BSE, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, has dropped from the headlines, and Stewart's event has now morphed into Food Day Canada, a day in which chefs and home cooks across the country can applaud Canada's incredible bounty.
Not only are people encouraged to create their own spread from produce purchased at farmers markets, but they are also able to dine at any of the about 275 restaurants from across the country that are participating this Saturday with menus featuring uniquely Canadian ingredients.
Stewart — who has worked tirelessly to promote Canadian food culture, earning her an appointment as a member of the Order of Canada and a two-year stint as the University of Guelph's honorary food ambassador — hopes people will post their menus and describe their plans on the Food Day Canada website. There are plenty of recipes there too for inspiration.
An interactive map includes the locations of farmers markets and Food Day restaurants across the country "so it should be a guide of how to eat Canadian," she explains. The idea is "you can go and buy your good stuff here and here are the restaurants where you too can go and eat."
Despite 16-hour days leading up to the event — always held the first weekend of August — chief party planner Stewart couldn't be prouder.
"I've got a really serious list of A restaurants across the country. I can't believe it. It's fantastic, it really is," Stewart said in a recent interview from her home in Elora, Ont.
"The list is really, really rich this year. That's what I like about it. Because it's almost like, OK, this is finally the year I don't really have to explain myself and restaurants are saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we've heard about it and we'd be really happy to participate.'"
Among events across the country, a series of farmers markets in Nova Scotia is kicking off a week of celebrations on Saturday. The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, Ont., has fingers crossed for good weather for its outdoor picnic, while downtown restaurants in Sherbrooke, Que., led by Danny St. Pierre of Auguste Restaurant, are holding Bouffe ton Centro and hope it will become an annual affair.
Despite the floods that ravaged Calgary, the River Cafe, located on Prince's Island Park on the lagoon where the Bow River passes though the downtown area, plans to mark Food Day Canada.
Winnipeg chef Mandel Hitzer, who serves beef, bison, lamb, chicken and fish sourced from Manitoba, will have a special menu at his Deer and Almond. The creative young chef even had a pop-up restaurant in a tent on the Assiniboine River in January, Stewart says.
Executive chef Roary MacPherson of Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland is doing a pop-up restaurant in downtown St. John's with a half-dozen or so other local chefs and then they're all going back to their own restaurants to do their own Food Day commemoration, she adds.
In conjunction with Food Day Canada, the man who spearheaded the promotion and development of pulse crops in Canada since 1972 will be honoured Thursday with the Pulse Legacy Award by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.
Dr. Alfred Slinkard, 82, professor emeritus with the University of Saskatchewan, put Canada on the lentil production map. This country now produces 67 per cent of the world's lentil supply. It's the 35th anniversary of his Laird lentil variety, which is still the standard or benchmark for green lentil research around the world.
"As soon as Dr. Slinkard came to Canada he started processing or breeding lentils in hopes that it would be eventually a crop and now of course we're the largest producer on the planet which is pretty astounding really," says Stewart, the author or co-author of 14 books on Canadian foods and wines.
"He's the godfather. He absolutely is. I love being able to honour somebody like that."
Stewart plans to be in Saskatoon for the presentation to Slinkard, then she'll head to British Columbia for a Food Day visit to the Kelowna Farmers' and Crafters' Market. On Saturday evening, she'll join Mission Hill Winery executive chef Matthew Batey who is slated to welcome back the winery's former chef Michael Allemeier, now a culinary arts instructor at SAIT Polytechnic in Calgary.
Food Day Canada, fooddaycanada.ca
Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, http://www.saskpulse.com/