When most people think of the Palais Royale Ballroom, they think of, well… dancing. Or the bands that have graced the famous stage. Maybe if they’ve attended a wedding or other event where they were served a meal, they’re aware that the Palais actually turns out some pretty great food.
Executive Chef Steffan Howard has worked at some of the top restaurants in Toronto (Truffles, JOV Bistro, AGO) but he also has a background in agriculture, having spent three years working on an organic farm as a product developer and initiating an organic catering company. He was also the chairman of the 15th annual Feast of Fields event.
So how does a chef with a background in organic farming bring his love of organic and local produce to a venue where most of his work is for weddings or corporate events? By opening the doors for a local food lunch, that’s how.
Each Wednesday until the end of November, Chef Howard will create a casual buffet-style lunch menu from ingredients sourced at the Brickworks Chef’s Market. This Wednesday morning market, open only to local chefs, allows farmers and chefs to connect, strengthen ties and build networks that help promote local economies.
The luncheon event is casual and laid back. Dishes are set out buffet-style along the kitchen pass and guests are encouraged to wander into the kitchen, chat with staff and sample a variety of dishes made with fresh local products.
This past Wednesday, Chef Howard and his staff were serving up a pasta salad with champagne vinaigrette garnished with tomatoes and pea shoots. A gorgeous prime rib donated by Kerr Farms was served atop caramelized onions and was accompanied by a dish of corn and potatoes as well as roasted root vegetables. For dessert, there was apple strudel and an almond tart topped with poached pears. Rolls and butter, as well as bottled water and coffee were also available.
Guests included some of the same farmers and chefs who had been at the morning chef’s market, as well as farmers market organizers, food writers and local foodies who were there for the local seasonal menu.
The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed – no fancy linen or glassware, for instance, although in the midst of lunch, a bridal party was seated at a formally set table to sample items for their upcoming wedding while we all socialized at tables nearby.
Another important aspect of the Palais Royale’s chef luncheons is that they help to raise money for a couple of charities associated with the venue. Besides contributing funds to Evergreen (the group who run the Brickworks facility where the market is held) the pay-what-you-can cost of lunch goes to a group called Join the Dance, which runs programs in schools across the city to teach children and youth ballroom dancing. Children who excel at the program throughout the year get to attend a formal ballroom dance competition at the Palais Royale where they can show off their moves to family and friends.
The lunches at the Palais Royale are a great way to celebrate the harvest season, support local farmers and to socialize with other foodies and food industry folks. The weekly Wednesday lunches run until the end of November and start at approximately 12:30pm. Cost is by donation.