The jingle says “good things grow in Ontario!”, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find. Just ask owner Ian Sorbie or Chef Owen Steinberg of Il Fornello who have spent the last year adding Ontario-grown items to the menu for the 8-location chain.
Started last June, with a small separate menu of local, seasonal items that changed regularly, Il Fornello recently celebrated a full year of its All Ontario Menu, and in the past year, has diverted approximately $300,000 away from imported goods and back into the local economy, purchasing some 65 tons of local products ranging from root vegetables to oils, vinegars, meat and even grain from local farmers and suppliers.
Il Fornello was also instrumental in the early development of 100km Foods Inc., a distribution service set up by partners Grace Mandarano and Paul Sawtell. 100km Foods Inc. works as a distributor between chefs/restaurants and farmers, allowing restaurants to buy local ingredients without the frustration of a time-consuming search to find farmers with the products they need. The service also allows farmers to spend more time doing what they do best – growing the food – instead of worrying about finding customers for their crops. Currently working with about a dozen produce farmers, Mandarano and Sawtell hope to include meat and dairy farmers in their list of offerings in the near future.
The All Ontario Menu has been so successful at Il Fornello that the chain now has agreements in place with farmers to ensure that all peas, root vegetables, tomatoes, apple, honey, fresh seasonal berries, preserved fruits and garlic will always be “All Ontario”. As well, all arugula used in the restaurant, a crop usually sourced from California, will also be Ontario-grown, and organic as well.
In even bigger news Il Fornello has made arrangements with Thomas Canning of Windsor to supply all tomatoes used in the chain for pizza and pasta sauces, with the possibility of offering “Il Fornello” brand sauces at retail.
With their ongoing local seasonal menu offerings as well as the 3-course WinterDelicious menu Il Fornello offered this past February, Sorbie and Steinberg set an example for the rest of us. If an 8-location restaurant chain can track down local suppliers for many of their ingredients, and can offer seasonal specials at all times throughout the year, there’s no excuse for smaller restaurants, or individuals, to not be able to find local season ingredients to work with as well. Sure, some things such as spices or citrus will always have to be imported, and in a previous interview, Sorbie admitted that some things, like bread, were harder to find than he expected, but the team at Il Fornello has demonstrated that eating local foods, in season, is completely within our grasp.