Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Savour Stratford Culinary Festival Taste Education and GE Café People's Choice award and Grand Tasting Awards

2014 Savour Stratford Culinary Festival Taste Education and GE Café People's Choice award and Grand Tasting Awards   

The seventh annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival supported a wide range of interesting and enriching activities that made the events programming the most accessible and inclusive ever. The festival celebrates farm-to-table ideology and “new culinary regionalism” with three days of sipping, sampling and an innovative approach to taste education. Cathy Rehberg, Marketing Manager, Stratford Tourism Alliance, said the festival has strict rules on local content. Vendors are not allowed to sell non-local soft drinks. Instead, complimentary water is provided.
This year the theme of the festival was “Coast to Coast to Coast”, as the chefs visiting the festival shared their regional food culture with their own long-standing traditions and culinary expertise from across Canada. Food and wine enthusiasts descend on the festival, which is one of Ontario's foremost culinary celebrations. This year, all of Savour Stratford was located along Veterans Drive and York Street, with the Toronto Star Culinary Stage occurring at the former Nancy Campbell building and tastings held at the Knox Presbyterian Church amphitheatre. The riverfront area was alive with participants taking in the artisan's market, tutored talks and the gourmet tasting tents that are a signature of the event. Entertainment was provided by buskers and riverfront stage. By changing the date of the festival from September to July, Savour Stratford anticipated a higher attendance and better weather this year. 

The wide-ranging creative children’s programming, which included worm composting, earth sundaes and dessert veggies, as well as chef Jeff Stewart’s lessons on the benefits of eating bugs, made it more accessible and welcoming to families. The interactive programming makes learning about food fun and instills a desire in attendees to buy, eat and cook local as much as possible.   
Since its inception, Savour Stratford has been a unique opportunity to discover and meet with a genuine fraternity of some of the most talented tastemakers in Canada. It is an opportunity to connect with like-minded colleagues and professionals who are committed to shining the light on the explosion of boutique ingredients and create an awareness of regional foods both locally and across the country. 2014 celebrates the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Stratford Chefs School (SCS), by co-founders Eleanor Kane and James Morris, which Eugene Zakreski, Executive Director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, states was “important as establishing Stratford as a great place to dine.”

The weekend’s festivities began with a welcoming alfresco reception on the back terrace at the osteria, Monforte on Wellington. It was the perfect summer evening. The hospitable staff delivered a pair of sumptuous cheese (including sheep, goat, and cow and water buffalo varieties) and charcuterie boards and provided the guests with an intelligent tutorial about the provenance of each item. Wine was provided by Reif Estate Wineries, the official sponsor of Savour Stratford.

Later in the evening, chef Rogalski joined us and spoke about his intuitive quest to locate his grandparent’s old farm. In a rented car, with no map, no address and no recollection how to get there, Chef was able to find the Durham farm with some help from the locals.

During Saturday’s GE Café Series, we attended an interactive five-course lunch prepared at Stratford’s Local Community Food Centre by chefs McKay and Derek Dammann of Maison Publique in Montreal, and featuring winemaker Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run in Prince Edward County. The lunch was moderated by Claudia Bianchi co-owner of Toronto’s venerated Actinolite restaurant.
This lunch was perhaps the most indulgent and special of the events being offered. An amuse of spot prawns with marinated radishes, cherry tomatoes and chili  was followed by extravagant slices of immaculately firm raw British Columbia sockeye salmon complemented with a tomato gelée vinaigrette, salmon roe, basil seeds, heirloom cherry tomatoes, Maldon salt  and fresh basil leaves. This was followed by pan-roasted, melt-in-your-mouth, loin of British Columbia halibut (sourced near Haida Gwaii) and served with cucumber yogurt, dill, fava beans and sea asparagus (glasswort).

The next course was smoked and seared, Frost Village pork belly, served with braised kale and local plums. Dan Sullivan, described the 2011 JCR Pinot Noir he’d chosen to pair with chef Dammann’s pork belly, as “the purest iteration of what (his) land does”. Chef MacKay, explained that our deconstructed dessert, a small dice of al dente strawberry poached rhubarb with vanilla cremeux and pie crust crumble, had been prepared with rhubarb he’d picked from his Saskatoon neighbour’s backyard.
We really enjoyed Sullivan’s description of how the wave of agriculture and wineries has turned around the Prince Edward County economy. It was a compelling case for culinary tourism. I was particularly impressed by the G.E. Cafe at the Local Community Food Centre and how sustained sponsorship helps them enhance the experiential and educational aspects of their food programming. The continuing series is a great platform to hone culinary skills while combining a passion for the culinary arts with inspiring conversation and VQA wines.
Many of the guest chefs that returned to Stratford this year, including chef James Walt of Whistler’s Araxi, and Northwest Territories’, chef Rich Francis, who was on hand with his contemporary take on modern aboriginal and Northern Canadian cuisine, are graduates of the SCS. 
The programming of “Intimate Tutored Talks and Tastings” had culinary heavyweights and tasting presenters discussing emerging gastronomic trends, everything from foraged wild edibles with sustainable forager, Peter Blush of Puck’s Plenty, to fundamentals with fermentation by Ryan O’Donnell, instructor at SCS and chef at the Prune Restaurant.

