Friday, July 28, 2017

Another Look at Stratford’s Stellar Revival House & The Belfry


The once-celebrated Church Restaurant, previously Mackenzie Memorial Gospel Church, is now Revival House. The inspired and ambitious revitalization of the former grand dame of Stratford’s culinary scene took restaurateurs Rob and Candice Wigan just over seven months to complete.
The location and the building’s architectural features and spacious interior inspired its original transformation. The property remains one of Ontario’s finest instances of the conversion of a historic property into a hospitality venue done with integrity and respect for the cultural heritage.

Revival House is the Wigans’ second restaurant rejuvenation in Stratford. The couple purchased Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub in 2008 and put their own unique stamp on every aspect of that business.
 The beautifully restored Revival House is decorated in a mix of wood, exposed brick, light walls, gold railings, and ecclesiastical purple accents and banquettes. Ornamenting the bright interior are original light fixtures and stained glass windows. The dark-wood organ pipes provide a striking backdrop for the stunning curved bar that is crowned with a theatrical copper chandelier that was built by former Stratford Festival prop maker Frank Holt. The main room, known as Sanctuary, has the elegance and simple beauty that comes with restrained taste. The room’s former elevated altar can easily be transformed into a stage or dining area because of the modular furnishings.

In contrast the upstairs gastro-lounge The Belfry, a 65-seat venue, delivers an ambience that has been described as “exotic modern” with peacock blues, a vaulted ceiling and a working copper fireplace that draws inspiration from the downstairs chandelier. The Belfry is welcoming and chic. Snuggled in the former organ loft overlooking the Sanctuary, Confession is the most intimate of the trio of spaces.
The backstory of the Church Restaurant involves former Stratford Festival artistic director Robin Phillips. He was hired in 1975 and spent six years directing many productions, cultivating fresh talent and reinvigorating the Festival. Phillips’ first season coincided with the opening of what would become the landmark Church Restaurant, by his partner, restaurateur Joe Mandel. Of note also is the fact that The Stratford Chefs School started in the kitchens back in 1983. The restaurant would later be sold to and operated by Mark Craft.

I worked at The Church Restaurant when it was in its prime, in the mid-1980s. During those years Maggie Smith and her husband playwright Beverly Cross, like many well-known thespians and celebrities, dined at The Church. They were among the crowd of late night habitués who frequented The Belfry, which was The Church’s upstairs room and a popular pre- and post-theatre destination. The Belfry was the bastion of hospitality and completed many a visitor’s Stratford theatre experience.
The Wigans met and befriended Joe Mandel, who provided historical context to The Church’s early days, which in turn has reinforced their vision. Candice explains that they have revived some of the traditions that made The Church such a popular hotspot in its heyday. Unlike its seasonal predecessor, The Belfry remains open for the winter months, offering a menu expressing the depth of Perth County’s food culture. Since opening, its menus have revealed a passion for using local and sustainable ingredients, showcasing nose-to-tail cuisine and the best of what Ontario has to offer.

Loreena Miller and her culinary team have brought French country cuisine back to The Belfry. Chef Miller explains that she shares a love for maple, duck fat and everything delicious and sinful that underpins French country cooking with Candice, whose maternal heritage originates in Quebec. 
Miller worked alongside previous chefs at Revival House, and her progression to head chef is the natural evolution. Joining Miller in the kitchen is Andrew McLean, known for his tenure at Rundles as sommelier and head waiter.

The restaurant is known for its antipasto and charcuterie, which I have tasted on several occasions. On one visit the charcuterie board included house-cured lamb ham, duck prosciutto, wild boar rillettes, smoked trout rillettes, speck (smoked pork leg) and lonza (cured pork loin). We sampled Miller’s potted chicken liver, a hearty mousse with pickled rhubarb and black pepper jam. There was a seminal gazpacho of tomato embellished with tomato gel, aioli and smoked paprika, and a delicate seared whitefish on warm Loco Field organic greens with grilled polenta which made a perfect repast.
The menu revives French-styled cuisine, with an added modern sensibility. Expect to find dishes such as fresh oysters, confit duck; Nicoise salad, poutine with Quebec cheese curds, gravy and rosemary fries; Croque Monsieur with sourdough, ham, gruyere cheese and béchamel; and salmon succotash with summer squash, tarragon, white wine and lemon cream; steak frites and beef ribeye. There is a well-chosen selection of VQA wines and an inspired cocktail list.

Revival House is a sought-after venue for celebrations, conferences and weddings. Music continues to be an essential part of the programs and Revival House is home to the Stratford Summer Music’s cabaret and opera series. The staff hosted 22 weddings last year and events manager Alysha Ford has 23 weddings booked for this year.

There is a stunning 48-seat garden terrace beside the Brunswick Street entrance. High Tea and Sunday Brunch add yet another layer of temptation to the offerings.

Revival House
70 Brunswick Street, Stratford
OPEN Tuesday, 4 pm till close
Wednesday - Saturday, 11 am till close
Sunday Brunch 11 - 2pm 
(They like to be flexible about things like closing)
Special Events may affect these hours.

Reservations recommended

Rooted in Community: The Root Cellar Organic Cafe, in London’s Old East Village

The core of The Root Cellar’s creative, co-operative structure includes, from the left, Mariam Waliji, Ellie Cook, Melissa Harland, Aaron Lawrence, Paul Harding and Jeff Pastorius.


