Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Your Local Market Co-op: Joining the Movement

About a month ago a group of local-food-loving social entrepreneurs in Stratford followed through on the noble idea to create a downtown store where people could get quality local food every day at a price that was fair to the farmer and the consumer. 

These friends (above, left to right: Paul Roberts, Drea Kerr, Heather Walker, Chris Walker, and Kaitlyn Vere) sensed that the success of such a project would depend as much on social capital - the value produced when a community comes together around a goal - as it would on financial capital. I don't think they could have found themselves in a better place than Stratford to tap into the potential of community support for eating local... aptly, they adopted a co-operative business model for patrons as well and employees of Your Local Market Co-op to share in the benefits of sourcing and purchasing food for a collective.

I actually got to learn a lot about the co-operative food movement in Ontario on Friday when I spent some time with a few people who are experts in local food co-ops. Glen Valliere (left) manages purchases for the Ontario Natural Food Co-op, and he was accompanied by co-op developmental consultant Russ Christianson (centre) and Hannah Renglich (right) also from Ontario Natural Food Co-op. As part of a project that ultimately aims to create a network to support Local Organic Food Co-ops in this province, they are visiting 20 Ontario co-ops that grow, sell and/or support local and organic foods (sounds like a fun summer!). 

It turns out that the phenomenon of co-operative food projects is not completely unique to Stratford - it is part of a broader co-operative movement that has seen no less than six new food co-ops appearing in this province over the past year alone!

I'd be impressed if the other new operations were as well established after just one month as Your Local Market Co-op is already: the experts admired how far along - and busy! - the store was after being open only for a short time.

I took a look around the store and found everything from their house-baked bread (above, it's already become famous) to their selection of local dairy products, preserves, and seasonal fruits and veggies. 

It didn't take me long to make my decision: I went up to Drea (above) and demanded that she "Sign me up!"

My $120 subscription to Your Local Market Co-op entitles me to some real benefits: I get 10% off the already reasonable prices for groceries (see price list above), I get the newsletter and alerts when new products become available, and (I'm looking forward to taking advantage of this one now that pickling season is here) I get to share in the opportunity to buy bulk items at wholesale prices. The best place for people to keep up on Your Local Market Co-op's daily features is via their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The Twitter and Facebook updates will also tell you about the daily menu being served out of Your Local Market's lunch counter. World inspired street eats change all the time, and have so far included Thai menus as well as items like Ragin' Cajun Chicken Wraps and Nachos. I had a beautiful Honeyboy & Garlic Pork Wrap (above) that had some marinated sweet cress, roasted vegetables and a chipotle BBQ sauce that added good little bit of kick - a high quality handheld lunch for a great price.

Finding an alternative to the highly centralized, corporate, exploitative industrial food system has never been more delicious, and as co-op developer Russ Christianson pointed out, "The people are the best part".

Monday, July 18, 2011

Brunch with the Bunch at Foster's Inn

The main job of whoever's taking care of the Slow Food booth at the downtown Sunday market is to provide marketgoers with information about the food scene here in Stratford and Perth County. Pretty much every Sunday I've been on duty I've been asked to recommend a good place near the market to grab a bite to eat. I usually give folks a few options...

Ever since the folks from Erbcroft Farm started grilling lamb and waterbuffalo burgers out of their market stand (above) I've been telling folks to give them a try. They dress their burgers up with product sourced entirely from the market - from the buns by the Stratford Urban Farming Experiment, to the Monforte cheese, Loco Fields lettuce, and Koert Organics smoked cherry BBQ sauce. They've become a favourite among market regulars (especially the vendors!).

If it's later in the day I tell them where they'll often find me after the market, which is Molly Blooms Irish Pub. I've gotten in the habit of checking out the live jazz while kicking back after a hot day at the market with a couple of $3 Caesars along with some half price appetizers (usually I go with the mussels). 

But sometimes the people asking for a recommendation are looking for a good spot for Sunday brunch.

I tell them they might want to give the new Sunday brunch they're serving over at the County Food Co. on nearby Erie Street a try (above). 

This past Sunday, the tables were turned as I found myself looking for a spot to grab post-market brunch with my whole family, including my folks who were in town for the weekend. I decided to bring everyone to my go-to spot for a midday feast, which is right around the corner from Market Square: Foster's Inn on Downie Street.
Staceys... you've been blogged!