The stellar line-up of inspirational women in agriculture was moderated by Alyson Fryer of The Cookbook store. The panelists included Ingrid de Martines, a well-known local heritage pork producer who raises wild boar commented, “connecting directly with consumers carries a powerful marketing punch.” Acclaimed Monforte Dairy cheesemaker and fledgling farmer Ruth Klahsen, stated, “food needs to be valued in a different way and consumers need to step up and pay for it.” The panel was rounded out by other agricultural and ecological activists including, Susan McDonough of Smokey Creek Farms, Pam Rogers of Kawthoolei Farm Organics, Miriam Streiman of Mad Maple Country Inn, and Gillian Flies of The New Farm. All the women came to farming, in part, from a political standpoint of improving the world through access to food. That something so inspirational could express itself so intimately was extremely powerful. One  male audience member commented, “that it would truly be women that save our world.”  

The pièce de résistance was the Grand Tasting, a stylish garden party in two elegant marquees off historic York Street and fronting the Avon River. The event is dedicated to chefs and local producers who have paired to create unique and innovative hors d’oeuvres-sized tasting samples for ticket holders. Local partnerships allow Savour Stratford to create a truly terroir-driven  regional tasting experience. Besides the tasting samples there are VQA wines, and craft brews and locally-created beverages. This year, Puck’s Plenty effervescent nettle beer was among my favourites.

Savour Stratford and its partners continue to successfully link food to place with the still emerging, modern cuisine du terroir and its fidelity to origin and season and taste education. Coast to Coast to Coast one can see that the local food movements are not trends, but transformations in the collective mindset of talented chefs across Canada.

Susan Dunfield of Down the Street and Antony John of Soiled Reputation at The Grand Tasting

GE Café People's Choice award and Grand Tasting Awards

Winners include:GE Café People's Choice Award - Mercer Hall (Stratford), Chef Tim Larsen and Sean Collins paired with Church Hill Farm, Owen and Eva Lass; A Taste of Church Hill Farm, A Bloody Bun.

Bloody Buns
 Best Meat Dish - The Bauer Butcher (Waterloo), chef Matthew Kendrick paired with Yorkshire Valley Farms (Peterborough), Krysten Cooper; Chicken and Wild Mushroom Terrine

Best Vegetarian Dish - Pazzo Taverna (Stratford), chef Yva Santini paired with Shallothill Specialty Vegg (Sebringville), James Harrison; Agniolotti with sweet peas, carrots and beets

Best Dessert Dish - The Stratford Chefs School (Stratford), chef Margaux Whillans-Browne and Maple Morning (Sebringville), James Harrison; Maple Candy Floss, Maple Marshmallow, Maple Taffy, Maple Macaroon

Best Beverage - Tea Leaves Tea Tasting Bar (Stratford), Tea Sommelier Karen Hartwick; Three Mint Enhanced Tea
Best Beverage Containing Alcohol - Dillon's Small Batch Distillers (Beamsville), Whitney Dillon; Strawberry Agua Fresca with Dillon's Method 95 Vodka, strawberries, rosemary, simple syrup and lemon bitters
Most Creative Dish - The Prune (Stratford) chef Ryan O'Donnell paired with Chris Meeuse Farm (Union), Chris Meeuse; Seabuckthorn Rocket; seabuckthorn, raspberry, crème fraiche 

Alyson Fryer, Grand Tasting host commented "The Grand Tasting is by far one of my favourite events at Savour Stratford, a gem of a culinary festival in Ontario's farming heartland. Ingredients and tastes come together in such a satisfying way; care and respect is given by the chefs to the farmer's products. Drinks are a standout, and not just alcoholic, but non-alcoholic as well."

The Tasting awards judging panel included: chef Bryan Steele from The Prune (Stratford), Top Chef Canada's Dale MacKay (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), sustainable seafood chef James Walt (Whistler, British Columbia) and our host Alyson Fryer (Toronto) of The Cookbook Store.

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