Thursday, April 14, 2011

Southwest Ontario Local Food Connection and Taste it! Gala - Round-up!

The Local Food Connection — Yes, We Have No Bananas

The Southwest Ontario Local Food Connection: Farmer / Food Buyer Networking Event and Taste it! Gala were an unprecedented success. The well-attended event, many months in the planning, exceeded expectations and identified many future opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in both the agricultural and culinary communities.

This present era is, both sadly and ironically, characterized by an alarming ignorance about agriculture, environment and the standardization of our food products. The Local Food Connection was intended in part, to counteract this problem and shine a light on farmers and producers and the availability of local products.

Representatives of restaurants, culinary retail, educational institutions and other institutions talked about what they like to buy and the challenges of sourcing local products. This networking event successfully showcased the region and helped further define the area as a whole, while building awareness about our agricultural and culinary identity.

The steering committee was a collaboration of a number of chefs, farmers, individuals and businesses interested in promoting and featuring local food, and educating the public about taste. The targeted audience included consumers, local producers and businesses engaged in the hospitality, culinary tourism, food retail, food service and food distributing industries. Word of mouth brought out many culinary luminaries from surrounding counties and from across the province.

The event was held in the Old East Village at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market in the historic Confederation Building. This was also an opportunity to launch a Local Flavour Initiative supported by the Old East Village B.I.A and the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. Ironically, until the Farmers’ Market opened in the Old East Village in 2006, the area had been identified as “a food desert” in a study conducted by Dr. Jason Gilliland. A food desert is generally defined as a socially distressed neighbourhood with low-average home incomes and poor access to healthy food.

The networking portion of the event commenced early morning (while vendors were setting up), bringing together a synergy of like-minded people dedicated and passionate about agriculture and food.

Lunch was comprised of Szabo Farms’ Maple Roasted Pork Loin and a tasting bar of salads, Ontario cheeses and artisanal breads that featured local and organic produce, condiments, pulses and culinary inspiration. Sourced locally, ingredients were provided by: On the Move Organics, Sleger’s Greenhouses, Pfennings, Steve Rounds Family Farm, Jantzi’s Cheese, and Flair Bakery. The lunch was catered by Savvy Chef owner and market vendor Scott Carrothers. And to wash it all down, Jeff Pastorious from On the Move Organics supplied fresh, organic, hand-juiced vegetable and wheatgrass shooters.

After lunch, the event became an open forum for networking and was followed by a roster of “local foods” guest speakers. On hand to lend support and talk about London’s emerging Culinary Tourism initiative was Rebecca Le Heup, Executive Director of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Le Heup spoke about Ontario Culinary Tourism – Discover What’s on your Table. Other speakers included Innovations in Agri-Food: What is on the Horizon? by John Kelly, Vice President, Erie Innovation and Commercialization; Local Sustainable and Organic Food – An Emerging Opportunity by Chris Trussell, Partner Services Manager, Local Food Plus; Challenges Of Being Unconventional in a Conventional Society – How To Start Down a Path of Having Local on Your Menu by Chef Kristian Crossen, Braise Food & Wine; and Filling in the Middle, hosted by the 100 Mile Market.

More than sixty-five vendors and sponsors attended the networking event to find potential clients and form friendships and business relationships. Some of the farmers and producers participating included Klondyke Farms, Heeman Green Houses and Strawberry Farm, Burdan’s Red Cat Farm Bakery, Ryckman’s Farms, Stratford Tea Leaves, Everything Tea, Wayne’s Gourmet Popcorn, Kinedhan Maple Syrup, The Corn Crib, August Harvest, Sovereign Farms, Erbcroft Farms, and The Whole Pig. These participants volunteered a brief synopsis of their operations, then spoke at greater length about what they produced to the buyers who mingled. This resulted in a heightened awareness of the availability and variety of local products.

Sponsors, representatives and key stakeholders from the local culinary community included: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, National Farmers Union, Western Fair Association, Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, Savour Stratford, Savour Elgin, Middlesex County, Tourism London, Slow Food, Growing Chefs, Oxford County Workplace and Training, Local Food Plus, 100 Mile Market,
Elgin St.Thomas Health, eatdrink magazine and many more.

The daytime networking event was followed by a Gala Taste of Southwest Ontario Foods Reception from 5 to 9 p.m. on the second floor of the market in the Fire Roasted Coffee Roastery.

