Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Forest City Cookbook



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, stewarding 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 Brian Blatnicki, Amanda Devries,Carl Matthes and Chef Chad Steward.

A crowd-funding campaign has been 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 just over a month ago the initiative has achieved 2/5th 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 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 Chad Stewart of Field to Fork Catering, Yoda Olinyk of Glassroots, Andrew Wolwowicz of Craft Farmacy, Carla Cooper of Garlic’s of London, David Chapman of David’s Bistro, Angie Murphy of Restaurant Ninety One, Paul Harding of The Root Cellar, Michelle Lenhardt of Rhino Lounge/River Room/North Moore Catering, Thomas Waite of Spruce on Wellington and Justin Wolfe and Kyle Rose of The Wolfe of Wortley. 

The Forest City Cookbook is destined to be an anthology of inspiring chefs, dedicated local producers and area craft breweries. 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 

Alieska Robles
Commercial Photographer


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

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