So by now, most regular readers/followers know that I’ve spent the past few months putting together a series of mixed media markets, the first of which takes place this Saturday, September 14th, at the Gladstone Hotel.
We did a trial run back in the Spring and we’re hoping that we can create a regular place for small-scale artisans, in a variety of mediums, to sell their work to the public.
Besides running the thing, I will also be selling my book Kitchen Party. In fact, it will be available at the door, and if you buy a copy for $15, you’ll get in for free. (And don’t worry, I’ll still donate $2 of that total to our partner charity, the Annex Cat Rescue.)
We’ll have over 50 great vendors selling everything from fine art to comics, clothing to housewares, so please come out and show your support for local artisans.
As an added incentive, admission is free before 11am, and the first 100 paying customers will receive a 2-for-1 pass for our October market.
So please come out and join us. It’s supposed to be a lovely day – cool but sunny – perfect for a stroll along Queen Street West. Hope to see you there.
Foodshare‘s fabulous Recipe For Change event migrated to the North St. Lawrence Market this year, allowing for more space, which in turn allowed for more chefs and more guests. I love that organizers make a point of not overselling the event, so it’s never packed; line-ups at food stations are short or non-existent and there is no sense of frenzy involved.
Recipe For Change is FoodShare’s annual fundraiser in which they raise monies directed toward their Field to Table Schools program which teaches school children about where their food comes from. Everyone I talked to on Thursday night considered the event a great success; hats off to Adrienne De Francesco and everyone at FoodShare for a fantastic time.
Below, check out some of the offerings from participating chefs. We didn’t try everything (and I somehow missed most of the desserts, which has got to be a first), but everything we did have was wonderful.
Above: Chickpea polenta topped with ratatouille and fresh mozzarella from Chef Marc Breton of the Gladstone Hotel.
When someone refers to a pub as their “local”, no doubt we all imagine the same thing; a place where the atmosphere is homey, where the staff greet them by name, and where they probably know at least one other person in the room. Imagine the set from Cheers and that would be just about right.
We call these establishments our Local because it’s probably within walking distance from home – geographically it’s nearby.
When it comes to food, however, local is about more than geography. We are comfortable in our local pub because we’ve formed relationships – with the staff and owners, and with the other patrons, who are more than likely our neighbours. But even when we make an effort to buy local food, to support local producers, we don’t often get that same connection.
It’s hard – farmers are out in their fields, bakers manning their ovens, fishers on their boats. Building relationships with the people who make our food isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. And I say that as someone who works in the industry and gets to spend time a lot more time with local food producers than the average consumer.
Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel started a couple of weeks ago. They did the first tasting event (similar to a cocktail party where all the growers and partners were present so guests could meet the people who grew their food) and the first prix fixe dinner ran this past week.
Normally during the tasting event and during each of the two seatings for the prix fixe dinners, Gladstone Hotel president and owner Christina Zeidler stands up and says a few words about how Harvest Wednesdays came about, how the partnership between the CSA farm and the hotel works every week to get the food from field to table, and about the general principles they try to follow.
Christina was away last week and I was incredibly honoured to be asked to take her place and do the presentation for the two prix fixe dinner seatings. As TasteTO is a media partner for the event, is was a logical choice, but they still could have gone with a Gladstone staff member. There’s an ongoing joke that because Greg and I are there so often and that we know so many people on the staff, and because we’ve been involved with Harvest Wednesdays for a few years now, that we are considered honorary staff members.
It has spawned countless copycats, and has earned Chef Marc Breton a local food hero award from the Toronto Food Policy Council. It brings together farmers and local food producers with the people who eat their food. It has created friendships and communities, and has taught urbanites how easy (and delicious) it is to eat with the seasons.
Harvest Wednesdays is back for its fourth year, offering up dishes made from locally grown produce, as well as locally-produced meats, cheeses, wines, beer and more.
I haven’t met anyone who isn’t just a little bit sceptical of the communal dining trend, except perhaps restaurateurs who have added a communal table in the hopes of using it for either large groups or stragglers. For most of us, our inclination when going out to eat is to dine and talk with the people we came with. Strangers can be, well… strange, and dining with people we don’t know – people who might have odd table manners, or smell funny, or natter on and on about some topic we have no interest in – can make an otherwise lovely evening turn out to be a bust.
Communal dining isn’t a new idea, though, it’s as old as the discovery of fire when prehistoric man gathered round a single heat source to cook food. Even without the restaurant trend, it exists today in the form of dinner parties, bed and breakfasts,wedding banquets and office lunches. We eat together to celebrate an occasion, to get to know one another, to strengthen bonds. And often we find ourselves eating with people who start out as strangers but who are friends, or at least acquaintances, by the time dessert is cleared.
Despite being a curmudgeon and a bit of a misanthrope, I find myself at a communal table at least once a month, often more. Most of the time, the dinners I attend are comprised of other food writers; colleagues who have been invited to cover the event or a specific product. But I’ve also been to plenty of dinners that are purely social, because I am interested in the food, or the experience.
Getting kids interested in food seems to be a growing trend, with articles about parents taking their kids to fine dining restaurants or enrolling them in kids’ cooking classes popping up in publications right across North America, with opinion split on whether it’s a positive development.
But once kids hit their teenage years, dining out at restaurants is something that can not only be an enjoyable way to socialize, but a great way to learn about new foods and new cultures.
For the past few weeks, and continuing into early May, kids in grades 7 and 8 from Parkdale Public School have joined members of the arts collective Mammalian Diving Reflex for a series of dinners in restaurants in Parkdale and along Queen Street West called Eat the Street. Part performance art happening and part a lesson in food, culture and etiquette, the kids have the opportunity to act as restaurant reviewers, critiquing the food, service, and atmosphere of a space that is more than likely foreign to them. The idea is to watch how the kids interact with the restaurant and how the restaurant, including staff and other patrons, interact with them.
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.
The “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 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.