Report by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca and TopRestaurantsInCanada.com Founder
Melissa Baker grew up eating nachos, Pizza Pops and Fruit Roll-ups. Not the type of diet you would expect to be the foundation of Canada’s Food.ee of the Year. Turns out, Baker had enough exposure to the wholesomeness of life in an agricultural setting to appreciate the importance of eating right. She credits her grandparents’ expansive property full of produce for inspiring her to a life and career devoted to improving Canadians’ nutrition.
For those reasons, primarily, Baker has been named the 2015 Food.ee of the Year, an award voted on by Vacay.ca editors and journalists. Baker receives a grand prize that includes round-trip airfare to St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, a four-night stay at the Sheraton Newfoundland and dinner for two at Raymonds, named the No. 1 Restaurant in Canada for two consecutive years.
More than 400 entries were received for the contest and many of them were of extremely high written quality, Vacay.ca editors noted. The contest was sponsored by Food.ee, which delivers meals from high-quality restaurants to corporate offices in Toronto and Vancouver.
A British Columbian, Baker has been studying in Toronto and is about to graduate with a master’s degree in nutrition communication. Her education will enhance her skills as a dietitian. In her entry, she named Vancouver’s Fable Kitchen as her favourite restaurant.
“The food is full of love and tastes incredible. The chefs get fresh ingredients from the market and local food is always on the menu. I love the farm-to-table aspect of the name. Every experience I have had there has been delightful,” Baker wrote. “I am also fond of chef Trevor Bird. He does really great work, and supports with the Breakfast Club of Canada.”
Baker plans to visit St. John’s in August and to share the experience with her twin sister, Jessica.
Melissa Baker’s Food.ee of the Year Award-winning Entry
I am Canada’s greatest Food.ee.
First, let me tell you a bit about my childhood. Growing up my dinner menu often included nachos, Kraft Dinner with cut-up hot dogs, Pizza Pops, Mr. Noodles and Hamburger Helper. My mom worked late and her boyfriend didn’t cook too often. Breakfast, much to my delight, was often jumbo Costco muffins (A.K.A. cake) and school lunches included Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups and Dunk-a-Roos. Nothing gourmet, that is certain. My twin sister, Jessica, and I made almost daily trips to the local gas station for our candy fix. Rainbow coloured Gobstoppers, bleach white Popeye Candy Sticks – which could double as fake cigarettes — and strawberry Pop Rocks were always on our list. Mom didn’t have time to worry about our candy consumption. She was young, 27 at the time, and working tirelessly just to make ends meet.
Visiting my grandma and grandpa, a seemingly endless six-hour drive away, was always something I looked forward to. They owned a 35-acre wonderland, with no gas station or candy store even remotely accessible. Grandma’s garden was magnificent: lined with a perimeter of beanstalks and filled with perfect rows of flourishing vegetables. On the far side, ruby red, plump raspberries hung, begging to be picked — a new kind of candy for my sister and me.
Simply walking into my grandma’s house was an event in itself. Aromas of sweet, cinnamon and apples would rush to my nose, enveloping me in warmth and love before Grandma, covered in flour, even made it to the door. We always sat at the dinner table together when we were here – a rare and welcome event in my life. Dinner usually included new potatoes from Grandma’s garden, an absolute favourite of mine. She worked hard in the dirt all summer to produce these little golden nuggets with such delicate skins and sweet flesh. Dessert was often one of Grandma’s specialties — warm, gooey apple pie with melted cheddar cheese. To this day, thinking of it brings vivid memories back to life.
Now, let me tell you a bit about my current Food.ee life.
This childhood was, apparently, the perfect recipe for fostering a deep appreciation and love for food.
Calling me Canada’s greatest Food.ee is a bit of an understatement. For starters, I work as a registered dietitian. Each day, I make it my mission to use food as a vehicle for improving the health and quality of life of Canadians. I love this “work” so much and believe whole-heartedly in the ability of food to improve health. Food also has an amazing ability to create or maintain cultural ties, build community spirit, enrich celebrations and improve overall wellness. Educating the next generation about the importance of food and where it comes from is also something I value immensely. I spent a recent summer teaching children in Vancouver, British Columbia about cooking, gardening and the importance of enjoying food together. I am also currently completing a master’s degree in Nutrition Communication so that I can be even better equipped to share my messages and love for food with the world.
Outside of work and school, I am a food blogger at upbeet.ca. Yes, my entire life revolves around food. If I am not blogging about it, I am exploring a new food market, trying a new restaurant, or researching interesting ingredients I have yet to try. If I need some “me time,” I read a book about M.F.K. Fisher or, my current favourite, Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob. I attend as many foodie events as I can possibly fit into my crazy, graduate student life. I have become part of some awesome foodie circles in both Vancouver and Toronto, my two homes. When I meet people as passionate about food as I am, it is as if we are old friends. There is never a dull moment with endless foodie things to talk about. My not-so–foodie friends get annoyed, at times, as everything I talk about is food related: be it the latest recipe I am experimenting with, the restaurant I recently tried (or read about), or a foodie meet-up I went to in Kensington Market. As a rule, my friends do not grocery shop with me as I will spend two hours in the aisles examining new products on the market. Experimenting in the kitchen, and trying to convince others to do the same, is my favourite way to spend a rainy day. I am currently experimenting with fermenting my own foods: yogurt, kefir, and kimchi!
I would love nothing more than to visit St. John’s for the first time and explore the food culture there.