Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.
It is almost impossible to translate the term terroir from the French in a way that encapsulates all its subtle shades of meaning.The French concept of terroir was initially established over a century ago, as a means of protecting, preserving and advancing agricultural and artisanal practices and regional identities.
Many of us understand that the general idea of terroir is at the root of the French wine Appellation d'origine controlee (AOC) system. It is a system which has been the model for appellation and wine legislation around the world. At its core, terroir is the assumption that the soil from which the grapes are grown imparts unique characteristics that are specific to a particular region, or rather a 'taste of place' or origin. The term terroir has more recently become part of our culinary lexicon to describe the vital connection between locality and the food grown, raised, made and cooked there.Terroir as a concept, allows us to examine 'the taste of origin' as a set of cultural values about place, community, agricultural practices, and as a set of values.
Terroir IV Hospitality Industry Symposium
More than 300 hospitality industry professionals gathered at University of Toronto’s Hart House for the fourth annual “Terroir” symposium in early March. The Terroir Symposium, is a non-profit educational event designed to celebrate the diverse culture of professionals in Ontario's hospitality industry. This year’s theme was aptly titled, Inspiration and Innovation. It was an opportunity to meet and network with peers and colleagues.It was also an occasion to champion the connection between "taste and place' and experience some of the finest culinary offerings and talent in Ontario.
Arlene Stein, Director of Event & Catering at Hart House, is dedicated to working with growers and producers, chefs and restaurateurs to promote culinary experiences. Stein is founder and chair of Terroir which is now in its fourth year. Stein is a driving force in issues of food security and sustainability and works actively with many community organizations as well as being co-chair of Slow Food Toronto and active proponent of culinary tourism. As chair of the Terroir Steering Committee, Stein lead a team that assembled some of Ontario’s most gifted culinary professionals, who interacted and shared their knowledge and experience with their industry colleagues at Hart House. The purpose of the event was also to showcase our regional food products and wine and interact with participants of the symposium with educational panels and tastings.
Terroir IV kicked off with a sumptuous breakfast. The symposium began with chair Donna Dooher, (Mildred's Temple Kitchen) welcoming the attendees,“The hospitality industry shouldn't’ take a backseat to the economy. We’re the gatekeepers of the nation, and we must embrace that role,” she declared.
Dooher was followed by a lively in-depth discussion featuring award-wining food journalists from across North America. Focusing on the role of press (both print and on line) the panel offered expertise on how chefs and restaurateurs should engage the media, and offered insight into how Ontario can increase its exposure on the world’s culinary stage — and offered observations on what makes a city or region a great culinary tourist destination.
The panel challenged restaurateurs to be positive and find “exciting narratives” to showcase their businesses. The panel also reminded the audience that editors and food journalists are always looking for hook for an interesting food article.
Alan Richman, a food writer for GQ magazine, declared,“Paris is dead,” stating that he prefers the intimacy and simplicity of dining in villages instead of large metropolis's. Nevertheless, New York, Tokyo, Barcelona and,Toronto, were praised by the panel for their dynamic culinary cultures. Mitchell Davis, vice-president of the James Beard Foundation in New York, said it best, when he told the audience, “Any place can be a great food city,” giving unexpected acknowledgement to the vibrant culinary scene in Milwaukee - “All it takes for a city to become a sought-out dining destination is a passionate citizenry that cares about food.”
The event featured interactive discussions like: 'Creating Your Local Menu' and how to bring more 'terroir' into your kitchen; 'To Oak Or Not To Oak?' or rather the impact oak barrels have on wine production; Restaurant Review - a discussion about the key ingredients for establishing successful restaurants; the power of mentorship; and a spirited debate about whether tipping is an out-moded practice. Preceeding the debate on gratuities, 58 per cent of attendees did not want to change the established system, while some 40 per cent were interested in experimenting with a new model.
Later in the day, the keynote address by David Kinch, chef/proprietor of Manresa, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif., was one of the inspirational highlights of the event. To build terroir — or “a sense of place” — into a restaurant, Kinch states chefs must use quality products that are representative of the region. “You must show respect for those ingredients,” he enthused. “You must also learn about and pay heed to culinary tradition. Most importantly, you must have clientele in the region that is willing and able to support your restaurant, and you must exhibit maturity in everything you do. Ingredients are important, but it’s not just about products.” True inspiration also leads to innovation. “Imitate, assimilate and then innovate,” he enthused, noting the importance for chefs to remember the client. “Don’t cook for yourself or other chefs. Keeping your customers happy is the key.”
Chef Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall, assembled an exciting, diverse lineup of Savour Ontario Dining Chefs to prepare the day's offerings. Featuring top-quality, Ontario-sourced ingredients, Gushue’s roster includied top Toronto chefs but the out-of-town contingent was also among the province’s best. The breakfast roster included Jason Schubert and Paul Harding of London's The Only on King. (see this months cover story) The morning seminars were followed by a relaxed multi-course culinary extravaganza for 300.
“Terroir is the leading hospitality event in Ontario and Savour Stratford Perth County is pleased to host the networking reception this year. It is a great opportunity for Stratford chefs to showcase the best of Perth County products on an international stage.” enthused, Danielle Brodhagen, Programme Development at Stratford Tourism Alliance, who organized the Terroir reception with a veritible who's who, of Stratford Chef's and graduates of the Stratford Chefs School.
Showcasing products from Perth County farmers and artisan food producers, Stratford successfuly linked food to place with its emerging, modern cuisine du terroir with a fidelity to origin and season. Stratford's culinary talent included: Chef Lee Avigdor, Down the Street Bar and Restaurant, serving ‘Berkshire Pork Rillette on Red Fife Spring Wheat Croutons, and Pickled 'Soiled Reputation' Vegetables along with Marinated Weth mushroom and "C'est Bon" Goat Cheese Arugula Croutons; Chef Sheldon Russell from Keystone Alley Café, who collaborated with Renecker’s Palace Hillside Elk Farm; Chef Sean Collins and Chef Yva Santini of Pazzo Ristorante who prepared Red Fife Cavatelli with Megens Family Farm Lamb Ragu; Chef Marc Chartrand and Chef Hannah Campbell from The Old Prune, featuring C’est Bon Goat Cheese; Chef Paul Finkelstein and students from The Screaming Avacodo Cafe, showcasing Tanjo Family Farm’s Partridge with Red Fife wheat and produce from their garden. Chef Matt Duffy from Langdon Hall, baked a selection of artisanal bread that was paired with Chef Ruth Klahsen’s Monforte Dairy cheeses and accompanied with preserves from McCully’s Hill Farm and Augusts Harvest. Chef Shawn Hartwell of Simple Fish ‘n Chips, (see this months spotlight) prepared Perth County Root Vegetable Salad of Purple Viking and Fingerling Potatoes, Jerusalem Artichokes, Celeriac Root and Sweet Parsnips in a Buttermilk Dressing with Lyndon Farms's Smoked Rainbow Trout.