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: