Monday, March 2, 2015

Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Apple Pie Trail


Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Apple Pie Trail


Our annual culinary road trip, consisting of a scenic drive through the towns and hamlets along the Georgian Bay coastline, through the remarkable Beaver Valley and along the top of the Niagara Escarpment, brought us past Georgian Hills Vineyard. Unknowingly, we were following a similar route to that of the Blue Mountain Apple Pie Trail.  The trail is a year-round culinary route that winds through the apple and pear growing country from just east of Owen Sound to Collingwood and offers a truly top-notch culinary experience.

Over the last seven years, the trail has continued to expand by offering travellers a diverse complement of agricultural and culinary partnerships, tours, events and experiential adventures that focus on Ontario's apple orchard country. At last count the trail connected 37 stops for local apple-inspired products and fare, including restaurants, orchards, food merchants, breweries and wineries. A winner of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, the trail also received Tourism Ontario's Culinary Experience Award in 2012.

Georgian Hills Vineyard

At the Georgian Hills Vineyard our hospitable and intelligent hosts spoke about the winemakers and explained the Niagara Escarpment’s unique terroir and the microclimate created by the proximity to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay's moderating effects produce favourable grape growing conditions. The area has been designated “an emerging wine region” by the Wine Council of Ontario. We sampled several varietals that included a Perry, a Seyval Blanc, a Vidal Blanc, an unoaked Chardonnay, a Marachel Foch and a Vidal (Frozen on the Vine). We retreated to the terrace, where comfortable chairs overlook the vineyard, with glasses of Riesling in hand and an outstanding platter of local cheeses and charcuterie. Georgian Hills makes its own sweet dessert wine called Frozen to the Core, created from peaches and apples. Tasting room hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 12 – 5 p.m.

Beaver Valley Cidery

Our next stop was the Beaver Valley Cidery where hard ciders are crafted in small batches from select varieties of heritage apples grown in the orchard or supplied by local Georgian Bay growers. The restored century barn has been converted into a cidery and tasting room. Co-owner Judy Cornwell told us that they kept the barn's foundation, and posts and beams, replacing the cladding, floor and roof. The tasting room and the outdoor gardens are stunning. Two types of hand-crafted ciders can be tasted and paired with a plate of superb artisanal cheeses. 235853 Beaver Valley Rd (Grey Rd 13), Kimberley. Open May to December, Thursday to Sunday 11-6 p.m.

Bruce Wine Bar and Kitchen

Bruce Wine Bar is a scratch kitchen, featuring farm-to-table menus which showcase local and regional products. Downstairs in The Kitchen, dine on traditional Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas (funghi, artisan salumi, fennel sausage, etc.), salads and sandwiches. Or head upstairs to the wine bar for quality wines, spirits and craft beer, shared plates and charcuterie. Think smoked local whitefish fritters or beef striploin tartare with sous vide duck egg yolk. The chef follows sustainable principles. The restaurant is a Feast ON certified taste of Ontario establishment for people who seek out authentic "tastes of place" when travelling. Open daily, lunch and dinner; closed Mondays from September to June. 8 Bruce Street South, Thornbury; (alley behind TD Bank)

  The Cheese Gallery

Casey Thomson's Cheese Gallery on the main street in Thornbury is a cheese shop in a gallery setting, showcasing the talent of local artisans who craft local foods, beverages and art. We usually visit the Cheese Gallery several times a year. This unique experience offers a licensed tasting bar with cozy seating, charcuterie and a truly dazzling array of salumi and international and artisan cheeses. Open year round, daily. 11 Bruce St. South, Thornbury.

The Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail

No matter what time of year you visit, the Apple Pie Trail is a year-round culinary destination. Last year the culinary trail added six new stops, including the Northwinds Brewhouse and Eatery, and Bonnie Dorgelo Jewellery and Paintings in Collingwood, Twist Martini Restaurant and Bar, Booster Juice in the Blue Mountain Village, and the aforementioned Bruce Wine Bar in Thornbury and the Beaver Valley Cidery. For a special treat be sure to stop at the hospitable Kimberly General Store for some locally-sourced provisions and a delicious sandwich.

Icarus Resto Bar Ascending on Richmond Row


Zack Agathos has the presence and magnetism which combined with a genuine earnestness bodes well in the hospitality business. He’s good looking and charming and approachable and has good restaurant chops. Agathos descends from a long line of savvy Greek-Canadian restaurateurs. His grandfather, Jim Agathos, father Ross Agathos (Sweet Onion Grill in Wortley Village) and Aunt Effie (newly-opened Kosmos Catering and Eatery on Richmond Row) operated The Dancing Greek (formerly the Huron House and Jimmy’s Tavern) for 51 years before it closed.

Agathos confides that he was drawn to the cautionary legend of Icarus, and chose the name for his new resto bar after careful deliberation. He felt the story of Icarus spoke to him. Icarus is of course named after the son of Daedalus, who ventured too near the sun on wings of wax and feathers. The story goes that Daedalus had been imprisoned by King Minos of Crete within the walls of his own invention, the Labyrinth, whose function was to hold the Minotaur. But the master craftsman would not suffer incarceration. He fashioned two pairs of wings by fastening feathers to a wooden frame with wax. Giving one pair to his son, he warned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt. But Icarus became elated with the ability to fly and neglected to heed his father's warning. The rest, as they say, is history.

Agathos is confident, he has bravado (the good kind) and he believes he has the right skill set to succeed in the restaurant business. He has intentionally surrounded himself with staff, confidantes and advisors who have the finesse and judgment it takes to birth a successful restaurant.

Icarus Resto Bar is located in the repurposed premises formerly occupied by Coffee Culture on Richmond Street. Last year, on my initial visit to meet up with Agathos, he emphasized that the restaurant would have an interactive open-kitchen concept with a contemporary Greek/Mediterranean fusion theme. Sometimes when speaking with him I was reminded of an impresario who is trying to bring Modern Greek cuisine the acclaim it deserves. Despite his due diligence, he had many unforeseen setbacks during the construction of the restaurant, which he endured with optimism.

            Today, the long room features large picture windows, seating for more than a dozen at the open kitchen (protected by a large sneeze guard), yellow brick walls and chestnut-coloured accents at the entrance, and a bamboo ceiling in the front portion of the restaurant. There are good acoustics. Behind the row of banquettes, near the back of the 2,000-square-foot restaurant, a whiskey and bourbon bar is slated for a future expansion. There is also talk of an outdoor patio at the side of the building which would allow al fresco dining. 

            With its noble preparations, enthusiasm for direct spicing and emphasis on lamb, olives, garlic, lemon, yogurt, cheese, grains, nuts, honey and seafood, Greek/Mediterranean cookery has a long tradition. Dishes are mostly enhanced with lemons and fresh and dried herbs such as oregano and thyme. Spices – cumin, cinnamon and allspice – are used frugally but are integral to the flavour profile of dishes like pastítsio. At Icarus, pastítsio comprises layers of pasta noodles and lamb ragù with a creamy béchamel topping and is served in a small and exceedingly hot-to-the-touch cast-iron fry pan accompanied by a chef’s knife

Like most cuisines, flavours change with the season and geography. Some classic savoury pastries and desserts use filo pastry. There is a surprising continuity in culinary matters from ancient Greece through to contemporary times, and many dishes are part of a larger tradition of Ottoman cuisine with Turkish, Arabic and Persian roots. You can see these influences in the menus.

“The Squash” is a wonderfully rich, sweet and savoury salad of roasted butternut squash, beet and pumpkin with red and green onion and spiced nuts tossed in maple vinaigrette. 

Chef is just as confident with the layered butternut squash parfait with whipped Greek yogurt, honey, granola, quinoa, spiced nuts and dried apricots. Each morsel reveals a blast of flavour and texture, and the crunch of spiced nuts combined with the sweetness of honey against the yogurt and dried apricots is sublime and perfectly balanced. There are several vegan-friendly and gluten-free choices, and the menu is peppered with substitution suggestions and add-ons.

