Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Television: Food Network Canada's 10th Birthday Gala!

This month marked the first anniversary of my family's big move to Stratford - which has proven to be the best decision we could have ever made by many, many miles. However, long before I considered Stratford as the place where I could come to fulfill my dreams and "Live the Life of Food", I was already well aware of its reputation as a culinary hotspot.

There are a couple of interrelated reasons for this: Firstly, for the past ten years I've been pretty much glued to Food Network Canada (ok, that and Coronation Street);  and secondly, over the past ten years my favourite network has consistently aired amazing shows set in Stratford and featuring some of our city's most colourful food personalities and culinary institutions.

How does a town with just a little over 30,000 people manage to produce such a disprortionate volume of great foodie TV? I don't know the specific answer to that. See my previous 50-or-so posts I guess, because as Stratford's official food blogger I can tell you that the challenge for me isn't in finding media-worthy subjects - it's keeping up with them all!

On behalf of the entire Stratford food community: Happy 10th Birthday to Food Network Canada!

Over its decade-long history as our country's #1 source for edible entertainment, no less than three shows set in and around Stratford have appeared on its airways.
Chef School was a documentary series that aired for two seasons. It followed a class of would-be chefs as they struggled through the two-year intensive program experienced by students of the world-class Stratford Chefs School. The cast of characters included many fixtures of the Stratford restaurant community, like Chef Neil Baxter of Rundles, who starred as the hard-to-please instructor, and Chef Bryan Steele of The Old Prune, who pushes the students to achieve his uncompromising standard of culinary excellence. If you missed the recent stretch of re-runs that were broadcast over the summer, you can watch every episode online on the Food Network Canada website!

Once you're done, you can check out what's going on at the  Stratford Chefs School today in real-time by attending their student-prepared dinner and lunch events - top notch cuisine at amazing value in support of this important Stratford culinary institution. I have my eye on the special December 10th dinner featuring the Italian menu designed by visiting instructor Chef Riccardo Camanini of Ristorante Hotel Villa Fiordaliso, as well as the Christmas dinner on December 18th showcasing the culinary style of Thomas Keller of the French Laundry.

Antony John - aka Food Network Canada's The Manic Organic - is the singing-painting-birdwatching-cooking-TV-show-hosting-veggie-growing dude behind Soiled Reputation Farm (located just outside of Stratford near Sebringville). I've had the pleasure of hanging with Antony and his wife Tina every Sunday at the Slow Food market (come see us from 10am to 2pm at our new winter location in the basement of Anything Grows), and one of my most enjoyable blog adventures to date saw me putting in a shift one  morning this past summer to see what it was like to work on their farm.

When I watched The Manic Organic on Food Network Canada I loved the show's combination of growing tips, field-to-table cooking techniques, and quirky personality. Here's a clip featuring leeks both wild and cultivated (which is appropriate considering Farmer John's country of origin is Wales):
Word on the street is that Antony is releasing a new music CD of jazz standards called Old Dog, New Tricks in time for the holidays, so come see him at the Sunday market or keep tabs on him by following @ManicOrganic on Twitter.

OK, so I didn't just decide to pay homage to Food Network Canada on my blog because it's my favourite TV station and/or because they show a lot of Stratford content. I actually got to attend the 10th anniversary gala dinner at Studio 99 in Toronto this month as the guest of Paul Finkelstein, the  Chef-come-Culinary Arts teacher whose student-run alternative high school cafeteria the Screaming Avocado Cafe was featured in the Food Network Canada series Fink.
Fink is basically a show that promoted healthy eating in schools before Jamie Oliver brought the issue to the forefront of North Americans' consciousness this past year. Even better, it demonstrated a solution: get the kids in the school to cook the food, and the kids in the school will eat the food. Get the kids to live the food, and they will love the food. Check out all of the episodes online if you didn't PVR the summer re-runs on Food Network Canada.

The show and its namesake are totally aligned with my own perspective on food as nourishment for much more than just the physical body. So when I moved to a house two minutes from the Screaming Avocado - unknowingly, I swear! - I guess it was kind of inevitable that I would soon start hanging around there....

Fast forward through a bunch of Fink/Local-Come-Lately collaborations including: a massive school garden project; a food festival fundraiser; and an epic class trip to Nunavut... and here I am walking down the red carpet at the Food Network Canada's 10th Anniversary gala dinner as Paul's guest, while he's being pulled aside by an interviewer.

I think I got whiplash trying to keep my eye on all the Food Network Canada celebs I saw that night. An hour before we got to the event we happened upon Bob Blumer (of Glutton for Punishment/Surreal Gourmet fame) at the bar of the nearby Drake Hotel. I almost ran over Kevin Brauch (of The Thirsty Traveller/Iron Chef America) as I was coming out of the Drake washroom. As we mingled in Studio 99 waiting for dinner to start I spotted The Opener's David Adjey (taller than I thought he'd be) and David Rocco of Dolce Vita (surrounded by adoring fans). We found ourselves sitting beside none other than Rob Feenie: first Canadian Iron Chef America champion; host of the Food Network Canada show New Classics with Rob Feenie; and I have to say a genuinely enjoyable person to have dinner with.

So, you're probably wondering: What did Food Network Canada serve at its own 10th birthday party dinner? What else, but signature creations by some of their most prominent chef personalities!
David Adjey and Chuck Hughes (of Food Network Canada's Chuck's Day Off) were in charge of the starters. Adjey demonstrated why he's so in-demand as a menu/restaurant consultant by serving a fresh and creative zucchini-wrapped tuna roll (see pic above). Chuck's lentil and goat's cheese bruschetta finished the one-two-app-punch. I could just eat starters for the rest of my life, and these two were great.
Lynn Crawford (from Pitchin' In) and Laura Calder (of French Food at Home) took to the microphone to educate the crowd about the mains they were placing before us. Crawford  created a beef tenderloin with lobster mashed potatoes that was worthy of the hard work of the dedicated producers she celebrates on her show (spoiler: she was recently in Perth County visiting Perth Pork Products for an upcoming episode). Calder presented us with a French classic duck a l'orange that brought some citrus to round off the indulgent double-entree.

The night finished off with some gorgeous desserts courtesy of Anna Olsen of Fresh with Anna Olsen, and of course some more schmoozing. Was that Christine Cushing I saw hanging with Fink while I was waiting in line for my chocolate blackout cake?!?
What more can I say except thanks to Paul for bringing me along as the token up-and-coming blogger, and thanks to the Food Network Canada for putting together such a fantastic event to mark its tenth anniversary and celebrate its wealth of food media talent!

I guess I can add one more thing: we need more of Fink on Food Network Canada!

I know... how about Chef & Blogger?

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