Thursday, July 22, 2010


Stratford Tourism Alliance

Stratford, Ontario, is not only a cultural haven for world-class theatre, but also for a world-class creative community, which includes actors, artists, playwrights, writers, musicians, and many uniquely talented professionals, all of whom contribute to the vitality of the community. Stratford has a long history of being a hotbed of culinary talent, including farmers, growers, chefs, culinary instructors and restaurateurs. Hospitality and the culinary arts are an important and integral part of Stratford’s creative and theatrical community.
Stratford is internationally known for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which runs from April to November. The festival’s primary mandate is to present repertory productions of William Shakespeare’s plays, but it also produces a diverse variety of theatre, from classic Greek tragedies to more contemporary works. The festival has contributed to the formation of a distinctively idiosyncratic dining culture and restaurant community.

Since the festival’s inception in 1953, Stratford has been a magnet for gifted theatrical luminaries — many of the greatest Canadian, British and American stage actors have played roles at Stratford. It is not unusual to see well-known celebrities walking Stratford’s streets or frequenting local haunts. In the mid-1980s, when I was working at the Church Restaurant, actress Maggie Smith (friend of former Artistic Director, Robin Phillips) was a constant late-night visitor to the Belfry. Often I would run into her on the street or in the line-up at Canada Trust. Twenty-five years later, Avon Theatre house manager Eldon Gammon remembers Justin Bieber, the “little guy with the big voice” playing his guitar and singing contemporary rock out front for the theatre crowd.
Stratford fortunately has a tremendous tourism visionary in Eugene Zakreski, who earlier this year added a downloadable guide to Stratford’s tourism website with pop sensation Justin Bieber’s history and local haunts. Zakreski, Executive Director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, an early adopter of Culinary Tourism, is forward-thinking and recognizes and supports the uniqueness of Perth County’s terroir.

Zakreski and his colleagues, Cathy Rehberg, Danielle Brodhagen and Cathy Bieman, have successfully helped to reinforce Stratford and Perth County’s position as one of Canada’s unique and distinctive culinary destinations, by collaborating with the region’s farmers and chefs to reinforce a strong authentic food culture and promote culinary tourism in Stratford and Perth County.
In fact, the Stratford Tourism Alliance has been repeatedly invited to participate at local and regional culinary events and is presented as “best practice” by the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Savour Stratford Perth County is a partnership between Stratford and Perth County tourism and local economic development organizations.

The mandate of the Stratford Tourism Alliance is to act as a member and industry-driven private sector not-for-profit organization that manages, develops and publicizes “Destination Stratford” as a national and international tourism destination. Stratford and Perth County’s rich physical heritage, unique terroir, innovative cuisine, superior accommodations, interesting retail sector, and many unique events strengthen the local economy and enrich the quality of life in the City of Stratford and area.

Rumour has it that the Stratford Tourism Alliance will be recognized for its contribution to culinary tourism at the 2010 Culinary Thought Leadership World Summit in Halifax this September. “This summit is designed to foster leadership in the culinary tourism industry and to exchange ideas and feedback from around the world,” says conference emcee and president of the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA), Erik Wolf.

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival

In 2008, with a limited programme and little promotion, the almost sold-out Savour Stratford Tasting event exceeded its modest expectations by almost 200%. A request for additional funding for $7,000 for logistics had been turned down by city council. Ironically and more significantly, key culinary policy makers and influencers, including high-profile Toronto chefs and the culinary media spread the news about the unqualified success, importance and quality of the tasting event as compared to similar events in Ontario.
In 2009, Zakreski initiated a three-year culinary tourism project development strategy, which has been wildly successful. The Stratford Perth County Culinary Tourism campaign is being implemented by Danielle Brodhagen (Programme Development, Stratford Tourism Alliance, and Savour Stratford Perth County), who was the original driving force behind the inaugural Savour Stratford Tasting event. Organizers anticipate as many as 10,000 visitors per day at this year’s event.
The Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival, now in its third year, presents nine days of food from September 18 to 26, beginning with the Garlic Festival on September 18, where you can dine out at any number of restaurants featuring
“Field to Chef” garlic-inspired menus. The Garlic Festival is followed by a week of culinary events, dinners and activities, culminating in the popular two-day festival September 25–26 along the banks of the Avon River. According to the Stratford Tourism Alliance, the third annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever with significantly enhanced programming.
The signature event of the popular festival is the Savour Stratford Tasting, which takes place on Sunday, September 26. The Savour Stratford Tasting pairs local chefs with Perth County producers to create delicious Perth County terroir-inspired samplings. VQA wines and local craft brews will accompany over 30 samples that are designed to delight gastronomes and foodies alike.
It is also possible to experience Perth County’s terroir at the Stratford Farmers’ Market every Saturday and Wednesdays in the Summer or the Slow Food Market at Monforte Dairy featuring everything from local eggs to elk, pork, sheep’s milk cheese and cider. The Stratford Farmers’ Market, established in 1855, is one of the longest continual links in Stratford’s culinary history.
For 2010, VIP tickets have been created for the much-sought-after Savour Stratford Tasting. This will provide an exclusive opportunity for early entry into the tasting tent and a unique chance to preview the highly anticipated culinary creations. VIP guests are invited to join the chefs and producers at noon on Sunday — before the event opens to general ticket holders at 1:00 p.m. — and will also receive a Savour Stratford gift tote, which includes a Tasting Plate handcrafted by local pottery artist, Chris Lass. Enjoy an afternoon of sipping and sampling in the heart of Stratford’s garden district.

