Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Fresh Look at Seasonal Farmers’ Markets

A Fresh Look at Seasonal Farmers’ Markets Around London, Ontario

The preference to purchase and eat local products has helped revive farmers' markets and farm gate sales as an alternative to grocery store retailers. Authentic farmers' markets are not only increasing exponentially, but according to the most recent available statistics, Canadians spend more than $103 billion at them each year in annual sales, for a total economic impact of up to $3.09 billion. According to Farmers' Markets of Ontario, one way that farmers' market shape food systems is by fostering free enterprise and ethically-grounded economic behaviour.

A Fresh Look at Seasonal Farmers’ Markets


Every year I look forward to the start of the outdoor farmers’ market season. In warmer weather, I generally frequent farmers’ markets and farmgates which help to sustain economic activity on a local level. The new economic reality is that farmers’ markets have become a source of competitive advantage and the preferred food-retailing operation for many consumers. Studies reveal that most market shoppers are inspired to eat seasonally, which leads to altered buying and cooking patterns. It is important to keep in mind that farmers’ markets achieve an imperative part in local economic development by providing a location for local and small business incubation, generating an economic multiplier effect to neighboring businesses, and redistributing customer dollars within the community.

The “eat and buy local” movements have taken Ontario by storm, and there are hundreds of farmers’ markets dotted across the province to prove it. It is a great way to savour the terroir and talents of a community.  Here are some of this area’s best-loved seasonal farmers’ markets:

The Soho Street Market

The Soho Street Market (located in front of the Goodwill Centre at Horton and Wellington) is the new kid on the block and has quickly become a community hub. The night market offers an open-air market experience. It’s operated by the Soho Community Association for the purpose of providing local produce, farm fresh fruits, and artisanal handcrafts to visitors and residents. Since its inception it has been a smash hit. Edgar and Joe’s Café stays open late too.  Every Friday night from 4-9 pm.

Covent Garden Market Farmers’ Market
They grow it, raise, bake it, or make it! That's the mantra of the Covent Garden Farmers' Market a 100 per cent producer-based market. Every Thursday and Saturday from May until December, you can expect super fresh produce, meat, cheese, baked goods, local wine, samplings by local chefs, live music and children's programming. For current news, recipes and seasonal information about the farmers' market please go to their blog.
Thursdays and Saturdays 8 am to 1 pm. May to Christmas, weather permitting. 

Hyde Park Outdoor Market

Hyde Park Outdoor Market opens May 9th. There is an     interesting complement of year round indoor vendors, and additional vendors at the seasonal outdoor market. There is a large patio with landscaped gardens to sit and relax while enjoying the market experience in London`s north west. Hyde Park Market is located at 1331 Hyde Park Road, south of Gainsborough. There are additional parking spaces at The Crossings just under the railway overpass. Open Saturday 8 am–5 pm and Sundays 9 am–3 pm.

Masonville Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market

Masonville Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market features over 40 farmers, artisans and food producers. It is organized by the Western Fair Farmers & Artisans’ Market. There is free parking at the Masonville Place parking lot. Fridays 8 am–2 pm, weather permitting.

Slow Food Perth County's Sunday Market

Since its inception, Slow Food Perth County's Sunday Market has been a hit and a go-to food destination. Market-goers appreciate the good, clean, fair principles of Slow Food as well as the exceptional and produce and artisanal products offered by local vendors who have a passion for their offerings. In season, Stratford Market Square, then the market returns to The Falstaff Family Centre. The market remains outdoors right through the planting, growing, and harvest seasons, until mid-October. Sundays 10 am to 2 pm. 

St. Thomas Horton Farmers’ Market Horton

Horton Farmers’ Market is a best-in-class market destination that promotes civic pride, shapes local culture and supports the regional economy by providing access to high quality food producers, craftspeople and artisans. If you are looking for farm fresh produce and meats, homemade preserves and baking, as well as handmade crafts and artwork, the Horton Farmers' Market is the place to be! They strive to have only local producers and craftspeople represented, giving you a taste and experience unique to St. Thomas. Manitoba Street, ½ block north of Talbot Street. St. Thomas, Open Mother's Day Weekend to October 31, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 12 noon.
 The Goderich Farmers’ Market

The Goderich Farmers’ Market on the Courthouse Square is sponsored by the Goderich BIA. The outdoor farmers market is operated by the Goderich BIA. On the Courthouse Square vendors offer fruits and vegetables, honey, maple syrup, plants and flowers, pork products and fish, baked goods, preserves and handmade locally produced crafts. The popular farmers’ market operates every weekend from spring to fall.  Saturdays, 8 am to 1 pm., Victoria Day to Thanksgiving.

