Where do I even begin to speak about the fantastic experience I had at last weekend's Savour Stratford Culinary Festival? Once again, I was lucky enough to be invited out to Stratford as a media guest of the wonderful team at the Stratford Tourism Alliance to attend this celebration of the best of food and drink the region has to offer. (sidenote: Media! Me?!) The final weekend of Culinary Week culminated in a whirlwind of events and tastings, and closed with a bang with a Chefs' Tasting in a tent on the banks of the Avon River.
The tasting event paired local chefs with area farmers and food producers to prepare a myriad of dishes for us to enjoy. From savoury bites, to sweet treats, wines, beers, ciders, coffees and teas, there was something for everyone. There was no way I would be able to sample everything - there were about 30 stations - but I certainly did my best. Here are my highlights from the event.
I think my absolute favourite was the offering from Nick & Nat's Uptown 21's chef Nick Benninger with Everspring Farms: "Duck Fantastico". This duck confit, with greens and duck cracklings, on a frico was outstanding. The rich duck, fresh greens, and crispy cracklings and cheese all combined into a perfect little bite. I think using the frico as a base was smart, as the sharpness of the cheese balanced the rich confit beautifully.
Another success was Paul Finkelstein from The Screaming Avocado Café with Neubrand Country Produce and their Home-Grown Corn, Red Fife and Vegetable Fritter with Neubrand Country Produce Preserves. More of a blini than a fritter, the corn was very present and added nice texture to the soft and fluffy blini. The preserves were packed with flavour and went really well with the bit of mild, creamy ricotta-like cheese. Also on the vegetable tip was the Duo of Huron Cultivated Mushrooms with Gourmet Accoutrements from Ian MacArthur of Food At Your Fingertips with Weth Mushroom Farm. The duo was comprised of shiitake and maitake mushrooms on crisped bread rounds, and was bursting with meaty, earthy mushroom goodness.
Shawn Hartwell of Simple. Fish and Chips and Purdy's Fish Market presented a Hickory Smoked Lake Huron Whitefish and Pickerel Cold Salad on a Mini Pita Slider with Wasabi Mayo and Soiled Reputation Lettuce. Shawn explained that he only half smoked the fish to give just enough smokey flavour without overwhelming the palate. I'd say this was the right decision. While I didn't really pick up wasabi in this sandwich the delicate smokiness in the fish was delicious! Also delicious were the Goat Cheese and Herb Polenta with Roasted Tomato Salsa and Sweet Tomatillo Salsa from Alondra Galvez of the Stratford Chefs School and Organic Oasis. I'm really getting into salsa verde these days. There's something fresher tasting about the tomatillos that appeals to me.
The two goat cheese desserts were standouts. Sam Santandrea, also of the Stratford Chefs School partnered with C'est Bon Cheese to create a Chocolate Chevre Cheesecake Served on a Vanilla Wafer Cookie, with a Mixed Nut Praline. Creamy and tangy and sweet and crunchy - what more do I need? Then there were the Goat's Cheese Truffles from Derek Barr of Chocolate Barr's using cheese from C'est Bon. Derek told me that to achieve the consistency required for the ganache filling of the dark chocolate truffle, he blended the cheese with goat's cream to perfectly smooth it out. Success!
As you can see, there was an embarassment of riches to be eaten that afternoon. I also managed to sample some great wines from Tawse, Nyarai Cellars, Rosehall Run, Rosewood and more. And the names alone of the tea blends on offer from Distinctly Tea were enough for me to make the very short trip to their shop and pick up some teas to take home with me. Check the pairings list linked above for a full list of beverage producers too. For a break, I visited the adjacent farmers' market to pick up a few things.
If you get the chance, I definitely recommend planning to visit Stratford next September for this festival. But in the meantime, there are terrific food and activities year-round, so check what's happening on the Visit Stratford site. They've got some great culinary tourism packages on offer, as well as other types of tours. So, get out there and have fun!
More photos from the Chefs' Tasting
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