Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Go for it, have a good time!': Slow Food Canadian Youth Terra Madre

Earlier this month, Slow Food Perth County joined forces with The Screaming Avocado Cafe (the 'alternative cafeteria' where Paul Finkelstein sets his high school culinary arts program) to put on the Slow Food Canadian Youth Terra Madre at McCully's Hill Farm, located just outside of Stratford near St. Marys. Groups of high school students from around Ontario - and even one group from Invermere, British Columbia! - came together to learn all about good, clean and fair food: Where it comes from, how it's made... and of course, how great it tastes!

The day was a little wet and a little chilly, but that didn't stop the groups who made it to the event from having a great time, or the participants from gaining all sorts of cool food skills and knowledge.

All of the pics from this post were actually taken by Alek, a delegate from a school group out of the Niagara region, who documented this full day of culinary capers. Thanks for the shots dude, they're all killer!

The morning started with a breakfast buffet featuring all sorts of amazing baked goods from Lindsay's Bakery, giant wheels of artisan sheep milk cheese from Stratford's iconic Monforte Dairy (pic above), and other good things like local eggs and The Screaming Avocado's fabulous focaccia bread.

Then some of the teens headed off on a bus for a little Perth County Farm Tour. They visited nearby Erbcroft Farm, a  mixed livestock family farm where they saw everything from lambs to chickens to ducks (photo above). 

Then they were off to visit the one-of-a-kind Perth Pork Products, where they got to see and hear all about their pasture raised heritage breeds like Berkshire and Tamworth, as well as their herd of wild boar, which included some super-cute boar-lets (above... but that doesn't sound quite right - anyone else know what you call a baby wild boar?).
Back at McCully's there were three amazing workshops that the participants worked their way through.

My longtime brother-in-food Jeremy Taft of Slow Food Kawartha-Northumberland (chef/owner of Haute Caribou Charcuterie) came all the way from Trenton to teach the youth about "Makin' Bacon". He showed the kids how bacon can be made right from curing the pork belly to the slicing (above). But he also showed everyone how to make a very special item they call 'Lardo' in Italy, which is an absolutely delicious pork product made from the rich internal fat:

Chef Joshna Maharaj (the favourite chef of Steven and Chris) traveled from Toronto (where she teaches cooking classes at The Brickworks) to show the attendees how to roll their own delicious and nutritious salad rolls (this being Perth County she showed them how to make a special version with pork!). I was personally awestruck watching Joshna teach these young cooks - she had such an amazing rapport and really spoke their language, "Go for it, have a good time!':

The third workshop was led by master forager Peter Blush (who by the way recently led a Slow Food foraging day that will be the subject of one of my upcoming posts). He took the kids out to the majestic sugar bush on McCully's Hill Farm and showed them how to sustainably harvest wild leeks (I wish someone had taught me that when I was sixteen!):

Everyone joined back up for an afternoon feast. But wait - this is Slow Food we're talking about here, so we actually have to trace the history of the pulled pork sliders served-up at lunch back a few days...

Phil Phillips is a young cook in Stratford who's got a big future ahead of him. He was featured on Fink - the Food Network Canada's show about Paul and his Screaming Avocado students' adventures-in-food a few years back. He took a whole carcass of local, whey-fed pork and butchered it (above) for use in the event's pulled-pork centrepiece creation (expertly cooked by Yva Santini of Pazzo's Ristorante and Shawn Hartwell of Simple. Fish and Chips, both of whom are treasured members of Slow Food Perth County).

Pictured above is the whole team, which included student chefs from the Stratford Chefs School!

Wait a second - that picture didn't include Yva (there she is above wearing a headband)!

All of the youth groups who came to the event brought along a creative potluck dish, and the result of all this grassroots cooking effort was a truly beautiful lunch!

Before they left, I presented all of the day's participants with a parting gift (courtesy of the Stratford Tourism Alliance) that would remind them all summer of their springtime experience at McCully's Hill Farm - they got to choose between a kit for growing tomatoes and another for growing basil! I made a suggestion: if you chose tomatoes you might want to get your best friend to pick basil - then you could both get together in August and make a Calabrese salad!

Teaching youth about food is what it's all about for me, and I couldn't find better people to collaborate with towards that goal than Paul Finkelstein (who happens to be the Youth Chair for Slow Food Canada) and all the great people who make up Slow Food Perth County.
But I will let the photograph-taking student Alek have the last say with a quote he provided that was also included in a write-up that's been posted on the international Slow Food site:

On Tuesday May 3, we gathered outside of Stratford to learn something from Slow Food. We got to tour around a couple of farms, one with pigs and wild boar, the other with ducks and sheep. We learned a bit about how farmers keep livestock for the culinary industry. We then went back to the McCully’s Hill Farm market where I got to do three different workshops: picking wild leeks, making spring rolls and best of all we made bacon! We met students from different schools and had an awesome lunch. It was a great day for me, learning about where our food comes from and how to keep it natural.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Delicious Debut Stroll: The Food Community Supporting Community Food

On Sunday, May 1, 2011, I was a guide for a very special culinary tour. The Delicious Stratford Debut Stroll is an annual event (check out my post from last year) that kicks-off the restaurant season in Stratford while also raising funds for a great cause: the Community Hot Meal program provided every other Monday evening throughout the school year at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School's Screaming Avocado Cafe. Lucky participants got to preview the special prix fixe Delicious Stratford menus that will be on offer at many of our city's best restaurants all spring (3 course set menus start at $25 for lunch and $30 for dinner - what a deal!) while sampling some local beverages. I was honoured to be chosen as one of the "Culinary Connoisseurs" to guide a group of food lovers on this adventure, and I was particularly grateful for the opportunity to participate since the proceeds were going to the community meal where I happen to volunteer every other Monday!