Delve into the emerging food and cultural district in London’s historic Old East Village. Stop into The Root Cellar Organic Restaurant, with its fresh, from-scratch organic offerings, artistic interior and friendly workers. Since its inception in July of 2012 as a small 20-seat café, The Root Cellar has evolved into a 70-seat destination café/pub and restaurant.

On the second floor there is a new special events venue called Taproot. With a reclaimed aesthetic, carpentry by Arlen Galloway and metalwork by Wojchiech Sikorski (the craftsmen behind The Root Cellar’s artistry), the LCBO-licensed space with a 55-person capacity has been designed for special events and is also available for rent.

The restaurant’s interior is artful and functional with many comfortable seating options that add to the eclecticism of the space. Monthly local art exhibits and decorative features like the large sheet-metal flowers suspended above the bar reflect the café’s artisan sensibility.

The Root Cellar is in transition to a worker-owned co-operative business structure. Known as the Forest City Worker Co-operative and closely aligned with On the Move Organics (OTMO) and London Brewing Co-operative (LBC), members find satisfaction in the community that they live in and love, while serving up the best organic products from the local food shed (food consumed within 100 miles of where it was produced). Founding members are Jeff Pastorius (also founding partner of OTMO), Aaron Lawrence, Joel Pastorius, and restaurant manager Ellie Cook. What they advocate goes way beyond local and organic eating and drinking.

The business embraces the principles of the Slow Food movement, the non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating regional culinary identities, while encompassing the purity of the organic movement. The concept for The Root Cellar originated from the ambition to bring the community together with area organic farmers and producers as an outgrowth of OTMO, the progenitor, supplier and sister organization that connects people to local certified organic food producers. This is accomplished through its community-supported agriculture home delivery service and its organic green grocer at the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair on Saturdays.
There is also an organic juice and smoothie bar known as the Root Cellar Market Kitchen on the second floor of the market. Customers can choose from a menu of nutritious, energizing, detoxifying, or just plain refreshing drinks. The staff concoct fresh, healthful creations every weekend to keep things interesting. Organic cold-pressed juices and bakery products are also available.

Chef Paul Harding’s former TOOK (The Only on King), with its enthusiastic support of local farmers and producers, embodied the farm-to-table philosophy. When TOOK ceased operations Harding, who is credited with helping to revolutionize the local restaurant scene with farm-to-table ideals, became the standout choice for Executive Chef, to give The Root Cellar’s kitchen some recalibrating. Sous chef Hunter Guidon and junior sous chef Michael Schart are pivotal members of the energetic culinary team who have helped to fine-tune the already successful operation and increase the dinner offerings.

The repertoire of from-scratch menu offerings with ever-changing specials are all organic (with minor exceptions), procured from the local farming community. All of the produce and ingredients in the restaurant’s dishes are certified organic, with 80% local in season. The challenge is how to compete with less expensive, imported foods and how to compensate organic farmers with a fair price yet keep menu offerings accessible to patrons.

Harding has added more protein choices (wild-caught fish, organic grass-fed beef steak, and free-range organic poultry) while keeping lots of plant-powered dishes on the menu. Wild-caught Manitoulin whitefish and potato cake with kimchi, bacon and Gingerich Farms poached certified-organic egg is on the current dinner menu. The ploughshares board is exceptional and is designed for both vegans and carnivores — there are so many good components that it will require your undivided attention. House-made pickle coins are deep-fried in London Brewing Co-op beer batter and are served with a curried BBQ sauce. We are long-time fans of the locally-sourced Berkshire pork sausages and the free-range, pasture-raised water buffalo burger recommended by long-time worker Kim Miller. Check out the sourcing blackboard in the dining room to find out which ingredients are sourced from each farm or producer.

There is ethically-sourced and wildcrafted tea. Coffee beans are organic and either Fairtrade certified or bought directly from the growers and roasted locally by Patrick’s Beans. Milk, cream, sugar — it’s all organic. The house-made baked goods are made from the historic Arva Flour Mill’s organic grains and flours.

The wine list features VQA wines from Pelee Island Winery, Southbrook Vineyards (certified organic), and Frogpond Farms Organic Winery. Our server, Raven Brown (former TOOK manager) tells us that the list will soon be expanded to add more wine diversity from Ontario. There is a small curated cocktail menu that has just launched. Think matcha, ginger Booch, basil, and Junction 56 gin.
To be a great restaurant, you have to provide an exceptional experience. Food enthusiasts aren’t just going out to dine any more, they’re looking to have a great encounter. The Root Cellar excels as a hub for community creativity, innovation and food-focused special events. Be sure to keep an eye out for cooking classes, workshops, community dinners, and collaborative efforts. The knowledgeable workers invite you to discover what it means to be rooted in your community, a local economy and a local food system.

The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street, London
Monday–Friday: 11am–10pm
Saturday: 9am–10pm
Sunday: closed

Dinner served daily, 5pm - 9.15pm

Brunch served Saturdays, 9am-1pm
Photography by Mariam Waliji

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stratford, Ontario’s Fine Dining Stalwart: The Prune and Bar One Fifty One


Chef Bryan Steele has trained and mentored hundreds of professional chefs. In his capacity as senior cookery instructor at the Stratford Chefs School, the originality and diversity of culinary undertakings that span his three-decade oeuvre have helped lay the underpinning for the culinary revolution that we see both locally and nationally.

