Q&A: Dana McCauley

Recipe to Riches returns for its second season

With Recipe to Riches in its second season, Dana McCauley, along with the other judges on the panel (Laura Calder of French Food at Home, Tony Chapman of Capital C and sports personality Jesse Palmer) give Canadians another reason to get into the kitchen and perfect their recipes.

Home cooks across Canada duke it out in a weekly throwdown to have their original recipes developed into a President’s Choice product and win the grand prize of $250,000.

As culinary director for Janes Family Foods, the author of four cookbooks, a food trend tracker and the wife of a successful restaurateur, there isn’t any facet of the food industry that Dana McCauley hasn’t touched upon in some way.

Here’s what McCauley has to say about the show, food trends, and the best places to eat in Canada.

We noticed that the categories for the dishes changed this season on Recipe to Riches. Why is that?

Loblaws chose the categories based on where they needed innovation. In some cases, the categories were a bit broad. This year, there will be something new to take that place.

How does the factor of regional cuisine play into the show? Do the contestants bring their own regional flair?

They definitely need it. It’s interesting. You definitely see differences from region to region: a lot of fish and seafood from the East Coast and Asian influences from Vancouver. What’s really interesting is how some things as esoteric as bacon and chocolate just completely reach across the country. In every audition, there were at least five people bringing something that had to do with bacon and chocolate.

How do you select dishes that need to be distributed across the country somewhat seasonally?

Most things are either shelf stable or frozen, so that helps. But, some things that came to us were so specific to a particular time of year that it’s probably not a good fit for a show like this. It has to be something that people will buy all the time. In the end, we do sit down as a big group — the producers, the judges, and representatives from Loblaws — to chat it through, but we [the panel of judges] pretty much get the last say.

How does your background of being a recipe tester and cookbook author play into your decision-making on the show?

I don’t draw as much on that experience as I do on my product development experience. It was always a part of my practice when I had my own business, but it’s now my full-time job.

Laura is the authority on taste and we share lots of comments about the taste and the recipes. Before every audition, during hair and makeup, we get a book with all the recipes we are scheduled to try that day. We go through them and have a lot of conversations. What it really comes down to is asking, “OK. This is a great recipe, but can it be a product?” Some things just can’t be put into a box and still be delicious.

Aside from Loblaws, do you have any favourite farmers’ markets?

I do, totally. In Toronto, I’m a big fan of our Evergreen Brick Works farmers’ market. It’s a fantastic place to go, not just to get produce on Saturday mornings, but also just to see all the producers and chefs and to get some fantastic snacks. I have a big garden and my own produce but the social aspect of farmers’ markets is hard to compare to.

The St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market is a place that Martin [McCauley’s husband] and I like to go to get back to basics, and take a step back 20 years.

In Ottawa, I love the beauty of the Byward Market. It’s such a nice place to walk through.

What are your favourite restaurants in Canada? I know that Martin owns Pangaea so you have to include that one.

Pangaea is one of them. It would probably limit the future of my now 17-year marriage to not choose it, but it is good.

I like restaurants all across the country; I think we’ve got great culture.

I’m absolutely mystified right now by how we have this appreciation for local cuisine, yet all the big restaurants opening in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver are by transplanted chefs who are successful in America, like David Chang and Daniel Boulud. As much as I want to go to their restaurants, I want to support the local guys. It’s funny that we want local cuisine, but we’re more excited about the opening of American chefs’ restaurants than about Canadian chefs’ restaurants.

Any restaurants by Canadian chefs that you’re a fan of?

I went recently to Campagnolo here in Toronto, which has a lot of fanfare for very good reasons. I think it’s a great concept. It’s really authentic and regional Italian type of food. I’m dying to get to Calgary to Charcut, I hear it’s fantastic. I do like the much simpler places that are becoming popular because they are fun and you can afford to go more often.

What do you enjoy cooking these days?

I’ve been loving my oven now that fall is back. It was such a hot summer here and I grilled myself silly, so I’ve been roasting chickens and making macaroni and cheese. I’m rediscovering winter foods again, comfort foods. I have a friend whose husband has gone moose hunting and I’m hoping to get some moose for stew.

Do you have a favourite comfort food dish?

My favourite comfort food is actually from my Dana’s Top Ten Table book, the double cheddar mac and cheese. It’s, by far, the thing I crave the most. I indulge in it less and less frequently as I get older because I don’t shed the calories the way I used to. I’m learning not to indulge in mac and cheese by the poundful now, but a few spoonfuls isn’t going to hurt me.

Aside from the combination of bacon and chocolate, what is the worst food trend right now?

The disappointing trend is the backlash trend against eating healthy, where it’s just about indulgence. This whole chocolate and bacon thing is a part of it.

It’s not even about the food tasting good. It’s just about, “How gross and weird can it be?” and “Oh, let’s take this Krispy Kreme doughnut and put a burger in the middle of it.” Why? What is the benefit? There isn’t one, on the culinary side.

That sort of daredevil food is distasteful to me; it’s disrespectful to the food.

Where do you think Canada’s next culinary capital will be?

It’s St. John’s, absolutely. You see amazing culture of all kinds there: the arts are burgeoning and there are lots of interesting people settling there. Five years ago, all you could find is Canadian Club at the liquor store. Now, they have an amazing wine selection that rivals the SAQ in Montreal.

Read more about Dana McCauley and her favourite wines from wineaccess.ca.

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