Making Food, Building Community: New Nanaimo Restaurant Melange Brings Local to the Table
Published in NAHS Magazine Autumn 2020 Issue
If you go to a restaurant, and order a dish with prawns, chances are the person who serves your food has no idea where those prawns came from. Likely, the person who cooked them doesn’t even know. If they try hard, they might be able to find the box they were delivered in with the sticker somewhere listing country of origin. This I know from witnessing frustrated cooks digging around in the back of an average restaurant.
At Melange, the cook would know the fisherman who caught those prawns on a first name basis. That’s the difference, and you can taste it. This restaurant, established in December 2019 by Nanaimo restaurateur and sommelier Gaetan Brousseau, husband of Linda Allen of Mon Petit Choux, is pushing the boundaries of what's considered “normal” on a menu. The name, Melange, is the French word for “mix,” an homage to the eclectic flavours and experiences of the owner, Gaetan, and Head Chef, Kellie Callender. Kellie explains the goal of the restaurant is to source as many products as possible from local vendors.
Kellie was born and raised in Nanaimo where he developed his passion for food from a young age. His mother was a spontaneous woman of European descent who loved food, and had many multicultural friends. His father's lineage is from Barbados, but was born in Sidney, Nova Scotia. Rolland Callender was a jazz musician and active member of the music community in Nanaimo. After travelling to the Philippines when he was 18, Kellie fell in love with diverse international flavours, while at the same time, becoming conscious of the social injustices of the world. He went on to study Culinary arts at VIU, working a multitude of co-op placements and jobs in high-end restaurants before going back to finish his culinary training by doing a second year in the VIU Culinary program.
“So from that experience I decided that I wanted to learn how to cook for myself so I could make things that I really liked. And then eventually that transitioned into me just being interested in food all the time.”
In a nostalgic conversation, Kellie recounted Bhutan as the most interesting place he visited in his many travels (which include Ghana, Barbados, India, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Japan). “That answer is always Bhutan, it can’t not be Bhutan.” He went on to explain that because of their lack of contact with the outside world, preference for organic farming, and heavily buddhist beliefs, it made its mark on his psyche and palate.
“We support this local economy of people who really just want to do the right thing. You know, they don't want their food shipped from all over the world.”
Melange has over 15 relationships with local food producers, from land-based protein farmers, to fisherman, to produce farmers. To name a few: Somerset Farms (Gabriola, beef), Farmer Brown (Nanaimo, produce), Early Girl Urban Farm (Nanaimo, edible flowers/herbs/sprouts). With plenty of vegan options on their “small things” and “bigger things” sections of the menu, Kellie hopes to showcase all the local talent using French cooking techniques and international flavour inspirations. They also feature an extensive, curated wine list that offers over 25 wines by the glass as well as a cocktail menu that changes seasonally and uses local fruits and herbs. Melange provides its guests with delicious, fresh, healthy, locally farmed ingredients that are as beautiful as they are tasty. In doing so, they hope to educate the general public in Nanaimo of the benefits of local food. When asked,
“Why is local food so important?”
His candid response can be summed up in four points: environment, economics, quality, and community.
Not shipping foods from afar decreases carbon outputs, reducing the effect of climate change; this simultaneously supports the local economy and builds relationships within the community. As Kellie puts it, the food is just “better,” in terms of taste, quality, and nutritional value.
“For example, we have the [local] German butter potatoes on the menu right now. If I just cooked them in salt and water, I would serve that on a plate, as is, as a simple dish. And people would eat it, and they'd be blown away, but all it is is a nicely-grown potato and salt.”
Melange has recently introduced a brunch menu which runs until 3pm each day, and I have to say, their eggs benny on house-made herbed scones is a must-try! The love of food, and dedication to local ingredients is palpable in every dish.
“We've got the conditions to grow nice food here. So it's crazy to me that every restaurant isn't doing this, or isn't trying to, or it's not on their radar.”
