I picked up a few 'outrageous' lessons in local food when I traveled to Southwest Ontario.
It's not everyday you're invited to a food fight, especially one that takes place in a barn that's over 130 years old! But West Lorne, Ontario, is anything but your usual destination. The community manages to walk the fine line between preserving the past and focusing on heritage while still moving forward with a modern style and focus. And their location in the heart of southwest Ontario's farmlands means that local food is at the heart of all that they do - including the odd food fight!
The local food movement may just be the biggest culinary trend in the world, but there's still a lot to learn about what it really means. And West Lorne was ready to teach me some crucial lessons.
Rural doesn't mean boring.
Do you associate rural attractions and products with sleepy villages and play-it-safe flavours? The Arts and Cookery Bank will change all of that! A combination of a 1914 Bank of Montreal building and a restored timber barn from 1883, The Bank brings visual and culinary arts together for a little "food and foto" magic.
While I loved the heritage photos on display, I have to say I was captivated by the cookery side of The Bank. Imagine the most gorgeous kitchen in the world, with the most modern of tools and ingredients, in the most idyllic rural setting. Their recent "Food Fight" - a week long, black box cooking competition, produced some 'definitely not your grandma's' results.
During the Food Fight event, we had the opportunity to sample all of the concoctions and my favourite was #1, a creamy, two layered dish that listed vanilla and pistachios. And with a little luck, soon you'll be able to try it too! The Bank is turning all of some of these outrageously good products into an Outrageously Rural product line - hopefully by 2016 you'll be able to take the best of the cookery home with you!
To everything there is a season.
We all know that there's a peak season for berries and tomatoes, but did you know that everything we eat has a season? This was a huge takeaway for me from the culinary session I attended with Chef Jeffery Crump during the West Lorne Food Fight. There's an ideal season for things you can easily find in the grocery store year round, like apples and oranges, and there's even a season for meat and fish.
So how do you figure out the ideal season for your favourite foods? It's easy. A food is in season when you can find it in its original form from a local source. And the more local the food, the better it will taste. Eating food in season, when you can obtain it locally, is a sure way to enjoy a delicious treat - like the amazing blueberry tarts I had!
There's more to local than just 'rustic'.
When you picture 'local food', chances are you picture a very rustic looking dish - maybe some chunky stewed tomatoes, roughly crumbled cheese, or coarsely chopped bread. And I'd happily eat all three! But just because food is locally sourced doesn't mean it can't be sophisticated.
One of the other culinary demonstrations I attended was hosted by Chef Stephanie Brewster, who made homemade steamed buns, roasted duck, and quick pickled cucumbers. It definitely crossed the line from rustic to fancy! It also introduced me to three new ingredients I had never tried before. I'm not sure it's something I'd eat every day, but I would definitely have it again.
When you save memories, you save heritage.
The idea of making homemade pasta used to be something that filled me with dread - and I consider myself a pretty ambitious cook. So when Chef Emily Richards said that her ricotta recipe called for two or three cups of flour I felt myself breaking out in a cold sweat. What's all this crazy talk about two OR three cups of anything? Shouldn't recipes be exact?
Turns out, Chef Emily knows what she's talking about and she's right about something else - you just need to get in the kitchen and cook. You never know what the future holds and I was so touched by her stories of collecting recipes from her elderly family members. The instructions may not be precise but there's no replicating the love that comes from a tested and true hand-me-down. The Bank shares this philosophy and it offers culinary classes that help to preserve heritage recipes and techniques.
This "Bank" has plenty of riches to share.
West Lorne doesn't quite count as being off the beaten track however it's not necessarily a destination you'd naturally stumble upon. But chances are, it's a lot closer than you think. It's less than an hour from London, Ontario, and just a few hours from Toronto or Detroit. It's the perfect destination for local food enthusiasts and a visit to The Arts and Cookery Bank is one bank stop that always brings riches.
Time for you to weigh in! What does local food mean to you?
If you're in southwest Ontario, here's what else you should check out.
Elgin County's Behemoth Butter Tarts
Hotel Review: London's Hotel Metro
Fiesta Flavors and Fun in London, Ontario
My visit to West Lorne was sponsored by The Arts and Cookery Bank and I thank them for their support.