Tracking Terroir


TORONTO — A unique blend of some 400 chefs, sommeliers, winemakers, servers, managers, writers, food media and conscientious foodies descended on the University of Toronto’s Hart House yesterday, March 1, for the fifth instalment of Terroir, a food symposium designed to promote the value of local, sustainable and responsible food.

The morning started on the right hoof, with the most important meal of the day, featuring the fruits of Prince Edward County and the labour of its chef cheerleader Michael Potters, chef de cuisine at Angeline’s in Bloomfield, Ont. A tastings of all things County, the buffet featured roasted hothouse tomatoes, poached apples with comfort crème, a selection of house-made local pork and French toast complemented by P.E.C. maple syrup.

After breakfast, Arlene Stein, the annual event’s chairperson, corralled the crowd at the sold-out conference, giving a brief introduction to the event. “This day is an opportunity to share ideas, collect resources and build a community,” she said. “It’s not just about chefs. It’s about building a sense of community with winemakers, servers, the media and students. People assume terroir is the same as Slow Food, and, to some degree it is, but it’s also about a sense of place and community.”

Next up, were two keynote addresses by chef Chris MacDonald of Cava Restaurant in Toronto and chef Craig Flinn from Chives Canadian Bistro in Halifax. For his part, McDonald traced the history of modern cuisine, starting from the first flight of the Concord in 1969, which ushered in a new era of global travel, and the shift towards Nouveau Cuisine. McDonald’s timeline, which hit key culinary landmarks such as the opening of Chez Panise in 1971, the penning of the Official Foodie Handbook in 1981 and the unveiling of Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s Restaurant in 1994, left a clear message. While culinary institutions invariably change — McDonald cited a seven-year cycle time — the local-food approach to cooking, is still gaining steam. “16 years later, and nose-to-tail is still going strong,” he said. “The global culinary community is getting together like never before. Today, the Internet is our Concord.”

Equally engaging though more terrestrial, Flinn chronicled his personal culinary journey, offering valuable insight and down-to-earth advice. His initial inspiration for Chives came as a young apprentice chef. “I was bothered by the fact that I had the ability, or I was on my way to having the ability to prepare the food in all of the city’s marquee restaurants, but I didn’t make the wage to go in and enjoy any of that food.”

Eventually, after stints with top chefs such as Michael Smith, Flinn realized his dream, by opening Chives Canadian Bistro, a modern Canadian Mecca, where the personable chef said food and service came before wine and ambiance. “At the start, I didn’t have the budget for decor. My chairs came from Sears, and still do. But I knew I could cook, and I knew I could train my servers. I could afford that.”

The end of Flinn’s address marked the beginning of the first set of breakout sessions, which featured a blend of thoughts and tastes, such as a look at restaurant branding, a presentation on the origins of taste and a panel discussion on the resplendence of Riesling.

After ‘brown bag’ lunches from renowned chefs such as Donna Dooher, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen; Jamie Kennedy, Gilead Bistro; Scott and Rachelle Vivian, Beast; and Aman Patel of Indian Rice Factory, the afternoon breakout sessions commenced.

Attendees chose from a variety of interactive sessions such as a Social Media Smackdown, a philosophical approach to wine and terroir and an eye-opening and palate-pondering structured beef tasting led by Mark Schatzker, author of Steak: One Man’s Search for the Tastiest Piece of Beef.

In the final keynote address, attendees were treated to a rare lecture from British culinary legend Fergus Henderson, chef and proprietor of London England’s St. John Bar and Restaurant. Henderson explained his philosophical approach to both nose-to- tail eating and the restaurant business in general. “Much of what we do seems very simple, but it’s not,” said Henderson of his trademark bare-bone dishes, which have drawn adulation of critics and chefs alike. “But it’s really not. What we put on the plate is so minimal, that everything we put on it, has to be delicious. So many chefs today serve their plates as a fait acompli, and when you dig in, you’re destroying it really and people feel guilty.” Instead, says Henderson, dishes should be served simply, allowing guests to interact and enjoy the meal.

In terms of the complexity Henderson seems to rail against, the affable Brit’s philosophy carries across the business, from the menu to the restaurant space. “Menus today say far too much,” he said. “Descriptions are too long, as if to reassure you that what you’re ordering is good. They’re a gustatory crutch.” Besides, said Henderson, whose landmark resto is starkly decorated, “the sight and sound of people eating and drinking is the best decoration.”

In the end, Henderson’s message certainly hit home with attendees, who flocked to have books signed by the Michelin-star-ranked legend during the closing reception.  

For more information on the event and speakers, click here.


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