Food for thought from Canada's culinary queen
The so-called patron saint of Canadian cuisine, Anita Stewart, is the first in her country to earn a Master of Arts in Gastronomy from the University of Adelaide. She spoke to Lumen about her degree - the only one of its kind in the world that can be studied wholly online.
As a culinary adventurer, Anita Stewart has been holding up a mirror to Canada and its people for more than two decades.
Since the publication of her first book in 1984, Stewart has built a reputation as Canada's "coolest food intellectual", preaching the value of local cuisine and describing herself as a "culinary activist".
Regarded as one of the most influential Canadian food writers of her generation, Stewart's upbringing was in a rural hamlet outside of Toronto, where her mother supplemented a teacher's income with sales from a small market garden.
Her earliest recollections involve picking raspberries and blackcurrants from her produce-filled back yard. These childhood memories have inspired countless foraging trips around Canada in the intervening years to source some of the region's best produce.
"This extraordinary odyssey just keeps getting richer and deeper," Stewart says.
Her excursions to the remotest parts of Canada have included scuba dives for sea cucumbers and urchin in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and fly-fishing expeditions for salmon in Discovery Passage. Along the way she has surveyed farmers' markets, chefs, inns, cheese makers, bakers and even plant breeders.
In 1993 Stewart founded Cuisine Canada, the first - and only - national association for food professionals in North America.
Despite her well-documented expertise in the culinary arena, Stewart was looking for a qualification which helped put her own career into context.
The Master of Arts in Gastronomy offered by the University of Adelaide fitted the bill perfectly. When Stewart learned it was driven by "one of the world's great food thinkers," Professor Barbara Santich, she needed no further convincing.
"Professor Santich - like so many Aussies I've met - is also one of the world's great doers. With her colleague Dr Michael Symons, she created the Symposium on Australian Gastronomy which was a model I attempted to emulate in Canada.
"This sort of high-level discussion really does change the food life of a nation and I was determined to start a similar culinary conversation in North America," Stewart adds.
The Masters degree has given Stewart a wealth of reference material that she has used countless times in her speeches and consulting work.
"It has given me confidence in my knowledge and those letters after my name have also given me obvious credentials."
Stewart describes her online experience at the University of Adelaide as "extraordinary", expressing her appreciation for a degree that can be undertaken from a laptop in Seoul, Seattle or Sydney.
"Australian students are very lucky to be able to attend classes in person because it gives them a competitive advantage in the academic world," she says.
Le Cordon Bleu Graduate Program in Gastronomy is the result of collaboration between the University of Adelaide and the world renowned French culinary academy, Le Cordon Bleu.
It is a unique program for people with a passion for food and drink and a desire to understand its history and culture, from ancient times to the present. The program adopts a multidisciplinary approach to the study of gastronomy and gives new insights into the way we eat and drink today.
Since its launch in 2002, more than 70 students from at least a dozen countries have graduated with a Master of Arts in Gastronomy.
More details can be found at www.gastronomy.adelaide.edu ■
STORY CANDY GIBSON