Next Tuesday in Paris, Derek Dammann, the chef behind Montreal's DNA restaurant, and Alex Cruz, a partner at Société-Orignal, a boutique ingredients company, will present a few thousand of the world's best young chefs with one of Canada's most historic – and until now, largely forgotten – foods.
The dish, called sagamité, is a stew of dried corn simmered in a clay pot with wood ash, then thickened with animal fat or fish. Unappealing as that may sound, it was a staple for the Huron and Iroquois nations for centuries before European contact.
The pair's rendition, to be presented in a master class at Omnivore, a cutting-edge travelling food festival (it stops in Montreal this August) won't be quite that simple, of course. An invitation to present at Omnivore, which is focused on young, innovative chefs, is one of the cooking world's most coveted nods. The Montreal pair knew they'd have to do something way out of the ordinary to blow the audience away.
Mr. Dammann, who was head chef at Fifteen, Jamie Oliver's first London restaurant, before returning to Canada in 2005, plans to use a rare breed of Mohawk corn, grown in tiny quantities on Montreal's south shore, as the stew's base. (It's a hyper-local dish – even the pot is made with clay from the area by Montreal potter Benoît Daigle.) To that, he'll add gratings of air-cured sea urchin gonads, plus a list of foraged, only-in-Canada ingredients that many of the planet's top toques have started clamouring for.
The ingredients are where Mr. Cruz comes in. Société-Orignal deals in one-of-a-kind and heirloom foods that are distinctly Northern and Canadian, such as edible sub-arctic flowers, grand cru maple syrup from 150-year-old trees, and an "Amerindian Pale Ale" that's bittered with wild milfoil and Myrica gale instead of hops. In less than a year, the firm's client list has grown into a Who's Who of the best chefs and restaurants in Canada and the United States. In addition to top places in Toronto (Buca, Acadia, Splendido), Montreal (DNA and Les 400 Coups, whose pastry chef, Patrice Demers, will also be presenting at Omnivore) and Vancouver (Abattoir, Kale & Nori), Mr. Cruz supplies Corton, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel and Marea in New York.
Sagamité was a natural choice for the festival, the men said, as it's rooted in Quebec and northeastern Canada, and also infinitely adaptable.
"A sagamité is not a fixed recipe, it's an idea," Mr. Cruz said.
It's a tasty one at that.