The St. Marys Farmers’ Market

An exclusively producer –based market, the St. Marys Farmers' Market continues its proud tradition of offering a wide range of fresh, locally produced foods, arts and crafts from around the county. Special events such as their monthly pancake breakfasts, as well as the finest meats, produce and baked goods brought to you by local farmers and other members of the community. The vendors at the market are all local farmers, home bakers and local craftspeople. Saturdays, 8 am to 12 Noon, May 16th to October 31st.

Strathroy Farmers’ Market 

Strathroy Farmers’ Market is one of the area’s oldest open air farmers’ markets and has operated since 1861. The market takes on Market Square behind the town hall in Strathroy on Saturdays from June to October. The market (open 8am–12 noon) is a member of Farmers’ Market Ontario.

Downtown Woodstock Farmers’ Market

Downtown Woodstock Farmers’ Market is a vibrant outdoor local market in the heart of downtown Woodstock on Museum/Market Square. The market features fresh, seasonal produce, eggs, meat, dairy, baked goods, flowers, plants, artisans, crafts and more. Museum Square and Dundas St., Woodstock, May to October, Thursdays 12 noon to 5 pm (sometimes later). 

Grand Bend Farmers’ Market

Nestled on the West Coast of Ontario, the Grand Bend Farmers’ Market welcomes you to a season of fresh, locally-grown produce. The offerings of the 25-plus producer-based vendor group ranges from organic vegetables, beef and pork producers to flowers, bakers, artisans and more. If the vendors don’t grow it, produce it, make it or bake it, it can’t be found at the market. They try to offer a varied selection of products from all areas as we draw from the three counties of Huron, Middlesex and Lambton. 1 Main St., Grand Bend (Colonial Hotel Parking Lot - enter off Hwy 21.) Opens the first Wednesday after Victoria Day and closes the last Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 8 am to 1 pm.

Point Edward Moonlight Farmer's Market

Point Edward Moonlight Farmer's Market to launch on June 25th. Local food will be back in a big way this summer, right under the Bluewater Bridge in Point Edward. Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation is the lead in the new farmers' market featuring an enticing assortment of local products every Thursday evening from 4 to 8 pm, beginning June 25th.

 Farmers’ markets have become a favourite pastime. Petrolia also has an open-air market on Saturdays from the end of May to Thanksgiving. The Forest Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market features local producers and artisans showing home-grown local produce and products on Fridays from 8 am to 1 pm. May to October

London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide 2015

London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide 2015
 In London, Ontario there are many culinary professionals who are actively embracing new and original versions of the farm-to-table experience. They represent the vanguard of the modern Ontario culinary scene and have a reputation for ingenuity and creativity. They possess exceptional, compelling culinary philosophies and are committed to fostering a cutting-edge culinary repertoire by sharing their knowledge with fellow professionals and patrons.

We have cooks, restaurateurs, farmers’ markets, publicans, retailers and food-lovers who are not just advocating “eating and drinking local” and “eating seasonal,” they are enthusiastically and creatively promoting and developing new region-specific cuisines. They have a reputation for referencing both the local terroir and the heart of Ontario country tradition for inspiration. As for their cuisine, it’s made from scratch and it’s ground-breaking. They are implementing time-honoured traditions and trusted techniques yet delivering ingredients in fresh ways while focusing on the local sourcing of ingredients, nutrition and environmental sustainability.

Many of these trailblazers are profiled in the London’s Local Flavour 2015 Culinary Guide. While we celebrate local farmers, our true food stars are innovating in kitchens throughout the city, offering up some of Ontario’s finest food and pairing them with a rich variety of craft beer and VQA wine tasting experiences. 
The increase in London’s range and choices in culinary offerings reflects both our growing ethnic diversity and an increased demand driven by sophisticated consumers who are seeking bolder, more exotic and authentic tastes from a variety of cultures. Our various restaurants, new and old, distinguish themselves with both tradition and up-to-the-minute adaptations of our region’s characteristic flavours and ingredients. 

Culinary tourism and the local food movement are not trends, but a change in the collective mindset of communities across Canada. When it comes to food what’s local is usually what is best. Nowhere is the love of all things culinary more evident than in the popularity of culinary tourism in Ontario. London is a natural hub for this and, in fact, culinary tourism is booming in our city and all around us. Authentic culinary tourism is the experiential ‘taste’ of a place rooted in its terroir. It starts with agriculture and the people who grow our food.

 The Local Flavour can be picked up at the airport (and with the limo drivers there), the train station, tourist information centres and the farmers’ markets. Lots of copies are distributed through the restaurants and other participants, and the libraries.

Tourism London of course sends out copies with enquiries and pitches to groups, as does Downtown London, and the Convention Centre, where copies are also circulated.
Whether you’re interested in one-stop shopping at one of our specialty food shops, or at our many farmers’ markets for a diversity of local products, or just want to explore the unique destination restaurants throughout our city, we know you’ll enjoy the vast choice of dining and drinking options London has offering a taste of our "Local Flavour." 

