Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Screaming Our Support: Japan Relief Dinner at the Screaming Avocado Café

On March 11, 2011, one of the strongest earthquakes to hit anywhere in most of our lifetimes struck Japan.

The seismic shock caused a tsunami that pulverized the coastal regions of the northern island of Honshu.

The tsunami took out the cooling systems at the island's nuclear power plant, which promptly started to emit radiation.

The epic disaster's triple-ripple effect also triggered  responses in communities many, many kilometers away from the quake's epicenter. In Stratford, many of the best chefs working in the local restaurant industry collaborated with Paul Finkelstein's Northwestern High School Culinary Arts class to create an Asian inspired meal in support of those who were victimized in Japan. 82 generous food lovers enjoyed this Stratford-culinary-all-star charity dinner  at the high school's "Alternative Cafeteria", and and over $3,000 was raised!

Stratford Northwestern is a very progressive school. Besides Fink's  culinary-arts-class-slash-cafeteria, a massive solar array has just been built in one of the school's courtyards, and next week Dr. David Suzuki is  coming to speak to young people about environmental activism.

Since December, I've been working with Paul's homeroom students to grow greens and herbs in the school's heated greenhouse. 

It's been a bit of a process of trial and error, but it's been a great learning experience for all involved, and the kids finally harvested their first few pounds of mesclun (mixed greens) just in time for the event! 

In a month or two we should be harvesting tomatoes from the hanging buckets we recently suspended with the help of local organic farmer Dave Koert (above at right), who's been getting things ready for the organic garden in the other courtyard this summer.

Shawn Hartwell from Simple Fish and Chips (above, with student) used the greens we harvested at the centre of his citrus cured salmon rolls, which were served alongside cold soba noodles with mango.

 A wonderful dish (with ingredients cultivated mere steps away)!

Karen Hartwick of Tea Leaves Tasting Bar (above) kept our glasses full of beautiful and authentic green tea from Japan.

Pazzo's Chef (and Slow Food sister) Yva Santini (above) was ladeling up a ramen noodle dish with a poached egg, all served in a delicate golden broth.

Mmmm. I loved when the egg yolk broke open and combined with the broth.  

Chef Ian Middleton from Down the Street Restaurant taught Paul's student Cam how to season and grill strips of beef for the evening's entrée.

The beef skewers with spicy potatoes were also accompanied by some ultra-local winter product - baby pak choi grown in the school's hydroponics lab by the horticulture class!

Chef Bryan Steele of The Old Prune (above) cooperated with the Stratford Chefs School to bring us all an absolutely stellar dessert.

The fromage blanc with elderberry sauce and poached pears was a fantastic treat. 

Supporting a good cause has never tasted so good. Some of the best chefs in Stratford - as well as servers and front of house from local restaurants and the Stratford Tourism Alliance - all donated their time and came together to provide an unbelievable dining experience and raise lots of money to help the folks in Japan.

I'll be back next week to help out when principal Deborah McNair and Paul (above) host Dr. Suzuki. I hope he comes to see the greenhouse!!


  1. Be awesome if Niagara was as progressive as Stratford is. Very impressive.

  2. Amazing! Sorry I missed it.

  3. (Mike) Gretz... I was really impressed by your own approach to teaching kids to cook in the setting of a hotel kitchen when we came for lunch this past fall. People like you and Paul are connecting youth with food in such important ways. As time goes by others will continue to be compelled to support you and your efforts: Keep it up!!

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