Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, November 30, 2012

"The Unstoppable Momentum of This Delicious Revolution": Slow Food Terra Madre!

I've had a lot of great adventures since I started my blog, but now things have been taken up another level... last month the Local-Come-Lately went intercontinental!

My work as a food activist here in Perth County brought me for the first time ever to Italy - the land of my ancestors! - for the Slow Food Terra Madre convention. Terra Madre means "Mother Earth" in Italian, but it had an additional meaning to me: the Motherland!

The event was actually three events rolled into one: Terra Madre (a festival celebrating "Good, Clean and Fair" food from around the world); the Salone Del Gusto (an even bigger festival celebrating flavours from all over Italy); and the Slow Food International Congress (an opportunity for 650 delegates from 100+ countries to share stories and develop the policies that will guide Slow Food International as it moves ever-forward). 

The city that hosts the events every two years is Turin (or Torino) in the Piedmont region. Six years ago the city, nestled among the northern Italian Alps, played host to the Winter Olympic Games... the arenas created for the Olympics were the perfect venues for the world's greatest food gathering!

The Opening Ceremony gave me my first chance to really appreciate the scope of the work that Slow Food is involved in around the world.

Translated into 50 languages, the kickoff event inspired me immediately - the work  we're doing in Stratford and Perth County using food as a channel for progressive change is being undertaken in harmony with activism, education and eating in almost every other country on earth! We all came to realize that we are truly part of a global movement working in solidarity with one another.

Among the many inspiring speakers that first evening were Indian biodiversity activist (and avid GMO opponent) Dr. Vandana Shiva, "The apple seed doesn't say 'Give me royalties or I won't give you an apple'".

The central icon of the Slow Food organization - its visionary Italian founder and President Carlo Petrini - took the stage last and reveled in the amazing accomplishments he has witnessed among Slow Food 'Convivia' in recent years, including the impressive progress of the A Thousand Gardens in Africa project, the explosion of the Slow Food Youth Network, and the groundswell of effort we have collectively directed toward promoting a sustainable food system. That said, he didn't candy-coat the situation: 817 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and starvation while 1.4 billion are overweight; 200 million pounds of food goes to waste worldwide every year (over 1/3 of all food produced); and food sovereignty is being threatened all over the world. But what I admired most about Petrini was his grace in the face of these daunting issues: "This crisis can be overcome with serenity... without bitterness, without rage." He encouraged us to "change the world with a smile and tranquility" and approach the issues with "happy versatility." I left the opening ceremony with a smile on my face alongside hundreds of other smiling people from around the world, happily emboldened by Petrini's promise for the next few days: "Terra Madre gives us the courage to go ahead with these great challenges!"

The Terra Madre site was a truly utopian scene: row after row, booth after booth, showcasing incredible products and traditional production and preparation methods that epitomized the food cultures of almost every country imaginable...

 ...including Canada! There's my travel partner Shawn Hartwell (the popular sustainable fish and seafood vendor at the Slow Food Perth County Sunday Market), in the middle of all the action as always!

Canada had a big contingent at Terra Madre, and I gained a lot of appreciation for our national movement as I met people from all across our country who were involved in the promotion of local, delicious and sustainable food in their areas. Some of the friends I met included folks involved in Operation Fruit Rescue in Edmonton; members of the Young Agrarians of Canada; hardworking and politically engaged farmers like Patricia from Tap Root Farm in Nova Scotia; the founder of the East Coast's first Community Supported Fishery Off the Hook; activists from Farm Folk City Folk in Vancouver; and urban agriculturalists like The Permaculture Project GTA from Toronto.

One of the main reasons I was at Terra Madre was to learn... a few times a day I had the opportunity to attend panel discussions where experts shared their knowledge and insights about some of the issues I'm passionately interested in. The "Feeding Cities is Easy" session was fascinating as I learned about various ways people are mobilizing urban resources to create more accessible food systems; one presenter (above) told us all about Nutrire Milano ('Feeding Milan'), a multidimensional project that included the establishment of a Slow Food Market, which brought to mind our own experience running our weekly Slow Food Sunday market in Stratford (except they only run theirs twice a month!).

After a couple of hours of intense thinking about how to feed the world without destroying it, I'd take a stroll around the Salone Del Gusto for some bellissimo Italian food! I think I ate more cured meats that week than I've eaten in my whole life...

As I wandered through the Terra Madre venue I also came across all sorts of fun and creative displays, like this indoor version of one of the Thousand Gardens in Africa. Could this experience have been any more up my alley?!?

