This past Monday, this little piggy was as happy as a pig in.…well, you know. Like pigs squealing happily in the mud, I too reveled among culinary peers and pros on Monday at the third annual Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance Summit (#OCTAsummit). Ontario culinary tourism ambassadors, champions and pioneers came out in full force to promote, share, talk and learn all about why there’s truly no place like Ontario.
Back to Basics – Gather, Prepare, Share
Celebrity chef Michael Smith (@chefmichaelsmth) is a poster boy for culinary tourism and the official food ambassador for Prince Edward Island. He opened the day with a motivating speech on the local food movement which he suggests has gone beyond trend and transformed into a social norm. He believes that human beings are brought together by a fundamental need to gather, prepare and share food. Like many who rally behind culinary tourism, Chef Smith sees this new standard being sustained by those who produce the food – the farmers. “We re-connect with our food when we start to understand how it is produced. This is what moves us and inspires us”. For a full listen of Chef Michael Smith’s amazing speech, check out the link posted by Suresh Dosh (@spotlightcity) by clicking here.
Farmers Take the Stage
Farmers are the new rock stars of the culinary world and celebrity chefs, like Michael Smith, are happy to let producers take a share of the culinary spotlight. Take for example Fred de Martines and Jason Persall – two rock star farmers who ooze passion for what they do.
Not So Little Piggy
Fred de Martines, tired of farming conventional commodity pigs started raising rare heritage breeds including Berkshire, Tamworth and Wild Boars at his farm, Perth Pork Products Ltd. After being prompted by well-known chef, Michael Olson, de Martines began making connections within the Toronto chef community. He not only offers farm tours but also makes a weekly trek to Toronto spending upwards of 450kms on the road in one day. I think the thought of spending 450kms on the road would irk any city dweller, but not only does de Martines look forward to the weekly trip, it leaves him happy.
Good Things Grow In Ontario
Jason Persall, a fourth generation soybean farmer and owner of Persall Fine Foods felt, like many farmers, he needed to be profitable not just sustainable. In order to do so, Persall forged relationships with chefs, food purveyors and local consumers and looked for new ways to sell soybeans. Persall created cold pressed virgin oils made out of soy beans under the brand name Pristine Gourmet. He also created a youtube video series called “The Gourmet Farmer” taking his place as one of a new generation of celebrity farmers. Look out for more from these farmers and many more like them in Ontario, who are passionately dedicated to what they do and are rising stars because of it.
The Road Less Travelled
Many culinary trails and routes exist in Ontario, everything from The Chocolate Trail in Stratford to the Apple Pie Trail in Collingwood. In another culinary tourism session we learned what it takes to create a destination culinary trek, trail or route. Dan Taylor (@creativedant) from Prince Edward County, Danielle Brodhagen (@SavourStratford) from Savour Stratford and Patti Kendall from the Blue Mountain Apple Pie Trail were on the panel led by Canadian culinary icon and Canada Food Day founder Anita Stewart (@foodday). The panelists agreed that trails “need to give a solid sense of place” in order to encourage individuals to come back again and again in addition to “empowering the producers”, showcasing what makes their region special and unique to Ontario. Dan Taylor relayed that you’re “only as good as your poorest purveyor,” showcasing the best and brightest farmers, artisans and producers in the region is what these culinary treks hope to do. Likewise, the trails must be genuine, giving the consumer a real sense of place. Anita Stewart believes that the consumer has high expectations for a real experience, “the authentic is important, culinary tourism can’t be smoke and mirrors”. Not only have these trails, in addition to others in Ontario become Canadian destinations, they will become Canadian traditions. I know as soon as I heard the words ‘chocolate trail’ mentioned on twitter a few months ago all I wanted to know was where and when!
Culinary Tourism Heavyweight Champs
If the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance was a cheerleading squad, Rebecca LeHeup (@ontarioculinary) would be team captain. Rebecca and her team at OCTA worked tirelessly for an entire year to showcase the leaps and bounds being taken in Ontario Culinary tourism. Their excitement and dedication to what they do seeped out of the entire event. The day was highlighted by heavyweight chefs who fight for local and fresh foods like Jamie Kennedy (@ChefJKennedy) and Oliver & Bonacini (@oliver_bonacini), showcasing what Ontario has to offer with a “locavore cafeteria” at lunch. (Check out Randall Shirley’s (@5faves) five favourite things he tasted at the summit here.) Not to mention, the amazing Ontario wineries that came out for the event and had us all a little tipsy after lunch (or was that just me?)
In addition to the panels already mentioned, there were other great discussions happening throughout the day ranging from creating and developing a sustainable seafood menu with @ocean_wise and chef @martinkouprie. A social media sesssion with Barry Martin (@hypenoticbam) from @hypenotic. A session dedicated to Ontario wine with Local Food Plus (@LocalFoodPlus) and the Wine Council of Ontario (@WineCountryOnt). Not to mention an interesting media panel on what gets journalists excited with star food writers and media personalities Adam Sachs, Randall Shirley (@5faves) and Steve Dolinsky (@stevedolinsky). The night was capped off wit a Pickle Smackdown at the Drake Hotel led by Ivy Knight (@ivyknight). The winning pickles that beat out Chef Michael Smith (@ChefMichaelsmth) were the Kaiser sisters (@mkaisersmit) old school cucumbers! Woo!
There’s No Place Like This
If anyone has read a post here on Little Piggy they’ll know this blog is dedicated to discovering and connecting with farmers, producers, consumers and everything in between. The point? To grasp and appreciate the things I have at times taken for granted or never had the opportunity to learn being a city piggy. This is my third OCTA summit and it has never failed to leave me completely inspired, motivated, happy and above all proud to live in Ontario. The culinary landscape is plentiful and must be celebrated. The summit showcased how farmers, chefs, producers, consumers and regions are coming together to cheer each other on and be die-hard ambassadors for culinary tourism in Ontario and in turn, Canada. I can only hope to be a small part of the cheerleading squad because there’s really no place like this.