Saturday, 30 May 2009

GG seal-snacking inspires dreams for Inuit food industry

GG visit inspires dreams for Inuit food industry

Last Updated: 30th May 2009, 2:39pm


IQALUIT, Nunavut — You've seen it being eaten on your television screen. Now, people of the Arctic have visions of their food on your plate.

Inuit leaders want to capitalize on the promotional bonanza offered by images broadcast around the world of Canada's vice-regal munching on a raw slice of seal heart.

They have reason for optimism: One Montreal restaurateur says his seal orders have doubled thanks to the media frenzy, and now account for two-thirds of his total appetizer sales.

The premier of Nunavut hopes more southerners follow the lead of Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean and add to their diet what the locals call "country food" — not just seal, but Arctic char, caribou, and muskox.

In a region desperate for economic activity — the employment rate in Nunavut is just 58 per cent — there are dreams of southern palates, and wallets, opening to the spoils of their land.

There's one big obstacle in getting the food down south: there are no roads to these Arctic communities, and shipment by boat or plane is painfully expensive.

"We have all these wonderful, highly nutritious foods," Premier Eva Aariak said in an interview.

"It's straight from the land. No preservatives. If only we had the infrastructure."

The Governor General can attest to the tastiness of country food.

During their stay, Jean and her entourage were treated to succulent muskox ribs topped in a demi-glaze sauce, and canapes of Arctic char, which resembles salmon or trout in colour, texture and taste.

But none of those meals captured international headlines like the video of Jean slicing and sampling a seal.

Jean said the blubbery mammal had a texture like sushi — but with a meatier flavour. The premier agrees it tastes like meat, only with a subtle fishy flavour derived from the animal's steady diet of marine life.

Although fatty flipper pies are a favourite of Newfoundlanders, seal is a rare find on Canadian menus.

One restaurateur who offers seal in unusual appetizers can't believe his good fortune.

Customers have been gobbling up the $13-$15 seal tartare with capers; rare seal tataki; and seal smoked meat from the appetizer menu at Montreal's Au Cinquieme Peche.

Chef and co-owner Benoit Lenglet has been selling the dishes for two years and he's never seen anything like this.

"It's the most expensive item on our appetizer menu," Lenglet said.

"But there's been so much publicity on this that seal now represents two-thirds of our appetizer sales. . . They have doubled."

Such evidence of her culinary influence was greeted with a vice-regal chuckle.

"That's marvellous," said Jean.

And that's music to the ears of Nunavut's premier.

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