True Taco in Old East Village Continues to Wow Diehard Taco-Lovers


True Taco Continues to Wow Diehard Taco-Lovers

True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino continues to wow diehard taco-lovers by providing superior Mexican and El Salvadorian cuisine in newer and much larger premises on Dundas Street in London’s Old East Village. The latest news is that they have applied for a liquor license. There is nothing quite like like ice cold cervezas or a shot of tequila to accompany a Latin-American meal.  
Owning a restaurant was a long-time dream for Luis Rivas who conceived the popular True Taco restaurant as an unpretentious Latino oasis, after perfecting his signature taco and salsa offerings, and building a loyal clientele at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. The satellite operation is reminiscent of the hole-in-the-wall taquerias and street stand taquerias in Latin America.

As far as trends go in restaurants, few dishes loom as large as the taco, a generally inexpensive restaurant bite that has created a cult of aficionados. The restaurant industry has been in a state of gourmet taco consciousness for some time. Much like the slider craze, tacos continue to be the new canvas of the gourmet world.  Delicious fillings like swordfish, scallops, foie gras, don’t come cheap in higher end restaurants, of course. But it’s worth paying for a great taco prepared with high quality ingredients and extra attention.

Rivas opened a restaurant in Old East in 2009, just a year after starting out in the market. Last year he expanded to a bigger location across the street from the original. Rivas estimates that 40% of True Taco’s clientele originated from what has become his satellite operation at the Saturday WFFAM. There is a tremendous amount of repeat business. Rivas credits the clientele of the Aeolian Hall and the emerging culinary scene in Old East Village as part of the restaurant’s continuing success and higher profile.

True Taco quickly made its name and built a reputation for quality, authentic Mexican and El Salvadorian food. It all started with just a modest offering of 4 really delicious tacos and a limited menu of other specialities. “The big favourite being the taco al pastor made with juicy pork loin, pineapple, onion and cilantro that just melt into the meat." says Rivas. The other taco signature specialties are prepared with a choice of chorizo, beef barbacoa, or beef tongue, and a selection of homemade sauces. At the restaurant there are 16 fresh salsas to choose from. The nacho chips are house made, artisan corn tortillas and produced nearby in Alymer. True Taco offers a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros, sunny side up eggs with homemade sauce served with beans (locally sourced) and tortillas at both locations.

Favourites include the delicious pupusas served with curtido (traditional cabbage relish) and homemade sauce. El Salvador’s signature dish is the pupusa, this thick handmade corn or rice flour tortilla that is typically stuffed “de queso” (cheese) or chicharron (cooked pork ground to a paste consistency,) served with refried beans and loroco (a vine flower bud indigenous to Central America) and curtido. Other traditional Central America offerings include: burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales. The guacamole is always fresh, bright green and outstanding.

One of the most delicious things I have eaten was a hot-off-the-grill golden brown gordita served with refried beans, at True Taco at the WFFAM. The Mexican gordita is quite similar to the Salvadoran pupusa. Gorditas normally have an opening at the center of the tortilla and generally have more filling than pupusas (hence the name gordita—"little fat one or little fatty"). Another standout is the chicken Milanesa.

 789 Dundas St;
 519 433 0909

Western Fair Farmers and Artisans’ Market (Saturdays 8 to 3pm)



Sunday, May 10, 2015

Wild Leek and Asparagus Vichyssoise

Ontario Wild Leeks or Ramps

Wild leeks, sometimes called ramp, is a wild onion native to North America. The wild plant of the lily family is much stronger to the taste than the cultivated leek – almost peppery. The whole plant can be eaten, either raw in a salad or cooked. A word to you foragers, only take what you can eat for yourself and for preserving, and please don’t take the root. Trimming the shoots alone is enough, and it is best to leave the bulb in the ground for another season’s growth. Forage where the plants are plentiful and only pick individual plants within bunches.

Store fresh asparagus with the ends wrapped in a damp paper towel. Keep them wrapped in plastic and in the refrigerator.
When preparing fresh asparagus, snap off the butt end of each spear. Save those woody ends to make soup stock.
Not only is asparagus low calorie and fat free, it is also an excellent source of folacin, antioxidants, thiamin, and vitamin B6.

Wild Leek and Asparagus Vichyssoise

  • 2 pounds asparagus, tips reserved, stalks cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ cup wild leeks
  • ½  pound potatoes, peeled and cubed (preferably russet or Yukon Gold)
  • 3 cups strong vegetable stock (or more as needed)
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus tips until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain the asparagus tips in a colander and refresh under cold water. Pat dry, halve the tips lengthwise and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus, potatoes and stock, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the cream, salt and white pepper. Let the soup cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.

