and St. John’s is thriving because of it. Unemployment is still high in other parts of the province, but the capital is enjoying some of its best times in its history, and that makes it a reason to go because even in lean times St. John’s is as fun a city as there is in the country.

Tourism opportunities abound in big centres and small, with people eager to search out local experiences, whether it be culinary finds or historic tours that are short on gimmicks and strong on depth and personality.

In all, 2012 was a fantastic year for seeing Canada. The 100th Calgary Stampede was a highlight, along with many other one-of-a-kind encounters.

My Best of 2012 in Canadian Travel

I’m glad I discovered …: Saskatchewan. And you will be too, when you drive up to Lake Waskesiu or grab a pint at the Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina or stroll along the river in Saskatoon. Canada’s most underrated province is truly a gem waiting to be discovered.

Three meals of a lifetime (naming just one is too hard): Langdon Hall, where chef Jonathan Gushue and his outstanding kitchen went all-out with an 11-course menu that included a cut of venison that might make a vegetarian think twice;Rouge in Calgary is immaculate, warm and downright perfect in so many ways; and Atelier in Ottawa, where chef Marc Lepine is letting his imagination run wild and winding up with some of the most unique dishes you’ll find in the country. (Naming only three is hard too — so, go to Les 400 Coups in Montreal for a sublime dining experience.)

Best gourmet meal I didn’t expect: The Willow on Wascana in Regina, Saskatchewan. Chef Tim Davies is doing many things right in his kitchen.

Best cheap meal that’s not a food truck: The Calgary Sandwich ($14) at the Galaxie Diner.

Best cheap meal from a food truck: The Bangkok Slaw from chef Adrian Niman and the Food Dudes in Toronto. (Runner-up: Sloppy Jose sandwich from Matt Basile of Fidel Gastro in Toronto.)

Best pizza: It’s still Nicli Antica Pizzeria in Vancouver. Even better than the first time.

Dish I can’t wait to try again: Former Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren’s Blood Pudding and White Chocolate, which I had a taste of at the Roots, Rants & Roars food festival in Elliston, Newfoundland & Labrador. Weird and classy, silky and rich, sweet and potent, it is a dichotomy of a dish and also an absolute treat. Van Gameren is opening a restaurant soon in Toronto’s Little Italy and this item should be on the menu for all to try.

Best hotel suite: The Osprey Room at the Beach House in Portugal Cove, just north of St. John’s. The Osprey Room is 850 square feet of opulence with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the jaw-dropping cove. Simply stunning.

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November 13, 2012

Road tales from the Tragically Hip

[Big thrill for me to interview the guys from the Tragically Hip a couple of months back. This article appeared in Vacay.ca on November 4, 2012.]

KINGSTON, ONTARIO — Armed with will and determination, the Tragically Hip embarked 30 years ago on a rock ‘n roll journey that has taken them around the world and across Canada more times than the band members can remember.

Those trips have resulted in songs and lyrics that will forever resonate with the group’s devoted fan base. “At the Hundredth Meridian,” “Last American Exit,” “As I Wind Down the Pines” and “Silver Jet”— with its continent-binding lyric about flying “fromClayoqout Sound to Cape Spear” — are only a handful of the Hip’s songs that reference Canadian geography and a sense of the nation’s vastness.

Another travel-inspired tune is “Broken Road,”which appears on guitarist Paul Langlois’ solo album, “Fix This Head.” The song was written “while I was in the middle of doing a lot of driving for these guys,” says Langlois, whose lyrics speak of being 700 miles away and homesick for Cataraqui — the river that flows through the Hip’s hometown of Kingston, Ontario. It recalls the quintet’s early days in the ’80s when they toured the country in a van, not the luxury bus or airline flight that takes them from stop to stop these days.

“Travel is a big part of lucky people’s lives. We’re lucky enough to travel. I’m quite happy to know the country pretty well. Certainly not all the areas, but the places along the highways for sure,” Langlois said after a performance of his own songs at Kingston’s Market Square in August that featured Hip bandmates Robby Baker and Gord Sinclair on stage while Gord Downie watched with the rest of the crowd of about 400 people. “Every writer is different, but i think travel’s a big part of a lot of songwriters’ lives because you do that so often and it does influence your outlook on the world.”

Travel, according to Baker, should be an essential rite of passage for Canadians.

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August 13, 2012

Paul Brandt talks travel and songwriting

[I had a quick chat with Paul Brandt, one of the truly good guys in music world, for inclusion in the Rock n Roll Road Trips series Vacay.ca is producing. Brandt, whose new album is out this fall, talks about how travel informs his songwriting and names his favourite road-trip song of all time. The interview took place during the 100th Calgary Stampede, where he headlined the Grandstand Show each night. This article and video first appeared on Vacay.ca.]

CALGARY, ALBERTA — In “Alberta Bound,” Paul Brandt sings about the province’s “black fertile ground” and “big, blue sky” in an ode to the beauty of his home. The tune could be a contemporary anthem for Alberta, one that would fit hand-in-hand with Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” For the songwriter, though, “Alberta Bound” is a travel song. Brandt notes that its lyrics held significance for him while he was away from Calgary, touring the world and living in Nashville for almost 10 years.

During an interview with Vacay.ca last month, Brandt called “Alberta Bound” a song “that has defined my career in a lot of ways.” Its inspiration came from the drives he would make during the Christmas holidays, travelling from Nashville back to Calgary.

“The seeds for that song were planted during that time. We would always hit the Sweet Grass sign at the Montana border and we knew we were getting close to home and that made it into the song,” Brandt says, noting the song’s opening lyric that speaks of being 40 miles from Canada, a sentiment reminiscent of many road-trip tunes from this country, including “Last American Exit” by the Tragically Hip and “Coming Home” from City and Colour.

Recently, Brandt’s work has kept him home, to his delight. He headlined the “Century” Grandstand Show at the 100th Calgary Stampede, teaming with a roster of international entertainers to thrill attendees with theatrics and song. With that undertaking complete, he returns to recording and touring. His new album “Just As I Am” is due out in the fall and a cross-Canada tour will follow its release.

The country music superstar rose to prominence in 1996, earning Top New Male Artist of the Year honours at the CMT Awards. He has racked up eight Juno Awards during his career and has received more accolades than any male Canadian country singer — and he only recently turned 40. Brandt’s success has taken him around the world and also led him right back to where he started.

An avid fisherman and marathon runner, Brandt revels in the many outdoor activities that Albertans enjoy, whether it be hiking the Rocky Mountains or taking in the scenic trails around the province. He and his wife, Elizabeth Peterson, chose to raise their family in Canada rather than Tennessee, which is why they returned north.

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August 22, 2011

The Great Dessert Search, Edition No. 2: Grandma Lambe’s Apple Pie

Grandma Lambe's pies

Grandma Lambe's produces more than 100 homemade pies a day. (Copyrighted photo by Julia Pelish Photography)

MEAFORD, ONTARIO — Grace Lambe made her first pie for sale 26 years ago because she had peaches that were going bad. “I didn’t want to waste them,” she says, “so I made the pies and put them out on a stand and they sold. To think, from that came this business.”

Grandma Lambe’s is much more than a dollars-and-cents operation, though. Set on 2,000 acres of family-owned farmland just east of the Meaford business district, the country bakery and market is a community institution, tourist attraction and history lesson in one charming structure in Grey County.

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