It wasn’t until I was quite old, relatively speaking, that I realized grandmothers were supposed to be soft-spoken creatures, equal parts pastel clothing and warm hugs, offering support from the wings to their cast of family characters.
As far as I knew, grandmothers were the main show, to be viewed with admiration and wonder. And maybe a little fear.
The one I grew up with wore brightly coloured polyester muumuus, dyed her hair jet-black well into her 80s and for most of my youth had a cigarette hanging from the side of her mouth. She smelled of herbs not found in the neighbourhood Safeway and spoke English in such a thick accent only understood clearly when she was serving disapproval and exotic dishes that both still linger in my dreams.
There was nothing more deliciously alarming and loveable than my grandmother.
She was also the first foodie I ever knew.
Long before the word foodie rose to the fore, my grandmother knew that the role of a good meal was far more than sustenance.
It’s a cultural bridge. More than one pale friend asked to join me on the weekend visit to the Michaels-family’s main show, so they could snarf down a hunk of cheese that didn’t slide out of a cellophane wrapper and a kefetede, which were always in ample supply.
Food is also, even when it is prepared terribly, art. The arch of one badly burnt Christmas duck’s neck came to mind just now, but mostly it’s the combination of colours and scents that traditionally make it a masterpiece.
It’s science—knowing what spices and herbs can bring out the best of what could otherwise be a mundane plate is a skill not to be undermined.
A good meal can also offer the essential chemistry that can create a family spark that lingers through a generation.
And, for her, food was even cause for a few fights.
There’s a man who runs a Greek deli on Commercial Drive who to this day mentions my grandmother, who died nearly a decade ago.
She was a loyal customer, and if she didn’t have the cheese she wanted at the price that suited her, everyone within a five mile radius had to hear about it. Those tasteless sliced olives from a can were an abomination she could not abide. Anything from a can was wrong, come to think of it.
It’s not that she didn’t make some stinker dishes—that duck comes to mind again—but her love of food is a gift she’s passed down through generations. I love a good meal. Even a fast food meal.
And I love that these days I’m not alone. Nearly everyone has come to love food and love talking about it.
Granted some are using a whole new, pretentious set of words to describe everything from soup to coffee, but that’s neither here nor there.
Food is being appreciated, which is something grand when you consider the concerns about supply and quality that plague us.
It’s especially wonderful that this appreciation has come to be when you live in a place like Kelowna, where agricultural abundance has often been taken for granted.
That’s what makes the Canadian Culinary Championships such a coup for the region. It’s not just a foodie love-in. These contestants connect with providers who are tied to the land we live on, and they mix their own unique histories to create something that transcends time and place, yet is attainable.
So, if you haven’t been paying much heed to this event, I recommend tuning in. If for nothing else, but the simple reminder that Kelowna is a masterpiece that we all have the ability to lay claim to and serve as the centrepiece of our families.