The Blu Duby: The Restaurant is Approachable as it is Beautiful


Photographs by Steve Grimes

Blu Duby owners, Joe and Cheryl Duby, have built a diverse and loyal clientele by combining an accessible menu and wine list with upbeat ambience. The restaurant is a hybrid of casual dining and fine dining. Their vision has been to create a community, bound together by relationships with their team of hospitality professionals and a "remarkable dining experience". The Duby’s have created an atmosphere where people can come and enjoy a drink at the bar, a few appetizers or a full dining experience in a casual, yet elegant venue. Their goal: “A remarkable experience designed to accommodate every budget.” The result: a casual streamlined operation with a recession-friendly, contemporary menu, that appeals to a broad demographic.
The restaurant achieved  the Duby's  goal of being remarkable right from day one by providing a warm and welcoming ambience with plenty of style. Opening to immediate success in mid-July 2012, in the revitalized interior of a former warehouse  (briefly the late but lamented Braise Restaurant) and adjacent to the boutique hotel,  Metro, in downtown London.

Joe Duby is a well-known restaurant professional with  years of solid experience and a large and loyal following. He had spent the eight years managing Waldo's on King before embarking on Blu Duby. Cheryl Duby is an admired and well-respected businessperson, co-founder and President of Bigger Solutions Inc., and President of International Automotive Solutions. Both of the Duby’s are hands-on.
Together, the Dubys picked a team of dynamic hospitality professionals who are known for their customer service skills, clever repartee, and wit. They realize that there is not a single member of a restaurant staff whose behaviour does not affect the patron's experience, in one way or another. Daytime manager Mathew Mckenzie, William McKillop, Ray Nernberg, Scott MacDonald, and Toni Mansilla make up just part of the winning team. Part of the Duby’s acumen has been to employ the perfect blend of critical talent.

The restaurant is as approachable as it is beautiful. The dining rooms sports modern sophistication with its chic décor, combined with an innovative approach to family-friendly comfort food and artful cuisine. The restaurant has contemporary lighting fixtures, comfortable black chairs and tables provide contrast to the reclaimed exposed brick walls, solid maple hardwood flooring, fourteen-foot ceilings, and a structurally solid post-and-beam construction. The brick walls and other “sharkskin” coloured accents make a perfect backdrop for Artist Greg Benz’s modern abstract paintings. Great tunes playing in the background add a soothing but upbeat tempo.

The restaurant’s cooking repertoire keeps changing, and the presentation is both stylish and contemporary.  The culinary team prepares most everything in-house from scratch. Chef Jamie Craig's casual bistro-style selections and tantalizing vegetarian choices are on offer, as well as many comfort food favourites that have been updated and re-imagined. Craig brings a culinary philosophy of appreciation for fresh quality commodities and consistent proper preparation. In addition to his passion for cooking, Craig finds great satisfaction in helping to discover and develop the talents of younger chef apprentices. He keeps his own skills current  and sharp by participating in tasting events and culinary festivals like Savour Stratford and Canada's Gold Medal Plate event.

Join Blu Duby for appetizers and wine, a quick lunch, or an upbeat evening of remarkable service in a high-energy environment. Contemporary bistro-style selections and tantalizing vegetarian choices are on offer, as well as many classic favourites that have been updated. The restaurant’s cooking repertoire keeps evolving, and the presentation is both stylish and simple. The menu is an eclectic collection of Asian, Continental and Mediterranean influences and features items such as vegetarian spring rolls, Moroccan skewered chicken, grilled lamb lollipops as well as roasted rack of lamb, or grilled beef tenderloin.

 Blu Duby offers lunch engineered to fit into the most limited break, perfect for busy professionals working Downtown. You will find everything from comfort food in the braised beef onion poutine to light, healthy fare in a variety of fresh salads. With many gluten-free choices and vegetarian options to choose from, diners are certain to find something to enjoy. Recommendations include:  hand-rolled gnudi and rocket (arugula); crispy-skinned salmon;  and of course, Malaysian pad Thai with coconut milk, ginger, tamarind, brown sugar bean, cilantro, green onions and cashews.
Small plates include: fresh mussels with micro-frites and a choice of sauces, Asian-inspired spring rolls with shrimp, and seafood potato skins with aged cheddar chive-crème fraiche.
Other notable items on offer have included: supreme of chicken is stuffed with leeks and walnuts and served with a sauce of garlic and cream; jalapeño mac and cheese with conchiglie, lardons and panko breading can also be served as a vegetarian option; duo of duck with seared breast and leg confit with black currant demi-glace and roasted garlic mash.

The restaurant features a diverse wine list offering wines at a variety of price points with half the list by the glass. The list features wines from both mainstream regions as well as off the beaten path.
On weekend nights the restaurant draws a solid bar crowd. The dinner business is strong and the restaurant has become a downtown lunch hot spot. Walk-in business is always encouraged, and the star attractions are the hospitable owners and the staff. The Dubys also have an expertise for the corporate and private dining sector of the business. Several separate areas can be easily transformed into private dining rooms to accommodate parties. There is also small outdoor patio on Dundas Street.