The Capital and its Cherry Blossoms
In April, cherry blossoms line the streets; white and pink pockets of colour flourish against Victorian-era heritage homes and churches in residential areas and throughout the downtown core. You’ll find couples roaming the inner-harbour seawall hand in hand, while children weave through the crowd of sightseers. Yellow water taxis skirt around, taking foot passengers to popular destinations along the waterfront and up the Gorge Waterway. Artists have set up shop along the sidewalks, dazzling onlookers with caricatures, indigenous wooden carvings, handmade jewelry, and local photography. Every pub with a view of the water has got a bustling patio, full of millennials sipping mojitos and tourists trying their first craft beer.
Just south of downtown you’ll find Beacon Hill Park. You’ll get lost in this magical maze of walking trails, likely stumbling upon a duck pond, petting zoo, tennis courts, outdoor stage, and the Dallas Road trail that meanders along the ocean’s edge at some point. The pebble beach at the bottom of the spiral stone staircase is always warm, sheltered from the wind by the natural cliff. Here you can nestle yourself against a log with a book, for an afternoon of serenity.
Whether you’re seeking a relaxing weekend, or a fun-filled family adventure, the capital of British Columbia offers something for everyone. Don’t take our word for it. Visit Victoria today.
I arrived at the Madrid Atocha Train Station at 17:00. It was raining for one of the first times since I’d been in Europe, and it was cold, for the first time since I’d been in Europe. Stepping off the high-speed train from Valencia and onto the outdoor platform, I realized the sandals I had bought three weeks prior in Portugal were not going to cut it here. "Zapatos cerrados" (closed shoes), became some of the first Spanish words to re-enter my vocabulary. After having to ask for directions twice (in English, thank God), I found my way through the station to where my host family awaited me. I knew the father’s name was Raul, and that he had adequate-enough written English to correspond with me via messages on Workaway, and to direct me to the Atocha train station. I learned quickly that the mother and children spoke about 20 words of English combined, and that about eight of those were colors 11-year-old Daniela had memorized.
Workaway is a unique website that enables travelers and host families to connect. Once a member, you create a profile as a workawayer, and list your expectations and your goals, along with any skills you can offer to potential hosts. These may range from the most basic, like housecleaning or child-minding, to specialty trade skills like building or sustainable design. The general agreement is about 20-30 hours of work a week in exchange for room and board. This is an ideal situation for a budget traveler, or if you wish to spend a significant amount of time in one place. It’s perfect for immersing yourself into a culture and a language.
The next three weeks I learned just how possible communication can be without words. Hand gestures and smiles of the mouth and eyes, blinks, shrugs and the sound of words in Spanish I didn’t know, and some I did, allowed me to know a family I otherwise wouldn't have had any connection with.
I’ve recently rediscovered a little coffee shop my best friend used to frequent when she lived downtown. They’ve since changed location and are now located in a less-than-affluent area: Pandora Street. They have awesome coffee and the blonde girl who usually works there has a warm and welcoming energy, so it’s easy to go back. Sitting at one of their four tables today, attempting preliminary research for a paper I have coming up, I was distracted by the happenings around me. I hadn’t really noticed the hunched-over old man at the table outside until I heard the girl on the phone with the community outreach center across the street, informing them there was a man who “wasn’t doing so well,” and asking them to send a support worker over. At this point I started watching the man, seated in a chair with a walker in front of him. His spine was so convex it was difficult to imagine him with any chance of efficient mobility. I could see him fumbling with a cold beverage plastic lid with a straw through it. At one point he leaned to the side and just about fell out of the chair. Another customer walked into the coffee shop, just as the clerk was walking out, excusing herself. She bent down in front of the man. I couldn’t hear many of her words but her face read of kindness and concern as she talked to him for a few moments, before returning inside, to make the regular customer his hot chocolate. He commented on the situation with the man, asking if he was on drugs. The girl expressed compassion and said it was sad, that she saw a lot of wacky stuff having the shop in such a location. The man responded with, “That’s life.”
