David Farrell is a food blogger at http://oldfatguy.ca and is the star of a local cooking show, You Can Make It.
You used to travel a lot, due to work, causing you to have to eat at restaurants all the time. While that sounds like heaven, for some of us, eating at restaurants all the time can be less than ideal. What were some things you didn’t like about having to eat out all the time?
Most restaurants cook for the average customer. That means they don’t get very creative and the menus seem to include the same popular dishes cooked in much the same way. Often, the food seems almost interchangeable between restaurants and all the meals seem alike. The second problem with restaurant food is the reliance on fat and salt for flavor. Many dishes are deep fried and salt is used liberally. High quantities of fat and salt aren’t good for you and aren’t necessary for great food.
Even though you weren’t crazy about having to eat in restaurants constantly, were there any cities or destinations that you were particularly fond of? What did you like about them?
Absolutely! There are two cities that are food heaven to me: Vancouver and Montreal. It is not that these cities don’t have the run-of-the-mill pubs and restaurants but they do have an incredible variety that lets you find special local places that make truly original, tasty food. For example, there is a little Asian restaurant in Vancouver that makes the most incredible Indian/Chinese food with fresh ingredients and great taste.
Montreal has a long food history. I could spend a week at the Jean Talon market visiting the food stalls and local producers.
You’ve talked about losing 40 pounds (!!!) after retiring, when you started cooking for yourself. How did cooking for yourself help you lose all that weight?
I would like to say that I planned a careful diet and exercise program to lose weight but it would be a lie. Since I have retired, I eat whatever I want, whenever I want. I lost weight for two reasons. First, I wasn’t in a car, airplane or office for most of my day. I work in the garden, golf in the summer, and curl in the winter.
Second, although I eat whatever I want, it is made with fresh ingredients, less salt and fat in portions that meet my needs. When I was working, lunch often consisted of a burger picked up between meetings. Now, It is likely to be left-over smoked chicken with fresh rolls, lettuce and tomatoes. My dinner on the road could be fish and chips. The dinner I cook for myself is likely to be smoked peppered salmon with grilled potatoes and a fresh green salad. My meal tastes better, is healthier and totally satisfying. When you cook for yourself, you start to look for great ingredients and learn to treat them with respect. The food is not only way healthier, it just tastes better.
On that note, are there any particulary delicious recipes or dishes you’d recommend for people who are trying to lose weight?
If you want to lose weight, stay away from anything in a package. A great place to start is to have base ingredients around like Homemade Marinara Sauce. You can add some chopped chicken, small meat balls, shrimp or scallops and serve it on different pastas. You can even add cubed zucchini for a vegetarian dish. It is quick and easy to make and it stores well in the freezer. Just heat it up, add any extras you like and serve it over the pasta of your choice and you have a meal that tastes wonderful, is healthy and feels so hearty.
You’re based out of the mountains of British Columbia. First of all, are there any regional dishes you’d recommend, to give someone a taste of B.C.? Secondly, are there any dishes, drinks, or desserts that remind you of home, or pair particularly well with your inspiring view?
If I want to think the local mountains, I think of huckleberries. They are a tiny wild mountain berry that has an incredible berry taste. They turn pancakes into a gourmet dish. However, I was born and raised in Vancouver. When I think of home, it is Vancouver. The food that takes me back to Vancouver is blackberries. They grew wild near my home and Mom would make blackberry pie. I can still taste it and remember staining my lips with the juice. As I grew older, it is salmon that reminds me of home. Just lightly grilled salmon makes me feel like I am back on the coast.
In The Importance Of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde quipped “I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.” Would you describe yourself as being “serious about meals”? What are some benefits of taking food seriously, and what does that phrase mean to you?
I waiver on both sides of this question. I am very serious about good food. There are so many great ingredients available that take only a little effort to turn into tasty food that I think it is a shame to buy something packaged or to eat bland convenience food. It almost makes me angry.