32 Covent Market Place, (Blu Duby has access off both Covent Market Lane and Dundas Street.)
Monday to Thursday 11:30 am - 11:00 pm 
Friday to Saturday 11:30 to 1:00 am

Sunday 3:00 to 9:00 pm

Friday, May 8, 2015


Where to Eat Indian Food in London, Ontario


Among the cluster of local Indian restaurants is Massey`s Fine Indian Cuisine on King Street in London beside the Only on King. On the occasions that I have visited Massey`s, the dining experience has been memorable. Massey`s strongly represent the category of chef/owner-operated restaurants. Chef Patson Massey and his wife and business partner, Anisha, seem to always be on hand while the restaurant is operating. Chef Massey shows his expertise with the combining and roasting of exotic spices, subtle and complex, bestowing and building flavors to great effect.  Massey`s is just around the corner from two other noteworthy Indian restaurants: The faded Jewel of India and The Curry Garden which has recently relocated further south on Richmond Street. 
Of course, no discussion of Indian food in this city would be complete without mentioning The Raja Fine Indian Cuisine on Clarence Street.


The Raja Fine Indian Cuisine : Honouring Tradition, Technique, and Flavours



Indian cuisine is a vast and sophisticated subject. India’s states and territories differ, cuisine-wise, as much if not more than the regional cuisines of other countries. Caste, culture, religious doctrine, geography, and climate have all played an immense role in preventing the emergence of a truly definitive national Indian cuisine. Despite the diversity, coalescing threads surface on closer inspection.

However, most of what we consider authentic Indian cuisine is a product of the British imperial influence, which resulted in a prolific Anglo-Indian restaurant cuisine that panders to the global masses.

I initially became familiar with this style of restaurant cooking while living in England on two separate occasions. Going out for an “Indian” or a “Curry” or getting an Indian “takeaway” was a national pastime. The idea of a curry is, in fact, a definition that the British imposed on India’s cookery to describe any spiced dish under the generic term “curry.” Historically, Indians referred to their individual dishes by very specific regional names.

Living in England, I was struck by the emergence of authentic regional Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants and the elevation of these unique cuisines to as elegant, sophisticated and refined as any other cuisine. Today, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom accounts for two-thirds of all eating out, and is estimated to serves about 2.5 million customers every week.

The opportunity to eat fine “Indian” cuisine that honours tradition, technique and authentic flavours does not present itself often. The Raja serves upscale Indian cuisine in sophisticated and elegant surroundings by a knowledgeable, well-trained staff. The service is white linen, deferential and friendly.

After being seated, diners are offered crisp, crunchy poppadums served alongside a dazzling selection of vibrantly coloured condiments, ranging from sweet to sour to spicy, to get the taste buds tingling. The condiments include: gooseberry, coriander, tamarind, mango, yogurt and mint, and lime pickle. 

There are also a number of exotic breads (naan, roti and paratha) on offer to accompany and complement various courses, all freshly baked in Raja’s tandoor (clay oven). The delicious Peshawari naan is crisp, hot and infused with almonds, dried apricots, raisins, flaked dried coconut, and whipping cream, and seems more like cake than bread.

Many dishes beg for overindulgence. Share the mixed platter with vegetable pakora, chicken tikka, sheek kabab, and onion bhajee, all served on a sizzling platter. Or pick a garden salad or soup course (the menu includes mulligatawny and lentil),  then choose from chicken, beef, lamb, vegetarian, or seafood dishes, which run the gamut from mild to very spicy. From the ubiquitous Punjab-inspired butter chicken: boneless, marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in the tandoor and redolent in creamy tomato gravy;  to the hottest of dishes on the menu, vindaloo, made with your choice of lamb, beef, or chicken. Another house specialty is the unusual Bengal Duck, which is prepared with sweet chili sauce, coconut and almond, and has a decidedly complex hot and sweet taste.

At Raja, Rogan Josh is tender morsels of braised beef, slow-cooked with an aromatic spice mixture and yogurt. Yogurt is frequently used in Indian cuisine as a marinade to tenderize the meat. Rogan Josh derives its name from its rich appearance, which is generally a result of ground chilies or brightly coloured good-quality paprika combined with fresh tomatoes. Rogan Josh takes on a contemporary twist with lean lamb chunks, ghee, garam masala, garlic, ginger, and fresh cilantro.

