Interviews with two chefs on cooking local in Canada
Chef Michael Stadtländer is the owner and operator of Ontario’s Haisai Bakery and Restaurant as well as Eigensinn Farm
Why is cooking with local ingredients important to you?
You paint a picture with the food of your environment, like a landscape. And you are empowering farmers and gardeners in your region, keeping [them] in business; you’re keeping that farmland going.… That’s at the beginning of what local food is all about. In my case, I don’t really care what the pork price is, or the beef price is. For me it’s always the same; I’m always striving to grow that animal, and I want the best possible outcome. That’s the most important thing. And, in a way, that will always secure your market in the restaurant industry, because quality is key.
What livestock are you raising?
Chickens and ducks, geese, pigs and sheep and cattle. I do have a couple of farmers where I get some things, like squab and another guy raises some veal — he feeds it goat milk.
How important is the chef/farmer relationship?
It’s not like the farmer comes to the door and says, ‘OK, I have this and I have that.’… No, the farmer and the chef sit together and the chef asks, ‘Can you grow this for me?’ The chef should not be in a position where he’s demanding something. Each farmer or gardener has a personality, a style and certain land grows things better than other things.
What are your favourite local dishes?
One of my favourite dishes — because winter is quite long here in Canada — is when you get the first wild leeks out of the forest and combine that with the first lamb or the artichokes and carrots dug out of the garden. It’s a connection of the ingredients, from the forest, the animal and the garden. It’s a real circle; it makes so much sense to me. In the summer, [I like] suckling pig with sweet carrots and peas. If you time it right, you can go to certain spots and pick chanterelles.
That’s always a winner.
Katie Hayes (pictured) is chef and co-owner of Newfoundland’s Bonavista Social Club, which is expected to open in May. She will use her own farm gardens, animal husbandry and a self-sufficient lifestyle to provide a unique guest experience.
How will your restaurant’s location affect how much local food you put on the menu?
We’re located on the very land I grew up, and we’ve been gardening here for 23 years. It’s literally out my back door. We won’t have to transport product anywhere, because it comes out of the garden and right to the kitchen. My menu will be changing daily based on what’s fresh. I’m hoping to source almost nothing other than a few items from locals who grow broccoli or peppers and a few things I don’t grow. Other than that, pretty much what I’ve got, I’ll use.
So you’ll harvest, clean, prep and cook?
Absolutely. And there’s a huge difference between what I can pull out of the ground and what I can buy from the store. Once you taste it — being a chef and a farmer — you can’t compare.
What are your favourite local dishes?
Anything using cod fish is fantastic — fried up in a pan is great. Salt cod is really nice; a lot of people are salting cod…. In Newfoundland, we grow a lot of root vegetables like turnips, parsnips, potatoes. It’s always fun to work with those as the options are endless. Anything that comes out of the ocean, the ground or the woods — rabbits and moose, any kind of wild game — I really like to work with.
How do you work with Newfoundland’s growing season?
Newfoundland has a short growing season and not everything grows fantastic in our soil, but we do a lot of foraging as well — between fiddleheads in the spring to mushrooms in the fall and berries in between; it’s amazing what we actually do have here. We are growing strawberries, and we’ll be preserving a lot of our produce and freezing as well so we can use it throughout the year.