I'd swing by the Holland booth for some Dutch oysters...

...then check out a knife skills demo at the Japanese station.

Lunch and dinner saw us eating elbow to elbow with other delegates from around the world, many of whom wore their traditional clothing. Shawn and Patricia from Tap Root Farm shared a few tomatoes with a dude from Morocco who wanted to take the seeds home and plant them in his garden. 

I was honoured to be selected as one of Ontario's representatives at the Slow Food International Congress, where the leaders of Slow Food International presented their vision for the future of the organization. 

Petrini discussed the strategy for 'Slow Food 2.0', which was articulated in a position paper entitled The Central Role of Food, "Nowadays we think of consumers as people who 'buy' food, but if food concerns us only insofar as it is sold and bought... then we lose sight of food as a right. Yet that which is essential for survival is part of the sphere of rights: that is why we speak of the right to food and the right to water." This argument is familiar to me: it is the exact paradigm shift we are trying to promote at The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford and across the country via Community Food Centres Canada

American Slow Food pioneer Alice Waters (one of my personal heroes as the inventor of the Edible Schoolyard) took to the podium to share her insights on the crucial role of education in maintaining "the unstoppable momentum of this delicious revolution".

That night the Congress delegates were invited to an amazing dinner featuring some traditional Piedmontese cuisine at the former Fiat plant in Turin. That's me with my new buddy Carlo (and Slow Food Toronto's Voula Halliday)!

The second day of the congress saw 50 five minute presentations about Slow Food's activities around the world. Voula spoke eloquently about a project Slow Food Toronto is coordinating to build school gardens in that city paired with school gardens in Africa (this is being undertaken in honour of Chef Dan DeMatteis, an advocate for Slow Food and youth who tragically passed all too soon this past year). Other fascinating testimonials included one from Japan describing how Slow Food in that country helped rebuild a seaside artisan community after the devastation of the tsunami; one from Ecuador celebrating the countrywide ban on GMOs; and a really cool video presentation by the German Slow Food Youth Network: a bunch of young people combined food activism and dance music by holding a Schnippen-Disco where they all cut veggies for a big batch of soup for the foodbanks while a DJ was spinning tunes!

Meanwhile, back at the Canadian pavilion Shawn Hartwell was representing our local food scene with some amazing Lake Huron whitefish caviar he'd brought all the way to Italy!

Needless to say, Terra Madre was my kind of scene. I've never been in a place where all of the great things I love about food, and all of the important issues I care about around food, were brought together within a single experience. I returned to Canada with greater motivation, inspiration and passion to make a difference through food than I have ever felt before. I want to thank the folks from Slow Food Perth County who selected Shawn and me to represent our community in Italy for this once-in-a-lifetime experience - Grazie Mille!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Savour Stratford Festival 2012: A Return to Our Roots

The Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival turned five this year... it was my third year participating in the festivities and it just keeps getting better and better. The can't-miss food weekend in Ontario continues to evolve and progress, but this year the theme did not celebrate our community's seemingly boundless future: rather, it was focused on the past upon which our incredible culinary scene was built. 

I was really busy at the festival this year, but not because of my usual goal of blogging about every single thing that happens. Me and the team from The Local Community Food Centre were working hard to make a real splash at our first SSPC festival... I'll link to the blog we're putting together to chronicle our festival adventures when we post it on our site next week.

But no matter how busy I was, of course The Local-Come-Lately found some time to enjoy the festival programs and eat some amazing food. I went straight for the good stuff... 

First thing Saturday morning I made sure to go see the Bacon and Eggs tasting demonstration. While these two ingredients might be historically significant as the foundation for any good Canadian breakfast, Chef Mike from Rundles was able to turn some local bacon and farm fresh eggs raised by co-presenter Janet Cox into a dish I'll bet nobody's ever seen before in Perth County: Japanese-inspired egg sushi with tempura bacon!

Saturday evening I was fortunate to attend a new event that was truly extraordinary: a cocktail gala hosted by none other than local food fans Cynthia Dale and Peter Mansbridge! In keeping with the festival theme, the event was an opportunity to "Celebrate of our Culinary Roots" by showcasing the talent of some of our longest-serving chefs, including The Prune's Chef Bryan Steele who also says a few words:

The background infographic Cynthia Dale talks about in the clip is a really cool Stratford Culinary Tree depicting all the great chefs who have worked in Stratford and their various career paths, most of which overlap with or originate at the Stratford Chefs School.

