Earth To Table


Jeff Crump serves up a unique brand of socially responsible food

These are heady days for Jeff Crump. In late September, while juggling cooking duties at the Ancaster Old Mill just outside of Hamilton, Ont., the 37-year-old chef travelled across the country promoting his new cookbook, Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm. Anyone who knows the inventive chef will tell you the book is a labour of love. “It’s been a journey. I’ve been working on the memoir for three years, but we (Crump co-wrote the book with his pastry chef, Bettina Schormann) hit the trend on the mainline,” he says, referencing the explosive growth of local and sustainable cuisine.

Timing, as they say, is everything. In 1991, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario, Crump applied to McGill as well as the Stratford Chefs’ School. When Stratford responded first, he leapt head first into the world of gastronomy. Inspired by the writing and ethos of Alice Waters, Crump travelled to Berkeley, Calif., to do a stage at the famed chef’s restaurant, Chez Panisse, before heading to B.C. to cook at Lumière and at Peninsula Ridge. When he finally returned to Ontario, he worked under Anne Yarymowich at the AGO.

For the past six years, Crump has been cloistered in the kitchen of the 70-seat restaurant at the Old Mill, winning accolades while promoting his brand of socially responsible and creative cuisine. He’s regarded as one of the most underrated chefs in the industry. “I fly low on the radar,” quips the London, Ont.-born chef. “Hamilton’s not exactly known for its food.” But he’s nonplussed about being out of the spotlight. “I’m happy where I am, and I take great pride in what I do. I’m not trying to impress anyone. It doesn’t matter if you have hamburger on your menu or caesar salad, as long as it’s well made.” Among his popular dishes are pan-seared Lake Erie pickerel ($24), hand-cut Red Fife papardelle pasta ($21) and Forsyth Farm lamb “two ways” ($32). He also recently introduced Sunday supper. “We serve it family style on platters, with two appetizers, a seasonal salad, brisket and a whole roasted chicken ($39).”

As founding president of the Ontario chapter of the Slow Food association, he’s a big proponent of local product. Nevertheless, he understands being a good chef is contingent on using the best ingredients available. “The way we cook nourishes our community, reduces our carbon footprint and makes us all part of the community.”

While he’s an advocate for sustainable farming, he knows it doesn’t always fit into everyone’s business plan. “It’s about making intelligent decisions. The-all-or-nothing philosophy produces nothing.” But Crump is happiest when he’s shining the spotlight on seasonal, contemporary Canadian cuisine, prepared simply. Earlier this year when Carlo Petrini, founder of the Slow Food movement, visited Canada for the first time from Italy, Crump hosted a dinner for him at the Old Mill. “I served very simple food. Everyone loved it.”

In October, Crump also prepared dinner at the James Beard House in New York. While the recognition is gratifying, he’s equally happy teaching and mentoring his brigade of 22. “I want them to be proud of putting the Ancaster Old Mill on their résumé.”

Photography By Roger Yip

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