 Tacos are versatile and delicious. (Variations on the genre are popping up on menus everywhere these days.) On the lunch menu there is a trio of grilled tacos with lamb ragù, slathered with feta, and dressed up with pico de gallo. The tacos are excellent. More surprising on the mostly Mediterranean-centric lunch menu is the stand-out, mouthwatering wild mushroom and leek pappardelle with sweet peas and burnt lemon. Some items, like the lamb burger and prime rib beef dip, repeat on the dinner menu, which is larger than the lunch menu, but not overwhelming.The menu is big but not overwhelming; the family-style setup makes it easy to order from every section

At dinner, Chef flirts with our taste buds, with thick garlicky tzatziki with a hint of cucumber and updated Greek specialties such as spanakopita, keftedes (lamb meatballs), pastítsio, souvlaki and grilled calamari. Chef brings new life to these staple menu items. Saganaki is pan-fried goat cheese flambéed with lemon and brandy creating a crispy, salty, stringy, succulent melted goodness.

 The squash theme is updated with micro greens and kale tossed in pomegranate vinaigrette and topped with warm goat cheese, slivered almonds and sundried cranberries. There is also spicy, crispy bite-sized chicken mixed with lemon pepper popcorn and roasted garlic aioli.

Rabbit is something rarely seen on menus in London. Chef prepares braised leg of rabbit with a sauce of tomatoes, leek and shallots accompanied by roasted potatoes. There are also the usual staples like beef tenderloin and the ubiquitous salmon.

 Agathos still loves all the food he grew up eating. He recalls family-style servings of homemade traditional Greek foods, including fresh fish, seafood, goat, rabbit and lamb. On the evening menu, in homage, The Icarus platter for four features skewers of chicken, pork and beef tenderloin, an order of pastítsio, Greek salad, potatoes, rice, pita and tzatziki. The Poseidon platter for three includes seared scallops, shrimp, grilled and fried calamari and baked salmon with Greek salad, potatoes, rice, pita and tzatziki. 

One of the best experiences we’ve had here was sitting at a high top near the chef’s counter in front of the open kitchen watching the machinations of the kitchen and the parade of Richmond Row fashionistas. Another was a birthday dinner when Chef pulled out all the stops when dessert rolled around. Desserts, like the plating, are innovative works of art.

Icarus Resto Bar
519 Richmond St., London
WEDNESDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM
THURSDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM


Locally Supported and Independent: The Evolution of Cuisine in Wortley Village


Wortley Village has a lengthy past as a residential suburb of London with a uniquely independent personality. This history of the village is reflected in the concentration of recognizable architectural styles (Victorian, art deco and mission-style) and an aesthetic combination of heritage buildings dating from the area’s early years between 1850 and 1930. The well-preserved heritage character of many of the homes and long-standing public buildings, along with the pedestrian-oriented streetscape of the Wortley Road commercial strip, give the neighbourhood an identifiable charm and cultural uniqueness. The area is bordered by Wellington Road to the east, Wharncliffe Road to the west, Horton Street to the north and Commissioners Road to the south.
A walkable and bicycle-friendly community whose residents have a reputation for their significant contributions to the creative vitality of London, Wortley Village is a respected core neighbourhood. A panel of judges from the Canadian Institute of Planners named Wortley Village Canada’s Great Neighbourhood for 2013 in both the Grand Prize and People’s Choice categories. “It has a true identity. When you think of great neighbourhoods, you think of physical spaces as well as the people,” said judge John Fleming, a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners, who is also London’s Managing Director of Planning, and City Planner for London.
Back in 2002, Wortley Village was dubbed one of Canada’s “coolest neighbourhoods” by enRoute magazine. The publication noted Wortley Village’s “gorgeous old homes as well as every kind of merchant and shop run as independent businesses. Residents don’t even need a car.”
Home to artisans and artists, unique home-run and independently owned shops, services, restaurants and nightlife, the Wortley Village mixed-use commercial strip has evolved organically over time to its present revitalized state. The streetscape is a varied collection of interesting buildings bustling with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, small-scale from-scratch bakeries, and one of the best ice cream vendors in the city. There are landmark retailers, like the recently renovated and environmentally friendly Quarter Master Natural Foods — one of the original health food stores in the city, having served Wortley Village and the community for over 30 years.  
There’s a very strong café culture in Wortley Village, with a diversity of outdoor culinary experiences for everyone. On the corridor the staggered buildings are mostly set back from the street and in season this allows patrons to enjoy dining at a sidewalk café, in a secluded courtyard setting, under a pergola, or on an elevated patio or a charming side-street terrace. The following section highlights some of the interesting culinary options found in Wortley Village:

