Bacon Butter Tart: two iconic Canadian food items enveloped in a single bite. What a way to kick off a fall Sunday morning at Savour Stratford 2012. Let’s hope Madelyn’s Diner and Yungblut Meats put them on the menu. This was not a bacon-craze concept (unlike bacon toothpaste, bacon bread pudding or bacon chocolate bars). This was a perfect marriage of savoury and sweet; of farmer and baker. I have to admit I had more than one sample while feigning to need more tarts for the photo shoot. Little wonder it won Best Dessert — but shouldn’t bacon butter tart be better categorized as Best Meat Dish or Most Creative Dish? If only there was a trifecta at Savour Stratford.
Not that we didn’t love the samples from the other 31 vendors set up for the Tasting on September 23 under the impressive tents along Market Square behind the historic city hall.
The Sunday events drew just under 15,000 people with a total of 25,000 visitors over the weekend (although some people may have been double-counted if they attended both days). This was the fifth year for Savour Stratford, and dates have already been set for 2013: September 20–22. It’s a large-scale undertaking to coordinate 125 vendors, farmers and tastings while offering ticketed educational events to more than 500 participants. Topics ranged from Knife Sharpening 101 to Stemless Wine Tasting in Riedel “O” glasses, held at Bradshaw’s Kitchen Classroom. Or choose from Savoury Preserving, Converting Your Apartment to a Farm, and Demystifying the Pressure Cooker, all at the Stratford Chefs School Learning Centre. And while parents were sipping or tasting, kids packed the Kids’ Tent all weekend, where they took in Monforte Dairy ice cream making or hung out at the Living Salad Bar.
All of this plus celebrity chef demonstrations, gala events, outdoor markets and street performers make Savour Stratford an award-winning weekend for foodies from across the province.
The Sunday Tasting provides a rare opportunity to mingle not only with chefs/restaurateurs, but also to connect with stellar producers of the region’s bounty, including cheese, meat, chocolate, bread, and wine. Each table at the Tasting features a restaurant owner/chef paired with a producer. “Sometimes this is the first time the producer and the chef have actually connected, spent time with each other,” says our tour guide, Cathy Rehberg, Marketing Manager of Stratford Tourism Alliance.
One such connection was the pairing of fresh Ontario lamb from DelMac Farm, north of London, with the culinary team at the legendary Church Restaurant, Stratford. Farmers Robin and Richard Cooke provided lamb education while Chef Caleb Stewart prepared pulled braised curried lamb served with pickled red onions and apricot conserve. The Cookes can normally be found at the Stratford Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, but that weekend saw them side by side with the staff of one of Canada’s renowned restaurants. “We’re just thrilled that the Church Restaurant wants to serve fresh, local lamb. It’s a first endeavour for us to work with them and very exciting,” says Robin Cooke.
Other interesting producer/chef combos included lavender farmer Suzanne Steed of Sparta (near St. Thomas in Elgin County) pairing her culinary lavender syrup, jams and sauces with chocolate made by her sister Kristene Steed’s company, Rheo Thompson Candies of Stratford.
“This festival helps to build a sense of community between producers and restaurateurs. We celebrate our agricultural roots through our restaurants, cuisine and culture,” says Danielle Brodhagen, Culinary Program Coordinator at Stratford Tourism Alliance. Brodhagen encouraged visitors to “speak with farmers directly” to better understand the source of their food.
This year visitors to the Tasting were each allowed one vote for the People’s Choice award, with the winning chef receiving $500 from sponsor GE Café Appliances. It must have been a close race, as so many teams offered incredible samples: of note were the edible bell pepper “shooters” filled with zesty gazpacho created by Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub and Caveman Crops. They took the environmental beliefs of the festival to a whole new, and delicious, level. Also, the cornmeal-crusted beets from Soiled Reputation, created by Chef Nick Benninger of Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 Restaurant and personally handed out by Antony Johns, were stunning and won Best Vegetarian Dish. A dollop of creativity and humour was shown by Rene’s Bistro, which used strawberries from Sheldon Berries to create the appearance of “meatballs,” which were actually cake. Fun and satisfying
In the end, Chef Bryan Steele of The Prune and his partner producer, Northern Woods Mushrooms, won the People’s Choice award for his Smoked Mushroom Tart with house-made herbed ricotta, delicate squash and red pepper relish. Bravo!
To help the guests wash down all the incredible samples, ten VQA wineries participated, including Pelee Island Winery, which released its new organic vintage, Pelee Pure. And eight breweries also offered samples, which went particularly well with the Metzger Meat ribs prepared by Huron County chef Devin Tabor of Bon Vivant Catering.
Be sure to plan to visit Savour Stratford next September and, in the meantime, look for locally sourced items on your menu!
Jane Antoniak and Bruce Fyfe are regular contributors to eatdrink.