In what began in 1977 as a “self-directed sabbatical from work,” Eleanor Kane and Marion Isherwood opened The Old Prune (then a tea room) in Stratford, which led to successful careers as restaurateurs. With James Morris of Rundles Restaurant, which opened the same year, Kane later co-founded the Stratford Chefs School.

The Old Prune, under the direction of Isherwood and Kane, cemented its reputation with Sue Anderson in the kitchen. In 1988, The New York Times stated, “The Old Prune serves lunch, dinner and after-theater suppers in three Edwardian dining rooms and on a patio. The creamy pastas and deft salad plates are recommended here, as well as the loin of lamb with twice-cooked pepper and sauté of spinach with sage cream sauce. Desserts include prune and Armagnac ice cream and a very rich chocolate terrine. The fixed price for a three-course dinner is $25.

Chef Steele took The Old Prune to another level. I first became aware of Steele when he was sous-chef at Stadtländer’s in Toronto in the mid-’80s. Steele has been chef de cuisine at The Prune and an educator at the Stratford Chefs School since 1989. He had acquired a degree in chemistry from Queen’s University before turning to gastronomy. The Old Prune became The Prune after it changed hands in 2011 when Bill and Shelley Windsor, who owned and operated The Parlour Inn, took possession.

Steele and sous chef Michael Fry continue to elevate the dining experience at The Prune with a sophisticated and approachable menu that is handsomely prepared and well executed. Ryan O’Donnell’s role as executive chef of the Windsor Hospitality Company (which operates The Prune, Mercer Kitchen/Hotel, and Levetto Baden) is to support his colleagues and assist in integrating Bar One Fifty One, the new adjoining bar to The Prune’s kitchen, says O’Donnell. “This integration is a team effort using the many talents of our chefs both at The Prune and Mercer Kitchen. From a culinary perspective we are excited about the synergies we can create between the three restaurants and how they will help us create better and better food across the board.”

Designer Emily Wunder, an integral part of Mercer Kitchen’s rebrand last year, collaborated with the Windsor’s on Bar One Fifty One to curate an atmosphere that feels exclusive without pretention. The goal is to echo the natural elements found in The Prune’s gardens and trees. This is achieved with the extensive use of wooden surfaces and naturalistic patterns, accented with energizing golden tones and lighting. The bar’s relaxed and elegant vibe is the perfect backdrop to the signature cocktails, varied wine list, and tailored bar menu.
The Bar One Fifty One menu concept is based on the best qualities exemplified by the many small cafés and bars Chef O’Donnell frequented during a half year in France. Customers can feel welcome for any type of experience be it lunch, dinner or late night snacks and cocktails. A short curated menu offers classic dishes chosen for their comfort factor. The goal is to execute simple and satisfying plates with the care and quality The Prune is known for, at an accessible price point.

The menu in the dining room at The Prune is an ever-changing seasonal prix fixe, offering two courses for $59.00, three courses for $75.00, or four courses for $85.00. This arrangement helps expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining. The restaurant is formal but only in the sense of being professional. The menu designed for a prix fixe experience is available à la carte upon request. Appetizer dishes might include Chicken Liver Mousse, seabuckthorn and rhubarb chutney, brioche; Hot smoked Boone Run trout, radish and cucumber salad; or Seared squid, seaweed, kale with turmeric-ginger. Mid courses are currently Risotto with cherry tomato, basil, thyme and house-made ricotta, and Tortelli with onion, bacon, fresh peas and herbs. Traditional main dishes could include “Smoked” Muscovy duck breast, white bean, frisée and caramelized cabbage, or Seared Cornish hen, spinach and mushroom salad with herb dumplings. There is a grilled 28 ounce bone-in rib steak for two, with white asparagus and sauce Choron ($10 supplement per person). For an additional charge, sides are offered, as are specialties like the house-made sourdough bread baked fresh daily and served with house made pickles, butter and labneh (a yogurt-style cheese).

Manager Shelley Buss has crafted an excellent cocktail list. Steele and Buss have paired each dish with a wine. Buss takes pride in offering new and exciting wines for guests to try, that they may have not heard of before. The Prune likes to primarily offer Canadian wines by the glass, with a few additional options from around the world. The bottle list is Buss’s pride and joy. It is extensive and has many selections that can’t be found anywhere else or are rare vintages.
Steele’s cuisine reflects a gastronomic sensibility that is global and finds inspiration in regional producers and seasonal growers. The challenge during the busy theatre season is for service to be unswerving. The restaurant generally operates at a very high skill level and the service is intelligent and responsive. There is also a charming outdoor patio.

With the announcement that Jim Morris is retiring and Rundles closing at the end of this season, The Prune will be among the last of the fine dining stalwarts left in Stratford. The Prune and Bar One Fifty One are always worth a trip for an optimal and vital dining experience, even if you’re not attending the Stratford Festival.

