Story and photo by Gillian Brunette
If ordering, receiving and preparing all the food for the G8 Summit wasn’t stressful enough, a mock evacuation the night before the world leaders arrived proved to be the proverbial icing on the cake.
“A number of the executive staff had been asked to stand in for the leaders of each country for a mock evacuation. I was to be Italy (Silvio Berlusconi),” explained Deerhurst executive chef Rory Golden.
Golden was in his Deerhurst office when he was asked to go immediately to the 11th hole on the Lakeside golf course.
“When I arrived a number of Suburban trucks were pulling up and guys with machine guns jumped out. There were also five helicopters standing by,” Golden says.
Each ‘leader’ was assigned two bodyguards.
“Two guys grabbed me and literally lifted me off my feet, hauled me forward and tossed me into one of the helicopters, ripping my pants in the process,” says Golden. “They buckled me in and then whoosh, up we went.”
The whole exercise took but a few minutes.
“It was up and then down, but the adrenalin rush stayed with me a long time. It was just the start of what was to come,” Golden recalled.
The G8 Summit may now be relegated to the annals of history, but two months after the fact stories such as this are emerging. At the time, security was so tight that resort staff was given information on a need-to-know basis only.
As for what food was to be served to the G8 leaders over their 24-hour stay, that was kitchen-confidential until the plates went out.
One thing was certain, however. Nobody went hungry.
Golden estimates serving some 22,000 hot meals to the leaders, sherpas, delegates, security personnel and media over a nine-day period. The food was prepared by 57 cooks.
“That’s just seven more than I employ over the summer months, so we were busy, very busy,” he says.
That would seem to be somewhat of an understatement, as Golden and his crew prepped and prepared food for their top guests under the ever-watchful eyes of Health Canada representatives and the RCMP.
“From June 21 we were assigned six RCMP officers who were in or around the kitchen 24 hours a day, just watching and ensuring security. On June 23, we had eight health inspectors added to that number,” says Golden.
Preparing the menus for the leaders was a process that took several months. To get an idea of Stephen Harper’s likes and dislikes, the house manager and the chef at 24 Sussex Drive were contacted.
“Then we phoned the chef from the last G8 in Canada (Kananaskis, Alberta 2002) to find out how everything came together,” says Golden.
The Security Management Office (SMO), in charge of organizing the Summit, wanted a truly Muskoka event, Golden says.
“The whole thing had to have a cottage feel.”
Golden plus five other chefs developed the six menus – breakfast, lunch and dinner for two days. These were sent to 24 Sussex for approval. The meals were then prepared and tested by various officials.
“I have to say I was more than pleased because nothing got pulled. We just had to do a little tweaking,” Golden says.
Obtaining the necessary accreditations for the 52 food suppliers Golden wanted to use during the G8 took a further five months.
“To offer a truly Muskoka experience I wanted to use as many Savour Muskoka member food producers and suppliers as possible, but the feds and Health Canada refused some because they had to have a federally inspected plant,” he says.
This meant some local companies, such as Belly Ice Cream, Ivanita Meats and Bliss Farms, all of whom regularly supply their products to Deerhurst, didn’t make the cut.
Even the honey collected from Deerhurst’s bees by Poppa Jim’s Honey was off the menu.
“We usually bring the bees in at the beginning of the season in May, but we kept them off property until July because the hives would have been in an RCMP restricted zone,” Golden explained.
One company to circumvent the restriction was Springhill Fresh Water.
“They are not a federally inspected company, but when the water was bottled for the G8 a local health inspector was on hand to witness the operation and samples were taken for testing at that time,” Golden explained.
Similarly, maple syrup, which is made on Deerhurst property, was tested in the spring then frozen and put away until the G8.
Delivering supplies to the resort was also a challenge.
“Huntsville’s Windmill Bakery supplied all the bread and was the only company allowed inside the red zone throughout the G8. The truck would get to the gate and the RCMP would accompany it in,” Golden says.
Other deliveries were allowed up to the day before the leaders arrived. However, the trucks were only permitted half-loads so RCMP dogs and their handlers could get inside and search.
With the leaders safely installed, the kitchen staff went into high gear.
“Everyone thinks of the G8 as eight people, but it’s 10 because there are also the heads of the European Commission and the European Council,” says Golden.
For each course of every meal the chefs prepared an extra plate.
“We had to make 11 of everything. Health Canada had its own fridge and freezer, kept in a room that was locked, and one plated meal was put away as a sample. Samples were taken of everything, including those sent up to the rooms,” says Golden.
Food security was especially tight for the U.S. president.
“A White House representative was the only one allowed in the kitchen and only then for plate-up. Before the meals were taken out he would randomly point to one and say ‘That’s the one for the president.’ It was the same for all the courses.”
For the most part, the leaders were an easy bunch to cook for and they seemed to like the food, says Golden.
“When a plate came back, any leftovers went to a separate area so we could tell if they liked their meal. For the most part they did.”
Ontario elk was on the dinner menu, and other than the German chancellor (Angela Merkel) who just took one bite, the meat was well received, says Golden. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t like goat’s cheese. He also preferred flatbread to bread, which led to one amusing incident.
All the leaders were expected to sit at the same place for each meal. At dinner the first night wait staff had replaced the usual dinner roll with flatbread for the French president.
“Prime Minister Harper was the first to enter the room followed by Obama, who was to sit to the right of Sarkozy. Instead, he sat at Sarkozy’s place and started eating the flatbread off the side plate,” says food and beverage manager Dean MacNeil.
Meanwhile, Harper was trying to get Obama’s attention to move to his own seat, which created some amusement among the staff present, says MacNeil.
“But Obama didn’t mind and said, ‘It just goes to show you can’t take me out anywhere.’ We removed the plate and fixed it up and Sarkozy was none the wiser.”
Canadian taxpayers are on the hook for G8 costs, but each country represented was responsible for its own room service charges. While Obama and his contingent were happy with organic eggs, bacon and orange juice in their room for breakfast, other countries’ requests were largely fruit platters, cheeses and desserts (cup cakes for Britain’s David Cameron and Belgian chocolates for the European delegates). The Russian contingent ordered vast quantities of food at every meal.
“They were the hungriest country, that’s for sure. For every meal they ordered cold meat trays, smoked fish trays, desserts, fruit, grilled fish, lasagna, the list goes on,” laughed Golden.
The Russians wanted to pay cash for the ensuing bill, which was substantial. This created a dilemma, says Golden.
“The Russian delegates were staying at Red Leaves. They had the money, but not the accreditation to come into Deerhurst. In the end we had our controller go to the gate with a counting machine. The RCMP took the cash, in U.S dollars, from the Russian representative and handed it over. Then we counted it right there.”
As quickly as the world’s leaders arrived, they departed. Back in the kitchen it was business as usual as Deerhurst re-opened its doors to summer visitors. Meanwhile the Savour Muskoka experience enjoyed by the leaders lives on, Golden says.
“The foods we served at the G8 are currently available on our Eclipse restaurant dinner menu.”