The servers at Foster's were super-friendly and hooked Fisher and Sonny up with some crayons and Hot Wheels to keep them occupied while the kitchen prepared our food. 

Always a fan of Sunday cocktails, I sipped on a tasty Bloody Mary while my parents regaled us with tales from the previous night's adventures in babysitting. 

Our food soon arrived, and there was something to please everyone. I love the creamy tang of the Goat's Cheese and Oven Dried Tomato Omelet at Foster's (above, so good I pretty much knew it was what I was going to get before I even looked at the menu). 

My mom Stella and I are very much alike (refer to previous family photo for striking resemblance) and that includes our sharing the same tastebuds. Like me, she loves fish and seafood and true to form she ordered a salad entree with House Crab Cakes (above), which were crispy and well seasoned.

I might have taken things up another level by ordering a full-on Foster's Crab Cake Benedict... Lisa went for the Smoked Salmon Benedict (above) and I found it hard to stop myself from picking lovely pieces of cured salmon drenched in Hollandaise off her plate.

You can take Steve Sr. out of the country, but you can't take the country out of Steve Sr. He was impressed by the heartiness of the Grilled Perth County Ham with Extra Old Cheddar Cheese Omelet (above) - pork country at its best!

There are lots of options for grabbing food after hitting the Slow Food Sunday market in downtown Stratford. Foster's is also known as the best place in town to grab a steak and a favourite spot for authentic boutique hotel accommodation... its amazing brunch/breakfast makes it a true triple threat!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Duck Off!

This week can be summed up in one word:


 Yesterday on Twitter the hash-tagged word "#duck" was among the top Trending Topics of the day. The reason? On Thursday, someone somewhere issued a challenge (Twallenge?) to all Tweeters:


 I guess it "went viral", because for nearly forty eight hours the Twittersphere has been flooded by a flock of duck calls, a deluge of quackery ranging from the corny to the clever (you can decide which category the following fall into):

Don't ask what your #duck can do for you, but what you can do for your #duck.

Frankly my dear, I don't give a #duck.

Everything that happens, happens for a #duck.

I find your lack of #duck disturbing.

Utilizing duck at every single opportunity imaginable was more than just a Twitter trend this week - it was also a dining concept that Lisa and I were invited to experience on Monday! 

We both absolutely love duck [does anyone not love duck? Please comment... I'm experiencing 'comment envy' from never-ending debates that seem to always be raging over at The Chew]. So the "Duck Off" dinner at our friends Jessie and Tim's lofty nest this week was like a dream come true - ten courses of duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck, duck and... what was it again that we had for dessert? Oh right: DUCK!!

The Duck Off! dinner introduced me to a whole new undiscovered side of the Stratford culinary scene. Jessie, Tim and a bunch of other food lovin' folks (many of whom work in the Stratford restaurant industry) have been getting together every now and then for a themed dinner (not all that unlike the Charlie's Burger anti-restaurant phenomenon in Toronto). 

The theme this time around was (as mentioned twenty two times above) duck. The rest of the concept was: two of the most talented lights cooking in the kitchens of two of Stratford's best restaurants would mentor two highly motivated industry non-chefs through the execution of an all-duck menu. I think the idea originally was also to have the sixteen diners rate each dish to determine a winner, but honestly everything was so superb it would have been an injustice if one pair had been discredited for anything to do with this incredible meal.

The first chef/apprentice team was Kaya - a graduate of the Stratford Chefs School of Turkish nationality who currently cooks at Rundles - and Pazzo's upstairs fine-dining-front-of-house star Amanda.

Their "Duck Nacho" set the tone for the alternating series of dishes they would be presenting us with: delicate, composed, commendably creative, and, most importantly, off-the-hook tasty.

The other kitchen team consisted of our host Tim -  of The Church kitchen fame  - and Sasha, who also works at Pazzo's.

What I really liked about the evening was the contrast between the two teams' approaches... Tim and Sasha were deliciously different in their comforting, rustic style when compared to the other team, which we immediately appreciated upon seeing and tasting their indulgent salute to the just-past Canada Day weekend: the Confit Duck Leg & Seared Foie Poutine (above). Do you even have to ask if the fries were cooked twice in duck fat?

The Foie Terrine and Scallop Sashimi with Salmon Roe and Sauternes Jelly was a perfect summertime dish and a great illustration of Kaya's attention to visual flow. 

