Mona Brun and James Barber
These noteworthy BC food celebrities represent BC in the Taste Canada Awards Hall of Fame. The Culinary Landmarks Hall of Fame / Le Temple de la Renomée du Livre Culinaire Canadien award was created by Taste Canada[i] in 2009 to honour the publication of Culinary Landmarks: A Bibliography of Canadian Cookbooks 1825–1949 by Elizabeth Driver who became its first recipient. It is sponsored by the Culinary Historians of Canada[ii]. The intent is to celebrate the personalities who have shaped Canadian culinary writing and made a lasting contribution to our food culture.
Since its inception in 2009 two BC culinary personalities have been inducted into the Hall of Fame: Mona Brun in 2014 and James Barber in 2016. Both were inducted posthumously for their media appearances and cookbook writing.
Mona Brun (1920 – 2013)
The Hall of Fame site describes Mona Brun:
The British Columbia-born cookbook author and television personality. British Columbia-born Mona Brun (née Lee) will be forever associated with the Golden Era of the famous Woodward’s Food Floors in Vancouver. Warm-hearted and witty, Brun was a stay-at-home mother until 1960, when she entered the workforce and quickly established a culinary career extraordinaire. From food demos for Star Weekly and Dairyland, she soon moved to CBC Radio’s “Food Facts”, then CBC TV’s “Cuisine 30” show. By 1963, she was starring on “Woodward’s Culinary Capers” television show. For the next three decades, she brought her good cooking to families across Western Canada on this show, her own “Creative Home Cooking” and other TV broadcasts. At Woodward’s Bea Wright Kitchen in the downtown Vancouver store, she ran recipe contests and offered advice. In 1977, Cooking with Mona appeared, an immediate bestseller that captured the essence of B.C. family cooking in that period.
Those of you who grew up in cities with a Woodward’s store or who had radio or TV will probably have fond memories of Mona. Maybe you have a copy of her cookbook. It was called Cooking with Mona- The Original Woodward’s Cookbook and was first published 1977, re-issued 2003.
Or if you shopped at Woodward’s or know someone who did, perhaps you have one of her information sheets[iii] such as this cooking tips sheet. They were given out for free at Woodward’s Food Floors. During her 28 years as the Woodward’s Food Floors food consultant, Mona developed recipes and dispensed down-to-earth advice on cooking and entertaining with style.
Maybe you remember her live demonstrations. At 40, she started doing cooking demos for Dairyland, which led to working at Woodward’s For years she did food demonstrations at the PNE,[iv] the Abbotsford’s Agrifair and other fairs.
Perhaps you have seen some of her TV shows.[v] In 1963 she landed a job on Culinary Capers, a television cooking show sponsored by Woodward’s and that began a 25 year stint as a host of a variety of cooking shows such as Creative Home Cooking. She had a regular spot on the BCTV news and on CBC’s Food Radio Facts.
Brun grew up in North Vancouver and was a self-taught cook. She is described as a tireless promoter of British Columbia food products, serving as the vice-chair of the BC Marketing Board and a consumer representative for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and the BC Egg Producers. But mainly she taught people how to have fun when they cooked and in doing so she became the face of good cooking to western Canadian women.[vi]
James Barber (1923-2007)
The Hall of Fame site describes James Barber:
James Barber was a Vancouver engineer who started food writing in his late forties. The first of his twelve cookbooks was Ginger Tea Makes Friends in 1971, which encouraged kitchen confidence with simple techniques and fresh, easy-to-find British Columbian ingredients. He became best known as “The Urban Peasant,” the name of his 1991 to 2002 CBC cooking show, which demonstrated unpretentious, flavourful dishes. A witty and genial culinary writer and television personality, Barber strove to demystify recipes so that anyone could produce tasty meals from local ingredients – an approach that presaged the 100-mile diet.
Originally from the UK, James Barber called British Columbia home for over 50 years. He worked as an engineer before becoming a food critic for various Vancouver newspapers. It turned out that food writing was his real passion. He wrote many cookbooks. Maybe you have one of them in your collection:
- Ginger Tea Set
- Ginger Tea Makes Friends
- Fear of Frying
- Flash in the Pan
- James Barber’s Immodest but Honest Good Eating Cookbook
- Mushrooms are Marvellous
- The Urban Peasant: Quick & Simple Cookbook
- The Urban Peasant: More Than a Cookbook
- Peasant’s Choice
- Peasant’s Alphabet
- Cooking for Two: The Urban Peasant
- Peasant’s Choice: More of the Best from the Urban Peasant
- Peasant’s Alphabet: More of the best from the Urban Peasant
ª One-Pot Wonders: James Barber’s Recipes for Land and Sea
- The Genius of James Barber: His Best Recipes (posthumously)
His other credits included a children’s book (Once Upon Anne Elephant There Was a Time) and two paperback guides to the restaurants of Vancouver. He was also a regular contributor to various Canadian publications, including Western Living magazine, Vancouver magazine, the National Post, and Pacific Yachting.
But he is probably best known for his TV show, The Urban Peasant, where his easygoing persona and unpretentiousness endeared him to his followers. His message was as simple as his dishes, cooking was easy and fun. You don’t need fancy equipment or sophisticated techniques. He made cooking accessible. An example of this is the explanation for how to make chicken stock
Maybe you remember him as the long running television spokesperson for Money’s Mushrooms, where he perfectly delivered the line “Money’s Mushrooms make meals mmmmmarvalous”.
In his retirement he lived on a four-hectare farm in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, where tended to his fruits and vegetables and continued to prepare food using fresh ingredients long before they became fashionable.
Mona Brun and James Barber: two great ambassadors for BC Foods.
[iv] http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/this+history+1974/7108231/story.html (demonstration) In a photo that appeared Aug. 17, 1974 in The Vancouver Sun, Mona Brun presents a cooking demonstration at the PNE, where her appearances were once an institution. – John Mackie with Mia Stainsby and Carolyn Soltau titled This Day in History
[vi] References: https://www.amazon.ca/Cooking-Mona-Original-Woodwards-Cookbook/dp/1552854493; This Day in History by John Mackie with Mia Stainsby and Carolyn Soltau, Aug. 17, 1974 The Vancouver Sun; https://abcbookworld.com/writer/brun-mona/