The Prune
151 Albert Street, Stratford

Seasonal Hours: Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 4:30 pm– 9 pm

Bar One Fifty One

Thursday to Saturday: 4:30 pm–12 am (with lighter fare menu)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Culinary News Summer 2017


The Ontario Liberal government’s recent announcement of a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour — a 32% hike — in the next 18 months has created grave concerns for many small business owners, particularly in the labour-intensive hospitality industry. A government-commissioned report made 173 recommendations aimed at creating better workplaces with decent working conditions. But the average Ontario restaurant operator exists on a pre-tax profit margin of 3.4% of sales, which according to Statscan is the lowest in Canada.
The restaurant business is a challenging way of life, and even the most dedicated and talented professionals are often ill-equipped to withstand dramatic turns in the economy. It takes more than tenacious determination and open-minded optimism to succeed in this field, one known for its high turnover and burn-out rate. The new laws will affect how restaurants are staffed and shifts are scheduled. Some pundits suggest the wage hike will require menu prices to increase by 20%.

London Training Centre’s Culinary Pre-Apprentice­ship students start 8-week placements with restaurants and event venues the first week of July. The Local Food Skills Program is growing food ecologically again this year on a new property west of London. The program continues throughout the summer and fall with a 3-week program every month. LTC is currently working on a September schedule for cooking classes and culinary fundamentals such as bread baking, charcuterie, curing/smoking etc. There will be evening and weekend class options.

The Growing Chefs! Ontario team is excited to welcome you into their new Growing Chefs Headquarters. They have worked hard to transform the former Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant into an innovative Food Education Centre. It is a venue where Londoners, young and old, can get excited about growing, cooking, sharing, and celebrating delicious healthy food together.

David’s Bistro, elegantly tucked into a fine Richmond Street heritage building and one of downtown London’s culinary landmarks, is closing from July 1 to August 15 to upgrade the building after a fire caused smoke and water damage in the adjacent premises.

Chef Angela Murphy of Restaurant Ninety One at Windermere Manor will launch new summer menus on July 12. The staff at Windermere Manor will be marching in the Pride parade on July 30th and handing out flyers for a “Pride On” event. In order to extend Pride London Festival celebrations there will be a semi-formal gala event at Windermere Manor on August 4, open to the public. Tickets are $20 until July 1, increasing to $25, then $30 at the door.

North Moore Catering/River Room owner/proprietor Jess Jazey-Spoelstra and chef Andrew Wolwowicz’s new venture, Craft Farmacy, is now slated to open in early September at 449 Wharncliffe Road South. It will feature local craft beer, an oyster bar, rustic-style food, sharing plates, great wines and fabulous house cocktails. Tyler Weatherall is the new sous chef at the River Room.

The Wolfe brothers of Wolfe of Wortley and The Early Bird plan to open Mexican-inspired Los Lobos in the former Talbot St. Whisky House space in early August. The menu will show their love for tacos and other Mexican classics, with the focus at the bar being on tequila, mezcal and bourbon.

Garlic’s of London owner Edo Pehilj and manager Emma Pratt are supporters of farm-to-table cuisine, and ensure their carefully chosen team offers intelligent and ethically-informed menu selections. Chef Carla Cooper features top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using quality seasonal ingredients.

The Squire Pub and Grill, located in the Art Deco former bank building at Dundas and Talbot, is a welcoming, American-style pub and grill. It features good food and great deals through the week. It’s in close proximity to Covent Garden Market and perfect for before and after events at Budweiser Gardens — or to grab a pint and a snack. Pub Stumpers Trivia League begins in September. Open for lunch, dinner and late nights daily.

The Root Cellar offers from-scratch seasonal menus, a funky reclaimed interior, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff in Old East Village. They possess a strong commitment to sourcing ingredients from the local organic farming community through their partners at On The Move Organics. Recently opened is a second-floor, 55-seat, renovated special events space, Taproot. Hosting everything from concerts and workshops to board meetings and private dinners, Taproot might just be the fresh event space you’re looking for.

SO INVITING is the new Chinese bakery across from the Farmers’ Market at Western Fair, offering a variety of savoury hand-made dumplings (pot stickers) and a selection of not-too-sweet baking. The savoury bean paste cookies are a big hit. There are plenty of fresh and delicious goodness on the shelves and in the freezer for take away.

The London Food Truck Association has turned blocks of downtown into a food truck pod. Bifana Boys (Portuguese food), COCOville (Caribbean & Cuban), Goodah Gastrotruck (gourmet grilled cheese), Donut Diva (mini-doughnuts), Smokestacks (smoked brisket & pulled pork), MegaCone Creamery (ice cream) and Roli Poli (hand-rolled ice cream) park in specific blocks on different days: Tuesdays at Talbot & Queens, Wednesdays at Richmond & Queens, Thursdays at King & Wellington, and Fridays at Queens & Wellington. On Sundays, look for food trucks at Springbank Park from noon–5pm across from the splash pad.

The McVegan’s food truck, owned by Globally Local, focusses on vegan options at festivals. Try the McInnes Burger — a take on the Big Mac — or their BBQ sandwich made from jackfruit and served with creamy coleslaw. One of our favourite food trailers is the organic, Mexican-inspired ivanopoblano on Oxford St. east of Quebec St.

Culinary entrepreneur Dave Cook has opened The Pickle Social Club — a performance and event venue — at 874 Dundas St., directly across from the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair. The space is for rent on a short-term basis, from a few hours to a few days in a row, for purposes such as a baby shower, a photo shoot, a work retreat, a pop-up retail shop, or more.

