Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Monday, October 25, 2010

School's In For Winter: The Stratford Chefs School 2010-2011

There is a strong culinary force in Stratford that I have yet to blog about: the Stratford Chefs School. I've met a lot of amazing food talents and personalities since I moved to this city, and one thing many of them have in common is their shared educational background. Off the top of my head, I can easily list at least a dozen Chefs School alumni who make the food scene here so special, including Bijou's Aaron Linley, culinary arts teacher Paul Finkelstein of the Screaming Avocado Cafe, and Monforte Dairy's Ruth Klahsen. I would have been all over blogging about this highly respected institution of gastronomic excellence all spring and summer, except for one thing: it runs in the off-season!

Every fall for the past 26 years, budding chefs  from all around the country have come to Stratford to spend the fall and winter learning their chops under the tutelage of cooking experts originating from both here and abroad. Once the theatre crush subsides, some of our finest dining establishments - including Rundles, The Old Prune, and Pazzo's Ristorante - are all transformed into classrooms. 
Believe it or not - this is Rundles' dining room today!
The Chefs School has become one of the most respected culinary institutions in the province, and the best part is our community gets to taste their learning first-hand throughout the off-season at the school's unique Dinner Series and other special events!

I worked closely with the Chefs School director Kimberley Payne all summer on the Education Committee for the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (the Chefs School sponsors the festival's popular Learning Centre every year). So I was really excited to be invited to see her, her colleagues, and this year's crop of second year chefs in their element last Friday for the 2010-2011 Dinner Series Meet and Greet.
The event was really quite cool - it was held in the kitchen of Rundles (see pic above, where Chef School matriarch Elanor Kane addresses the crowd). I overheard one awestruck attendee remark: "This is where the magic happens!" The second year chefs-in-training impressed us with their knowledge, composure and passion for food as they circulated with some lovely little canapes.
Chef Linley continues to teach at the school, and I immediately recognized his influence when I tasted this phenomenal Jicama Tuna Avocado Risotto.
A piece of Monforte Dairy Pecorino was skewered alongside cubes of Mennonite Sausage and pickled golden beets: learning never tasted so good!
The second-year prodigies also served-up some lovely pickled eggplant, goats cheese and carmelized onions on crostinis (Angie Murphy is  pictured above flanked by brothers Brandon and Jeremy Gries).

I learned that the Chefs School proudly invites chef experts in international cuisine to teach at the school every year. In attendance was Michelin Star Italian Chef Riccardo Camanini, (above, wearing scarf) who was revered by two graduates from last year's class who returned to sing high praise for their alma mater. One installment of the Dinner Series will feature his cuisine, while others will feature guest instructors from Mexico and France!

Subscriptions and schedules for the Dinner Series are currently available through the Chef School and their website. By attending these amazing student-executed dining events, we are supporting this not-for-profit educational institution... in the most delicious ways imaginable!

I'd also like to mention that this year's Stratford Chefs School Joseph Hoarse Gastronomic Writer in Residence is the renowned Canadian journalist and author Ian Brown. He will be front and centre at two Chef School events in Toronto next month: on Saturday, November 13 he will be at the Heliconian Hall to discuss his  forays into food writing, and on Sunday, November 14 he will be celebrated as the 2010-2011 Writer in Residence at a very special luncheon at Nota Bene restaurant in Toronto.

Dare to dream... but I wonder if the Chefs School would consider including a blogger as their Writer in Residence someday?

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