Inspiration. Sometimes it strikes when you are least expecting it. As I’m really trying to bake and cook more seasonally using local ingredients where possible, it’s something that’s constantly on my mind. I’m trying to go to the supermarket or greengrocer with no fixed idea in my head and just buying what’s good on the day. Or letting myself buy those gorgeous local ears of corn *because I can* from the stand at the end of my street and then figuring out what to do with them. It’s definitely challenging to someone who likes to plan ahead but I’m slowly embracing this. As are more and more restaurants.
You’ll have noticed that these days the “farm to table” concept and restaurants who source their produce and meats directly from local farmers’ markets seem to be more and more prevalent. It seems to be “the in thing” – let’s hope it’s not just a passing phase because it really does make so much sense.
One of the original Toronto chefs who sourced all his ingredients at local farmers’ markets when he ran the Osgoode Hall restaurant, Yasser Qahawish continues to do so quietly and without fuss or fanfare in the new location of his restaurant, Artisanale French Country Cooking, in Guelph. Qahawish was committed to using high quality local ingredients from markets well before it was commonplace. His inspiration comes directly from the passion, wisdom and courage of the farmers he has come to know and his restaurant, culinary style and kitchen are all founded on the idea that working with these producers allows him to celebrate their food through his meals. Qahawish’s culinary philosophy is one we could all apply a little of to our daily cooking and baking. “A good cook knows how to take the best ingredients and make them shine in a way that can make your heart sing.”
Now situated in a beautiful stone building, Artisanale embodies Qahawish’s personal vision of the ideal restaurant and is reminiscent of a southwestern French country maison. Locals still remember Artisanale from its bistro days, though Qahawish’s committed relationships with the very best farmers and food producers across the province is something that has carried through to the new location. These farmers and food producers are the chef’s “heroes” and their ingredients, “his inspiration.” The goal at the new Artisanale is to invite guests to explore the chef’s vision of French country cooking at its best while highlighting the best quality ingredients grown or crafted locally by people with as much passion as chef himself.
Qahawish believes that “simple and delicious meals […] are meant to be shared and enjoyed together.” To that end, over the summer, Qahawish has been offering “Harvest Table” meals, bringing people together, family-style to enjoy seasonal dishes made with the best quality local ingredients. Neil and I were guests at last Thursday’s Harvest Table, cooked with wood and charcoal using olive oil and lemon, in a nod to Qahawish’s French influence from time spent in the Loire during his training.
It was a leisurely meal (over 3 hours’ start to finish) with many of the dishes served family-style. We sat with new friends and wished there was not a long drive back to Toronto and an early start the next morning, so we could linger even longer over a digestif…
Driving home, I couldn’t get the idea of the plum dessert out of my mind. There are a lot of plums about right now and they’re one of my favourite fruit. So when I came across some in our organic delivery, it felt like me, recreating that dessert was meant to be. So, inspired by Qahawish’s concept of working with the best ingredients and making them stars, I set about recreating the tart/ slice from memory. Result?
Not quite there but close. When I nail it I will share the recipe with you. For now, I’ll carry on being inspired by what’s local, what’s good. Because I seem to be in good company with Chef Yasser Qahawish, right?
Artisanale French Country Cooking
214 Woolwich St.
Open Tuesday – Saturday
Disclosure: Neil and I dined as guests of Artisanale French Country Cooking (thanks Mary Luz at Sizzling Communications). I was not compensated for writing this post and all opinions are 100% my own.