Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Taste Local, Taste Fresh in St. Jacob's, Ontario

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous local food event, celebrating the foods and flavours of the St. Jacob’s region. Coordinated by Foodlink Waterloo Region, Taste Local, Taste Fresh pairs 20 food producers with 20 food presenters. Using local talent and the region’s finest ingredients, each pair creates a truly culinary delight.

Having never attended Taste Local, Taste Fresh before (it’s in its 8th year), I had no idea of what to expect. Upon arrival, I was led to a table covered in handcrafted pieces of pottery, created specifically for the event. Each piece was unique, and we were asked to choose one – the pottery was to serve as our tasting dish for the afternoon. I was lucky enough to arrive early and therefore got to make first choice from a beautiful selection. We were told that we were allowed to keep the piece at the end of the day.

Along with our pottery dish, we were each given an event passport. The pages of the passport contained information about all of the pairings – farmers and chefs, producers and caterers – and the dishes they had created. In the back of the passport, space was provided for stamps. As we visited each booth, our passport was stamped and we were offered a small sampling of the pair’s creation. We were also given the opportunity to speak personally with those who had taken part in creating the dish.

The day couldn’t have been better and Riverside Meadows Park in St. Jacob’s proved to be the perfect location for the event. Aside from a stiff breeze that threatened to topple neatly displayed autumnal assortments, the weather was perfect. The sun was shining and the attendees were in high spirits. The Tim Louis Jazz Trio played softly in the background, further contributing to an already perfect atmosphere. If you stopped to listen, you could hear people everywhere talking excitedly about food and agriculture. That in itself made the event a total success in my mind.

Being no stranger to foodie festivals, I came armed with a healthy appetite. I wanted to make sure that I sampled everything on offer in order to get a true feel for the region’s flavours. I don’t know how I did it, but I made it to every single table and tried absolutely everything. By the end of the day, there were some clear favourites. Here were my top five picks for the day.

5. Benjamin’s Restaurant Inn & Faul Farms
Faul Farms’ grilled flank steak was served in a Panini, topped with River’s Edge chevre spread (amazing!), fresh arugula and roasted cherry tomato. It was a beautiful creation. The ingredients were so obviously fresh, and when combined, brought amazing clarity to their individual flavours.

4. Whole Lot-a-Gelata & Martin’s Family Fruit Farm
I’m so glad that I had enough foresight to save this tasty treat until the very last. It was truly the perfect dish to end a perfect day. This pair decided to combine their love of gelato with local, fresh apples from Martin’s Family Fruit Farm to create a truly unique dish: Cheddar Cheese and Smoked Apple Sorbet served on brioche with a slice of canned peach – a dish that was perfection in my mouth.

3. Puddicombe House & Top Market Rabbitry
Puddicombe House is a restaurant, spa and bed and breakfast located in New Hamburg. Chef Lance Edwards used top quality rabbit meat offered by Top Market Rabbitry in Ariss, Ontario. A beautifully displayed appetizer, pulled rabbit was placed on a slice of crusty bread, served with crab apple barbeque sauce, red onion marmalade and a crisp slaw. The combination of sweet and savoury was perfect; the dish was a pleasant surprise to food lovers who were trying rabbit for the first time.

2. Seven Shores & Fertile Ground
Before beginning our taste adventure, my partner and I circled the park and looked at everything on offer. Visually speaking, the one that stood out the most was the creation by Seven Shores Urban Market & Café and Fertile Ground. It was so brightly coloured and fresh – a combination I knew promised to be flavourful. They made rice paper spring rolls filled with mixed Asian greens, beets, carrots and fresh herbs. The rolls were not only vegan, but also gluten free. Most importantly, they were absolutely delicious, making it easy to put at the top of the list.

1. Wildcraft & Baer’s Vibrant Farms

Perhaps because it combined many of my favourite flavours, Wildcraft and Baer’s Vibrant Farms’ creation was undoubtedly my personal favourite. Wildcraft’s chef carefully placed crusted sous vide blade roast, slow-cooked to unbelievable tenderness, in a handcrafted sesame cone stuffed with sweet quinoa slaw. Topped with a sprig of cilantro, the taste combination was the perfect mix of nutty, sweet and earthy.

It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to five selections, there were so many wonderful culinary creations to sample at Taste Local, Taste Fresh. What it goes to show is that there’s no end to the dishes you can produce when you combine the region’s finest ingredients with its most talented food artists. And the pottery was a really nice touch too. It bought it all together – culture, craftsmanship and community. I can’t wait to attend Taste Local, Taste Fresh next year. Special thanks goes to the event’s coordinator, Anna Contini, for inviting me to participate in such a fabulous day.

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