For: Food Network Canada 

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival

Last weekend hungry crowds descended on Stratford for the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. In recent years, Stratford has become a popular destination for food lovers, possibly due to the world-renowned Stratford Chefs School (currently celebrating their 30th year in operation.) The historic city of Stratford is no stranger to tourism. Summers see an influx of visitors for theatre and art events. Stratford boasts a range of eateries from gastropubs to haute cuisine, and Local restaurateurs are taking advantage of the proximity to family farms in surrounding Perth County. Seasonal farm-to-table offerings grace nearly every menu. Agricultural traditions in Stratford stretch back more than 170 years. Perth county is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the province.

Savour Stratford visitors could participate in a range of activities including visiting with local farmers, sampling goods from artisans across Ontario and attending “tutored talks & tastings” on topics like fermentation, wild edibles, mead, preserving fish and the taste profile “bitter.” Children’s workshops included making vegetable “noodles”, worm composting, watercolour painting with edibles like beets & blueberries and a petting zoo.

The culinary-curious could get more than their fill at the Grand Tasting, an event to celebrate the partnerships between the local producers in the agricultural community and local culinary talent. Contenders presented a dish (or beverage) for a chance to win an award for best meat dish, vegetarian dish, dessert, beverage, beverage with alcohol as well as most creative and people’s choice. (see some of winners in the gallery below)

One of the highlights of the festival was the Toronto Star Culinary Stage which brought chefs from from Newfoundland to the N.W.T. to B.C. for interactive demonstrations. The presenters would walk the audience through the creation of a dish (classic souffle, walleye lake fish with lentils, or presskof croquettes for example) and answer any questions. I sat down with five of the chefs and asked them what is unique about the region that they represent.

Celebrity Chefs at Savour Stratford

QuebecDerek Dammann of Montreal’s Maison Publique.

Quebec, compared to anywhere in Europe – like France, Spain, Italy – it is just as regional in terms of cuisine. People don’t realize that. It is one of the only places in Canada where that can be said about the cuisine. (At Maison Publique) We do Canadian food. Not just because we use Canadian ingredients, Canada as a whole gets a bad stereotype. (People say) “Ooh Canada Eh, Poutine, back bacon, donuts.” but it is more than that.

(Montreal is) Extremely multicultural, everybody came this way. What is fortunate about where we are now is that we can draw from Portuguese, from Indian, from every kind of asian you can possibly imagine.. It is a melting pot of cultures and everything is up for grabs. What I think is the most unique is the way people dine. They are open for anything, excited to go out and eat… it is the style of life. People go out and they enjoy, they have fun – it is a lifestyle to go have a beautiful bottle of wine, have a conversation and enjoy themselves. It is part of the culture.

SaskatchewanDale MacKay, owner of Ayden Kitchen and Bar, Saskatoon and Canada’s first Top Chef.

I have Been gone for 20 years until a year and a half ago. I have always been know for fine dining, and doing more formal food. The last two years I have done a lot more casual food and going back to my roots. I moved back to Saskatoon, and opened a new restaurant named after my son about nine months ago and it is going really well. We set up shop in a beautiful heritage building and it is a large restaurant, about 110 seats.

I found that the saskatchewan people are amazing themselves, as to what they actually have in the province. I have been serving Lentils whenever I can, different things – very saskatchewan grown things. We have been talking a lot about Chanterelles. The best in the world come from Saskatchewan.

Talking directly with farmers, it is going to take a little more time since Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is not behind on the farming aspect – its the farming capital of Canada – but small farming is only starting to get big there. We do have people growing specifically for us, artichokes and asparagus, and the best hard-core farming families are there.

Newfoundland’s Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage, Quidi Vidi Village, St. John’s

(At Mallard Cottage) We have a small historic building and we do newfoundland product in non-traditional ways. We take Newfoundland ingredients and put a twist on them that no one has seen before, that is basically what we are trying to do.

(In Newfoundland) We have a lot of wild game and things that we are able to access, and of course we are on the ocean, so tremendous amount of seafoods and whatnot. We are that wild corner of the country that people don’t really know about. We have that advantage of a certain amount of mystery to people. Newfoundland food is a pristine environment, it is a very rural part of the country, we don’t have huge population, or a lot of factories, the air is clean. So all of our resources, the natural abundance is all pristine. and the quality of it is all very good.

OntarioCarl Heinrich, winner of Top Chef Season Two, and his chef and in-house butcher, Ryan Donovan, of Toronto’s critically acclaimed Richmond Station.

Carl – Knowing the people that you buy food from is so important. If you have two tomatoes in your hand and one is from 5000 km away and it was picked while it was green and you don’t know who touched it and in your other hand you have one from your neighbor, or you grew it yourself and picked it when it was ripe, which one is going to taste better, it is a no brainer right? But it is the same thing for corn, it is the same for mushrooms and it is certainly the same with fish, but for us it is the same with all of the food we buy, we want to make an effort to know where our food is from and that is the core philosophy behind our cuisine.

We talk about this more and more now days. The way we cook food and the way our restaurant runs is a really big political statement. If our business buys lets say 700 000 worth of food a year, and you put 500 000 back into southern ontario, that is a massive statement. Alot of the food that we buy comes from Perth county and the Stratford area. Alot of the food we buy comes from north, creemore area and Grey Bruce.

Ryan – You need to get that ingredient in and make sure it is the best but it is not enough to stop there and say ‘now the hard work is done’. You still have to apply the right technique to it. It might be looking at something that you would normally sous vide and say, ‘no this should be braised’, or ‘it needs to be brined first’ or ‘maybe it should be salted and then rinsed an hour later, just a little bit of salt.’ ‘It needs to cure but not for long’. Then you must always be revisiting the things you are making and eating and saying ‘that could be better.’