The flawlessly prepared Pulao rice, aromatic basmati with onion, cumin and mild spices, ordered separately, is not an afterthought but an integral part of dinner. As well, vegetarian selections figure prominently here, as in all Indian cooking. There are nearly a dozen meticulously spiced vegetarian dishes on the extensive menu. Vegetable specialties include: Aloo Gobhi (potato and cauliflower), Chana Masala ( spicy chick peas), Sag Paneer (spinach with homemade cheese), Bharta (spiced roasted eggplant), and Daal Tarka (lentils in garlic). Vegan dishes are also available.

The menu features an intoxicating selection of fish and seafood dishes, such as King Prawn Jhalfrezi (stir-fried with fresh green chilies, tomatoes, green peppers, and fresh coriander, and finished with fresh ginger and garlic), fish (salmon), Masala, and King Prawn Sag.

The Raja has plenty of personality, and the dining room has character and sophistication with its marble floors, deep red painted walls and white accents. The service is deferential and rivals anything in the city.

428 Clarence St. (North of Dundas)


Lunch: Mon.–Sat. 11:30 am – 2:30 pm

Dinner: Mon.–Sat. 5 pm. – 10 pm

Sunday Closed (Open for Dinner on Mother's Day)


Mary Ann Wrona’s Café Bourgeois at Western Fair Farmers' and Artisans' Market

Mary Ann Wrona’s Café Bourgeois at Western Fair Farmers' and Artisan's Market


Mary Ann Wrona with chef Michael Smith

The kitschy charm of this boutique operation would give it credence, even if its rasion d'etre weren’t suggested in its name. This is healthy catering and gourmet-to-go from a repertoire of the Polish-French culinary tradition.

 Mary Ann Wrona is one of the original market vendors at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. Originally known to market-goers as “The Cabbage Roll Lady,” Wrona grew up eating from the family garden. Wrona`s mother had a vast repertoire of braised and steamed vegetables. It has been said that Belgium serves food of French quality in German quantities. She personifies this claim selling many of her specialties by the pound. Wrona has made a name for herself by preparing classic vegetarian specialities and traditional European cuisine with a modern twist.

Wrona’s cuisine is hearty, using lots of seasonal ingredients and offering iconic dishes that share similarities with other European traditions, as well as French and Italian cookery. Hearty vegetables are a mainstay with classic potatoes dishes, beets in borsch, cabbage in the dish bigos, and lots of spice. Wrona’s cuisine is rich in flavour and owes its flavour profile to: dill, caraway, paprika, poppy seed, turmeric, garlic and pepper.

Wrona has the intelligence and comedy chops to do stand-up. She greets the market crowds in nine different languages, promising their tastebuds, “a high-speed ride on the bus to downtown flavour town” and she delivers.

Signature dishes include: peppers stuffed with a variety of fillings, traditional and vegetarian cabbage rolls, silky crepes, pottage and a variation of surprising slaws and seasonal salads. She is known for her queen-sized potato stuffed perogies, made with a thicker dairy-free dough that gives it more of a ``chew`` and fries to a golden brown.

 Wrona’s signature Pig and Whistle (whose implication remains somewhat speculative) is her take on a “larger than life” spring roll with lean ground pork, sauerkraut-cabbage combo, chili and garlic. All her meat is local butcher products. A proponent of farm-to-table cuisine, in season, Wrona handpicks many of her own vegetables from the farms that surround her Elgin County home. In season, Wrona refers rightly, to Elgin County as the Tuscany of Ontario.

From cabbage rolls to crepes, sauerkraut to Stromboli, Wrona’s Café Bourgeois reflects her culinary passion and her European heritage.

 WFFM Saturdays 8 -3pm  519 775 9917

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Garlic’s of London Successfully Combines all the Elements of a Perennial Favourite

Garlic’s of London 

Owner Edin Pehilj, known to most people as Edo

Guest Relations Manager, Emma Pratt

Watch Edo tell the story of Garlic's in this video by Nick Lavery of Take 5 Digital

On several occasions, I have stated that Garlic’s could be the prototype for the ethical modern Ontario restaurant. It celebrates seasonality and the uniqueness and idiosyncratic characteristics of the terroir. The farm-oriented cuisine accessible and familiar and brings a rural culinary sensibility to the table.  Now celebrating 22 years on Richmond Row, Garlic’s successfully combines all the elements of a perennial favourite – as delicious, affordable, top-of-the-line cooking, and using seasonal and high quality ingredients. More than that, the restaurant is among a select few that have a prevailing ethos of purpose.

Garlic’s offers some of the best farm-to-table cuisine in the city. The cooking has an innovative edge, and is made from scratch with inspiration from local and signature ingredients and seasonal products. The up tempo ambience of the dining room exudes sophistication and urbanity and there is an open kitchen. The restaurant is just steps from the Grand Theatre and a short walk to Budweiser Gardens.

