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.