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  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Presentation of the First Governor General’s Awards in Celebration of the Nation’s Table

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Presentation of the First Governor General’s Awards in
Celebration of the Nation’s Table

Rideau Hall, Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jean-Daniel and I are extremely pleased to welcome you to Rideau Hall for this ceremony to present the first Governor General’s Awards in Celebration of the Nation’s Table.

This award, which recognizes what goes into producing gastronomical and oenological pleasures, from sowing to harvesting crops, from preserving to processing and distributing products, from researching to creating, and from educating to mentoring, is the culmination of four years of consultations across the country and a great deal of hard work.

It was in 2006, on returning from Cuvée, a major annual event in celebration of wine in the Niagara peninsula, that Jean-Daniel hit upon the idea of officially acknowledging the priceless contribution of the nation’s table to the expression of our collective identity.

Then, during a tour of wine producers in the Okanagan Valley, the idea started to take more definite shape.

Such an idea could only come from Jean-Daniel, for whom food and culture are both necessities of life and are both connected with the idea of civilization.

On this historic day, I would like to pay tribute to you, Jean-Daniel, for the passion that you have put into heading this project, as you do in everything. 

It is a passion that has been fuelled by the enthusiasm and talent of all the artisans and artists in the food and wine industries whom you met along the way, in every province and territory—the farmers, chefs, cheese makers, sommeliers, wine producers, and many others. 

It is a passion fuelled by the profound conviction that Canadian grown and produced foods and wines have reached an extremely high level of excellence and sophistication and that eating and drinking Canadian should be promoted, recognized and celebrated.

Once, while on a State visit to Greece, on the island of Hydra, where no vehicles are allowed, that passion led us to strap cases of Canadian wine to the back of a donkey to get them to the top of a hill for a celebration marking Greece’s national holiday. 

Nothing, not even the gods, were going to stop us from having our hosts enjoy the quality and fine taste of our wines.

And we have taken a taste of Canada with us each time we have conducted missions abroad.

This is something we have done gladly, as each taste of home is a reminder of what we have here, of the highly diversified culinary heritage of our different regions, be it only because of season and climate, of our taste for sharing and our openness to trying a wide variety of foods, from those of our First Nations people to those of people who have come to Canada from the four corners of the globe in search of a better life.

There is a saying, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”

And I say: Try what I eat, and you will be my friend forever.

It is through the foods on the table that I have made my first contacts with the cultures and peoples who have so generously welcomed me over the years.

I did not hesitate to share the ulu, the traditional knife used by Inuit women, to help prepare a community feast and cut up seal meat, of which the heart is considered the best part. 

In fact, I did so despite the risk of embroiling myself in controversy.

The feast to which my family and I were invited in Rankin Inlet, in Nunavut, was a banquet in the purest tradition: an opportunity to share in the stories of the women, men and children of the community, who wanted to tell us of their close connection to their environment and, in particular, the animals on which they depend for survival in this land where very little ever sprouts, grows or ripens. 

Except perhaps for berries, lichens and moss, and some grasses and flowers that the Inuit use to produce infusions whose flavour is beyond compare.

The table is a gathering place, a place for social interaction and friendly conversation.

It is a place where we learn to turn this vital daily activity known as eating into an art—the art of preparing, of cultivating our palate, of receiving and welcoming others—in short, the art of living and being together. 

This award is one of our legacies.

A legacy in keeping with historical tradition, as the institution of Governor General has always been open to all forms of Canadian cultural expression. 

That includes serving food and drink from across Canada at every ceremony, reception, dinner or banquet held at Rideau Hall, as well as innovative and daring dishes that reflect our culinary styles.

Tastes and flavours make up our most vivid memories of the places we visit, the special moments we experience, and the encounters that mark us forever.

They contribute to our feeling of belonging and sense of identity, to the development of our roots and even to our history. 

And so, to those of you being honoured with these first Governor General’s Awards in Celebration of the Nation’s Table—you who lead us on a culinary journey that takes us across our nation—I say thank you.

Thank you for your efforts to constantly improve the quality and variety of ingredients on our nation’s table and everything that defines us through the timeless, universal language of taste.