The Village Harvest Bakery
This nearly 20-year-old Wortley Road institution, helmed by Sharon Landry and Douglas Huskilson, is a scratch bakery that has been operating since 1997. This is true artisanal baking — rustic, with an emphasis on quality wholesome ingredients and freshness. The bakery retails over 30 types of bread and a selection of high-quality specialty items, including diabetic-friendly muffins, granola, cookies, squares and tarts baked daily on site. The bakery is known for their pies, in particular cranberry pecan, apple and three-berry flavours. One of the breads the bakery is known for is Adelaide’s Nova Scotia Brown. Village Harvest Bakery’s apprentice Eric reflects their collaboration with the Youth Opportunities Unlimited organization. All the baking is from scratch and with as many locally-sourced Ontario ingredients as possible. The bakery offers seniors and the unwaged 10% off their purchases daily. 145 Wortley Rd., 519-667-1199

Sweet Onion Grill
The Sweet Onion Grill is located in the premises previously occupied by Ciao Bistro, and Relish, across from the Black Walnut Café. This informal, bistro-style restaurant is operated by the restaurant-savvy Ross Agathos (father of Zack Agathos of the newly opened Icarus Resto Bar) formerly of Ross Eagle Custom Sports and Huron House/Dancing Greek Restaurant. Agathos’ new hire, Welsh-born chef Chris Powell, has put together a traditional menu, albeit not locally-focused, having assimilated many influences. The restaurant looks to Greece as an accent, not necessarily a theme. Pan-fried pork belly is served with sweet onion marmalade and port reduction. Saganaki prepared with kefalograviera (hard sheep’s milk cheese) is flambéed with ouzo tableside. The service is genuine and hospitable and the price point is the most accessible in the village. There is a nicely situated outdoor terrace in season. 135 Wortley Rd., 519-204-5575

Mai’s Café and Bistro
This spot in Wortley Village has an unimposing frontage leading into a compact and pleasant interior, where aromatics of Thai cuisine permeate the narrow room, and the queue for takeaway is constant. There's an assortment of traditional Thai fare and an unexpected variety of Western food on the unconventional menu. Generally, Mai’s offers a satisfying dining experience with curry dishes, pad Thai, pasta, fish and chips and a Canadian breakfast. The Thai food is the real reason to go, though. Kai, Mai`s sister, is a welcoming and knowledgeable presence in the restaurant. Many of you will remember Mai as the former owner of Café Milagro in Byron. 142-A Wortley Rd., 519- 679-1221

Black Walnut Bakery Café
On a recent weekday morning at Black Walnut Bakery, customers lined up in front of the glass counter for shiny apple tarts, melt-in-your-mouth scones, lemon squares and a variety of savoury delicacies. From the welcoming hospitality and the rich aroma of fresh coffee, to the smell of pastries baking in the ovens, the Black Walnut Bakery Café is a destination café experience. With close attention to detail and strong relationships with the community, co-owners Wilson and Mandy Etheridge create a warm, neighbourly vibe. The Etheridges strive to provide a unique coffee experience by roasting their own distinctive organic, Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance coffees under the Black Walnut label. Specialty trained baristas are adept at handcrafting espresso drinks with organic syrups using the latest top-of-the-line equipment. The Black Walnut offers scratch baking every morning, seven days a week, as well as a café menu of artfully prepared made-to-order sandwiches, seasonal soups and salads, frittatas, bread, squares and light meals. Nothing is served in the café that isn’t hand-crafted and made in their scratch kitchen. 134 Wortley Rd., 519-439-BAKE (2253)

Old South Village Pub
Located in a restored heritage home, the Old South Village Pub is a warm, inviting old English-style pub and a good choice for relaxing alfresco in Wortley Village. The pub is located in the heart of the village, so there’s a great view of the neighbourhood. The menu includes homemade wood-oven pizzas, steak and Guinness pies and “the best” sweet potato fries. The pub also features a selection of popular Indian-inspired dishes. The pizzas are a favourite of locals in Wortley Village. 149 Wortley Rd., 519-645-1166