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival Itinerary
On Saturday, September 18, nine days of festivities will be launched with Stratford’s annual Garlic festival. The festival celebrating the “stinking rose” showcases the versatility of Ontario garlic. Elizabeth Baird, editor for Canadian Living magazine, leads an impressive list of speakers and cooking demonstrators, including cookbook author, Rose Murray. Activities take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Old Stratford Fairgrounds on Glastonbury Drive. Admission is $5 per person
On Sunday, September 19, visit selected farms throughout Perth County, which will be presenting a variety of products grown and raised on their farms. This Perth County Farm Tour encourages families to make the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. The bus tour includes a local Perth County picnic lunch. $25 for adults and $12 for kids (10 and under).
Sunday night City Centre Committee presents Movies in the Square – Screening of Ratatouille at the Stratford City Hall 7pm Free.
Monday, September 20 (and Wed. and Fri., all at 2 p.m.) — Edible Stratford Tour. Join your culinary connoisseur on a guided culinary walking tour of Stratford’s food shops, meet the local producers and sample delicious treats. Tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week starting at 2:00 pm at the Stratford Tourism Office. Tickets are $15 per person.
Monday September 20, Gallery Stratford presents “Shake Your Martini” – Learn to make three martinis using fresh and local ingredients – Be sure to Dress to your Nines! Schmooze, Mingle and Sip!
Wednesday, September 22 8pm — “Feast of Comedy” featuring Marc Sinodinos of NBC Today’s Show and Larry Smith of Comedy Club at 54 Join us for an evening of laughs at the Savour Stratford comedy night at the Stratford City Hall. Limited Tickets.
Thursday, September 23, 8 p.m. — Pubs, Pilsner and Spirits Tour. Let us introduce you to our spirits! Inject a little spirit into a walking tour of Stratford’s heritage pubs. You’ll visit Stratford’s first brewery, then a variety of pubs in heritage buildings. There will be tastings at each stop. Cost: $25 per person which includes tastings at each stop.
Friday, September 24, 7 p.m. — Beerology 101 with Beer Expert, Mirella Amato. Learn about basic beer ingredients and how beer is made, while tasting through a series of contrasting and delicious local artisanal brews. The workshop is at the new University of Waterloo, Stratford campus, in downtown Stratford. $15 per person.
Friday, September 24, 7 p.m. — Docfest and Savour Stratford Present Tableland at Factory163. Craig Noble’s Tableland will be screened for the first time in Stratford; guests from the film will answer questions and promote discussion around local food. Cash bar available. Admission is free.
Friday, 9 p.m. — Launch Party. After a week of activity, we’re ready to party. Meet at Foster’s Inn for a fun evening preview to the two-day festival. Complimentary cocktail and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.
Saturday, September 25 — The Festival gets into full swing with a diverse roster of events featuring the best of Perth County. Events start at 9:00 a.m., so plan to arrive early to browse the Farmers and Artisans Market set along the banks of the Avon River. You will be entertained throughout the day at the York Street Carnival, the Kids’ Tent, a Pick Your Own Salad Bar, a Not-for-profit BBQ, and other interactive activities. Outdoor concerts run all afternoon, including performances by Canadian folk sweet heart, Dayna Manning and a never been seen before acoustic set by The Salads! Ontario Wine and Craft Beer Pavilion located across from the Main Stage will entertain the adults. Opportunities to learn more about cooking and food will take place at the Chefs School Learning Centre, featuring Locavore author, Sara Elton and author of City Farmer, Lorraine Johnson and Vegetarian Chef Denis Cotter of the award winning restaurant, CafĂ© Paridiso, Ireland. As evening approaches, you can book tickets for a traditional Flavours of Perth Pork Roast at 6:00 p.m., and later, the BBQ, Blues and Brews evening with a live Blues band.
Sunday, September 26 — The Savour Stratford Tasting, the centerpiece of the festive weekend, takes place from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Set under tents along the Avon River, you will enjoy the culinary garden party and dine on over 30 local delicacies crafted by over 30 acclaimed chefs. The local cuisine will be paired with Ontario VQA vintages and craft brews, and accompanied by French Canadian Artist, Amelie Chante and Les Singes Bleus. New for 2010 is a VIP Ticket providing early entry to interact with local chefs and producers and a take-away Savour Stratford gift bag, which includes a Tasting Plate handcrafted by local pottery artist, Chris Lass. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online, by phone or in person.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Locavore: From Farmers' Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat

By Bryan Lavery

I am an ardent reader of Sarah Elton, food columnist for CBC Radio’s Here & Now, who writes regularly for the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and the Atlantic’s Food Channel, and is also an informative blogger and tweeter. Her new book, Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat, was officially launched at the Green Barns Market in Toronto at the end of March.