Ian Kennard’s Willie’s Catering & Take-out recently joined businesses like Dave Cook’s Fire Roasted Coffee, Heather Pirsky’s Naturally Vegan, Kim Banma’s gluten-free bakery Urban Oven, David Glen’s Glen Farms Herbs & Preserves and The Village Table (non-profit Meals on Wheels) at the London Food Incubator. Joining these start-ups is Yam Gurung of Momo’s at the Market, who is opening a satellite location soon. Anchoring the space is the Old East Village Grocer, an independent grocery store offering healthy and affordable food products while doubling as a retail training space for people with disabilities.

The Bicycle Café opened at 355 Clarence St. near King. Owner Ben Cowie is serving Rosso Coffee, a small coffee roaster in Calgary that works directly with growers to create new and exciting taste profiles. The café part of the business is upfront of the shop and an espresso machine is slated to arrive from Italy soon. Out back a bicycle shop focusses on sales and service for urban cycling.

In downtown London, Five Fortune Culture Restaurant at the corner of Dundas and Richmond is part of the groundswell of restaurants offering an authentic dining experience. This is not the typical Chinese-Canadian restaurant serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients. The cuisine as prepared by owner Jie Liang and Wenbei is “Pure Chinese” Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences.

Che Restobar is taking a summer siesta and is closed for regular dining. It will be available for private events and catering. Check out Facebook and Twitter for updates. Visit Che Restobar at Sunfest in Victoria Park from July 6–9.
Tea sommelier and nutritionist Michelle Pierce Hamilton and her business partner Yixing Tang opened The Tea Lounge in a small charming house on Piccadilly Street east of Richmond. They recently launched a menu of cold drinks, iced teas and vegan-friendly lattes. Matcha, London Fog and cinnamon-orange spiced tea lattes are available hot or iced. There is afternoon tea service one Sunday per month. Book a sitting at the monthly Tea Flight Nights to experience a comparative tasting. A small in-house scratch menu and baked goods and healthful snacks from Petit Paris Crêperie & PâtisserieBoombox Bakeshop and Bliss Specialty Foods add to the experience.

Idlewyld Inn & Spa’s features a locally-inspired menu of contemporary and traditional favourites and decadent desserts, complemented by a selection of award-winning wines, and draughts and ales on tap. Enjoy some al fresco dining on the gracious front porch, or escape to Idlewyld’s hidden garden courtyard. Back by popular demand, Chef Trevor Stephens is master of the grill. Summer BBQ nights are held Wednesdays & Thursdays.

The Church Key Bistro-Pub follows in the British-inspired tradition of contemporary food executed with panache and attention to detail. Chef Michael Anglestad’s from-scratch kitchen features seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Owners Peter and Vanessa Willis recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of this downtown landmark that features one of London’s top patio dining experiences.

Wanting to sharpen your kitchen skills, or just your knives? For the first time in its 34-year history Stratford Chefs School is offering spring and summer cooking classes and learning experiences for the dedicated home cook. There is something for all skill levels, whether you want to cook the perfect burger or ferment vegetables.

The Mill Stone Restaurant & Bar features a seasonal menu with small plates of globally-inspired flavours and locally-sourced ingredients that focus on light and healthy fare. Be sure to try the signature back ribs from Perth Pork Products Ltd. The restaurant features cocktails on tap and in bottles, homemade bitters, locally-brewed beer on tap, and a varied bottle list. There is a focus on Canadian wines. There is also a small but charming street-side patio.

SAV Eatery + Smokehouse is a “proper Southern diner smokehouse” with 70 seats on the main floor and additional seating for events and private dining on the lower level. It is authentic Lowcountry cuisine, associated with South Carolina and the Georgia coast. The menu features smoked foods and traditional Savannah and Charleston fare, like Shrimp & Grits. Everything from the ribs and BBQ sauces to the breads and buns is made in-house. Pork is sourced from local Tamworth herds and the butchery is done by chef/owner Angie Mohr. The custom-built smoker is completely wood-fired and can hold 350 pounds of meat at a time. Expected opening in July.

An era comes to an end! Stratford will lose one of its iconic dining landmarks at the close of this year’s Stratford Festival. Owner Jim Morris is retiring and Rundles will be closing for good in September. Rundles made its name with high-end contemporary French cuisine, artfully plated, with a worldly influence. The restaurant is synonymous with classicism and a refined level of wine sophistication. Neil Baxter has been chef de cuisine at Rundles since 1981. The restaurant will have its last dinner service on September 23.

Chef Loreena Miller has unveiled a rustic-French summer menu at Revival House. The menu is divided into Petits PlatsFromageSalades Repas (meal size salads), SandwichesPour Partager (dishes for sharing), and Grand Plats (mains). Highlights include Sarde in Saor sweet and sour marinated sardines, a classic French Onion Soup, a new vegetarian Eggplant Involtini, Potato Gnocchi, Chicken Supreme and Salmon Succotash (with summer squash, tarragon, white wine and lemon cream).

Mercer Kitchen/Beer Hall/Hotel is expanding by rebranding the Baden location as Mercer Mercato, bringing the quality and value that it has come to stand for to a whole new market, and featuring an exciting restaurant menu as well as an extensive list of prepared meals to take home.

Windsor Hospitality, parent company to both Mercer and The Prune, is adding Stratford’s iconic York Street Kitchen to its family of restaurants. Everyone’s favourite boutique restaurant, York Street Kitchen, on Erie Street, is known for creative sandwiches, innovative salads and sides, and homemade desserts. Owner/founder Susie Palach, who celebrates nearly three decades in business, is staying on to ensure the magic shines brighter than ever with the support of Windsor Hospitality’s dynamic team.