Gusto Food and Wine Bar
Open since September 2012, Gusto is a welcome addition to Old South’s dining scene. The restaurant is housed in a refurbished Victorian home that was formerly an antique shop and then the late lamented Casa Cubano restaurant. Chef Stephen Burns shows off his skills with a menu that includes charcuterie and tapas-style plates with “sharables” like risotto balls, pulled pork sliders and signature meatballs. The restaurant is known for its cracker-thin crisp pizzas. Dine inside or al fresco in season on the attractive verandah. 175 Wortley Rd., 519-937-1916

Wortley Village Fire Roasted Café
Fire Roasted Coffee has built its reputation on roastings, tastings, retail, wholesale, by the cup, and by the bag. The outpost café with its large picture window attracts Wortley Village hipsters, coffee aficionados, students and professionals with laptops. The café is known for its simple honest fare: freshly-roasted coffee, baked goods and pastries provided by the Artisan Bakery in Old East Village — locally produced beer, and a small wine list curated by local wine expert Michael Buck.

Last year, entrepreneur David Cook approached Kendra Gordon-Green of the former Little Red Roaster, seeking to take over their space in order to give Fire Roasted a presence and higher profile in Wortley Village. Now there are plans to expand Tuckey Home Hardware into the current café space in 2015. A deal has been reached with owner Dave Tuckey, whose grandfather opened the store in 1946, to incorporate a new flagship Fire Roasted café in the plans. In the meantime, Cook views the Wortley Road location like a pop-up restaurant where he is able to create a complementary niche and a distinct footprint in the neighbourhood. 138 Wortley Rd., 519-601-9477 

London, Ontario Food Truck Update March 2015: The New Incubators For Culinary Innovation


Modern (gourmet) food trucks serve a diverse variety of healthy options and cultural foods in other cities. They are positioned to incubate new businesses and become an alternative launching pad for healthy, creative food. 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 grilling up their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches curbside this summer.

I am a proponent of food trucks because they stimulate culinary innovation and ethnic culinary diversity, draw tourists, provide employment, and contribute to the social and culinary fabric of the city.

Well finally after three years of acrimonious debate, London residents will be able to eat at food trucks on city streets. During London City Council’s meeting on Feb. 24, London City Council voted unanimously, 15-0, to approve changes to the city’s Business Licensing Bylaw to allow a measly eight food trucks on London streets by this summer.

During the previous week’s session, councillors resolved to establish the licensing fee for each truck at $1,225, dismissing a proposal to require the installation of GPS units to monitor the trucks’ whereabouts. They also set a limit of eight licenses for the 2015 pilot, but staff will be able to come back and ask City Council to increase that amount if demand outweighs the number of obtainable licences.

Under the terms of the proposal, food trucks are required to stay 100 m from schools and special events while they’ll have to maintain a 25 m buffer zone around restaurants, homes and apartments. Operators also won’t be allowed to be stationary for more than 24 hours and are prohibited from operating between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. But every North American city with food trucks has rules. That includes Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary and even food-truck friendly Hamilton.

In London, food trucks have been a topic of debate for several years now, and previous councils have voted against them over fears that established restaurateurs will lose business.  In an about face, a written request from Downtown London (Business Improvement .Association) suggested reducing the number of food trucks involved in the pilot to 2% of the brick-and-mortar eateries, or four trucks. A group of 25 (mostly Richmond Row) restaurateurs had previously written a letter to council.  

Ward 10 councilor Virginia Ridley recognized this issue. “We’ve heard from the downtown restaurant owners and there’s a limited amount of dollars that people spend,” she said. “The concern is now they’re getting less of it.”

Councillor Jessie Helmer, empathetic to restaurant owner concerns, stated that setbacks are essential to safeguard their businesses from the competition of food trucks, but he is confident that once the pilot is launched and the council can see how it is going to work everyone’s uncertainties will be put to rest. The previous council voted against them over concerns that current restaurant owners will lose business. The argument against food trucks is that they’re stealing the business of more established bricks-and-mortar restaurants.  I have seen no evidence suggesting food trucks have undermined anyone’s business, restaurant or otherwise.

Helmer also enquired about the probability of amending the bylaw to permit restaurants to opt out of the buffer zone if they wanted. The same idea was first raised by Councillor Michael van Holst last week. Helmer also questioned if the motion could be amended to allow for food trucks to set up in front of restaurants that are closed. He noted there are some restaurants that don’t open on Sundays and it wouldn’t hurt to allow food trucks to service the community in those locations under those conditions.

