Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Savour Stratford 2011: "It's like Christmas for Foodies"

As Stratford's official food blogger, I feel the need to apologize for taking so long to get my 2011 Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival posts up (it's been almost two weeks - I'm so sorry to leave you hangin'!). 

I've actually been enjoying some well-earned post-Festival vacation time, but the whole time I was away I was continually flooded with memories and moments from this year's sun-kissed two-day event, which was by many miles the best culinary experience I've ever been involved with. Although it would take a small book to chronicle everything that happened on September 24 and 25, I have some great highlights I'd like to share as I finally get the chance to tell the story of that beautiful weekend when our city became the centre of the Canadian culinary universe. As one blogger told me, "It's like Christmas for foodies!"

The weekend was actually kicked off on the night of Friday September 23 by none other than Food Network Canada celebrity Chef Chuck Hughes (of Chuck's Day Off).

Chef Hughes (above) hosted Chuck's Night Out at the opulent Stratford B&B The Stonemaiden Inn, which featured incredible canapes such as elk carpaccio and vanilla scented lobster created by a kitchen full of students from Stratford high school culinary programs as well as the Stratford Chefs School under the leadership of Stonemaiden's talented Chef Mark Brown. I tried to introduce myself to Chuck but couldn't get past the circle of (pretty much all female) fans looking to get a photo with him!

I helped kick-off the Saturday morning festivities by co-hosting a riverside Pass-It-On style outdoor cooking demonstration with Paul Finkelstein, and immediately after we hightailed it over to the new Market Square Culinary Theatre where we co-hosted an Iron-Chef style Chef Challenge (I got so much good video of those I'm going to follow this post up with a whole v-blog dedicated to them, stay tuned this weekend!).

Chuck wasn't the only celebrity chef in attendance at this year's festival... Chef Connie DeSousa of Charcut Roast House in Calgary (on the right) was one of the finalists from this year's wildly popular inaugural season of Top Chef Canada. On Saturday she presented a workshop on the art of charcuterie with our own celebrity pork farmer Fred deMartines of Perth Pork Products (on left).

The best part of that seminar was when we all got to taste for ourselves creations showcasing Chef Connie's acclaimed flair for making mouthwatering cured meat products (a selection above).

My afternoon included stopping in at the Stratford Chefs School Learning Centre, where I finally learned the best practice for sharpening a knife (slicing down against a steel with its tip anchored on the cutting board, with knife at alternating 22 degree angles).

I then went over to the the Kids Tent where I visited The Return of the Living Salad Bar... remember last year when I actually managed to make salads fun for kids by getting them to pick 'em fresh? This year Stuart Wilson's Food Studies students from Central High School (one above with a shirt encouraging kids to follow him!) delivered the program all weekend long using planters I've been cultivating all summer in my garden! Big thanks to Hellmans who sponsored this program with donated shirts and mayo so kids could create on-the-spot dressings.

The late afternoon saw Canadian BBQ champs Boss Hog serving up platefuls of ribs to hundreds of folks who all dined together in front of City Hall on long tables. The annual Saturday night BBQ, Blues and Brews event featured great street food like fish tacos from Simple. Fish and Chips and the new Loco Dogs with house-made condiments from Pazzo's (keep an eye for these high quality dogs on the streets of Stratford next year). The entertainment truly rocked with MonkeyJunk, one of the best blues acts in the country (best when paired with mass quantities of Ontario craft brewed beers)!

Sunday saw me and Jeremy Taft of Slow Food Northumberland holding down the fort at the first ever Slow Food Perth County Taste Pavilion in Market Square. The adorable little girl above - whose mom was raising funds for a Stratford Shakespeare Festival community revitalization theatre project in El Salvador by selling delicious traditional food - was so into the multisensory workshop she started guiding other kids through the exercises, challenging them to explore food using smell, touch, hearing, sight and of course taste!

Hanging out at the Slow Food Pavilion was great because it was right across from the Culinary Theatre, which saw a roster of great demos like the vegetarian cooking of Cork/Stratford Chef Denis Cotter, Chef Chuck, and Chef Connie, who was joined by her Charcut sous chef Kris Schlotzhauer (the proud return of a Stratford native, above on right) to show people how to make goats cheese from scratch after hosting Breakfast With Connie at the Stratford Country Club earlier in the morning.

But of course, the pinnacle of every Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival is the Sunday York Street Tasting Tent. This year the stakes were raised as for the very first time there were awards for the best offerings in the tent as judged by Chef Chuck, Chef Connie, and a few other media personalities in attendance.

This heaping platter featured some of the best offerings at the tent. The two cocktails were from Down the Street - devilishly spicy Bloody Marys featuring tangy pickled veggies and the juice of heirloom tomatoes, all grown at Soiled Reputation Farm. On the bottom right is the smoked ham and brie created by Molly Bloom's using tender cold cut slices from The Best Little Pork Shoppe in Shakespeare. On the bottom left was organic mushrooms from Weth Mushrooms accompanied by a tomatillo salsa atop a crispy wonton created by Chef Aaron Linley of Bijou Restaurant.

Pazzo Ristorante was serving up some creative (and freaking delicious) fried risotto balls with braised pork and fontina filling topped with bacon jam, created in partnership with Church Hill Farm.

Nick and Nat's Uptown 21 would never show up at the Savour Stratford Tasting without blowing out all the stops. They were paired with Perth Pork Products, and came up with a dish that brought together pork done five - count 'em: FIVE! - ways. I'm a big fan of Nick's cooking, and it was not much of a surprise their dish got my vote for People's Choice.

In the end the winners were: Bijou Restaurant for Best Vegetarian Dish; Nick and Nat's for Best Meat Dish; Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar for Best Drink; Stonemaiden Inn and Koert Organics for Most Creative (for their killer Butternut Squash Ice Cream on a Shortbread); and People's Choice winners the Wildstone Bar and Grill and Miss Fosters Popcorn (I am kicking myself for not trying their Pickled heirloom tomato with garlic and herbed cheese on a fried wonton finished with micro sprouts, which by all accounts was spectacular!).

Actually, in the end the winners were the Stratford culinary community and its legion of food loving supporters. Massive props need to go out to everyone who helped make this year's festival the best one yet. The inspired leadership of folks like Savour Stratford founder Danielle Brodhagen has not gone unnoticed, as this week Savour Stratford received the 2010 Award for Culinary Tourism Leadership from the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance!


  1. As someone who knows some pig farmers, would you know who might be interested in a couple of garbage cans full of walnuts? I was pretty sure wild boars were super fond of them.

  2. Absolutely Rachelle! You should get in touch with Fred de Martines of Perth Pork Products, I know he already gets walnuts from local community members to feed to his wild boars. Follow the link in the post to get contact info.