Ten years ago, before there was a wide-reaching turn toward charcuterie, farmers’ markets, food trucks, plant-based cuisine and gluten-free cuisine, we originated the Buzz column in Eatdrink magazine to introduce readers to local chefs, restaurants, restaurant personalities and rising culinary stars. In the absence of local culinary media, it was just as important to encourage dining out.
In 2007, procuring local food was a chef-driven trend that involved sourcing ingredients at farmers’ markets and directly from producers at the kitchen door. Today we are more than a decade into the farm-to-table movement, which has become a much wider concept and an ethos that encompasses the entire food supply chain. When Eatdrink began a decade ago, Chef Amédé Lamarche was introducing molecular gastronomy on his tasting menus at Church Restaurant in Stratford; The Only on King had recently opened and was serving local and organic ingredients and trying to be as much “Slow Food movement” as possible; and the pomegranate martini was one of the Tasting Room’s bestsellers.
Food media continue to be necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I attempt to bring appreciation, sensibility and intelligent discourse to the table. When I go out to eat I am drawn to businesses that support local farmers and to food artisans who source and feature local ingredients, products and beverages. Patronizing farm-to-table inspired restaurants makes sense because it supports and sustains economic activity on a local level.
I have always tried to write about and cover food and drink as culture. Good writing furnishes the reader with enough information and insight to enable educated decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have good, strong food media — whether you like them or loathe them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability in the community.
Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Once trained to view things from both a chef’s and a restaurateur’s perspective the ability never leaves you. After three decades of working at both ends of this spectrum, I continue to be inspired by dedicated culinary entrepreneurs and artisans who embrace the benefits of building community engagement through food. In no particular order, here are ten favourite articles about some of the many interesting people, restaurants and subjects that I have written about over the last decade.
1 Culinary Farmer Paul Spence and the Chatham-Kent Table: A fifth-generation farmer, Paul Spence can debate the economic impacts of food policy with agility and is equally knowledgeable about the urban farmers’ market culture and the practicalities of traditional farming methods as he is on the subject of greenwashing. His fierce championing of local food has won him both admirers and detractors. www.eatdrink.ca/a-culinary-farmer/
2 T.G.’s Addis Ababa Restaurant: For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire and has garnered repute for being blistering-hot, but truly authentic. T.G.’s signature dishes comprise permutations of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, hot and fragrant. These flavour contrasts and the refinement of her cooking is the hallmark of her cuisine.www.eatdrink.ca/t-g-s-addis-ababa/
3 Andrew Fleet, Food Literacy and Growing Chefs!: Based on the idea that education can alter behavior, Growing Chefs! and its many volunteers have made tremendous strides by changing the way many children perceive food, and encouraging them to become excited about nutritious and healthy food choices. The former Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant has been transformed into the new Growing Chefs! headquarters and an innovative Food Education Centre. www.eatdrink.ca/food-literacy-and-growing-chefs/
4 London Training Centre: Local Food Skills: The true essence of the LTC narrative is that it achieves the whole seasonal cycle of our local bounty. The LTC faculty are not only culinary educators and employment specialists, they are also farmers, retailers, caterers, food artisans, restaurateurs, funders and local food advocates. The Local Food Skills program provides solid food-based knowledge and provides participants with the opportunity to explore of working with food as a job or a profession. www.eatdrink.ca/local-food-skills
5 Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay – A Road Less Traveled: Hospitality and the culinary arts have always gone hand in hand. In London we have a history of exceptional restaurateurs, chefs and culinary retailers. Among the latter are Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay, the former proprietors of the legendary Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop, one of Canada’s finest cookware shops. www.eatdrink.ca/a-road-less-traveled
6 The Foodie’s Place in the Culinary Pecking Order: It should not surprise anyone with a keen interest in all things culinary to learn that there is a gastronomic pecking order. At the bottom of the gastronomic hierarchy is goinfre (greedy guts), then goulu (glutton), gourmand, (one who enjoys eating), friand or epicure (one who with discriminating taste takes pleasure in fine food and drink), gourmet (a connoisseur of food and drink), and finally the gastronome (one with a serious interest in gastronomy). Let’s not overlook “foodie,” a contemporary term that is frequently used as a synonym for gourmet or epicure. www.eatdrink.ca/the-foodies-place/
7 Where to Eat in Stratford/Stratford’s Changing Gastro Scene: Whether the subject is the evolving restaurant scene, or where to eat in Stratford, I have enjoyed writing features on Monforte on Wellington, Bijou, Mercer Hall, The Red Rabbit, The Prune, Revival House and The Restaurant at The Bruce. www.eatdrink.ca/where-to-eat-in-stratford/
8 Down the Rabbit Hole – The Red Rabbit in Stratford: “A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community,” pretty much sums up The Red Rabbit’s ethos. Stratford-born Jessie Votary and Chef Sean Collins left Mercer Hall two years ago to build the community-shared restaurant with partners/workers. Votary, who has been fittingly labelled the restaurant’s fearless leader and the mastermind behind the business, said, “The notion for the restaurant was born out of necessity and inevitability. We all sat down and agreed that we didn`t really want to do this for someone else anymore.” www.eatdrink.ca/down-the-rabbit-hole/
9 Sixthirtynine: A Distinctive Taste of Oxford County: Sixthirtynine is one of Ontario’s best destination farm-to-table restaurants. Chef Eric Boyar’s culinary repertoire, rooted in classical French technique, was developed in such Toronto hotspots as Splendido, Mistura, Goldfish and the Metropolitan Hotel. Chef and his wife Jennifer returned to his Woodstock home in 2005, and with his mother Pauline Bucek opened Sixthirtynine. Pauline and Jennifer are hands-on partners and both work the front of house. www.eatdrink.ca/a-distinctive-taste-of-oxford-county/
10 Saffron and Secrets of the Back Forty: After years of travelling concessions and scouting back roads we have begun to notice a renewed prevalence of hand-painted signs and newly-erected farmgate stalls at the end of long laneways throughout Huron County’s countryside. The modest chalkboards and hand-crafted wooden signs announce free run eggs, horseradish, honey, maple syrup, sauerkraut, rhubarb, strawberries, seasonal vegetables and fruit, fresh-cut bouquets, baking and “No Sunday Sales.” Often there’s no one there to receive you, just a wooden box or a locked drawer into which to drop your money. It is called the honour system. www.eatdrink.ca/saffron-and-secrets-of-the-back-forty