One of the most enlightening aspects of travelling is how it helps you see your usual environment in a new light. This issue of Bakers Journal is very much inspired by Paris and my visit to Europain. Our cake star cover story is very much inspired by all things Parisian. Columnist Mario Fortin talks about his experience as a judge at the World Baking Cup on page 20. I describe my trip to Europain in our coverage of the event and Paris on page 13, but I have a few more observations worth noting about the City of Light and how home looked upon my return.
There was a gala dinner for journalists and Europain organizers on the Sunday evening of the show. Our table spent some time in discussion about the differences between France and Canada, with me seated between an American journalist and two other Canadians. Once all the talk of how we deal with winter was over, conversation turned to trends in baking. It seems North America is perfectly on trend and even ahead in such areas as whole grains, organic and niche products such as gluten-free. I don’t recall seeing any gluten-free products advertised at the show or in shop windows. But a week later at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas I found a bevy of booths showcasing gluten-free dough mixes or par-baked crusts.
Other cities often hold a mirror up that allows us to see our own environment through the eyes of a visitor. Paris is a very multicultural city but not in the same way major Canadian cities are. It is only when I travel that I truly understand what diversity in Canada means. In Paris, diversity is expressed in the people walking the streets but less so in their environment, which is still predominantly an expression of French culture. Part of the city’s beauty is in the homogeny of old architecture. I look out my window in Toronto and I can see many decades of architecture, from a historic church on through to towering glass, all mishmashed side by side. There is no homogeny whatsoever. The food in Paris is predominantly French, although they certainly have their Chinatown and fusion, but is much less visible than it is in Canada. Most of the wine you find is French, which is obviously good wine, but, again, different from the “world at your fingertips” availability here. It was strange to look at menus and not see countries listed beside the wines. In Paris, you ordered wine by type of grape or region in France.
I took a lot of Canadian Studies classes in university where much of the discussion centred around our lack of homogeneous culture, or identity, and how it humbled Canadians and perhaps induced our envy of other countries such as France that celebrate such a unified sense of themselves. However, our diversity also bred in Canadians a deep patriotism for our unique country. We should be proud. Our mash-up has allowed innovation to flourish in a way that has brought about a lot of fusion and originality in food. Canadian bakers take a little inspiration from here, there and everywhere, then make it their own. I loved Paris. It’s an amazing city. But more than anything, it increased my appreciation for this collage of a country. If you like variety, Canada is sure a great place to call home.