Monday, October 6, 2014

What's Cooking at London Ontario's Covent Garden Market




By BRYAN LAVERY


Covent Garden Market formerly established in 1845, is the longest established link to London's culinary history. Today, the Covent Garden continues to be a strong focal point for the rural and urban exchange where local, farm-fresh quality and gourmet international foodstuffs can be procured every day of the week.
In addition to the indoor market, the seasonal Covent Garden Farmers’ Market operated by Christine Sheer is London’s only 100% producer-based farmers' market – this means that every vendor at the market sells what they grow, raise, bake, and preserve themselves.  Twice a week (Thursdays and Saturdays) during the season the outdoor farmers' market features fresh local produce, meats (bison), and a variety of artisanal baked goods.
Located at the junction of King and Talbot Streets, the Covent Garden Market is a strong attraction and culinary destination for both locals and out-of-town guests.  The Market remains one of the city’s most venerated cultural landmarks and is the heart and soul of the downtown buy-local food movement.

The City of London adopted a plan to create a public Farmers’ Market as part of their revitalization strategy for its downtown core in 1997. The aim of the new Covent Garden Market was to revitalize the area by attracting more people to the downtown core and acting as a catalyst for future development.
The Covent Garden Market, in its third incarnation, was rebuilt in its present location. The $14-million downtown linchpin opened in October 1999 drawing crowds. By 2003, the new Market was suffering growing pains, customers were scarce, vacancy rates high and there was conflict between vendors and management.
Soon after, the third general manager, Bob Usher, would shepherd in a new era of community building and prosperity.  Annual sales have reportedly increased, vacancies are non-existent and the Covent Garden Market has created an affordably fresh, friendly and buy-local identity and brand. Usher has said, “The Covent Garden has been able to leverage the rising fortunes of downtown, marked by the proximity of the Budweiser Gardens and the upturn in downtown residential development.”
On market days in earlier times, farmers travelled over back-country roads to sell from their wagons at Market Square. Meat was sold from covered booths inside the market building, and a large pot-bellied stove provided heat in the winter months. Market-goers and farmers were brought together to barter on sawdust-covered floors, where everything and anything was for sale. In the 1880s, a collection of shops just east of the market building was known as the Market Bazaar, selling anything “from a needle to an anchor.” By 1905, these buildings had been torn down and “con men, jugglers, musicians, magicians, medicine men and preachers” reportedly made pitches in the open square. 
Covent Garden Market, which was named, like many local landmarks, after the original in London, England, retains a strong sense of London’s early history and tradition. In the 1950s, the historic stately building was replaced by an enclosed market and parking garage, which were completed in 1956, with two levels added for parking in 1958. 
Despite all the changes, several long-time merchant families have served the market public for generations, including the Smiths since 1887 and the Havaris family since 1910.
Hasbeans, operated by the hospitable Smith family, have been market merchants following a family tradition that began when Chancey Smith, first opened a fruit and vegetable stand in the market in the 1880’s. The coffee business continues to be a hands-on affair with Paul (3rd generation), Debbie 4th) and the effervescent Joel McMillian (5th) who now runs the shop’s day-to-day operations. While promoting the distinct qualities that each coffee bean develops in its natural environment, Hasbeans’ stalwart owners and staff have become a market institution for their fair trade offerings and personalized service. Hasbeans’ hand-selected imported coffees are offered as both green (raw) and roasted coffee beans. T
Though the market has introduced more restaurants and take-out outlets, the core retailers are still the fruit and vegetable vendors, bakers, and butchers. All vendors remain independents. Usher assures that as long as he is general manager, there will be no chain outlets allowed in the market. “Everything will remain mom and pop.”
Today, the Covent Garden Market continues to be the heart of the downtown, where gourmet, artisanal and wholesome, farm-fresh quality can be found every day of the week. Ask Usher, about some of the city’s best selection of organic foods, award-winning meats (Fieldgate Farms), ethnic foods (a long list), the largest assortment of international and artisan cheese (thanks to cheese monger Glenda Smith) in Southwestern Ontario, confectionery, chocolatiers, market-roasted coffees, and a wide range of seasonal fresh cut flowers.
The International Bakery has been a prominent vendor for over 40 years offering kringle, pastries, cakes, breads, and European inspired staples. Speaking of bakeries, Petit Paris Crêperie & Pâtisserie is a fine example of the French pastry tradition, located at the King Street entrance of the Market. Petit Paris offers personalized cakes and pâtisseries made from scratch — timeless classics — all crafted with premium quality ingredients that have quickly established Petit Paris’s reputation for quality.
Sample one of Zoran Sehovac's hand-made Balkan-inspired savoury bureks from the Hot Oven. Rolled in a spiral savoury spinach and cheese, meat or plain offerings in phyllo pastry attract a loyal clientele.
Chef Bhan from the New Delhi Deli serves up a melting pot of authentic Indian, Caribbean, Mexican and East African cuisines. Serving homemade non-dairy, vegetarian and meat curry choices, jerk and tandoori chicken, roti wraps, samosas, seafood, duck, lamb and more, Bhan offers lunches anytime, snacks, and take-home dinners when you need a break from cooking.
Havaris Produce has been a vendor at the Market dating back to the 1800s. Introduce yourself to Chris Doris of Doris Family Produce — he’s the one who can help you find those hard-to-get quinces in season, when Persian Chicken is the order of the day.
Speaking of produce sellers, a couple of years ago, Greg Fraumeni took over the produce stall run by Chris Catsiroumpas, who retired at the age of 74 after 38 years as a vendor.
Kleiber’s is another long-time fixture at the Market and has built a reputation for carrying a large array of authentic European delicacies, including quality ingredients from Germany, Holland, Poland and elsewhere in the EU. Anna Turkiewicz is a well-known caterer and for the last fifteen years, owner of Kleiber’s, an old-school deli that has been a  Covent Garden Market mainstay since it opened in 1940. Well- known to the downtown lunch crowd, for whom Turkiewicz prepares her signature soups,  cabbage rolls, schnitzels and sausages for take-away, she is also a caterer with a reputation for friendly and personal service. Who can say no to her classic chicken and beef dishes served daily with salad and mashed potatoes? Kleiber`s corner stall is where you can locate hard to find chestnut purée, quince jam, specialty mustards, holiday confectionary and imported chocolate.
Covent Garden Market also houses several restaurants, such as Waldo’s on King whose talented culinary brigade offers traditional bistro-style selections.  Recently market produce merchant, Chris Doris and Woodstock restaurateur Greg Efstatheu, opened Olive R Twists in newly refurbished premises recently occupied by Upfront at the Market and Chauncey Smith's. Waldo's and Olive R Twists feature one of the city premiere patios. Nestled into the Market Lane side of the building,Tanakaya is something of a hidden gem offering made-to-order sushi rolls, sashimi, teriyaki, tempura and traditional bento box choices. 
The market also offers a variety of culturally diverse take-out and grab and go outlets. Other core retailers are still the fruit and vegetable vendors, bakers, butchers and specialty food artisans. And this is only a very short list of all the interesting and exciting vendors who give the Market its unique character and persona. There are 52 indoor vendors.
The Covent Garden remains true to its historic roots even though it's more upscale and gentrified than the old market that operated on the main floor of a parking garage. The arts are also a focus of the Market's mezzanine where a local cultural organizations and artists are resident – there’s even a cooking studio/kitchen an art school and a theatre.

Open 7 days a week.  www.coventmarket.com 

130 King Street;   519 439-3921

For more information about The Covent Garden Farmers’ Market, including recipes and special events, please go to the farmers’ market blog, at www.coventgardenfarmersmarket.com  










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