Those proposals will eventually be put over until this fall’s review of the pilot project as Mayor Matt Brown reminded Helmer that any modifications made to the bylaw now would need to go back to the committee level and be approved again, extending the already protracted procedure.

Businesses will be able to apply for the eight licences as of (today) Monday, March 2nd. The pilot will operate during the summer with plans to appraise its success in the fall. In that meeting the council is expected to review whether or not the constraints that have been put in place are needed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Redux: A Reminiscence of My Culinary Life in 1,200 Words or Less



When I was a young teenager, our friends and family reacted like we were moving to Mars when we left Toronto to move to our cottage on Rice Lake. Our parents fulfilled a long-held dream when they purchased the cottage with a hilltop location and an acre of cedar forest backing on to the Ouse River. The site had previously been part of much larger farm acreage.

The cottage was a prefabricated shell with no amenities, in my unformed mind a zeitgeist in the back-to-the-earth spirit of the times, a handyman’s special that we idealized and had the potential to be transformed into our dream home.

At first, I thought we had landed in paradise, taking a cue from my parents who behaved like we had inherited heaven on earth. It was a convincing gambit that betrayed no hint of the hardships and sacrifices ahead. We briefly emulated the type of television family that enjoyed the solidarity of breaking bread together and took deep satisfaction from cooking meals over an open-fire in the moonlight.

Our parents purchased an old cast iron, wood-burning stove at a farm sale auction that had to be moved on a flat- bed pulled by a tractor. The stove was connected by a stove pipe to a temperamental flue that vented the smoke outside. The stove was both a heat source and cooker and would rarely burn unattended for more than a couple of hours. Gathering and chopping wood became a necessity that seemed to dominate our lives. If the embers were allowed to extinguish no amount of stoking, bellows work or fanning with a newspaper would resuscitate the fire.  It was on this volatile stove that I became a fledgling cook. I was most in my element in the kitchen or hunting and pecking on an ancient typewriter in my bedroom with a thesaurus by my side.

The experience of moving to our cottage was like going camping for an extended period of time. Like any make-believe, reality often crushes expectations. When the honeymoon was over, practicality took over, and after several months the “everything is awful” phase replaced our pioneering spirit. For a teenager accustomed to the independence of urban life and navigating a large city on transit the realization that we were isolated came as a culture shock, the effects delayed but inevitable.

At fourteen, I proved myself equal to stand a full days work. My first job was pumping gas and clerking at Heffernan’s, which was the only general store and one of few gas stations along a stretch of Highway 7 between Peterborough and the village of Norwood. Heffernan’s served a captive audience of hard-working farmers who purchased their weekly food stuffs and farming supplies as well as other passersby on route to small towns or the near north.  It was as a side-kick in the kitchen at the back of the store that I was indoctrinated into the art and science of baking and in retrospect this contributed to my life-long interest in cooking.

My formative years were spent managing the kitchens of the Keg and the Corkscrew chains, learning the business side of the industry when salad bars and steak and lobster were the very definition of middlebrow cuisine. Despite the lack of innovation in these kitchens I became an avid reader of cookbooks, the recipes were precise and I attempted to follow them to the letter.

In my early twenties, I was fortunate to have several mentors with a dedicated interest in gastronomy and was given the opportunity to work with talented chefs and restaurateurs all with difficult temperaments and strong skill sets that helped me develop a culinary backbone. My real education and passion for the culinary arts began while working at a series of French restaurants in Toronto that were bastions of haute cuisine.  The way I saw it, French seemed to be the only serious way to dine. Initially, I was an ardent student of regional French cuisine but after trips to Italy, I had to acknowledge that I was more inspired by regional Italian cooking and eventually I moved beyond France as my primary focus of interest.

As far as I can remember, travels in Europe and my introduction to food writers MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David were how my passion for food writing was incubated. In any case, it was Italy where I first encountered giant turtles fated for soup pots, wild game, a variety of unusual feathered birds and truffle hunting dogs. I enjoyed scouting the open-air food markets in Pisa and Florence and the Rialto market on Venice’s Canal Grande. The Italian market was my nirvana, with its abundant varieties of fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish, the night markets piled high with seasonal produce, fresh fungi and obscure local cheeses.