The criteria for farmer/chef participation were that the tasting(s) had to be authentic and comprised of entirely local ingredients that showcase both chef and farmer/producer. Many of our area’s local chefs who met the “local food criteria” participated. It was an opportunity to showcase their creations for chefs, farmers, culinary artisans, and producers who strive to meet and exceed expectations by sourcing and offering local Ontario foods and beverages.
Local event planner and caterer Robbin Azzopardi was integral in coordinating the success of the evening’s festivities. Out-of-town guest chefs included Montforte Dairy’s owner/lead cheesemaker, Ruth Klahsen, who was on hand with a delicious sampling of her renowned sheep and goat’s milk cheeses; Chef Rene Delfraniers from Stratford, who served a Monforte Cheese Panna Cotta; and Chef Kim Saunders from the Windjammer Inn in Port Stanley, who dazzled us with delicious Lake Erie Pickerel Cakes. Christi Masse and Will Gaynor from Crust Catering and Bakery joined Chef Saunders and supplied the delicious bread.

A number of London chefs participated in the event. Chef Kristain Crossen from Braise Food and Wine provided a delicious Blanbrook Farms Bison Carpaccio with Buffalo Milk Mozzarella and a spectacular Heirloom Potato and Mushroom Terrine., The potatoes supplied by farmers Marcus and Jesse Koeing’s Klondyke Farms in Dashwood.

Chef Tim D’Sousa from the Idelwyld Inn served Caudles Catch Smoked White Fish with White Fish Roe and Ingersoll Crème Fraîche, as well as Walnut Hills Farms Crispy Pork Belly with Toasted Barley, Beet Puree and Anton Kozlicks Mustard.

Chef Yam Gurung from Momo’s at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market served his signature Nepalese-inspired dumplings. The pork was sourced from Szabo Farms and the dumplings were handmade with Arva Mill Flour.

Chef Steve James from the London Training Centre wowed us with a deconstructed “BLT” – slow-braised Asian-style Pork Belly, Tomato Sambal Salsa, and Antony John’s Soiled Reputation Wild Arugula on local breadsmith Penelope Holt’s handcrafted organic bread.

Chef Andrew Wolwowitcz, from the soon-to-be-open Springs Restaurant, sourced all his ingredients at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, including local pork and beef from Anthony at Farmgate Market; Korn Spitz (bread) from Flair Bakery; and Maitake, Black Trumpets and Sea Asparagus from Marc’s Mushrooms and Wild Harvest.

Chef Chris Chitty from the Delta Armouries served Wild Mushroom Ravioli and Fresh Rolls. All Chitty’s ingredients were sourced from the 100 Mile Market. For dessert, he prepared a velvety Pot au Crème with chocolate from The Chocolate Factory.

Luis Riva from True Taco prepared Chorizo and Barbocoa Tacos made with locally sourced beef and pork from Calvin Kuepfer of County Style Meats in Wellesley. The artisan corn tortillas were sourced in Alymer, Ontario.

Chef Korthof served St. Marys’ C’est Bon’s soft unripened goat cheese (from a herd of 200 purebred Toggenburg and La Mancha goats) on puff pastry with Norfolk County Matsu apples. Chef also proffered homemade profiteroles with Fair-trade Habitual roasted-chocolate lavender mousse.

Chef Sonita Bird from the Blackshire Pub served her signature Local Lamb Stew accompanied with Stratford Pilsner.

Chef Danijel Markovich from Kantina Cafe served local Chicken Salad on Arva Mills whole wheat bread, Maple Syrup Panna Cotta, and Sable Breton Crumbles with local sweet potatoes.

Every region of the world offers up delicious culinary treasures. Roquefort has its creamy sharp blue, Champagne its bubbly, Parma its Prosciutto and Parmigiano its cheese.
In Canada, we have Peterborough County’s Red Fife Wheat, Annapolis Valley’s Gravenstein Apple, Montreal’s eponymous melon, Quebec’s Canadienne Cow, First Nations’ Herring Spawn on Kelp, and the Prairies’ Great Plains Bison. Here in Southwest Ontario, we are rich with culinary tourism and agri-tourism resources, but could benefit from a stronger regional identity. And culinary treasures here in Southwest Ontario? We have Lake Erie yellow perch for starters. But, yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today. We’ve string beans and onions. Cabbages and scallions. All sorts of fruit and say, we have an old-fashioned to-mah-to…

Bryan Lavery is a well-known chef, food writer, culinary and agri-tourism tourism proponent.

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