Earth to Table to Hart

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TORONTO — It took three years for Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann to get their first book published, but it’s only taken months for it to become a critically acclaimed sensation.

Crump, executive chef at the Ancaster Old Mill outside of Hamilton, Ont., and Schormann, his pastry chef, kicked the idea around for a while, but as anyone who’s written a book can attest, the journey from inception to completion is a long one. Nevertheless, it’s been a whirlwind ride for the pair ever since Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm hit shelves this fall. The book recently won a Gourmand Cookbook Award for Canada, and a trip to Paris for the worldwide finals in February looms.

Part memoir, part cookbook, Earth to Table details the duo’s personal experiences cooking at the Mill and the vital relationship they built with organic farmers Chris and Denise Krucker of ManoRun Farm. Hosted by Arlene Stein, director of Events and Catering at Hart House on the campus of the University of Toronto, the chefs were received on Dec. 8 by a crowd of more than 100 food lovers, writers and industry professionals.

“We are all looking for something with more meaning in our lives,” said Paul DeCampo, good food program manager at the non-for-profit organization Food Share and co-chair of the Toronto Chapter of Slow Food, in welcoming Crump and Schormann on stage for a question and answer session. “We’re looking for those meaningful experiences, and food is such a beautiful narrative.”

Crump was quick to point out the many partners who contributed to the book. “This was such a collaborative effort,” he said, “from Edward Pond who shot the photos and Claire Stubbs, to the producers mentioned in the book, we don’t really feel like the authors.” He thanked chefs like Alice Waters, Rob Feenie, Anne Yarymowich and Donna Dooher for being mentors, crediting them for helping shape his food ethos.

“Jeff is my mentor,” said Schormann. “He introduced me to the slow-food movement. He brought the philosophy around seasonal, regional cuisine to the Mill, and we knew we needed to share the story of where our food was coming from with our customers.”

A decade ago, the Ontario restaurant scene was an altogether different animal. “When I was working at the AGO with Anne, I went to visit David Cohlmeyer at Cookstown Greens,” Crump recalled. “He said chefs never came to see him. It was the first time I actually stuck my hand into dirt.”

Much has changed in the interim, with the seasonal, regional philosophy of cuisine the driving force in today’s restaurant industry. Nevertheless, Crump cautions that we’re still missing that next step, with many farmers and suppliers underutilized. “Local, seasonal is still a niche market,” he said. “It is that next 75 per cent of the population that we must get to and change their eating habits.”

Some of Crump’s treasured southern Ontario suppliers were on hand at the reception and book signing, including Cohlmeyer, Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy, Antony John and Tina Vandenheuvel of Soiled Reputation Farm and Dyson Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods. Attendees were delighted to see they brought with them some of their tastiest product, which the culinary team at Hart House cooked and served at a series of tasting stations.

When asked what his advice was for people who wanted to start eating better, Crump suggested they focus on changing one thing. “It’s not an all-or-nothing situation,” he said. “If we only offer that proposition to people, they’ll choose nothing. But things are changing. Look how we’ve changed it in Ancaster. When we could only bring in one local, organic item, we focused on chicken from Fenwood Farm. Now it shows up on its own. I don’t even have to ask for it.”

“I love when that happens,” quipped Soiled Reputation’s John.

Photo by Jo Dickins


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