Owner Edin Pehilj, known to most people as Edo, continues to appreciate that the shrewd money is on chefs and restaurants that express their ethics not only on the menu but in the dining room and the larger community. Pehilj recognizes the significance of professional, hospitable and informed service. The staff admires him because they know they can trust him. Customers love him because they can trust his menu and his commitment.  As a result, Pehilji has managed to instill the restaurant with integrity and consistency.

The cooking repertoire of chef Carla Cwoper is influenced by passion and a focused commitment to a philosophy that advances the economic, ecological and social values of the local culinary and agricultural community. They are proponents of good agricultural practices and good farming.

Leading a well-coordinated team of polished service professionals is Guest Relations Manager, Emma Pratt. Pratt is the personification of what it means to be a restaurant professional: hospitable, knowledgeable, detail-oriented and gracious. In fact, it was Pratt who originally hired Pehilj eighteen years ago. Pehilj’s is the quintessential immigration story. He arrived in Canada eighteen years ago from Mostar, the biggest and most important city of the Bosnia and Herzegovina region in the former Yugoslavia, by way of Bavaria, Germany. Pehilj did not speak a word of English, but within a week seven was employeed at Michael’s on the Thames. The rest, as they say, is history.

House smoked beef brisket pasta with Ontario mushrooms, leeks, white wine, garlic cream and house-made tagliatelle is quintessentially Northern Italian. The luscious pasta of the house-made cannelloni is melt in your mouth.The chorizo and beef burger is a blend of ground chuck, chorizo sausage buttermilk and fried onions.

Past dishes have included: pan-roasted Willow Grove Pork Loin with sweet and sour glaze, herb roasted fingerling potatoes, sautéed baby broccoli and garlic confit; Renecker Farm’s elk loin with creamy white bean and bacon cassoulet, green beans and tomato relish; Metzger’s free-range, dry-aged Angus Top Sirloin; braised Ontario Lamb Shank with truffled northern white bean and house-smoked bacon stew, veal stock, roasted mushrooms, and tomato relish; and Everspring Farm’s medium rare Muscovy duck breast with mushroom risotto, perfectly sautéed rapini and garnished with fig chutney.

Cooper’s churros (reminiscent of the Turkish tulumba only longer) are a house signature dessert and what legends are made of... Garlics also offer a $30.00 3 course prix fixe menu daily starting at 5pm.

The restaurant’s loyalty to supporting local and sustainable food and agriculture has been instrumental in helping to raise the bar for intelligent and ethical dining in London. The wine list is laudable with some great VQA’s and lots of international selections.

Garlic’s continues to embody the warm relationship between authentic culinary pleasure and thoughtfully prepared cuisine that have modern twists on tradition.

 Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.,
Open Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Serving an à la carte Sunday Brunch 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

 481 Richmond St., London, 519-432-4092

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Culinary Stage: Is the Food Movement Too Elitist?



The thrust of this column, is to present my thoughts on the seasonal food landscape and the always-changing restaurant scene in Stratford, and London in particular and about what is happening not only regionally but also nationally on the Canadian culinary stage.

When I go out to eat, I am enticed by restaurants that champion farmers, small-scale producers and food artisans by procuring products and featuring local ingredients that are responsibly sourced and presented. Often I come across people whose criticism of the local food movement has centered on the idea that it is elitist. Being a dedicated food professional requires education and connoisseurship, which in themselves are costly to cultivate but not necessarily elitist.

Connoisseurs are distinguished for their judgment and their discerning eye. They also have an innate sense of taste. Connoisseurs are respected because of their aptitude — their talent — for recognizing and appreciating subtle, often unseen attributes. Elitists are individuals who believe they are superior to others because of their interests, intellect, status, or other factors.

Slow Food has been repeatedly criticized as a stronghold of elitism, an insular network of people motivated by the need to justify their ethos as morally and politically egalitarian, even while the cost of some of their events is prohibitive and the narrowness of their philosophy excludes the larger majority. Slow Food has been stigmatized with an elitist label for some time, but I think it has more to do with individual personalities and personal agendas rather than the ethos of the movement. More on that subject at a later date.

To keep well-versed with the culinary world I collaborate with food businesses and enthusiasts that uphold similar culinary values to mine. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in the process of writing two culinary guides in the past couple of months, I have sat down with close to 50 restaurateurs to discuss the food scene in London. One of the more contentious topics remains the London food truck pilot project which I’ll briefly touch upon in this column. Also, I’m sharing some brief opinions about the word “culinary,” the popularity of seasonal farmers’ markets, the Savour Stratford brand and a brief homage to Kantina’s chef Danjiel “Dacha” Markovic.

The Culinary in Culinary Tourism
Interestingly, at the recent Ontario's Southwest Tourism Conference, Director of Product Development at the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA) stated that research has shown that the term culinary is perceived as being elitist. Organizations cannot grow and develop without acquiring new members. In order to reach a broader demographic and economic base the term food tourism is now being embraced by the industry replacing the term culinary tourism. Dumbing down language to reach a broader demographic is nothing new. (The original usage of the term dumbing down was used as a slang expression in 1933 by screenwriters to mean “revising the script so as to appeal to those of lower education or intelligence”.

