10/16/2013 01:05 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Cook It Raw: Canadians Among Group Of Influential Chefs Gathering In Charleston


TORONTO - A contingent of Canadian chefs is headed to an international gathering attended by some of the most influential and creative chefs in the world.

Cook It Raw has become an annual week-long culinary odyssey of hunting, fishing and harvesting. This year the meeting is centred on Charleston, S.C., and will examine the unique cuisine of the Lowcountry region along the state's coast.

Founded in 2009, the event is the brainchild of Alessandro Porcelli, who invites chefs dedicated to exploring place through cuisine to various spots in the world, where they stretch their skills as they work with farmers, hunters, cooks and artisans, and also examine the future of food while addressing environmental, social and cultural issues. At the end, the chefs prepare an innovative meal that interprets what has been learned.

This year's gathering, set to run Oct. 20-26, will include Jeremy Charles, executive chef of Raymonds in St. John's, N.L., along with Connie DeSousa and John Jackson, co-owners and chefs of Charcut Roast House in Calgary.

They'll join chefs from New York, Spain, Singapore, Mexico, Australia, Ireland and England, as well as local chefs.

Ten Toronto chefs have also been invited to work with South Carolina chefs in Cook It Raw's first public event. Ticket holders will be able to sample their interpretations of Lowcountry barbecue at BBQ Perspectives on Oct. 26.

Arlene Stein, founder and chair of Toronto's annual Terroir Hospitality Symposium, connected with Porcelli through acclaimed chef Rene Redzepi of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark, who was part of the first Cook It Raw. A fan of Porcelli's project, she invited him to speak at last spring's conference and meet some Canadian chefs because she thought he would "find it very inspirational how much they support each other and actually how much work they do collaboratively."

In the past Cook It Raw has been open to only a few elite chefs, but Stein hopes that this year's new format with a public event at the end of the week will draw in a broader audience as well as extending "the brand so that we build a stronger and more resilient chefs community."

And not just chefs, she hastened to add in a telephone interview.

"We also want to be inclusive of producers, academics, people that work alongside chefs in restaurants to actually collaborate on food ways. Our focus is more about food ways than it is on what's happening in the restaurant. It's just chefs have been the vehicle for that."

Charles has made enRoute magazine's best new restaurant list twice in less than five years and has raised the profile of Newfoundland's cuisine.

In 2007, he won for Portugal Cove-based Atlantica restaurant and then again in 2011 for Raymonds. DeSousa, a finalist in season 1 of "Top Chef Canada," also was the winner in the outstanding chef category at April's Terroir, while Jackson has worked in Manhattan and San Francisco, where he hosted the 20th anniversary celebration of the James Beard Foundation.

"They will be part of what is a week-long process of discovering the food ways of the Lowcountry," explained Stein. "And so the way we've curated the program is that every day will be an examination of different ideas around how this cuisine developed....

"Every day there'll be some kind of activity that ties them in deeply to the traditions and the creativity and the endemic ingredients that exist in South Carolina and the Lowcountry and so by Thursday ... they actually have to articulate what they've learned on a plate. So it's kind of like a thesis for food."

When an email went out to prospective Toronto chefs asking if they'd be interested in joining the public portion of the event, Matty Matheson said he jumped at the chance.

"It's pretty awesome. It's a cool thing to be a part of something, especially at this point of where they're at, like driven by community and working with producers so closely and just the overall talent is beyond humbling really," the Parts & Labour executive chef said by phone.

"So it's really cool to be working with Cook It Raw and Alessandro and going down there to Charleston. It's a really cool thing to be happening to a bunch of Canadian chefs."

Matheson, who likes to feature simple dishes using Canadian ingredients in his restaurant and catering business, letting the ingredients speak for themselves, said the chefs have been in contact with one another to hash out a preliminary plan of what they'll be concocting for the public event using Canadian and South Carolina products.

"Canadian barbecue is much different than South Carolina barbecue, which is a well-known thing, so we're just doing kind of what we know and using some Canadian products that we know really well and putting ourselves out there and using some South Carolina products once we get down there."

Stein said she's excited she's been able to help Porcelli develop Cook It Raw to the state it's in now. Previous events have taken place in Copenhagen, Italy, Lapland, Japan and Poland, and next year's gathering is slated for Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

Scouting is underway for a 2015 locale.

"The possibility for Canada is very real," Stein said, adding that Newfoundland, Ontario or Alberta could be hosts.



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