Canadian chef Derek Dammann must be doing something right. Not only does he count Jamie Oliver as a friend and backer after working with him in London for several years, he’s more recently gone into partnership with the founders of Joe Beef, members of Montreal’s restaurant royalty, to open McKiernan’s Luncheonette. One of the city’s most buzzing openings of 2018, the restaurant is Dammann’s second in the city, the other being Maison Publique, a gastropub that’s a little bit British, a little bit Canadian and a lot of fun. You’ve got two chances to catch him at The House of Food and Wine: in conversation with his Joe Beef pals on Saturday 9 March or at his workshop on canned meat on Sunday 10 March.
You’re a vocal champion of canned meat and fish. Tell us why.
I feel that it’s a noble and often overlooked food preparation and preservation technique. I am an avid hunter and angler, but the sad reality is that there are a good number of hunters that will go hunting and kill an animal only to replace the old animal that is at the bottom of their freezer. Canning fish especially is a tradition in my family during sockeye salmon season. We brine it, then hot smoke it, followed by canning. I grew up eating this in my lunch every day. It’s a timeless preservation method: it travels well and is very shelf stable. Plus it makes a nice gift! A gift of canned meat is the finest meat.
Can you fill us in on what exactly Canadian Spam is and how you’d serve it?
Canadian Spam isn't really a thing. A few years ago, the magazine Lucky Peach commissioned me to create a dish for their Apocalypse issue. I figured that since Spam is the iconic end of times food, like Twinkies, that it would be a good fit. We were serving it at Maison Publique with smoked apple mustard, caviar and watercress. High brow-low brow.
Did you coin the term or is it well-known in Canada?
I suppose I coined it.
What Canadian dish do you think the whole world ought to know about?
I'm not a huge fan of signature dishes or stereotypical "Canadian" food. I feel that the food in Canada is currently very ingredient-driven. Sure, we have a deep-rooted culinary history that is very regional province to province, but we want to showcase what we have other than tell the world that all we eat is back bacon, doughnuts and poutine.
You grew up in Vancouver Island and later moved to Montreal. What makes Montreal’s food scene special?
Montreal is a fantastic food city with a tight community of chefs and restaurants: Joe Beef, McKiernan, Vin Mon Lapin, St. Urbain, Au Pied du Cochon, Cabin a Cote to name a few. We have adventurous diners here that enjoy the art of eating rather than just having a meal.
Tell us what your latest restaurant McKiernan’s Luncheonette is all about.
McKiernan is a collaboration between Joe Beef and Maison Publique. Originally it was a lunch spot that matured and evolved into a catering company-event space-full restaurant. It is an industrial space in a 120-year-old textile building. McKiernan is bright and open and 7,000 square feet. We are serving amazing, fun, chef-driven food that I’m very proud of.
What’s your favourite memory of your last trip to Melbourne for the Festival in 2016?
Melbourne is amazing, truly. I am a big walker, so just getting lost and seeing the city was the highlight. This trip I am spending a couple days in Sydney before I fly home. I want to see Bondi and see how aggressive of a sunburn I can get.
And what are you most looking forward to doing when you return?
Leaving -20C weather and visiting old friends.
Whose eating recommendations do you wholeheartedly trust?
Chris Johns, the co-author of my book True North. He is a travel journalist and knows every little hole in the wall. I quick text, no matter where I am and he will tell me exactly where to go.
Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2019?
Derek Dammann’s appearance at MFWF is made possible by Destination Canada. Dammann is appearing at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival on Saturday 9 March at the Theatre of Ideas supported by The New York Times and on Sunday 10 March at The House of Food and Wine. Tickets are on sale now.