I was cooking at at a dinner club in Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire, England, just as mad cow disease was evolving from a cryptic veterinary conundrum into an epidemic affecting 120,000 cattle. Speculation about mad cow’s relationship to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans had created a state of panic.  I realized that I had been naive to put my confidence in the perceived safety of our food chain. It was about this time that I became politicized about food security and began questioning our food and farming policies.

A decade later I was chosen as part of a contingent to partake in a culinary journey with seven Canadian chefs to the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. This was my first introduction to “Slow Food” and the movement to safeguard traditional regional specialties, time- honoured techniques and farm-to-table cuisine. It was on this trip that I had an epiphany about food boasting of regional authenticity and became a dedicated proponent of culinary tourism and Ontario's homegrown terroir.

In retrospect, I have had a rewarding career in the culinary arts and am gratified to be associated with establishing, owning or in partnership with many great restaurants that became a way of life but more importantly an ideology. More recently my involvement with the Western Fair Farmers` and Artisans` Market gave me a platform to lead and support innovative initiatives in the community during a transformational time. I have always felt that my true calling has been as a communicator. It has taken me many years to find my authentic voice.

It was not that long ago that we lacked dedicated local food media to report on the local food community. One of my goals is to continue to have  role in sustaining, mentoring and promoting talent and a vibrant culinary community.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Look Back at London's Food Truck Debacle


Here we go again. The London City Council is ready to revive the discussion on food trucks in London. As reported by the London Free Press Wednesday, city councilors are reviving the proposal the previous council rejected. Mayor Matt Brown and Councillor Josh Morgan are expected to be pro-food trucks and propose that city staff spend the next month reviving the plan with a view to launching a pilot program this summer. The request is expected to go to the Community and Protective Services Committee tonight.

Last year, the London Food Truck Pilot reignited debate and Community and Protective Services Committee  voted 5-0 to refer the food truck pilot proposal back to a special meeting. The issue has been a hotly debated for two years.  Among the more disappointing proposals was a recommended cap of 12 trucks and a lottery for licences.

City council eventually decided, by an 8-6 vote, not to permit food trucks on City of London streets. The unanticipated decision came after months of contentious debate, five reports, and three trips to council, two of which resulted in recommendations back for more information. The proposal had earlier been significantly tightened by the community and protective services committee, mostly a result of the intervention of Mayor Fontana.  The Mayor  who was initially pro-food trucks, called for a food truck ban  on Richmond Row, Old East Village, Wortley Road and Byron. The Mayor’s subsequent amendments to the proposal: higher fees, larger buffer zones and earlier closings.
Several of the councilors who opposed food trucks did so because they claimed they believed them to be a threat to the financial health of existing restaurants in the downtown core. The amended proposal would have capped the number of trucks at eight, levied an annual license fee of $2,865, and required a 50-meter (about 150 feet) separation from any existing restaurant, double previous proposals. The amended proposal reduced the number of potential downtown sites from 222 to 50, eliminating almost all of Richmond Ave.
Two years ago, London City Council agreed to get public feedback on a proposed program to allow food trucks. The proposal worked its way between city departments for months and has been refined and revised along the way to avoid the bureaucratic red tape that plagued Toronto’s unsuccessful food truck initiative. 

Initially, Ethan Ling, City Policy Coordinator, stated that an impartial food truck advisory review panel made up of local food industry experts was expected to provide knowledgeable opinion and recommendations regarding food truck strategy in London. In addition, the panel was anticipated to be charged with encouraging culturally diverse and original menu offerings, and endorsing the promotion of healthy eating. But the report that went to politicians stated that menu-vetting (read micro-managing) is too complicated to be part of London’s food-truck plan. 

Under last years rejected proposal, City staff would be able to designate locations based on such things as proximity to restaurants, schools and neighbourhoods. It suggested a 25-metre buffer zone separating food trucks from existing restaurants. Food trucks were also required to keep their distance 100 metres from schools, and vendors will be required to keep a log of their whereabouts.  Food trucks will be required to close for business between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. 