The food at the gala reflected the unparalleled quality of Stratford's flagship restaurants.

Chef Chris Woolf of Woolfy's at Wildwood presented a classic Duck Pate (check out the hi-tech tablets that were rolling little slide shows beside every dish all evening!).

The elegance, colour, and harmony of Chef Bryan Steele's T'J's Trout with Watermelon Radish and Olive Oil Emulsion just confirmed his status as the true living foundation of Stratford's fine dining scene.

The next day was the highlight of every year's festival: the Sunday Tasting Tent. Walking around the three tents really gave me an appreciation of all the great friends I've made over the last few years in this community.

Suzie from Pickle's, Eh! was paired with Ryan from Loco Fields. I loved their pickled green tomatoes (the judges loved their preserves too, awarding them "Most Creative").

Karen Hartwick from Tea Leaves won again for Best Bevvy with a tea that she personally rolled by hand on one of her adventures at a faraway tea farm.

My pork farmin' buddy Mark Lass was paired up with Foster's Inn... Craig Foster (in the background) personally made the BBQ sauce for the piggie eclairs they were serving!

Brendon from Caveman Crops (with his now-trademark hat) got paired up this year with Rob (on right) and the crew from Molly Blooms. The result was something pretty fiendish... So, those things they are holding are hollowed-out hot peppers that became the shooter cups for a super-spicy bloody Caesar with pickled beans. One word: HOT!!!! But I'd give them the prize for having the most fun.

Chef Aaron from Bijou (who was teamed up with Ryan from Weth Mushrooms) created a fun fungi Tamale.

But the award for People's Choice at this year's Tasting Tent was none other than....

That's right, Chef Bryan Steele and his team at The Prune along with their producer Northern Woods Mushrooms won for their Smoked Mushroom Tart with house made herbed ricotta, delicata squash and red pepper relish. I got an action pic:

This year's festival let us appreciate where our culinary scene came from and celebrate the folks who have made it all happen. Deep roots grow big trees, and  Savour Stratford is where we get to see our food community in full blossom. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Celebrating the partnership: The Prune and the Stratford Chefs School

Stratford's high profile on the Canadian food scene can be credited to multiple interrelated forces, e.g. the Perth County agricultural community, tourism driven by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. But if you had to choose the single strongest influence on Stratford's reputation as a mecca for great dining experiences, it would undoubtedly be the Stratford Chefs School. And if you had to pick one chef who exemplified fine dining cuisine in our city it would be Chef Bryan Steele.

And The Prune Restaurant is the place where, for over twenty years, Chef Steele and the Stratford Chefs School have built Stratford's gastronomic foundation. Chef Steele is the head chef at The [formerly 'Old'] Prune during the restaurant season, and in the winter he instructs Canada's next generation of chefs when The Prune serves as the Chefs School's restaurant classroom. 

There are two ways that the special partnership between the Stratford Chefs School and The Prune is being celebrated this month. On Thursday I experienced the first ongoing homage to this collaboration, via the Stratford Chefs School Honourary Dinner Series being offered nightly for The Prune's second seating at 7:45 pm. It was a great value at under $50 for three really fantastic courses, with wines pairing accompanying the first two dishes. 

The first course was a Watermelon Salad with Sheeps Milk Feta, Mint and Prosciutto (above). Fresh, seasonal and colourful, it tasted as great as it looks!

The main course was Grilled Chicken on a Roasted Tomatillo Sauce with Squash and a Black Bean Tamale. Mexican-inspired, this had a real kick to it and hearkened back to a spicy Chefs School Dinner I enjoyed a couple of years ago when Oaxacan guest Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo was leading a team of Chef Steele's students at The Prune.

Dessert was a tangy Peach Galette accompanied by a smooth, nutty quinelle of Almond Milk Ice Cream. It was a great finish to a truly satisfying meal, and the best part was knowing that some of the proceeds from my bill were going in support of the Stratford Chefs School. 

The second celebration of the partnership between The Prune and the Stratford Chefs School is at an event that will surely be one of the highlights of the upcoming Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (now in its fifth year, I can't wait!!).  

The theme of this year's Saturday evening cocktail gala - hosted by none other than Peter Mansbridge and Cynthia Dale! - is "Celebrating our Culinary Roots". The folks at Spotlight Toronto have been putting together a multimedia piece for the event featuring some of the founders of Stratford's culinary scene. I was recruited to help them out by interviewing Chef Bryan Steele at The Prune... here's a little sneak peak with Chef Bryan explaining the story of his uniquely Stratford experience as both a chef and an educator:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Celebrating Italian-style at Pazzo Ristorante!