The thing I like best about going on these tours is connecting with new people and watching as new friendships are made. My group (above) consisted of some Stratford locals, a few out-of-towners, and three babies (they brought their moms too)! 

We started our tour at Foster's Inn, where we were all offered a melt-in-your-mouth Pulled Pork on a Crostini accompanied by a half-pint of delicious Mill Street Stout (above). Folks on the tour could even take a look at the Inn's rooms upstairs while they enjoyed their snack and beer. As their all-knowing guide, I recommended Foster's as the place in Stratford to enjoy a good steak, and told them about the wildly successful Dinner Concert series that's winding-up next week with a show by local Dayna Manning and Emm Gryner on May 19th. 

Next we were off to The Sun Room, where we were all treated to a unique dish called Saltimbocca alongside a glass of the beautiful VQA wine this restaurant is known for serving (above). My group all tucked into their pork roulades (stuffed with a lovely savoury filling and simmered in chicken stock) while I rambled on about the great party we'd thrown at the Sun Room a few weeks previous for my wife Lisa's birthday!

We set off to our next stop right across the street at The Parlour where we were all treated to their signature Pavlova accompanied by a uniquely sweet "First Frost" wine from Huff Estates in Prince Edward County - not quite an "ice wine" but definitely great with dessert!

Then we traveled up Wellington Street to my favourite restaurant in Stratford: Bijou. We sipped on a Cave Springs Reisling from Niagara while eating a spectacular spring trio of Cauliflower and Butter Chicken Soup, Scallion Wrapped in Crispy Prosciutto, and Jicama Cured Rainbow Trout (above). The folks on the tour marveled at the delicacy of the presentation and the gorgeous infusion of flavours while I told them all about Chef Aaron Linley's triumphant victory I'd witnessed the week before at the Iron Chef night at Nick and Nat's Uptown 21!

We all cut back across town to try the incredible Citrus Cured Salmon Rolls that have become quite a trademark for Simple. Fish and Chips since their sustainable seafood dinner series last month. Then we were all finally wowed by a really tasty Puff Pastry With Wild Mushrooms and Melted Brie at Rene's Bistro.

The restaurants of Stratford really rallied in support of the Community Hot Meal initiative that day. Stratford has become known as a community that comes together around the cause of fighting hunger, whether that be through people's generous donations to food drives for our food banks, their volunteering at the many community meals offered throughout the winter, or when they participate in these kinds of great fundraising events...

I think it is because of our city's willingness to challenge food insecurity together that we were selected by The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto to be one of the first pilot sites for a project that will eventually see Community Food Centres set up all across Ontario and Canada. The Stop has partnered with The United Way of Perth-Huron to create a place in Stratford where community gardens will be situated alongside a community kitchen for teaching cooking skills and serving drop-in meals. A Food Distribution Centre is also planned for the project, which will take-in large donations of food and redistribute the product to local food banks, community meals, and school nutrition programs. 

The Local Community Food Centre is scheduled to open its doors in January, 2012, as "A Place For Food" in Stratford, where folks will be invited to access, grow, prepare, share and advocate for good food together. I could not be happier about this exciting new initiative, particularly since I've been hired recently as the Project Coordinator! 

The Delicious Stratford Stroll confirmed what I already knew: Stratford is a place where good food is recognized as a right everyone shares. I look forward to working with the culinary community and the rest of our citizens to defend that right as The Local Community Food Centre comes to life. To stay updated, give @TheLocalCFC a follow on Twitter!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Volcano With a Side Order of Beats: UFC 129 at The Pour House

When local lads Reid Appel and Joe Gilchrist took over Sid's Sports Bar on Downie Street last year and transformed it into The Pour House, I started looking out for my chance to blog about their new operation. I heard they had come up with a whole new menu, and when The Pour House walked away with the title for Best Restaurant at the Heartburn Day Chili Cook-Off this past February I knew that the food was going to be above-and-beyond the usual sports bar fare.

But I decided to bide my time. I'd heard the Ultimate Fighting Championship was coming to Canada for the very first time in April... this historic sports event was the perfect opportunity for me to get a taste of the authentic Pour House experience, since The Pour House is known as the best place in town to watch UFC!

The card for the night included Canadians competing in every one of the mixed martial arts fights, so even though I don't really follow UFC closely I knew who to cheer for. 

Joe Versus the Volcano
I also knew exactly what to order - the legendary Volcano! A pile of cheesy nachos surrounded by a ring of fiery wings. Some of their popular honey garlic wings were also in there - and all delivered to the table by Joe Gilchrist himself (above). A pitcher of beer and a volcano were on special that night - perfect for catching the fights with a few of the boys. 
The wings were the best I've had in Stratford, but as the fights raged on we decided to go for it and order some more food - the roast beef on a bun was a knockout!

The no-holds-barred fights were pretty intense. One scrapper suffered what I can only describe as "Cauliflower Forehead", then kept on givin' 'er as if nothing was wrong until the final bell! A professional fighter actually joined us  at our table to watch some of the action: pro wrestler Robbie McAllister  (known for being a member of the tag-team duo The Highlanders) was in the house to see the fights...
Later, the action spilled out onto the sidewalk, where I got a sample of what Highlander Robbie will be servin'-up later this month at the One Fall Max Pro Wrestling matches in nearby Embro!