The All Ontario All the Time Cooking School

Never let it be said that Toronto does not have its fair share of cooking classes. Any night of the week, the culinarily curious can bake, sauté, flambé or roast at courses that range from “watch and eat” style to professional certifications. But for anyone with an interest in local, sustainable cuisine, they should stop looking at options once they hit Culinarium’s Lovin’ Livin’ Local Cooking School.

For those not in the know, Culinarium (705 Mount Pleasant Road)  is a delightful little food shop where all the products are from Ontario. They carry everything from produce and meat to artisanal cheese, Ontario-grown peanuts, jams and preserves, herbal teas and more. Owner Kathleen Mackintosh has curated a wonderfully comprehensive selection of Ontario grown and produced goods and the shop even offers CSAs and meat share programs.

The space itself is designed to look like a country kitchen with shelves full of goodies and a food prep area in the back where small groups can get hands-on experience cooking up local food under the guidance of chefs and experts. With a little bit of rearranging, the shop transforms into space for a class of 8 to 12 people, or a tasting event for up to 16. Culinarium can also accommodate a private tasting – taking over the whole shop – for up to 24 people.

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Local Yokels

Allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment.

I had a conversation with a colleague recently in which the subject turned to local food. Specifically, how people in the Toronto area are prone to blindly follow and buy anything grown locally despite the quality of the products themselves.

My colleague suggested that most consumers want their farmers’ markets to carry the same things that the grocery stores do (instead of the other way around) – i.e. expecting varieties of fruits and vegetables similar to the bland varieties grown in California that were mostly developed for easy shipping. They also suggested that certain local food producers create products of inferior quality; that many esteemed Toronto chefs who specialize in local food don’t actually offer a good quality meal; and that fans of local food willingly buy these inferior products or meals anyway, because they refuse to acknowledge their own sense of taste, instead deferring to local “experts” or advocates (chefs, food writers, etc.) who tell the food-lovers what to like and what to buy.

I don’t necessarily agree with all of this opinion, thus my “devil’s advocate” disclaimer – please don’t shoot the messenger – but on some levels, my colleague has a point. The argument cooked in my head a bit, because I’ve been wondering for a while – how many local products are we buying are because they’re the best products available, and how much of it is for the ideology of “supporting local”?

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Toronto’s Terre Madre Day

Over the past few years, Slow Food activists have taken part in a bi-annual event in Torino, Italy called Terra Madre. First held in 2004, the event brings together food activists from around the world in a giant conference and marketplace where people can exchange ideas and information. There are conferences, symposiums, dinners and markets, all with a focus on sharing ideas about how to promote sustainable food. Terra Madre takes place during the even-numbered years (2006, 2008… another coming up in 2010), and this year, Slow Food decided that it would be a good idea for individual convivia to hold local events – both as a great way to support local food producers, and because, well, not everyone can afford to get on a plane to Italy.

Organized and paid for by Slow Food Toronto (monies raised at the Picnic at the Brickworks allowed them to pay participating farmers and producers to take part, a rarity in the world of markets and trade shows where the producers usually have to pay to participate), this year’s Terra Madre Day took place at the FoodShare warehouse.

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Out Standing in a Field

Yeah, I know, but I’m coming up empty in the witty subject line department today. And for those of us who attended yesterday’s Feast of Fields event at the Kortright Centre in Vaughan, we not only stood around – in a field (badum bum), but the event lived up to the outstanding part as well.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the event that was created to bring together chefs and promote local organic food has become a must on the calendar of every Toronto-area chef and food lover. With over 40 chefs taking part, guests had the opportunity to try everything from local wine and beer to ice cream, spit-roasted pork, fresh bread and even pizza, most made from local and organic ingredients.

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Cheese Please – The Ontario Cheese Society Artisan Cheese Market and Tasting

First of all, an apology. When I find myself in a room surrounded by artisanal cheese, my note-taking skills go right out the window, so while I have lovely pictures of cheese for readers to enjoy, pairing them up with the appropriate cheesemakers might be difficult, especially because we were sampling from more than one place at a time.

The images below were taken at the Ontario Cheese Society Artisan Market and Tasting last Tuesday at Hart House. The market follows a day-long conference of Ontario cheesemakers and Ontario Cheese Society members in which they discuss all things related to cheese in Ontario. In the evening a number of the cheesemakers offer samples and items for sale – as many of the cheeses on offer are very rare, this is an exciting event for those of us who love eating the stuff.

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Where Can I Find – Local Preserves

I got an email from some friends recently looking for locally-made jam. They were specifically looking for wee little jars to give out as favours at their upcoming wedding, but as I thought and thought and thought about it, I was having a hard time coming up with anything more than Greaves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where they got the idea for wee little jars in the first place.

When most of us think of jam we either head for our favourite supermarket brands or else to the pantry for a jar of homemade. After all, nothing compares to Grandma’s. But the area in between is a grey one. Jams, jellies and preserves that don’t fit into the homemade or supermarket versions often get lumped in with luxury consumables; the kind of thing you’d enjoy if someone gave you a gift basket of the stuff, but not something that you’d necessarily seek out for yourself.

Which is a shame, especially when we’re talking about products made from local fruit, since the abundance of berries and stone fruit available in Southern Ontario each summer is some of the best in the world.

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The Charms of the Farm – Why a CSA is the Best Way to Enjoy the Harvest

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It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.

For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.

Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.

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Where Can I Find – Red Fife Flour?

multipleflourThe “Where Can I Find?” column is a new bi-weekly feature here at TasteTO starting this week. We’ll research and track down hard to find items and let you know where they’re available. Got a question for the “Where Can I Find” lady? Drop us a line.

I see red fife flour showing up on restaurant menus that have a local food theme, but where can I get this product to bake with at home?

The hot ingredient this summer is most definitely red fife flour. Restaurateurs and bakers from Jamie Kennedy and Marc Thuet to St. John’s Bakery are using this wholly Canadian product, and articles about the history and near extinction of the grain are popping up in a variety of publications from MacLean’s and Toronto Life to Edible Toronto.

The short version – red fife wheat was first planted near Peterborough in 1842 by David and Jane Fife, and it became the backbone of the Canadian wheat industry, giving Canada the nickname “granary of the world”. Immigrants were given free seeds to encourage them to settle on the prairies and become farmers. Over the years, red fife fell out of favour as other varieties derived from the red fife strain became more popular because of shorter growing times and higher yields. The original strain was on the verge of extinction by 1988 when a seed-saver activist named Sharon Rempel got her hands on a pound of seed and planted it in Keremeos, British Columbia.

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