Ron Eade got me cooking in the kitchen as soon as I walked into his home. The recently retired food editor for the Ottawa Citizen was whipping up some shrimp and grits, and called on me for help. I will be the first to admit that my cooking skills are subpar (I had always thought that grits were breakfast home fries), but watching Ron maneuver his way in the kitchen and coach me on some basic whipping technique made me feel a little more at ease and rendered his passion for food undeniable.
Cooking has always been a prominent part of Eade’s routine, even as a child. His relationship with food is largely fueled by a somewhat visceral desire for immediate satisfaction. “The nice thing about cooking is, with food you get instant gratification” explains Eade, “the result is there, now. You know if you’ve succeeded instantly.”As is the case for many foodies, the communal aspect is also a definite draw and motivation for Eade. “People tend to enjoy good food. You get lots of instant response and praise, hopefully praise” he says jokingly.
After finishing a degree in journalism at Ryerson University, Eade’s culinary career took him to our nation’s capital. Starting off as an investigative journalist at the Citizen, he filled in as a food writer when a coworker went on maternity leave. Albeit not a professional chef, “writing about food seemed like a natural fit”, he says. His journalism career can essentially be traced with the “rise and fall” of the Sunday paper, which Eade began writing for during its first year of existence. “It’s interesting that they started the Sunday paper, which is the reason I came to Ottawa, and then they close the Sunday paper when I retire” explains Eade.
In his two decades of chronicling Ottawa’s palate, Eade has seen Ottawa’s culinary landscape evolve from decent to fantastic, thanks in part to a more worldly outlook on food. “It used to be, maybe 15-20 years ago, if you wanted something better than your run-in-the mill restaurant, you had to be a member of a private club. But even there, the food tended to be pretty meat and potatoes. If you wanted something really special, you did that or you went to Hull” explains Eade. “People have traveled and they come home exposed to new things and tastes that they’ve come to expect here.”
Eade also credits the introduction of lavish cooking shows as boosting the interest in food and cooking to a mainstream level. “Food television really created an incredible public interest in food, and it became entertainment” explains Eade. “I think that also created the interest of chefs, especially young chefs, some who believed they could be rock stars by cooking. It created a perfect storm where people were more interested, food television fed their interest, chefs were more interested and started opening their own restaurants where they could do different things in the kitchen, as opposed to working for some faceless corporation. Now, with social media, it’s all come together.” The role of social networking is perhaps one of the most significant changes Eade has seen, as chefs now encourage the flow of ideas and mutual support, a striking contrast to the secrecy surrounding recipes of the “old-school” chefs. “The atmosphere has changed quite a bit”, states Eade.
More and more, the issue of sustainability has spread to Ottawa’s dining industry and has made chefs more conscious of the ingredients used in their kitchen. “I don’t know that we can afford to fly asparagus around the world for much longer” explains Eade. Indeed, the growing trend of “farm-to-table” restaurants not only encourages environmental sustainability, but supports local businesses and farmers. “There’s more of a responsibility in the chef community, and that’s a good thing” adds Eade. In addition, the recent appearance of the “snout to tail” cooking style allows chefs to exercise creativity when cooking usually unused parts of the animal, all while being mindful of waste. “More chefs are being more respectful of the animals. They recognize that a creature gave its life for your dinner, and that waste is somehow obscene” says Eade. The issue of waste is clearly close to his heart. “I think the selling of chicken in plastic containers dissociates the actual chicken from the product that comes in the package. You would be more likely to overcook, or throw out something that you don’t associate with agriculture and a creature’s life” explains Eade. “You treat it like a piece of wood, an object.”
When asked about his preferred dining establishment in the Ottawa region, Eade got surprisingly quiet. “It’s not necessarily fair” he explains. “I think of them all as children.” While he did mention some names and places within Ottawa’s culinary landscape, it was clear that Eade could not pick favorites. “I think Ottawa is just coming into its own, it’s hard to single one out.”
Despite the common belief that retirement is usually associated with lounges on the beach and total relaxation, Eade’s will still be a regular presence at the Citizen. “The deal is I have to write an average of two posts a week” he explains. While not having any definite plans outside of the paper, Eade’s focus will be geared towards developing the brand of the blog. “I don’t know where it’ll take me” says Eade. Undoubtedly somewhere delicious.