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Interview with a Taste of Place Ambassador: Lori McCarthy

Lori McCarthy is a wild chef, forager, hunter, educator, chronic outdoorsperson, and—most fiercely—a Newfoundlander. In this interview she tells us more about her new book, how people and place connect to food, and why a trip to Newfoundland should be on every adventurous eater’s bucket list.
Lori Mc Carthy feature photo

© Victoria Polsoni

Can you share a bit about who you are and what you do?

I grew up in small-town Newfoundland in a place called Bauline. My dad was a fisherman and a teacher, and my mom was home with us. She gave us all the homemade cookies that anyone could ever ask for! We grew up on the land with our farm animals, and my brothers and my dad hunted and fished, so it was a pretty stereotypical outport Newfoundland upbringing.

I spent fifteen years working in restaurants, but I stopped when I had my children. That’s when I started spending more time out picking and foraging again like when I was young. At the same time, I was watching what was happening in the global food industry—how chefs were really starting to go back out on the land and how that was inspiring their cooking. It was becoming clear that there was a movement afoot. For us in Newfoundland it had always been like that, but all of a sudden there was attention being paid to it.

Canned and fresh mussels photo by Marsha Tulk

© Marsha Tulk

Picking wild mussels in the bays around the island has been a childhood tradition for many Newfoundlanders. When bottling mussels, it is best to steam them in a large pot of seawater just until they open.

One time I was out berry picking with my mom, and I said to her, “I wonder if I could start a business where people could come out here and do some of the stuff we do in our normal life, the way we grew up. Ice fishing and berry picking, going into the woods and lighting a fire and having a boil up.” So that’s how we started ten years ago, and it grew and started catching on.

Now we offer cultural food residency programs, where people can come stay with us and we take them out foraging and picking, and then we show them all the preserving, bottling, pickling, and home butchering techniques. It’s really meant to give people an opportunity to experience this place outside of just visiting and touring around.

Tell us a bit more about your new book!

When I started my company, I felt a real need to learn more about this place I grew up. I wanted to share the past, present, and future of food in Newfoundland. I didn’t want to just share the single story of the collapse of the cod fishery.

In 1992 when the cod moratorium came in, we were all told as young people, “Get out of Newfoundland.” I became so determined for that to not be the story I told my children. I wanted to build a pride about being from here. And, I think, the deeper you go into it, the longer you spend talking to people from the place you’re from, the more pride you feel. So I started interviewing local people about their connection to food.

Old cookbooks can give you recipes and the archives can give you history, but it was a blended knowledge base that I was searching for, and that lay with the people. If I was going to find out how and why people are connected to food here, I needed to go talk to people. That’s the only way I could find out. I started collecting recipes and stories and preservation techniques, learning everything I could.

Salt cod photo by Marsha Tulk

© Marsha Tulk

Corned cod is preserved in a wet brine, unlike dried salt cod. Its salt content is much less, so it can be cooked right away without the pre-soaking required of dried salt cod, which needs to be rehydrated to remove excess salt.

I also started picking for some of the restaurants around here to supply them with local foods and hunted meat. Some of this was even stuff that we didn’t grow up picking—plants that traditionally had no place in our cuisine on the island. My parents didn’t know about it, my grandparents didn’t know about it. So it took a lot of time to learn about what was edible here and I felt like I was learning something very different.

For years, people were asking me to write a book about all this. And I’d say, “I don’t have anything to write a book about!” The company was really busy, and I never thought I was someone who would write a book. But when COVID hit, I thought it could probably be a good time. It was a real time of reflection for everyone, and it gave me the chance to go back and look at what I’d accumulated in knowledge and stories and recipes.

I met Marsha Tulk through a course I was teaching, and we could tell right away we had a lot in common—our love of food and experimentation. She had a fine arts degree and was a photographer, so I asked her, “Do you want to write a book?” And she said “Yeah, okay!”

I was shocked she said yes, and then I thought, “Oh my goodness, now we have to write a book!”

Food culture place book cover

Our book is called Food, Culture, Place: Stories, Traditions, and Recipes of Newfoundland and is a food journey through one whole year of our traditional fare. Some dishes are widely familiar, and some would be lesser-known except to local residents. The foods and recipes we included show the variety from region to region, east to west.

I had the big vision, but Marsha was more design-oriented and more organized than I was about the details. Her photographs were fantastic. And while I had stories and recipes from the east coast, she brought them from the west coast, since both places spoke about different food history.

Writing the book has been a chance to share these stories not just with people who come out and spend time on the land with me, but also with those who can’t visit and want to learn about this place and its food culture.

I hope people see it as the discovery of new and old together. There will always place for tradition, but it’s also okay to change how we put these foods on our plate. I wasn’t always so proud of this place, but food became a way for me to fall in love with it again over the years. I want my kids to be as proud of Newfoundland as I’ve become.

Capelin fish on pebbles photo by Marsha Tulk

© Marsha Tulk

In late June or early July, large schools of capelin make their way from the North to the sandy shores of Newfoundland to spawn. Middle Cove Beach is one of these coves and it is annual tradition for hundreds of people to gather and share in the excitement known as the capelin roll.

Why should people think of Newfoundland as a food destination?

For anyone who’s interested in how food connects people and creates culture, this is a place where you’ll find it at every turn. Everywhere you go, you have the opportunity to eat the food that makes this place. There’s the great restaurants, sure, but you can experience it even at a small church fundraiser serving moose burgers or a charity event with a wild game dinner. On top of it, there’s all the food festivals across the province with cream-of-the-crop chefs and small businesses serving up their dishes, too.

You can still go to small, independent grocery shops here and find bottled moose or seal, homemade pickles, and jams, all made by grandmas in their kitchens. You can pull over just about anywhere along the roadside and pick berries. All over the island, there’s people selling homemade bread, or there’s honour boxes at the end of the laneways where you just take your vegetables and leave your cash. The food chain is just so much smaller here.

You can still experience so many of the old food traditions, and people are so approachable and interested in sharing. Sometimes visitors don’t believe just how many times we invite total strangers over for a meal. But often the best thing that can happen to you on your trip is you’ll get fogged in and then invited over for a Jigg’s dinner at someone’s home. Food really tells the story of people here.

Making scones photo by marsha tulk

© Marsha Tulk

It is always told by experienced tea bun makers that a floured glass is the best tool to cut out buns for baking. It is also important to twist your glass as you cut so the edges of the bun can properly rise.

What can folks expect from Adventure Canada’s Taste of Place experience when they’re on board?

We’re now planning Taste of Place for both the Newfoundland Circumnavigation and Mighty Saint Lawrence expeditions. The idea is to bring you a little bit deeper into how food connects people and place together.

As you travel around these regions, you’re going to see and learn about the food stories all along the way. There will be people on board who share them with you and people you meet ashore. There will be tastings, community events in the places we go, and meals on board the ship. It really lets you get to know these cultures in a very intimate way and carry them along with you. It’ll be a great time!

Taste of place tarts cod chowder tasting ashore in Red Bay Labrador

© Victoria Polsoni

A Taste of Place shoreside tasting in Red Bay, Labrador featured partridgeberry and bakeapple tarts and cod chowder.

Lori’s new book, Food, Culture, Place: Stories, Traditions, and Recipes of Newfoundland, comes out October 15, 2021 and is now available for pre-order. You can learn more about Lori's projects by visiting her website. Follow Lori and Marsha on social media at @foodcultureplace and @foodofgenerations, where you can attend live events and learn more about the recipes featured in their book and how they came to be.