Classical Food with a Modern Twist: Spruce on Wellington

Photographer Steve Grimes

Classical Food with a Modern Twist: Spruce on Wellington


Spruce on Wellington opened in January 2017 in a small house. Its minimalist design has charm and is compact with 32 seats in the dining room and 22 on a nicely appointed seasonal patio. The premises were formerly those of Willie’s Café, a landmark catering company and lunch hot-spot for over three decades. (Incidentally, a new iteration, Willie’s Catering and Takeout recently opened at the London Food Incubator in Old East Village.) The intimacy of the operation allows executive chef/owner Thomas Waite and chef de cuisine Evan Futcher (formerly of The Springs and Black Trumpet) to not only prepare meals à la minute, but be hands-on in the dining room to converse with the diners.

There is a good-hearted bravado about Waite that is disarming. During a lengthy conversation we talked operational challenges, acoustics, social media and chef colleagues who share their talent and passion for the profession. Since he was able to talk, Waite wanted to be a chef and has worked towards that dream. As a child he transformed the family basement into a restaurant, naming it after hockey legend Mario Lemieux. Waite’s aim for the Spruce on Wellington to become a jewel in the city’s dining scene is an understandable ambition.
He was 15 when he began to adopt restaurant lingo and kitchen jargon, while working at Joe Kool’s. At the RiverBend Golf Community Waite worked for five years under the guidance of executive chef Kirk Weiss, whom he credits as an important mentor. After enrolling in the Culinary Skills and Culinary Management programs at Fanshawe College Waite received his Red Seal certification, which he refers to as “a high point in my life.”

Before turning 30, Waite had eight surgical procedures which resulted in an ostomy. Having to mitigate and combat his health concerns while pursuing his career has been worrisome. Another surgery to reverse the procedure is slated for the near future. “This is all part of who I am and my personal story,” says Waite cheerfully, revealing a certain mettle when I ask whether disclosing this in print is an unreasonable intrusion and invasion of his privacy. Waite, by his own account, draws inspiration from molecular gastronomy proponent, Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next in Chicago. Achatz famously surmounted his own well-publicized health issues.

In our conversation, Chef expresses gratitude for his parents, Greg and Evelyn, for having supported his career, and for being hands-on during the construction and now with day-to-day operations. In fact, his father crafted all the dining room tabletops out of spruce wood.

Waite started The In Home Chef catering business in 2010, as an outlet to express contemporary takes on cuisine. Delivering a professional restaurant experience directly, Waite is known for classic, seasonal food preparation, with a twist. Custom menus allow him to express his culinary point of view, and this freedom is the driving force to which he attributes his success as a caterer.
“To me, being a chef isn’t a job. When I am in a kitchen working with my hands, I feel complete. Being a chef isn’t just a part of me, it’s who I am,” says Waite brimming with conviction.

Last year The In Home Chef catered 160 events, and Waite is looking to surpass that record. In addition, Waite has taught cooking classes at Loblaws Superstores, as well as the Peppertree Spice Company in Port Stanley. Intimate, immersive cooking classes are also offered at The Spruce. There is a line of popular dressings and marinades retailed in-house and at Remark Fresh Markets. But first and foremost is the issue of how to run a successful catering operation and a demanding restaurant simultaneously, while balancing all of his culinary interests.

Chef is among a group of young entrepreneurs living their dream and driving the city’s expanding foodie circuit. He collaborates with chefs like Ashton Gillespie (profiled last year in an article on the now defunct Le-Rendezvous, he is now a chef specialist for Diply Delicious videos) who he hires for special catering events.

Waite takes his sleeve of tattoos as seriously as he takes his knives. His culinary fervour is expressed with intricate, multi-coloured graphics on his forearm, which also sports the moniker, Chef. The other arm features a series of overlapping roses and the quote, “Live long and prosper” — which he emphatically states is by no means a tribute to Star Trek, but homage to his grandfather. His mother’s middle name is Rose.

Waite’s creativity is strong. I recall the standout “Little Tommy’s Meat Loaf,” when he was sous chef at Byron Freehouse. Comprised of pork infused with Asian aromatics and caramelized onions, it was finished with a ponzu-like citrus soy glaze. Another strong memory is of his layered butternut squash parfait with whipped yogurt, honey, granola, quinoa, spiced nuts and dried apricots when he was chef at Icarus Restobar. A blast of flavour with the crunch and texture of spiced nuts combined with the sweetness of honey against the yogurt and dried apricots. It was pure alchemy.

Artfully arranged beef tartare, pork belly and charcuterie are on trend and as appetizers here at the Spruce they generate good word of mouth. Picture a plate of impeccably house-cured and smoked Manitoulin Trout with toasted rye bread, green goddess dressing, sprouts, marinated cucumber, shallot pearls and grated horseradish that has become a house signature. An earthy coq au vin is made with succulent breast and thighs, cabernet sauvignon, pearl onions, wild boar bacon, mushrooms and cream. At lunch perfectly al dente fettuccine carbonara with Parmigiano and boar bacon crowned with a raw egg that is essentially cooked by tossing the hot pasta is a hit. There is also a good Bolognese and delicious potato gnocchi. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays.

