Interview with Ricardo Larrivee

Canadian celebrity chef shares insights from surveying how Canada eats

Text by Kelly Townsend

Canada is a country of rich and versatile flavours, and no one knows that better than Ricardo Larrivée, who has turned a love of cooking into a recognizable brand name with his own cooking show, a long-standing radio show with CBC and a magazine.

His most recent venture is a country-wide survey undertaken to paint a portrait of who Canadian consumers are and how they eat. The Ricardo team partnered with Leger Marketing to survey more than 3,000 Canadians from coast to coast to learn more about the country’s shopping, cooking and eating habits and published, How Canada Eats.

From Canada’s love of lunch to some of our guiltiest pleasures, the survey offered insight into Canada’s dining quirks. Statistics say 72 per cent of Canadians eat breakfast nearly every morning and 27 per cent of Canadians grow their own vegetables.

Not only did the survey take the pulse of Canada’s current consumer trends, it helped the Ricardo brand evaluate what recipes to create for its audience. “You have to listen to what people want,” says Larrivée. “We’re not here to tell people what to eat… People are bright, they know what they like. What they want is tips to save time, money and have fun. That’s our job.”

What statistic most surprised you?
There were many, but there is one that is very encouraging. We hear a lot about Jamie Oliver’s battle for [nutrition], but we realized that Canada is different. We are not England, France, and certainly not the United States. What we are is better than a lot of people would expect because most of us cook with fresh ingredients. That’s the first thing I noticed.

How did the survey results reflect Canada’s identity?
If you look at the top five fruit and vegetables Canadians eat, almost all of it is local. We are not looking for exotic stuff; we love potatoes, berries, carrots, and apples. I think that is great news because it means we can create recipes with fruits and vegetables Canadians love, encourage people to buy local produce and make a difference in the economy of that region, province and the country.

What has been the most challenging part of building your brand?
When you start [as a celebrity chef], people try to compare you to someone else. I always try to say that I don’t want to be identified as the healthy guy or the guy from Quebec. I just want to be the guy next door that is dedicating his life to prove to you that you’re better at cooking than you think, that you have taste and talent in the kitchen.

What first inspired you to become a chef?
I studied in the kitchen in hotel management in Montreal, and I hated the management part, but I fell in love with the wine and bar lessons and the cooking. I thought I’d never do that for a living, so I went back to school in Ottawa and studied broadcasting. From there I moved to Saskatchewan and worked at CBC. There my boss said, “Everyone goes to your place and everyone says the food is great. Monday, I want you to talk about food.” That’s how it started.

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