Impressively quickly after that a female support worker showed up. With olive skin and bold facial lines, she coaxed the man up and onto his walker with a failed attempt before they started slowly down the sidewalk, I imagine to the center across the street. Being such a small space, with at most one or two other people inside while the whole situation occurred, I made eye contact with the girl more than once. A silent acknowledgement of support. After the other man left I gathered my things to leave, and the girl was in the kitchen, I could see through the opening in the wall. I set my coffee cup on the counter for her, and said, “Hey, you did a really good job with that man.” Her face immediately softened with gratitude that someone else had noticed and felt her experience. She put her hand on her heart and thanked me, and I thanked her. I didn’t mean for the coffee.
Cookware for the Health Conscious Consumer
The department store lights beam brightly down into the housewares aisle. You can feel beads of sweat forming on your forehead as all the large boxes of cookware sets loom down on you from the shelves, and you realize you are fully unprepared for this purchase. Which do you choose? Words like “leaching,” “chemicals,” and “cancer” float through your mind. But really, what are the fears? What are the facts?
Let’s start with the most obvious: Teflon. This shiny, non-stick contender is produced using a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. This chemical, when heated past unsafe temperatures of about 500 degrees (i.e. an empty pan being heated on medium high for only a few minutes) produces toxic fumes that cause parakeets to drop dead, and can cause flu-like symptoms in humans. Scientists have even named it… Polymer Flu Fever. On top of that, some laboratory experiments on animals show that in high doses, PFOA causes cancer, liver damage, birth defects, and weakened immune system. As far as human studies go, it’s suggested that workers from manufacturing plants (who are exposed to more of the chemical) have a higher a risk for testicular, thyroid, and kidney cancer. However, we must note that this particular study showed a correlation, meaning the although cancer rates were higher, we can't be sure it was exposure to the chemical that was the cause.
Contender number two: Aluminium. Aluminium is a soft metal which heats quickly but also leaches easily, especially with acidic foods like tomatoes. Initial health concerns about aluminium stemmed from the discovery of a large quantity of it in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients (again, far from causal), but evidence since then has been contradictory. While it is toxic to the human immune system, only a small amount of ingested aluminium is absorbed by the body. Patients with kidney disease, for whom the aluminium is not efficiently removed from the body, are known to develop bone or brain diseases. We do know for sure that aluminium prevents the absorption of phosphorous in the stomach, which is an essential nutrient for strong bones. So, if you have a choice, probably best to err on the side of caution and not purchase aluminium cookware. Anodised aluminium, wherein an electric current is passed through the aluminium to strengthen the surface, may be a safer option, as long as the surface remains in tact.
Now let’s move into the healthier choices, starting with stainless steel. Stainless steel is a blend of metals, generally iron, nickel, chromium and molybdum. The (generally) chromium surface reforms quickly when scratched, and this blend of alloys is considered chemically non- reactive and thus very little, if any leaching occurs. It is worth noting as well that chromium is an essential mineral for the human body, unlike aluminium, and isn’t toxic in small quantities. However, if one wishes to avoid leaching of said substances, avoiding highly acidic foods such as tomatoes, wine, and citrus fruits is probably a good idea.
My grandma used to make peach cobbler in ceramic baking dishes. Turns out, it wasn't just good for the soul. She had the right idea with ceramics. These are non-metal solids with a variety of uses. Essentially made from clay, 100 percent ceramic is chemically inert and therefore will not leach into foods. This is also true of stone and glass cookware. However, ceramic coatings may be prone to scratching or chipping, exposing more toxic substances underneath like aluminium. Also, be wary of poor quality synthetic coatings (many times made in China) which may contain lead.
Next, we have cast iron. With proper seasoning (a process of coating in oil and baking at high temperatures), cast iron is also generally safe and doesn’t leach anything toxic into food. If iron does sneak into your food, at least it is also an essential nutrient that may even provide health benefits for people who are iron deficient. Again, acidic foods will promote the leaching of iron into food. It’s worth noting that too much iron is also a slim possibility, children under three being the most susceptible.
As a rule, undesirable substances will be less likely to transfer into your food if you take proper care of your cookware. Don’t use scouring pads on them and try to keep their surfaces scratch-free.