Our host Jessie (who's also part of the stellar Pazzo's team) was holding down the service side of this spectacular duck-fest, which included a series of universally wonderful drink pairings for each dish (I know I'm supposed to support Ontario VQAs but go get a bottle of Pinot Noir from Oregon's A to Z from 2008 - best glass of wine I've had in ages).

Tim & Sasha's Vanilla Scented Duck Breast with a Confit Potato Croquette (above) was at once exotically fragrant and down-on-the-farm homey.

We had the pleasure of dining with a few of Chef Kaya's friends/fellow Turkish nationals who had come up from Toronto just for this dinner; they told me that while the flavours of the open-faced wine leaf dolmo and Turkish coffee rub from Kaya and Amanda's entree did remind them of the food from Turkey, the use of duck took Turkish flavours to a level of fusion they had never before experienced.
The dessert was, as promised, a Duck a la Orange featuring Orange Candied Duck and a Duck Fat Crumble over orange scented caramel and cream. 

On our way out we were also all treated to a piece of Foie Gras Bubble Gum - who knew?

I want to thank Jessie and Tim for inviting us to take part in this special mid-summer meal. The food was above-and-beyond in every way but somehow the holistic combination of meeting great new people and hanging in a such a hip and laidback scene added a whole other level to the experience.

To conclude, please allow me to misquote Jack Nicholas and Tom Cruise from the Oscar-winning film A Few Good Men:

You want answers?!?
I want the #duck!
You can't handle the #duck!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Stepping up to The Ontario Table!

Food author and activist Lynn Ogryzlo has presented our province with a challenge: If all households in Ontario spent $10 of their weekly grocery budget on food produced in this province, it would mean $2.4 billion injected into our economy.

But Lynn Ogryzlo has done more than just crunched the numbers to support our collective fulfillment of this important shared goal. She has also spent the last few years putting together an incredible resource for sourcing-out and cooking the unparalleled local food bounty we in Ontario are blessed with. The Ontario Table is the product of two years of research which saw Lynn and her husband Jon traveling to the various counties of Ontario seeking-out and speaking to exemplary local producers, taking pictures of them working on their farms, and then creating, tasting and photographing amazing dishes inspired by these precious products.

The result of all this hard work is quite simply the best book on local food in Ontario that has ever been produced. Visually spectacular, full of inspired recipes, and written with a strong sense of purpose, this is one of those books that you can use as a cookbook or enjoy as a good read outside of the kitchen. It is an honour that Perth County and Stratford are celebrated throughout this important work - Lynn Ogryzlo is clearly a big fan of our local food scene, "It's definitely a cultural, culinary and entertainment pocket tucked neatly into vast stretches of farmland. Home to some of the most innovative and dramatic (must be the theatre influence) farmers you'll meet."

Since no less than five of the Perth County producers featured in The Ontario Table are featured at the Slow Food Sunday Market, it was appropriate that Lynn chose our new downtown site as the first stop on her summer book signing tour! I spoke to her about her book and then she took to the microphone to tell our marketgoers about the $10 challenge and her vision for an enhanced Ontario food system:

Stratford's avid local food lovers lined-up to buy the book, which Lynn has made available for markets and farmers to sell as a means of raising funds in support of their important work. All of the proceeds from Sunday's sales went to Slow Food Perth County - Thanks everyone who bought a book! It will continue to be on sale throughout the summer at the Slow Food booth at the market.

As Lynn was signing her book she offered us all the opportunity to sign a tablecloth that she will be bringing along with her as she travels across the province (above).

I have a feeling Lynn was thinking of Antony John (Soiled Reputation Farm's Manic Organic, above) when she was writing about Perth County's "dramatic and innovative" farmers.

Fred and Ingrid DeMartines of Perth Pork Products (above) have the book opened to page 146, where the chapter on Pastured Meat is introduced by a great photo of Fred with one of his Tamshire (a cross of Tamworth and Berkshire heritage breed) piglets.

Slow Food Perth County's own Brendon Lyoness (aka Caveman of Caveman Crops, above) is featured in the book, where the story of his road to local food production via Paul Finkelstein's Stratford Northwestern Culinary Arts program is told on page 33!

It was a real treat for our community and market to be picked as the first stop on Lynn Ogryzlo's province-wide summer book tour. She will actually be back in September where she will be speaking about her book and her adventures in local food in the Learning Centre at the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (which in her book she celebrates as "one of the best local food culinary festivals around")!