Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Savour Stratford 2011: Hosting with Fink!

While I was telling the story of the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival 2011 weekend on my previous blog post, I mentioned a couple of Festival events I felt deserved a whole blog of their own. I guess I'm a little biased because they happen to be the two Festival programs I co-hosted with my good friend, Chef-turned-Stratford Northwestern Culinary Arts teacher Paul "Fink" Finkelstein.

As it happens, the timing for this post couldn't be better: Last week Fink was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence in Ottawa, a distinction I feel is well deserved (and I should know - I nominated him!). This week, the first high-profile magazine article I've ever had published comes out on the newstands: I wrote it about the trip to Nunavut I accompanied Paul and his Culinary Arts students on last fall (check out the November issue of Canadian Living folks!). And then on this past Saturday the Globe and Mail published a front page article as part of their  "Time To Lead" series about Canada's sad track record on providing students with healthy school lunches, a problem Fink and his students were celebrated for challenging by making meals from scratch and sharing their daily creations with the rest of the school at The Screaming Avocado Cafe (Fink: "If we don't change the way kids eat, we're doomed").

At the 2011 Savour Stratford Festival Paul and I joined forces once again to promote our shared goal of inspiring families to make good food together. We co-hosted a fun riverside Pass-It-On style open-air cooking class with about a dozen food loving families, guiding them through the creation of a timely morning egg wrap:

That wrap was just what I needed because literally ten minutes later Paul and I were in Market Square where we had an absolute blast co-hosting the Chef Challenge for two whole hours! For the first time, downtown's Market Square was used for Savour Stratford programming, with the Culinary Theatre as the central attraction (a really slick mobile kitchen studio we scored from the Niagara Food Festival). 

Culinary Theatre MC Andrew Coppolino of The Food Show introduced the judges (above, Nick Benninger of Nick and Nat's Uptown 21, Bonnie Munday of Best Health Magazine, Montreal Chef Chuck Hughes of the Food Network Canada's Chuck's Day Off (and Iron Chef Champion!), and Jennifer McLagan, renowned cookbook author of Fat, Bones, and Odd Bits [btw thanks to photographer Will Bailey for the amazing Chef Challenge pics!]). The contestants were Janet Ashworth of Stratford's local food mecca County Food Co., who was up against Stratford Chefs School graduate Francisco Alejandri, who has been getting a lot of attention lately in Toronto for his Kensington Market Mexican Soul Food stall Agave y Aquacate. Let the first ever Savour Stratford Chef Challenge begin!!

Instead of going with just one secret ingredient, we challenged Janet and Francisco to work with FOUR ingredients all produced at Tanjo Family Farm near Milverton: bacon, quail eggs, duck, and Hungarian Partridge! 

Both chefs immediately got down to business, with each conceiving of three dishes that showcased these superior local products (and that could all be completed in just one hour!). As the chefs put together their creations, Fink and I had some fun talking with the judges!

The gorgeous food that the two chefs pumped out in just an hour was astonishingly good:

Chef Janet's Beer Poached Quail Egg with Pheasant on Barley
Chef Francisco's Scrambled Quail Eggs with Bacon
Chef Janet's Savoury Shortbread with Bacon
Chef Francisco's Kentucky Fried Pheasant with Corn Bread
The judges loved everything they tasted, but had the difficult task of deciding which chef's food was the best.

In the end the difference between the two scores was a mere 7 points. You have to check out the video to find out who won!

As a final note, in one of the videos I mention that there will be a similar Chef Challenge series in Stratford starting up this winter, which will raise funds in support of The Local Community Food Centre, the new not-for-profit food project being established in Stratford via a partnership between The United Way of Perth Huron and The Stop Community Food Centre (I've been recently named its Director!). We're having our first fundraiser this Saturday October 15: a special Grapes of Wrath performance and reception at the Avon Theatre. Of course the food is going to be spectacular, including an oyster bar from Simple Fish, two offerings from Bijou, and duck springrolls from The Screaming Avocado kids (with great wine, beer, coffee and dessert included too).  I'm calling on all the Local-Come-Lately fans to come out and support this incredible initiative that will include community gardens, a community kitchen, and a Food Distribution Centre to bring fresh, healthy and local food to the area's food banks and not-for-profits!


  1. Great to relive the event again. What a great day at the Culinary Theatre. You and Paul did a super job of keeping the pace. Loved it. Congrats on your new role as Project Director for the Local Community Food Centre.

  2. Thanks OoORF! Everyone should also check out your great blog post on the event:

  3. Great post, and great website. Thanks for the information!