Spencer Ramsay Brings Affinity and Identity via Neighborhood Eats

(Spencer Ramsay)

When considering the popularity of foodies, food photography, and food centric programs, you must first realize that it is simultaneously about food and not about food. Consider the web-series Neighborhood Eats for Food Network Canada (the network is acclaimed with a number of James Beard Award nominees, the culinary equivalent of the Oscars, including: Jonathan Waxman, Ina Garten, Bobby Flay, and numerous others). The production was immensely popular online (let’s face it, the younger generation watches nearly all content online), not just in Canada but globally. Canada is a large and prosperous country with many different terrains and different types of people. Mountains, plains, forests, and coastlines all offer a different lifestyle and a different type of cuisine. Neighborhood Eats was as much about displaying the people and how they choose to live as it was about the popular and sometimes trendy food and eateries. Spencer Ramsay, director of this series, presented the depth of the stories through the locations, chefs, and some very recognizable Canadian celebrities who frequent them.

While Jack Kerouac went “On the Road” to discuss Jazz, poetry, and drugs, Spencer Ramsay was in search of food and the culture (decidedly not Beat) which surrounds it. This web-series focused on Canadian food, chefs, and the notables who are fans of these establishments. Ramsay and crew saw a lot of Canada; whose size offers a lot to see. Each region has a population and cuisine that establishes a unique identity. The East Coast is renowned for its history of fishing and fresh seafood while the Canadian Prairies, settled largely by Ukrainian immigrants, offer some of the best cabbage rolls and pirogues in the world…served in the restaurants of Winnipeg and Saskatoon. The varying landscape of Canada is directly tied to the diverse people and foods they have become famous for. Through the food itself, Neighborhood Eats tells the story of each region and the people.

While every five-minute webisode boast celebrities, the chefs are the real stars of the show. Antonio Park is one of the hottest chefs in Canada. While based in Montreal, he has a number of restaurants through the country and made his foray into mass public notoriety as a celebrity chef judge on Chopped Canada. Jenn Johns is a Canadian YouTuber with over 2 million subscribers whom regularly tune in to her show Cupcakes and Cardio to watch Jenn create colorful confections. These two chefs depict the variety of backgrounds and the eclectic path to notoriety for chefs. Spencer notes, “It was really important to us that we have the show embrace more than just different food; we wanted to show that the success of these different professionals proves that passion mixed with talent is the most important ingredient. I think our show was simultaneously entertaining, informative, and motivating.”

A classic recipe for making the general public feel special is to show them the eateries where their favorite celebrities like to hang out. Neighborhood Eats spanned the spectrum with athletes, rock stars, and food celebs themselves. Olympian Adam van Koeverden (Gold and Bronze medal winner) gave a tour of his favorite spots in Toronto’s Westend. His varied list of beloved joints gave credence to the notion that even those consumed with an athletic ethos cut loose now and then due to their love of great food.

Ramsay hung out with Sam Corbett, drummer for Canadian Rock band The Sheepdogs (the first ever unsigned band to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine), exploring his Riversdale neighborhood. Recognized as a hipster heaven in Saskatoon, Sam took the show on a tour of the trendiest and most artistic hot spots in Riversdale while relating stories of the band from inside the rock & roll bubble.

Twin sisters Ashley and Jenna Llcuk are the owners of Jenna Rae Cakes (a boutique bakery in River Heights, Winnipeg) made famous by their delicious and creative macarons with flavors like Cotton Candy, Lavender Honey, and Root Beer Float. Combining their cake design and graphic design talents with a love of baked goods, the Llcuk’s are the epitome of modern day self-made success in the food world. Having achieved immense notoriety for their creations, the sisters offered up some of the dining establishments the have an affinity for in Winnipeg.

When posed the question, “What did you want to communicate in Neighborhood Eats?” the show’s director responds, “Food is an indicator of someone’s life. It shows their history but it also indicates their wishes and dreams. A meal can tell you as much about the people preparing it and their history as it does about the person who loves that food.” Ramsay adds, “One quality of food not to be taken lightly is the ability to heal your spirit. After one particularly difficult day of shooting in the rain, our crew was ready to drop. We were at a fantastic sushi restaurant in the trendy Yaletown neighborhood of Vancouver called Minami. They specialize in a delicious and unusual cuisine called Aburi which is essentially using a small blowtorch to flame sear the sushi right in front of you. Chef Jay invited us all to stay for dinner at the restaurant so we sat back sipping warm Sake while the chef prepared a scrumptious sushi dinner right at our table. In mere moments I saw fatigued professionals transform into laughing and delighted people. That’s the power of great food.”

Kelly King writes for numerous popular online media outlets in addition to being a staff writer for NYC & LA based/internationally published Drumhead magazine.