The wine list, while not terribly extensive, is reasonable and has good selections with some VQA. There is a short but interesting cocktail list.

Waite is a chef for whom work is everything — his consuming passion is for cooking and jobs he can really sink his teeth in. His cuisine is beautifully handcrafted, classic in its influences, innovative in sensibility and plating. Known for combining flavours and textures in outstanding ways, he talks about incorporating foams, powders and dry ice on future menus. “But nothing too crazy,” says Waite with a smile.

The Spruce on Wellington
731 Wellington Street, London

The Forest City Cookbook Crowdfunding Initiative Update



Alieska Robles Commercial Photographer 

Please Support this great community building initiative & help to continue to advance London's stellar culinary and agricultural scene.

In London, our many chefs and sous chefs continue to develop imaginative takes on farm-to-table eating while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the frontline of the contemporary culinary scene by rethinking the food chain, protecting the environment and adding their voices to the collective Canadian culinary narrative.

Creative director and photographer extraordinaire, Alieska Robles, brings something truly ground breaking to the table by collaborating with culinary enthusiasts, London chefs, and regional producers and craft brewers to create The Forest City Cookbook. More than 50 local chefs, sous-chefs, sommeliers, restaurateurs and area food producers are on board with this initiative. Robles envisioned this project as a community-driven and community building effort to help advance the culinary scene. Robles is aided by experts Brian Blatnicki, Amanda Devries, Carl Matthes and chef Chad Steward.

A crowdfunding campaign was launched to support the initiative that will pay homage to London chefs featuring 125 original recipes, and their stories in a 300-plus page full-colour hardcover book. The criterion for farmer/chef participation is that the recipes have to be authentic and comprised of entirely local ingredients that showcase both chef and farmer/producer. The book will be a one-time craft edition.

Since The Forest City Cookbook website was launched the initiative has achieved more than six tenths of their $50,000 objective. That total will fund the printing 1,000 copies of the cookbook. Robles’ anticipates that the published cookbook will be in people’s hands by the end of March 2018.

Many of the chefs in The Forest City Cookbook are trailblazers when it comes to working with producers and farmers to ensure that local and sustainable products find their way to the plates of their customers, and our “local food” movement has matured and come into its own. While we celebrate our local farmers and producers, our true culinary stars are innovating in kitchens throughout the Forest City offering up some of Ontario’s finest food and pairing them with a diversity of craft beer and local wine tasting experiences.

Participants include a who’s who of London culinary luminaries including chefs, sous-chefs, restaurants, farms, orchards, farmers, producers, artisans and craft breweries. The purpose is to build community, encourage dining farm-to-table, “buy local” shopping and agri-tourism. They will expand the offering by incorporating information about the influence of agriculture to this experience. Encouraging a wide range of experiences built around visitation to the farmers and producers featured will add to the uniqueness of this project. 

The Forest City Cookbook is destined to be an anthology of inspiring chefs, dedicated local producers and area craft breweries. It’s a confirmation of the power of our food culture to unite communities by sharing food that is meaningful, sharing our values, building common ground and celebrating humanity.

By purchasing a copy you'll be helping spread the word about the incredible talent in our kitchens while advancing the local culinary community. The Forest City Cookbook can be pre-ordered now at 

August 28th 2017

Update via Brian Blatnicki: “The Forest City Cookbook has surpassed more than the halfway point of their crowdfunding campaign, with over 600 books pre-ordered already. Currently, the production team is working hard on content, this includes working with the all chefs to finalize and standardize recipes, behind the scenes photos and videos with chefs, farmers, breweries and artisan food producers, planning the staging, styling for each recipe to best represent the story around it. And they’re about to get cookin’! Production for the recipe photo shoots has begun. The photo shoots will take place at McKaskell Haindl Design Build Inc., located in downtown London. Chris Haindl and Chris McKaskell have donated their space to help bring this stunning hardcover book to life. To guarantee yourself a copy, you must pre-order through the Forest City Cookbook site (until December 2017). Once their funding campaign is closed, there will be no other way to purchase the book, no second print run – so get your copy today!”

Forest City Cookbook Participants:

Aaron Cowell
Alex Martin – Garlic’s of London 
Ali - Joe Kool’s 
Andrew Wolwowicz - Craft Farmacy / North Moore Catering
Angela Murphy - Restaurant Ninety-One 
Carla Cooper - Garlics of London 
Chad Stewart - Field to Fork Catering 
Cliff Briden - The Church Key 
Uber-chef Dacha Markovikc
Dan Riggin - Toboggan Brewing Company 
Dave Lamers - Abruzzi Ristorante 
Dave Ripley - Gusto Food and Wine 
David Chapman - David's Bistro 
David Coulter - La Noisette Bakery 
Elvis Drenan - David's Bistro 
Greg Wolfe - Los Lobos
Jill Wilcox - Jill's Table
John Pacheco - The Tasting Room 
Josh Sawyer - Wich is Wich 
Justin Wolfe - Los Lobos 
Katherine Jones and Alaura - Growing Chefs! Ontario
Chef Kim Sutherland
Kristian Crossen - Great Hall Catering 
Kyle Rose - Wolfe of Wortley
Luke Gauvin - Smokestacks Food Truck
Matt Reijnen - Milos Craft Beer Emporium
Michael Anglestad - The Church Key 
Michele Lenhardt - Rhino Lounge - North Moore Catering 
Mike Fish - Glassroots 
Mike Smith - Fellini Koolinis
Paul Harding - The Root Cellar 
Ricardo Cavaco - Bifana Boys
Rick Hunt - David's Bistro 
Scott Wesseling - Black Trumpet 
Simon Briggs - London Training Centre 
Tabitha Switzer - La Noisette Bakery
Thomas Waite - Spruce on Wellington
Tim Drew - Glassroots 
Vijay Naraine - Abruzzi Ristorante 
Wade Fitzgerald - Fanshawe College - Culinary Program 
Wayne de Groot  - Zen za Pizza
Yoda Olinyk - Glassroots 
Zoran Sehovac - Hot Oven
Patrick Durham - Patrick's Beans 
David Cook - Fire Roasted Coffee 
Joel McMillan - Hasbeans Coffee
Jamie Griffith - Pristine Olive 
Shannon Slade - Booch Kombucha

