My Canadian Food Hero

A colleague and fellow blogger inadvertently inspired me to learn about Valerie Lugonja and the Canadian Food Experience Project. I was intrigued to read about the challenge to Canadian foodies and bloggers alike, and although food is not normally a subject of my blogging, it has certainly influenced my life in many important ways. This aside, I too have taken up the challenge to write a post on the 7th day of each month, as set out by Valerie. Please visit the foregoing link to learn more about her desire to showcase the Canadian food identity through the individual experiences of any Canadian who is impassioned to share theirs.

This month’s challenge is to write about a Canadian Food Hero. I realize I am 3 days late, but since I only learned about this project on the 8th, this will have to do for this month.

There are a few people who came to mind as I contemplated who my food hero was; my mother, my grandmother, and others. Food has played a powerful role in my life, from early childhood through to now and beyond and I’ve had many memorable and sometimes intense food experiences. I love to savour food of all kinds and would suggest I’m quite adventurous as an adult. Attitudes about food were significantly shaped by my family’s European ideals in both positive and negative ways. Nonetheless, there is one person who stood out to me as a true hero, and this post is dedicated to her.

I eat mostly vegetarian, often vegan and purposefully healthily. I don’t deny myself the occasional opportunity to indulge in something meaty, rich and fatty because I still have an undeniable craving for such indulgence at times, but have also found ways to still feel I enjoy incredible taste experiences without those foods. I don’t believe in imbalance and complete denial, so moderation is key for me to maintain my wholesome habits the rest of the time. Given my love of tasty but nutritious food, I knew immediately that my food hero had to be someone who not only creates delicious and aesthetically gorgeous food, but also develops dishes that are nourishing and employ a broad range of nutritious and natural ingredients. So, with that determined, it was obvious. My local food hero is Julia Graham.

Julia is a neighbor, friend, wife and mother, teacher, community supporter, and on the list goes. She and her husband have raised two of the most charming, well-mannered and bright young ladies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You will often see Julia out for a run, or a ride on her baby-blue cruiser bike with her red and white polka-dotted helmet; this playfulness is indicative of her wonderful spirit, equally played out in her food. With a preference for vegetarian and vegan foods, Julia’s friends and family also know her for the ‘meatless Mondays” in her home, to which I’m sure her husband Scott has grown to love over time (right, Scott?). If you visit their home, there is almost always something new in the oven or on the stove; I’ve never tasted anything Julia prepared that didn’t taste amazing. And when we are fortunate enough to have one of her girls show up at our door with the surplus of a recent catering menu, we excitedly accept!

Julia, a trained chef, owned her own catering company for seven years before going on to become a teacher. Julia has taught culinary arts to high school students for the last eight years and is beloved by her pupils and fellow teachers. I’ve never been in her classroom, but her reputation precedes her; she imparts her passion for high quality, healthy ingredients and beautiful food on her young apprentices.

Julia continues to cater in her “spare time”, putting together creative and uniquely tailored meals for small and large groups alike. Most notably, she is a beacon in the community as she volunteers her time and expertise to cater large charitable events on a regular basis, where she invites her current and past students to join on the team. This includes an annual, very large fundraising event where she and her large, young crew create an authentic and raved-about East Indian meal for several hundred guests. Julia’s heart for local and distant causes is evident, as is her passion for local and fair trade ingredients. You might get to see Julia out on her bike, proudly wearing her Fair Trade t-shirt on Fair Trade Karma day.

Last year, the Maxville Farmer’s Market needed a new volunteer coordinator. Julia stepped up to the plate, and local residents have seen the market flourish beyond imagination. For a small town of about 800 residents, the market abounds with fresh, local and often organic and unique produce. I even learned about bag cultivating my own oyster mushrooms, something I plan to do after my vacation. In addition, you’ll find locally raised meat, locally roasted fair-trade coffee, homemade and authentic Thai food, incredible baked goods, vegan specialties, crafts and more. Much of the community turns up on Friday afternoon, and through her zeal and community contacts, Julia has single-handedly grown our market into something to be very proud of.

This past year, Julia was moved to a different local high school and it was a very emotional time for her, her family, her students and friends. After much deliberation and exploration, Julia made a very brave decision: to resign from her teaching position at the end of the academic year and pursue her long-borne dream to open her own restaurant. In October, Julia will celebrate the grand opening of her much anticipated and carefully designed establishment, the Quirky Carrot Café. The Quirky Carrot will not only be a high end café in the heart of Alexandria, Ontario, but also a cooking school and catering company. I, for one, cannot wait to regularly enjoy an undoubtedly delectable, locally sourced meal and (finally) an excellent cup of coffee in town.

Julia’s boldness, confidence, grace and inner (and outer) beauty inspire me. She has strived for and grasped her dream, and will now bless the entire community with her wisdom and mastery of healthful, beautiful and scrumptious cooking, created with the most nutritious and local ingredients available to her. I have no doubt she will bring unique and intriguing elements and recipes to us all, and will be exceptionally successful. She certainly has my support.