Stratford, Ontario: You may know it as home to the annual theatre festival, but did you know that last year, it was named “Canada’s hottest food destination” by AOL.ca? Yes, indeed, with a farmers market dating back to 1855, and home to the Stratford Chefs School, the pretty city is now making a name for itself as more than Justin Bieber’s hometown (yes, it’s true and if you’re a fan, you can tour Stratford using the “Bieberiffic map”).
Last week, Stratford hosted the third annual Perth County Culinary Week. Starting on September 18th with the Stratford Garlic Festival, a week of tastings, workshops and special dinners, culminated in the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival on September 25th and 26th. The “main event” was the Savour Stratford Tasting on Sunday, showcasing over 30 of the city’s restaurant chefs and produce from local farmers. Over 30 VQA wines and craft breweries were featured to pair with your food samples. I may have let the side down a little, was battling a fierce cold all weekend so did not eat or drink as much as I normally might have but I persisted valiantly and here are some of the highlights.
Keeping it simple with bread and butter were Neil Baxter from Rundles and Hewitt’s Dairy, who presented Rundles bread and home-churned butter.
Another favourite was Max Holbrook of The Parlour who paired with Caveman Crops and Perth Pork Products to offer Perth County BBQ pork belly in a steamed flatbread bun with butternut squash kimchi. Unique and seasonal flavours and gorgeous to boot!
For me, this was the perfect finger food. Lots of flavour encased in one small (and manageable) bite! The tortilla curl was the right balance of crispy without being greasy. Really enjoyed this and gorgeous presentation as well!
Lee Avigdor of Down the Street Bar and Restaurant teamed up with Antony John from Soiled Reputation to create organic potato poori (a type of Indian bread) with heirloom tomato-ginger chutney and Soiled Reputation roasted vegetables.
Paul Finkelstein of The Screaming Avocado Cafe and Neubrand Country Produce presented home-grown corn and red fife blini with Neubrand Country Preserves.
I surprised myself by trying Nick Benninger (Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21) and Everspring Farms‘ Duck Fantastico a duck confit with greens and duck cracklings. Am not normally a duck fan but this was a perfect amount of meat and, paired with the greens, it was not overpowering as I find duck sometimes can be.
It was a bit of a duck fest in this corner of the tasting tent because right next door, Jamie Craig from Wildstone Bar and Grill paired up with Erbcroft Farms to offer another confit of duck on goat cheese crostini topped with sweet onion relish.
Stratford Chefs School partnered with Stratford Central Secondary School (who have an amazing learning garden) and to make polenta croutons with roasted tomato salsa or aubergine chimichurri. Tasty little bites these were too!
Ian MacArthur of Food At Your Fingertips worked with Weth Mushroom Farm to create a duo of Huron-cultivated mushrooms on a crispy cracker.
Kathy Hundt of Pass da Pasta worked with Montforte Dairy to serve ravioli filled with Montforte Dairy sheep’s milk ricotta, zucchini, and mint, drizzled with Don Hundt Honey. This was a tasty sweet-savoury combination, with beautiful presentation and colours - unfortunately it was cold (Edited to add: I have since found out this is meant to be served at room temperature, however on that day, the “tent temperature” was pretty cold. I would love to have another taste of this in a warmer room!)
Simple Fish ‘n Chips and Purdy’s Fish Market had a hickory-smoked Lake Huron whitefish and pickerel on a mini slider bun with wasabi mayonnaise. I didn’t taste this one but my trusy tasting partner suggested the bun was a bit too too dry and it was cold. Maybe would have been better toasted?
Another case of too much bread was Kevin Hallman (The Stratford Country Club) and The Best Little Pork Shoppe’s garlic pork sausage burger with a maple sweet corn relish. Nice sausage, shame about the overload of bread.
Jeff Freeland of The Sun Room worked with Shallot Hill Farms and offered phyllo triangles with Shallot Hill Farms roasted squash, golden beets, blue potatoes and carrots served with a tomato basil sauce. Beautiful autumn flavours and colours.
Pickles Eh! were there showcasing their chutneys and relishes.
Scott Wilby of The Annex Room paired with Fieldstone Farm Bed and Breakfast presenting pulled pork with spiced peach chutney. Another winning combination of sweet and savoury
Moving onto the sweeter portion of the day, Rene Delafranier (Rene’s Bistro) and Arva Flour Mills presented an exquisitely perfect profiterole…
Chocolate Barr’s presented chocolate gooseberries, paw-paw fruit ice wine truffles, goat cheese truffles and pumpkin, prune and brandy truffles…
Chef Sam Santandrea from the Stratford Chefs School Alumni worked with C’est Bon Cheese to present a chocolate chèvre cheesecake, served on a vanilla wafer with candied orange peel.
Sheldon Russell of Keystone Alley Cafe teamed with Hoover’s Maple Syrup to present a maple gâteau layered with maple buttercream and topped with Italian maple meringue and a maple spiced pecan:
Rheo Thompson Candies were well represented with chocolates and nougat:
And finally, Dave Hassell of The Church Restaurant and Koert Organics presented a sorrel ice cream sandwich, between fudgey layers of brownie. It was pretty but I found the sorrel extremely overpowering and the cake dry. But points for trying!
The Tasting event was a fine opportunity to sample the fine dining and organic produce available locally and showcased the best of what Stratford has to offer. Even if you didn’t make the Festival, you should really put Stratford on your list of foodie destinations – there is so much to do, year-round. From educational getaway packages, to an epicurean trail to simply visiting some of the region’s unique culinary attractions, Stratford really does have something for the foodie in everyone. For more information, check out the Visit Stratford website.
Disclaimer: Neil and I attended the Tasting event as guests of Stratford Tourism Alliance.
Only a food blogging star would attend a food festival when they should be home resting in bed, right? Well if you think I have what it takes to be The Next Food Blog Star, check out my latest entry on Project Food Blog and vote me through the the next round. You have to be a Foodbuzz member but all it takes is a couple of clicks. Once you’re done, you can click on the red heart at the top of the post to vote for me. I have an awesome Dinner Party planned for the next round which you definitely want to see…