Eating outdoors has long been a pleasure for many people, with some of the earliest picnics occurring in the Middle Ages and the word coming from the French term “pique-nique,” first used in the 17th century. Today picnics are common, with people all around the world using them as a way to eat and relax outdoors.
Two local chefs and a picnic professional share memories of childhood picnics and the joys of eating with small children and dogs.
Growing up with picnics
Daniel Alexandre (Chefe Daniel), who was born in the Republic of Angola, Africa, recalls many picnics growing up. He grew up in a small town in the then-Portuguese colony, where everyone would come together to eat and socialize.
“Back home, we’d have 40–50 people from the same town gather together,” says Alexandre, “we’d play games, have fun, talk – it was a way to bring the community together.”
Alexandre’s mother would cook for these gatherings, and it was from helping that he found his love for cooking. He carried his love for cooking with him from Angola to Portugal, after moving due to the war in his country. His mom worked in a restaurant and got him a job there when he was just 14. Alexandre then went to a cooking school in Lisbon, where he was able to see the diversity of Portuguese cuisine.
“It’s a very small country,” he says, “but it has such a range in food. You can go from town to town and they have such different recipes and meals”.
And while there are definitely differences between Angola and Portugal, the appeal of picnics and other social gatherings is still there, which leads to a lot of food being consumed.
“The Portuguese, we really love to barbecue,” says Alexandre, “there’s marinated pork, chicken, beef, there’s a lot.”
Portugal is also on the coast, which means one of the main pieces of their cuisine is seafood, especially codfish and sardines, which are widely consumed in an almost staggering array of recipes. Greens such as kale, parsley and bay leaves are common, and olive oil is used everywhere.
It is here in Canada that Alexandre now cooks, having moved to Vancouver in 1984. A few years ago he opened his current restaurant, Chefe Daniel, now located in Surrey, where Alexandre looks to bring Portuguese flavor to the area.
“I’m trying to do traditional Portuguese food, as well as my own stuff” he says.
The term “pique-nique” came from France, and the French are no strangers to eating outdoors. Eric Arrouzé is a French chef, who teaches cooking for the public as well as providing consultations to restaurants. His passion for food came at a young age.
“My grandmother was a good cook,” says Arrouzé, “and I discovered good food makes people happy, and that food is good for socializing.”
He began his culinary apprenticeship when he was 16, and since then has worked in many different places in both France and Canada. When asked what would be on the menu of a French picnic he says.
“There would definitely be barbecue,” says Arrouzé, “people love to gather together and have barbecue. There would be merguez (a North African style of sausage), lamb chops, salads and sandwiches.”
One trendy drink is rosé, a wine that has not caught on in North America but is widely drunk in France, especially during the summer. What the French also have and love to eat is fruit, especially all of the fresh fruit that is in season during the summertime.
“There are salads with bay leaves and strawberries,” says Arrouzé, “it is not uncommon to go to a restaurant and have just berries on the dessert menu, for example a bowl of raspberries. They are ripe, they are wonderful.”
Picnics for all
Besides being an opportunity to eat and relax in the outdoors, picnics can also be a welcome event for some.
“It’s terrible having a small child at a restaurant,” says Simon Pearson-Roach, “and you can’t go to a lot of places with a dog. Picnics are a way for people to simply have a nice meal.”
Pearson-Roach is the founder of the Vancouver company Picnix, which allows customers to eat ready-made picnics at Stanley Park and English Bay. He got the idea when friends would come to Vancouver to visit.
“I’d want to show my friends around the city,” he says, “so I would pack picnics, but would always forget something like some of the food or utensils and I thought, why doesn’t someone make the picnics for people? So I decided I would.”
Pearson-Roach serves the whole package. You make a reservation and come to either Stanley Park or English Bay, where he has the picnics set up. You check in and take your picnic with you where you please, returning it in a few hours.
“It comes with everything,” says Pearson-Roach, “the table is on wheels, and the basket has the food, drinks, utensils, blankets – everything you would need.”
He wanted to create something nice and affordable, something that could be offered to anyone.
That sentiment is shared by Daniel Alexandre, with Chefe Daniel planning on hosting a barbecue day later in July.
“I want to get everyone involved,” says Alexandre, “I want to try to bring the community together.”