Rankin Inlet caribou leaves state dinner guests 'speechless'
Yet people can't stop talking about the Nunavut-inspired smoked caribou
Rankin Inlet caribou. Hot smoked with dried heather. Roasted at a low temperature. Served rare with maple sauce and foie gras butter sauce.
That's what was on the menu at Tuesday night's state dinner at Rideau Hall to honour Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. The event, hosted by Governor General David Johnston, was also attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and around 100 other guests.
"Of everything served last night, the caribou is the one that got the most feedback. I'm still hearing it today and I'll be hearing about it for a few days," said Louis Charest, Rideau Hall's executive chef.
"Apparently, some people at the table were speechless," he said. "Somebody was eating it and they couldn't put words to it.
"I wanted the main course to highlight a more different protein. I thought the main focus should be on caribou," he said.
The caribou was sourced from Kivalliq Arctic Foods in Rankin Inlet. Only six kilograms of meat was needed to serve 106 guests.
Charest was inspired to hot smoke, or quickly smoke, the caribou after a visit to Kugluktuk last summer.
While he was there, he cooked with community members, including a feast with caribou on the grill and heather thrown on the barbeque.
Charest had a friend send dried heather to Ottawa so he could recreate the experience.
He was also looking to bridge two cultures.
"In Mexico, there are a lot of meats that are cooked around a fireplace and a lot of wood smoke, but slowly over a long period of time," said Charest.
"So that smokiness I thought to me made sense to highlight a little bit of something that both countries would have in common," he said.
This isn't the first time Charest has included food from the Arctic on his menus. Arctic char, although often farmed, has been used. Or deep fried maktaaq poutine on a stick at the Arctic Inspiration Prize reception.
"Personally, it's very important to showcase the Arctic," Charest said, adding people often overlook it when composing menus. He's hoping to change that as more people become aware of what the Arctic has to offer.
"In a way I think it adds a little exotic element to have products from the Arctic showcased on the menu. It's Canadian exotic products because they're so hard to find."