The proposed food truck by-law amendments appeared to provide reasonable recommendations and safeguards making the pilot much more accessible to entrepreneurs. However, it was and still is too early to try to define what the food truck streetscape will look like in London. There are 27 licences granted for trucks to serve food on private property, just metres from the street. Last year’s decision does not affect them.

After the failure of the proposal, Ethan Ling, City Policy Coordinator, said “There are still opportunities for  ‘refreshment vehicles’ – as they are dubbed in London – to operate on private property, parking lots, festivals, carts on sidewalks, etc.  So notwithstanding this decision, I hope that area entrepreneurs and food lovers can still find ways create, deliver and consume innovative, exciting and boundary-pushing cuisine from trucks, carts, stands or wherever.”

Commenting on City Council’s decision, Ontario Food Trucks tweeted, “Even if it would've passed, it was too restrictive and expensive! Protectionism hurts all!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reconsidering, ‘Foodie’ and the Culinary Pecking Order


Pecking order is the colloquial term for a hierarchal system of social organization. For the record, the original usage referred to the expression of dominance in chickens. With the keen interest in all things culinary, it should not surprise anyone 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 (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 ubiquitous term that is frequently used as a synonym for gastronome or epicure. Many people are unaware of the fact that there is a distinct difference in their meanings. The self-described foodie generally referred to an amateur or hobbyist, while gastronome referred to the educated palate and refined taste of a professional. In the past, I think  my antipathy to the word foodie has been its frivolous connotations.

Knowing my profession, people often say to me, "You are such a foodie!" I am never certain what they mean by this. Sometimes I think it's an innocent enough question, other times I think the word feels like a put-down.

Now it would seem, the term foodie is beginning to have political aspirations with regard to food and is starting to be used with more gravitas. 

The New York Times columnist, food journalist, and author Mark Bittman, suggested we should rethink the word ‘Foodie’ in an op-ed piece he wrote last year.  Bittman says, “So shifting the implications of “foodie” means shifting our culture to one in which eaters — that’s everyone — realize that buying into the current food “system” means exploiting animals, people and the environment, and making ourselves sick. To change that, we have to change not only the way we behave as individuals but the way we behave as a society. It’s rewarding to find the best pork bun; it’s even more rewarding to fight for a good food system at the same time. That’s what we foodies do.”

Some people self-identify as foodies to avoid being characterized as the type of food snob they associate with old-school gourmets. When people say to me, “You’re such a foodie” in the past it made my skin crawl. I don’t want any part of my life to be categorized by a cliché.

Writing in the Guardian, Paul Levy, who claims paternity of the term foodie with colleague Ann Barr, admits that American restaurant critic, food writer and novelist Gael Greene may have coined the term foodie at about the same time in 1982. “What started as a term of mockery shifted ground, as writers found that "foodie" had a certain utility, describing people who, because of age, sex, income and social class, simply did not fit into the category ‘gourmet’, which we insisted had become ‘a rude word’.”

In my experience, those characterized by the French term goinfre (greedy guts) suffer a ravenous disposition. They are hard to stomach due to their selfish, insatiable appetites. Gluttony is often an emotional escape, a sign that something is eating you. Gluttons indulge their voracious appetites indiscriminately and over-consume to the point of waste.

Gourmand is an all-encompassing term for acolytes who take great pleasure in good food but who are routinely unacquainted with etiquette. They lack the skills of proper refinement while being over-fond of eating.

At the next level, we find the epicure. This term has had a renaissance but is still sometimes used to lampoon those devoted to the pleasures of the table. The Oxford Companion of Food says the term “derived from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who declared happiness to be the highest good, which came to mean, in a food and wine contest, a person of refined tastes.”

Gourmet denotes even more respectability and gravity in culinary matters. This French term originally meant “cultivated wine-taster.” Gourmets tend to be discriminating in their eating habits and sophisticated, with a cultivated and professional interest in culinary matters.
The gastronome has reached the highest level, taking great strides to comprehend the most subtle nuances of taste. It is a pleasing word, gastronome: unfortunately it has become archaic. The gastronome’s discerning palate and quest for illumination have been confused with pretension and snobbery. The fact is that gastronomy is the study of the art and science of food and the relationship between food and culture.
I have noticed that gastronomes and foodies have at least one thing in common: they both seem to have a strong desire to impart their observations to others.