I have some good news: I've been selected by Slow Food Canada to sit as one of Ontario's representatives at the 2012 Slow Food International Congress... in Italy! It is an extreme honour to be chosen to participate in this global forum on behalf of my province's "Good, Clean and Fair" food community. I can't wait to be around the table with other like-minded activists from around the world, talking about the relationship between our planet's future and our diverse culinary traditions, and sharing stories about some of the progressive Perth County initiatives I am proud to be involved in, like the Slow Food Sunday Market and The Local Community Food Centre.

The International Congress takes place alongside Slow Food's bi-annual Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto convention (which is pretty much the best food festival in the world!) in Turin this October. Since I joined Slow Food Perth County a few years ago I knew I wanted to attend Terra Madre some day. And I've wanted to go to Italy my whole life: I'm half Italian and have never visited the land of my famiglia. So this is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as I journey to my ancestral (and culinary!) roots while also contributing to a world-wide movement celebrating all that is great about food!

In anticipation of my October adventures-in-food we thought it would be fitting to go to best place in Stratford for Italian cuisine: Pazzo Ristorante. Chef Yva Santini is a fellow next-generation Italian-Canadian who also sits on the Slow Food Perth County executive as our Activism lead. I'd heard a lot about her creative menus this summer so this was the perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz was about!

When I looked at the menu I realized I could just sit there all night sharing Primi (starter) plates. Yva started us off with a colourful, seasonal Caprese salad.

But the standout dish of the evening was the Burrata - sheep milk pecorino cheese hand-stretched around a centre of creamy ricotta. Traditional, local, and truly excellent - absolutely emblematic of the Slow Food philosophy.

The cold seafood salad was a summertime hit.

A lamb cannelloni Secondi was exquisite.

The roasted tomato gnocchi was simple yet clearly made with care - the hallmarks of authentic Italian cuisine.

Just to make sure we didn't miss out on anything the kitchen sent out some lovely sides. The peas with fresh cheese (seven o'clock on the pic above) took me by surprise - it was one of the best dishes we tried!

Big thanks to Chef Yva and the team at Pazzo Ristorante for providing an incredible Italian Slow Food experience right here in Stratford: the meal was truly inspiring!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Make Your Whey" to the Sunday Tasting at the Monforte Dairy Cheese Shop!

This weekend my folks were in town to visit the grandkids. On Saturday night they generously offered to watch the wee Stacey brothers, giving Lisa and me the chance to go out and have some fun.

The next day, as a respite from their previous night of hectic childminding (and as a balm for my hangover), I took Steve Sr. & Stella over to Griffiths Road to participate in one of the weekly tastings being hosted at the Monforte Dairy cheese shop Sundays from 11am to 4 pm all summer.

Monforte Dairy is a true icon upon the Stratford and Ontario food landscape. Owner Ruth Klahsen has become widely recognized as an industry leader for artisan cheese production. 

We in Stratford are so fortunate to be able to get her unparalleled sheep, goat and cows milk cheeses straight from the source at the dairy's on-site store.

Ruth's son Christian (above) has been hosting tastings at the shop every Sunday this summer featuring Monforte cheeses paired with Ontario wines and accompanied by the stellar line of olive oils and preserves offered by Sarafino foods.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree: Stella and Steve Sr. (aka 'The Real Steve') instantly started to enjoy this unique experience just as much as I did.

Once we'd been poured a glass of wine from this week's featured winery - Niagara's Southbrook Vineyards - we were presented with a spread of Monforte cheeses alongside gorgeous Italian preserves (Sarafino's blood orange marmalade went beautifully with the tarragon brie).

Then out came a board full of hot-off-the-press grilled cheese sandwiches! We were pretty much in Sunday afternoon heaven as we dipped the sannies in the various preserves and olive oil while hearing all about the wine we were drinking from the Southbrook sommelier (their organic and biodynamic production methods create some truly wonderful wines!).

Doug from Sarafino topped the experience off with some sweet Southbrook ice wine served in dark chocolate shooter cups.

I highly recommend taking some family or friends over to Monforte Dairy one Sunday this summer to taste some really great combinations of food and wine. $20 is a really good value especially with such generous and interesting hosts.