I have always been interested in the origin of culinary terms and the manner in which their meanings have changed throughout history. The term culinary is correctly defined as something related to, or connected with, cooking. A culinarian is a person working in the culinary arts. The word culinary originated in the 17th century from the Latin term culina for kitchen or cook stove. Culina itself derived from the Latin word coquere, meaning to cook. To my way of thinking the term culinary is anything but elitist.

Chef Danjiel “Dacha” Markovic
For the past few years, chef Danjiel “Dacha” Markovic a follower of modern farm-to-table cuisine, has not just been cooking and sourcing local and seasonal, he has ushered in a more upscale and innovative iteration of Balkan cuisine at Kantina Restaurant. Kantina combines Markovic’s training in Serbian cookery with his affection for rustic and down-to-earth food. His realm is a scratch kitchen, and all of his offerings have been crafted in-house and by hand. His repertoire has included thought-provoking takes on iconic dishes imbued with contemporary techniques and quality ingredients. Markovic recently told me that he has decided to take a well-deserved sabbatical, but what he is doing next is a well-guarded secret. Kantina, on the other hand, as owner Milan Karac tells me, is expected to have a complete makeover in the late summer. Expect to see Markovic return to London after his sabbatical.

Seasonal Farmers’ Markets
Every year I look forward to the start of the outdoor farmers’ market season. In warmer weather, I generally frequent farmers’ markets and farmgates which help to sustain economic activity on a local level. The new economic reality is that farmers’ markets have become a source of competitive advantage and the preferred food-retailing operation for many consumers. Studies reveal that most market shoppers are inspired to eat seasonally, which leads to altered buying and cooking patterns. It is important to keep in mind that farmers’ markets achieve an imperative part in local economic development by providing a location for local and small business incubation, generating an economic multiplier effect to neighboring businesses, and redistributing customer dollars within the community.

Food Trucks
Food trucks serve a diverse variety of healthy options and cultural foods in other cities. In fact, food trucks are the new incubators for culinary innovation. I am not talking about corporate food trucks serving commercially produced food. I am speaking about the chef-driven, entrepreneurial, indie food truck operators who tweet their location of the day to those in the know.
Locally, think of the Goodah Gastrotruck whose operators are gearing up to grill up their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches curbside this summer. London’s recently approved food truck pilot will operate during the summer with plans to appraise its success in the fall. Given all the bad optics around food trucks with the previous City Council it will be interesting to see how many of the eight licences that has been made available will be purchased.

Savour Stratford
For the past seven years, the Stratford Tourism Alliance (STA) has established Stratford as one of Canada’s leading culinary destinations, introducing visitors to its unique food community of chefs, producers and farmers. Since its inauguration, Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival has been an opportunity to meet and engage with a genuine community of talented tastemakers and culinary advocates. A magnet for connoisseurs, culinary enthusiasts and professionals, it became one of Ontario’s most prestigious culinary festivals — if not Canada’s.
In December 2014, the STA brought together local chefs, producers and culinary businesses to form the Savour Stratford Transition Committee. The committee voiced support in promoting the local culinary partners by mounting a new event on a smaller scale. This year, instead of the festival, the STA is focusing on continuing to market the Savour Stratford brand as a year-round celebration of local culinary experiences.

Toronto Culinary Scene
For the last few years, I have spent time reconnecting with and drawing inspiration from the restaurant and culinary scene in Toronto. New restaurants open every week in Toronto, and immigrant neighborhoods still feel culturally and ethnically authentic yet unique. The range of choice, gastronomically speaking, seems endless.
Recently Jacob Richler, food writer and journalist, and former National Post restaurant critic, organized a national panel of judges to decide the 2015 honorees of Canada’s 100 best restaurants. This was good news for Toronto culinary enthusiasts and diners: six of the top 10 are located in Toronto, as are 28 of the top 100.

Two of my favourite restaurants serving farm-to-table Canadiana in Toronto are Actinolite and Edulis. Both restaurants feature seasonal menus comprised of wild and foraged ingredients. The Indie Ale House in the Junction is my recommendation for craft beer enthusiasts who like great food. Chef Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu’s Boralia on the Ossington Strip tops my most recent favourite of newly opened restaurants. Derived from the Latin word for northern, Borealia was one of the alternate names suggested for Canada during Confederation. Interestingly, at the beginning of April, Boralia ran into a trademark issue with its name. It is now called Boralia instead of the original Borealia.  Boralia offers up-to-date versions of dishes inspired by indigenous peoples and early settlers — think modern riffs on Canadian frontier food. This is another great place to sample a wide-ranging selection of dishes that showcase Ontario farms.