I had an extremely festive welcome as the new Community Kitchen Chef at the Local Community Food Centre. Just a week or so after my first day on the job, the Local CFC took part in the fifth annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. It’s always a fun and exciting weekend and for those of us involved in the food community, there’s always a lot to do to get ready for the festivities. This year the festival was dedicated to celebrating “Our Culinary Heritage” and the staff and volunteers at the Local Community Food Centre were ready to do just that.
The Local CFC actually began preparations for the Savour Stratford weekend way before I was on the team. Liz Mountain, our Food Skills Coordinator, and her trusty volunteers spent many hours over the spring and summer tending special beds in our community garden. These beds held heritage vegetables that Liz’s research told us were the very same plants that the homesteaders that settled this area would have grown in their gardens. Having lent a hand filling and planting the beds, it was great to see them brought downtown to show off during the festival. I know Liz was extremely proud to see her heritage varieties of tomatoes, brussels sprouts, peppers, and other vegetables used to help turn Wellington Street into a bustling pedestrian walkway and farmer’s market.
Liz’s work didn’t stop at the Heritage Beds, she also grew boxes and boxes of salad greens, just about every variety you could imagine. During the Savour Stratford weekend the Food Studies Students from Stratford Central Secondary School set them up downtown to operate a “Living Salad Bar”. Visitors could pick greens themselves and sample the varieties of greens right out of the soil and warm from the sun. You really couldn’t find them any fresher or more flavourful than that.
Well the community gardens were certainly busy for Savour Stratford, not to mention Liz. Elsewhere, the good folks from Bread Heads Wood Fired Kitchen, in Kitchener were kind enough to set up their mobile wood fired pizza oven on our behalf. Saturday morning they set up shop and headed straight to the farmers market to load up on all sorts of delicious, local toppings. For the rest of the weekend they sold some truly outstanding wood fired, thin crust pizzas and donated part of their proceeds to us at the Local CFC. Celebrity Chef David Rocco paid them a visit at the pizza oven to give it a try. When a chef from Naples says this was the best pizza he’s ever had, it’s hard to beat that endorsement.
Every year the weekend culminates with the Tasting Tent where hundreds of people congregate to sample delicious bites from dozens of restaurants, catering companies, and organizations around Perth County. The Local CFC was there offering a dish I had made with the help of Paul Finkelstein’s students from the Screaming Avocado at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School. Over the course of the week, the students and I had smoked trout, cooked hundreds of crepes and pickled vegetables grown in our own community garden. It was a great experience working with the students at Northwestern and I was extremely proud of the final product they had produced, “Smoked Rainbow Trout with Garden Veggies on a Corn Crepe.” The crowd in the Tasting Tent kept us very busy assembling crepes and gave us a great opportunity to discuss the fantastic programs we have in store at the Community Food Centre. It was also a fantastic chance to sample some incredible dishes from other participants like the Smoked Chicken Tostadas from the Stratford Chefs School, Yva’s Housemade Pork Sausages from Pazzo, and the Leek Terrine from Wawa Grub just to name a few. In the end, Chef Steele’s Northern Woods Mushroom Tart with Housemade Ricotta Cheese took the People’s Choice Award for the Prune Restaurant but I think we gave them a pretty good run for their money.
What a weekend! It’s pretty incredible to see the town come together to put on this three day salute to local food, farmers, chefs, and restaurants. I know the staff here are all very proud to have been a part of it. Now that we’ve had a chance to rest a bit, it’s time to start planning for next year.