Mother Earth—the clay from which we are all formed. Except for those who sprang from the ocean’s foam or who came here from a distant planet (you know who you are). On Wednesday, Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner Museum hosted a delightful dinner to raise funds to send Ontario artisanal farmers, producers and chefs to the next biennial Terra Madre gathering in Turin, headquarters of the Slow Food movement. It was an excellent event, with 145 enthusiasts sitting down (eventually—everyone had summer to talk about so pre-prandial conversation was intense) in the Gardiner’s stunningly beautiful, glass-walled, candlelit event space. Anita Stewart, culinary activist, author, MA (Gastronomy) and probably the person who knows more than anyone else on earth about Canadian food from coast to coast to coast, gave an inspiring and patriotic keynote speech. Wines were coordinated by Paul DeCampo from Henry of Pelham winery—all of them delightful, especially H of P’s unfiltered 2000 pinot noir and a 2002 merlot from Lailey Vineyard.
Kennedy shared his teeny kitchen with chefs Michael Stadtländer, Anthony Walsh and Paul Finkelstein and the Screaming Avocado Gang. You haven’t heard of Finkelstein and the Gang? Neither had I. Finkelstein teaches at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School and runs the culinary club there. The Screaming Avocado Gang are his students. Over the years, the club’s culinary dinners at the school have attracted such luminaries as Kennedy, Stadtländer, Elizabeth Baird, Donna Dooher, Yasser Qahawish (who recently left Osgoode Hall to open a restaurant of his own in Guelph), Win Lai Wong, Rocco Agostino, Neil Baxter and many more. Club members have also travelled to Japan, New York, Sooke Harbour House in British Columbia and who knows where else on Slow Food Youth exchanges. An amazing opportunity for these teenagers! On Wednesday, one of the Gang, 17-year-old Jared Ritz, impressed the entire crew with his talent and work ethic—so much so that Stadtländer has offered him a six-month stage at Eigensinn Farm and Kennedy has offered him an apprenticeship. The young man will go far.
Dinner, not suprisingly, was scrumptious. It began with Finkelstein and the Gang’s contribution—a slice of a loosely packed vegetable terrine full of sweetly rooty flavours and paired with fresh curds from Ruth Klahsen’s Monforte Dairy. Stadtländer presented a gorgeous soup made from a purée of his heirloom tomatoes. Enisled in the middle of the bowl was a whole peeled tomato in its own fennel-flavoured sauce and a quenelle of pickerel and smoked whitefish mousseline. Jamie Kennedy cooked some firm, flavourful fillets of yellow perch over a creamy leek purée, surrounding them with mounds of various vegetable creations like paints on a palette—a beige semi-purée of beans, orange squash, dark brown eggplant with an awesomely rich intensity, tangy crimson peppers, and a green leek creation. Anthony Walsh’s contribution was no disappointment—a thick slice of Cumbrae beef over wilted greens and beef cheek ravioli, a sauce of chanterelles and another like a tangy beef gravy enriched with minced duck liver. Ruth Klahsen provided the cheese course—her aged sheep-milk Toscana, a soft fresh white cheese wrapped in vine leaves and her latest innovation, a mild sheep’s milk Cheddar. “My first attempt at a Cheddar,” she explained. “I only learned how to do it last month.” The cheeses were paired with some of Jonathan Forbes’s wild food preserves. Dessert starred SOMA artisanal chocolate turned into ice cream and a rich dark cake, paired with rumtopf of berries and apricots, courtesy of SOMA’s own David Castellan and JK’s pastry chef Renee Bellefeuille.
Slow Food Toronto’s founder, Pamela Cuthbert, will be travelling with the suppliers and chefs to Terra Madre in Turin during the last week of October. It’s a chance to meet and talk with 5,000 other small-enterprise food producers, 1000 chefs, and representatives from 900 universities from around the world who grow, create, distribute and promote food in ways that respect the environment and protect the health of consumers. The Italian government supports the initiative, which is admirable, and the Slow Food organization covers the costs of delegates from developing countries. Delegates from developed countries like Canada pay their own way—hence the dinner. More information is available at Slow Food Toronto’s web site. You can also find Slow Food’s simple, logical, righteous manifesto there, a message that is profoundly relevent not just to foodies but to anyone who puts food into his or her mouth from time to time. As well as supporting farmers, growers, producers and cooks who try to work in a responsible manner, supporting Slow Food is a way of resisting the scary homogenization of the global food basket. And that is a good thing to do. As Anita Stewart said in her speech, “Eating is a political act.”
- Slow Food Toronto’s delegates to Terra Madre 2006:
- Stephen Alexander—Cumbrae Farms
- David Castellan—SOMA Chocolate
- Pamela Cuthbert—Slow Food Toronto
- Paul DeCampo—Henry of Pelham Winery
- Daniel DeMatteis—Dufferin Grove/Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner
- Debbie Field—FoodShare
- Paul Finkelstein—Northwestern Secondary Culinary Arts
- Jonathan Forbes—Forbes Wild Foods
- Jamie Kennedy—Jamie Kennedy Kitchens
- Ruth Klahsen—Monforte Dairy
- Colette Murphy – Urban Harvest
- Michael Stadtländer—Eigensinn Farm
- Ken Steele—Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and Restaurant
- Mark Trealout—Kawartha Ecological Growers
- Paula Vopni—Fun Guy Mushrooms
- Anthony Walsh—Canoe Restaurant