The New Vanguard


This year’s Terroir Symposium highlighted the world’s evolving culinary landscape

The foodservice elite christened Toronto’s newly revamped Arcadian Court in early spring at the sixth-annual Terroir Hospitality Industry Symposium, where hundreds gathered to hear a handful of “New (and old) Radicals” speak passionately about the state of the industry.

The New Radicals theme harkens to a new generation of chefs reinventing the foodservice scene by leading change and innovation. “Ours is really the most exciting industry in the world…. There is no limit to what you can do with food,” said Peter Oliver, partner of Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, upon welcoming guests to the Arcadian Court, the company’s new joint-venture project.

But, the day wasn’t just about the Toronto culinary scene. Oliver’s welcome led into a series of general-session speeches from foodservice “radicals” from across the globe, including Ken Friedman of New York City’s famed Spotted Pig restaurant; Lilia Smelkova, campaign manager of the American National Food Day; Jeff Crump, partner and executive chef of Ancaster, Ont.’s Landmark Group and chef Connie DeSousa of Top Chef Canada and Calgary’s Charcut Roast House, among others.

“Chefs have the power to destroy”

Max Rimaldi of Toronto’s Libretto Restaurant Group discussed how he literally built his first pizzeria with his own “blood, sweat and tears” in 2008 after financing fell through. It’s about continuing “onward until our hearts burst from the effort,” he said of the secret to success. He lives by five key business values: keep it simple and honest, be innovative, have fun, create a mind-blowing guest experience and be kind. “I can get a lot more out of my people with kindness, and ultimately kindness ends up being served to our guests,” says the owner of Enoteca Sociale and two Pizzeria Libretto locations.

Chef Michael Stadtländer discussed the success of his recent Foodstock event, which protested the building of a mega-quarry on prime farmland north of Toronto. He stressed the importance of preserving our future food system. “We have to start thinking about how to take care of ourselves,” he said. “The chef is the middleman. We have something to tell the customer and the farmer.”

It’s a truth that hit home when Tama Matsuoka Wong, author and forager for renowned New York chef Daniel Boulud, reminded the crowd of the UN report that claims our food supply may drop significantly by 2050. “It’s really fragile, our food system,” she said, explaining how foraging for food is one solution that’s as easy as exploring a backyard. “Some of the plants that taste the best are the ones you think are weeds,” she said, while discussing the virtues of mugwort, garlic mustard and chickweed, to name a few.

Sourcing from the sea is a different story and chef Barton Seaver, author of For Cod and Country and National Geographic fellow, captivated the audience with his passionate speech about the underlying issues of seafood sustainability and the importance of restoring stock rather than just sourcing responsibly. “Chefs have the power to destroy,” he said, before later adding: “doesn’t it also serve that we have the power to restore?” He stressed the importance of talking about tough issues. “Let’s make our menus reflect that we have more to say,” about how we contribute to the dialogue about sustainable eating, he said. “Sustain that which sustains us.”

“Together as a team we need to lead the herd.”

Chef Ben Shewry of Australia’s Attica ended the general sessions on a personal note. He explained how his respect for the relationship between food and the environment grew with the birth of his son, who he’s teaching how to forage for food. At Attica, he uses the most natural and sustainable products and confessed he cried when he had to take an endangered fish off his menu. “Cooking should be raw and real,” he said. “We cook in the moment as if nothing else matters — cause when I cook nothing else does.”

To round out the day, three foodservice workers were honoured with the inaugural Terroir Awards for Excellence in Hospitality. Ryan Crawford of Stone Road Grille, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., won in the chef category; Will Predhomme senior sommelier and senior manager of Canoe, Toronto, won in the beverage professional category; and Virgilio Vea director of Food and Beverage at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa, Cambridge, Ont., won in the front-of-house category.

After 15 general sessions, a Chinese-themed lunch prepared by 15 Canadian chefs, six breakout sessions and three awards, attendees were reminded to join the charge to incite change for the world’s future food stock. Perhaps Jason Persall, farmer and president of Waterford, Ont.’s Pristine Gourmet, summed it up best when he said: “Together as a team we need to lead the herd.” 

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