At every turn, you’re greeted with an abundance of smiles, waves, and hellos. Is this some far away land? No, it isn’t Oz per say, but rather 1 ½ hours just southwest of Toronto. And, no, there is no ulterior motive to their welcoming exchange; they’re not trying to get you to buy or sign up for something, this is just the town of Stratford’s natural demeanour. The folks here are just so darned friendly! It also doesn’t hurt when the city is a thriving mecca for fantastical culinary eats.
I’m not a complete foreigner to this town, having lived here for 6 months (for work), 4 years ago. So naturally, when I was presented with an opportunity to make a return visit, I said yes in a heartbeat.
I was in for one delectable jaunt. Savour Stratford is an annual showcase of Perth County’s finest: in-season & home grown foods, star chefs, expert talks, lively entertainment, and extraordinary eats at every turn.
From the moment we got off the VIA Rail train, we were greeted by Savour Stratford’s hospitable staff members Mark and Paige. Not only were they our friendly guides to navigating all the tastes and talks, but they were genuinely enthused about the event they represented. Their vivacious excitement and energy was infectious and we couldn’t help but become even more excited for what lay ahead.
One of headliner events was the GE Cafe Chef series featuring a four course luncheon by Top Chef Canada and owner of Ayden Kitchen and Bar- Dale MacKay, Maison Publique’s Chef Derek Dammann, and wine pairings made by Dan Sullivan of Rosehall Run Winery.
Some of the dish highlights included a buttery, raw sockeye salmon conceived by Chef Dammann. With its gorgeous coral hue, the sashimi- style fish was topped with translucent tomato gelee, and salty spheres of roe. Finished with some sweet basil and peppery tomato coins, the first course was a textured wonderland of tastes.
The second dish was prepared by Chef Mackay. The flaky, golden -crusted halibut wore a perky quenelle of whipped sun-dried tomatoes. It sat on a lush bed of hearty fava beans, blistered tomatoes, and potato nuggets. Sea asparagus branches traversed the remaining territory of the pearly plate. They were slightly bitter, delicately salty, and just plain fun to devour.
My favourite dish was by Chef Derek who had my heart with his pork belly creation. Thick cuts of piggy were brined, enveloped in smoke, sous-vided, then finished off on the charcoal grill. This succulent belly lay on a little garden of kale and was surrounded by pickled plums. The pork was sprinkled with crackling tidbits and brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Dessert was a rustic composition of summer on a plate. Tart poached rhubarb picked from Mackay’s neighbour’s backyard in Saskatchewan with mixed in with plump strawberries. Large, broken shards of buttery pie crust acted as a golden fortress to the mound of creamy, streusel ice cream; it was all finished with a circular moat of lush vanilla creameaux.
As people lingered over coffee, I had a chance to briefly chat with Chef Dale MacKay after the successful luncheon. Call it a rapid fire session of questions.
What was your inspiration for participating in Savour Stratford?
DM: My chef friends had told me about it and I was interested in participating from the get-go. I love everything Savour Stratford represents; the support given to local produce and farmers as well as working with in-season crops. It’s a celebration of the best this harvest has to offer, as well as supporting food security and sustainability. I didn’t get a chance to participate last year but am glad I could this year.
What was your inspiration for this luncheon.
DM:I’m from Saskatchewan and in working with Chef Derek, we created a menu that showcased the best of what Canada has to offer. From BC fish to whole pigs from Quebec,we drew inspiration from all corners of Canada.
What is one thing you cannot stomach?
(he thought for a while– I offered my ‘death food’- natto)
DM: no way to the fermented egg.. I just can’t. (he’s referring to Balut. Partially developed duck embryo–a street food in the philippines)
If you weren’t a chef, what would you want to be instead?
DM: Hmmm, either a real estate agent or a dancer.
What kind of dancer?
DM: Contemporary or ballet.
With many making the trek for the famed Stratford Festival, this Savour Stratford Culinary Festival is surging up the ranks as the ‘must-do’ food event of the year. So remember to mark your calendars for next year and extend your stay in this vivacious town.
For more info visit www.visitstratford.ca
Here are more photos of the lunch and some others around Savour Stratford by Nick Lee.
Also check out our experience at Stratford’s Mercer Hall restaurant