However, I do not think making food should be a serious activity. It should be fun! You should enjoy the smells, tastes and textures of the ingredients. You should be playful and experimental. The best is having friends and family around to share the experience. So, when I say meals should be taken seriously, I mean you shouldn’t settle for bland prepared food, you should enjoy great food. When I say meals should not be taken seriously, I mean it shouldn’t be a chore to prepare and eat great food. It should be an experience that is fun and creative (even if my wife complains about the mess).
Author Tessa Kiros has talked about the ability of food to transport us through time, saying ” I find the smell of a dish, or the way a certain spice is crushed, or just a quick look at the way something has been put on a plate, can pull me back to another place and time.” What are some dishes that transport you through time and space, and where do they take you?
Cinnamon. It has to be cinnamon. My mother wasn’t a great cook but she used cinnamon in apple pies, custard, and cinnamon toast. However, she would take any left over pastry scraps and roll them out. She would spread butter on it and sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over it. Then she’d roll it and bake it into a pastry cinnamon roll. There was always a fight among the kids for it. I was the youngest and in danger of not getting any. Mom would always make a special little one for me. When I eat a cinnamon roll, I think of her smile and her kindness and wish it was one of those simple pastry rolls. Food is like that. It takes you places.
On that note, what are some simply ways for foodies to spice up their presentation? What are some of the joys of a beautiful presentation for a dish or recipe?
Plating is important as food looking good sets up your other senses for the meal. However, I think it has gone over the top in recent years. I don’t need a portrait made of sauce on my plate. Stick to the basics. If you are serving a sauce or gravy, try to put it in some sort of containment. For example, make in indentation on the top of potatoes with a ladle and put the gravy in it. Or, if you are putting sauce on a string pasta, take two forks and twist it into a nest and put the sauce in it. Also, may great flavor additives can be added at plating that give a great look. A chiffonade of basil sprinkled over a cream sauce give a great green color. Finely chopped tomatoes can add a touch of red. Try and just give that little extra touch without building a sculpture.
Economist Tyler Cowen has talked about some of the benefits of being a foodie, stating “Food is a product of supply and demand, so try to figure out where the supplies are fresh, the suppliers are creative, and the demanders are informed.” What are some of the environmental and economic benefits of the foodie movement?
I think the foodie movement is bringing food home. A tomato that has ridden thousands of kilometers in a truck from California just won’t taste like one from your local grower. If you try grass fed beef or free range chicken from your local supplier you will find that you don’t have to do a lot to make it taste great. When you make your own loaf of bread, there wasn’t any gas needed to bring to your town.
Foodies can take any ingredients that are available and add what improves their natural flavors. This is good for the local economy and the environment. However, foodies also drive international commerce. As good as local chicken cooked with fresh garden tomatoes are, they are vastly improved by a touch of Berbere spice. So, the foodie culture encourages local supplies of ingredients that would don’t travel well but encourages exchange of culture and products that add variety to our lives.
One of the principle joys of being a foodie is stopping to enjoy and appreciate life. How has being a foodie improved your life? And what are some of the other joys of being a foodie, for people just starting on their gourmet adventure?
Cooking is an art. I don’t mean to scare anyone off. Not everyone will be a Rembrandt but we all love to doodle. My wife has told me to never sing in public but I love to sing in the shower. Cooking lets you be you, to show your personality. If you have dreams of becoming a foodie, try a basic recipe and then change it in a way that you like. Soon, you’ll find that you want a quality sea salt because it feels better in your fingers and has a different taste than the stuff in a box. Then you will stop buying bottled Teriyaki sauce because it isn’t as good as your homemade version. You will start to develop your own collection of art, your own dishes. This growth give you a confidence, a desire to try new things.
I found that cooking made me more willing to take risks and try and improve the world around me. Sure, I get the hairy eyeball from my wife when I try a spinach and oyster casserole that doesn’t turn out but that just becomes a funny story. More often my friends talk about me as this guy they know who makes Peri Peri Bacon and Glazed Cured Ribs. Take up the art! Add to the foodie culture! Grow!
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