Hinterland Who’s Who: the Canadians who farm, fish and forage the food on your plate
Paul Tobias, Freelance Forager
When Paul Tobias was growing up in the Philippines, he spent hours picking water spinach and yams on his great grandfather’s rice farm. He moved to Scarborough when he was 12 and spent his weekends foraging in the Morningside woods for berries. Since then, Tobias has turned his pastime into a profitable gig by word of mouth (he’s an un-Googlable enigma) with a client list that includes Yours Truly, Chantecler, Ursa, The Harbord Room and Nota Bene. On picking days, he sets out at dawn for the Niagara Escarpment, where he wades through swamps, hunting for cattail hearts. The biggest thrill comes when he finds a patch of morels, rare fungal unicorns, since they never show up in the same place twice—kind of like Tobias.
Justus Martin, Kountryroad Farms
Justus Martin is surprisingly plugged in for a Mennonite farmer. He drives a car, surfs the web, and sells Muscovy ducks, prized for their rich meat, to the trendiest Toronto restaurants. His farm is a 40-hectare Arcadian vision in Mount Forest where his flock of birds waddle around the fenced-in yard and play with his bonneted three- and six-year-old daughters. Martin started selling his birds to Toronto restaurants a few years ago, just as duck was replacing pork as the meat of the moment. He now supplies Sassafraz in Yorkville, The Grove on Dundas West and Farmhouse in the Junction.
The Hyatts and Taylors, Taylor Fish Company
If you grow up in Wheatley, a 3,000-person whistle stop on the banks of Lake Erie, chances are you’ll end up on a fishing boat. The Wheatley port hauls in more freshwater fish than any other spot in North America. Taylor Fish Company is family-run: John (right) and Donna Hyatt run the processing side with their son Taylor, while their other son James (centre) works the 69-foot boat with Donna’s brother Terry Taylor (left). Every morning at 3, the men board the Taylor Maid to collect around 3,000 pounds of pickerel, yellow perch and whitefish along the coast of Essex, Chatham-Kent and Elgin counties. Their catches end up at such Toronto fishmongers as Hooked and on plates at Keriwa and Hopgood’s Foodliner.