August 28th 2017


Like many people, I started to learn about the importance of local food at a young age by visiting the Royal Winter Agricultural Fair, farmers' markets, farm gates and small town fall fairs across Ontario. These experiences left an indelible impression on a young urbanite. They were the first opportunities that I had to get in touch with our local food heritage. “Good things grow in Ontario”  that’s the message Foodland Ontario wants consumers to remember when they go food shopping. It’s a catchy jingle. When the Foodland program began in 1977, the advertising message informed consumers of the wide variety and availability of Ontario-grown food products. Both the theme line "Good things grow in Ontario" and the Foodland Ontario symbol encouraged consumers to buy Ontario.
This campaign works with all agricultural sectors and builds on the importance of supporting farmers and purchasing fresh, locally grown, quality produce. It also concentrates on the more understated message of trust.

When I say trust, I refer to the confidence we place in independent Ontario farmers, in their crops and products, in food safety, and in their contribution to the fabric of Ontario’s food culture and economy. Trust is an important factor in consumer faithfulness. If a retailer showcases “local” in its offerings, an understanding of what that means can help to reduce consumers’ confusion on what exactly is local in that particular instance.

The most significant marketing term for food this past decade is the word “local”, now firmly entrenched in the popular lexicon as a brand for freshness, seasonality, sustainability and quality. The definition of “local” is open to wide interpretation depending on whom you are talking to, but is generally recognized as food grown or produced within a certain radius such as 50 or 100 miles.
The term “local” may also be seen from a more conceptual perspective of micro-climate and naturally recurring geographic boundaries, as well as referring to an area that grows food for a specific population. Global instability, dependence on other countries, and intelligent economics are among the many good reasons to promote a sustainable local agricultural sector.

The term Slow Food really refers to a few key principles that most people already know about and practice, at least sometimes. It is a reference to food that is produced or prepared in accordance with local culinary traditions, typically using high-quality locally sourced ingredients. It is the opposite of fast food. I first heard about Slow Food while attending a culinary program in Italy, nearly 20 years ago. I had been invited by the Italian Trade Commission to increase my knowledge about the culinary specialties of Emilia-Romagna. What I took away from that experience was so much more. In addition to learning how to make the unique regional specialties and developing an appreciation for the locally produced artisanal products, I gained invaluable insight into their culinary traditions and what the term local truly meant.

Buying and eating “local” makes more sense not only to the consumer but also to the retailer. Add this to the increasing preference and status that consumers attach to local food, and we can see what has contributed to the success of the “local” movements. Statistics show that grocery store shoppers consider the quality of the produce as most important to them in their choice of supermarkets. Consumer studies also indicate that 50% of women and 39% of men have changed supermarkets based solely based on the consistency and quality of fresh produce.

Today we depend on a small number of crop species for human nutrition; less than 30 plant species provide 95% of the world’s sustenance. In the past century, 300,000 plant species have become extinct. Since the beginning of the 20th century, North America has lost 93% of its agricultural products. Europe has lost almost 85%.

An important benefit of local food systems is the encouragement of multiple cropping and the growing of a variety of species and cultivars simultaneously, as opposed to the prevalent commercial practice of large scale single crop plantings. Multiple cropping is the practice of growing two or more crops simultaneously in the same space during the same growing season. For example, a farmer may grow tomatoes, onions and marigolds in the same field. The marigolds repel some pests, reducing or eliminating the farmer’s reliance on commercial pesticides.

There is now an interest in reviving and cataloguing the forgotten flavours of heirloom varieties. Heirloom is a term now commonly used to describe a cultivar that has been handed down from one generation to another. Cultivar refers to a plant variety with particular characteristics that has been created or intentionally selected and maintained through cultivation, and when propagated retains its unique attributes.

It is interesting to understand why what I call “a return to flavour” has happened. As varieties of fruits and vegetables continued to narrow to only a small number that were considered the most marketable, an interest in reviving homegrown heritage products occurred. In southern Ontario, even local field tomato production was cut in half in the late 1990’s when it became difficult to compete with low-cost foreign imports and the more lucrative greenhouse varieties that obtain a better price for export.

Fruit and vegetable varieties were discarded by big growers, food processors and the fast food restaurant industry because they were not commercially viable. They did not ship well, store well or conform to size, shape, texture or colour standards set by the industry. Many of these heirloom varieties have gradually made their way back into seed catalogues, local farms, home-based and community gardens and on restaurant menus... to be continued.

July 26th 2017