The New Oxford American Dictionary selected locavore, a person who seeks out locally produced food, as its word of the year in 2007. Since the term locavore entered the culinary lexicon, it seems to be on the tip of every culinary-minded person’s tongue. Originally, the term was coined in San Francisco by Jessica Prentice, for the 2005 World Environment Day, to describe consumers who choose locally produced foods over other high-carbon-footprint options.

As the emphasis on local food, sustainability and terroir continues to gain momentum across Canada, Elton’s book champions the movement away from global food production. Elton writes with a steady focus on Canadian farmers, producers, cheese makers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers’ markets, and the regular “Janes and Joes” who are creating sustainable alternatives to agribusiness and the current global food system.

With the premise that food is the foundation of our culture, Elton allows the readers a behind-the-scenes journey into the local-food movement and an overview of Canadian terroir and the collective culinary sensibility of a nation. Elton travels the back roads from the Maritimes to Vancouver Island, making her the quintessential culinary agritourist, and allowing us a close-up analysis of a burgeoning new local-food order. Meticulous journalist, part culinary zeitgeist, and urban farmer, Elton resides in downtown Toronto with her husband and two daughters.

According to Elton, “Our farmers’ markets are not only hopping, we have more than 500 across Canada.” We also spend about $1 billion at them each year. Although the number of farmers has been on the decline for several decades, a more noble-minded younger generation is moving away from urban areas to the countryside to get back to the earth with sustainable and organic farming practises.

Imagine my surprise when I read that La Sauvagine, a soft cheese that won a raft of awards in 2008, and which I have touted in these pages, turns out not to be a handcrafted farmstead cheese and the very essence of Quebec’s terroir. Instead, Elton reveals that it is actually a mass-produced cheese made with cheap stand-in ingredients instead of fresh milk. The “artisan” featured on the packaging, Alexis du Pont, is nothing more than a counterfeit farmer. Elton also imparts that the unregulated term “artisan” is becoming increasingly trite and meaningless. Major corporations eagerly smack this warm and fuzzy marketing adjective on an increasingly long list of industrial products to deceive unsuspecting consumers.

Locally, Jo Sleger is a well-known farmer in Middlesex County, whose company supplies about 55,000 boxes of produce a year to upscale restaurants and grocers, mainly in Southern Ontario. Sleger specializes in organic greens, which he cultivates year-round in greenhouses, using soil plugs that are nourished by a hydroponic system. Sleger has been growing lettuce in his greenhouse since 1987, when he was only twenty-one. Elton takes her readers on a brief tour of Jo and Pauline Sleger’s organic operation. Elton poses the question, “So are greenhouses the missing piece in this puzzle? Are they the answer to getting us from October to May? Could greenhouses be a way to entice everybody — and I mean everybody, not just those committed to reducing their food miles at all cost — to buy local?” Interestingly, Locavore also tells us that nearby Essex County has the largest number of greenhouses in North America, with 87% dedicated to vegetable production.

In June, I had the opportunity to speak with Elton face-to-face at London’s Central Library. In person, Elton comes across as being neither an elitist nor a purist — her approach is even-handed and pragmatic. But she also tells her audience that she has had to rigorously defend her views and her opinions on locavorism since her book tour began. Speaking to an audience of about 100 people, many farmers and members of our local food community concerned about the global food chain, Elton revealed that an innocuous-looking cookie with a mile-long list of ingredients was the catalyst that instigated a profound change in her relationship to food. This is the same engaging story, told at the beginning of Locavore, that lead Elton on her local-food journey across Canada.

One of the many lively discussions at the Central Library centred on the decline of small rural abattoirs. Historically, there were hundreds of small abattoirs in Ontario, but due to stringent government food and safety regulations, these small abattoirs, which service the local and sustainable meat market, are being forced out of business. The abattoir operators are unable to keep up with the red tape and paper work, nor can they afford the upgrades and renovations the government now requires of their facilities. The problem is that if they go out of business, there won’t be sanctioned facilities for local farmers to have their meats slaughtered. This means that the consumer would be forced to buy exclusively from the factory farmers. The National Farmers’ Union has organized a campaign to save the abattoirs; and local farmer and Executive Secretary for the N.F.U. in Ontario, Karen Eatwell passed out postcards to the audience with a letter of protest.

Fortunately, the trend to buying and eating local is showing no signs of declining. Instead, the fruits of our local terroir are quickly becoming a patriotic trademark of Canada’s best tables. Elton offers a good case for the premise that a strong greenhouse industry might be the answer to building a sustainable food shed in Ontario. So, if you read one book this summer, do yourself a favour and read the immensely enlightening Locavore.