Thanks to Rodney and Jess for this great write up about Foodstock. More to follow.
Yesterday, we headed up north near the town of Honeywood to join the estimated 25,000 guests of the 2011 Foodstock. This event was promoted by celebrity chef Michael Stadtländer and was designed as a fundraiser and manifestation against the creation of a 2,300 acre limestone mega-quarry on prime agricultural grounds by the Highland companies. A hundred Canadian chefs and their respective teams demonstrated their support by setting up mini pop-up kitchens. Samples of foods prepared from donated produce originating from Ontario farms. Participants paid what they could in the form of donations to the organization.
After an hour and a half drive from west Mississauga, we arrived at the end of a huge car line-up waiting to be ushered into the already packed parking area. Armed with rubber boots, winter jackets, plastic plates and forks (this is a green event), we set out to the muddy trail into a little forest. Archaic little stands were scattered throughout the trails. The people line-ups were quickly growing as more participants arrived and joined to grab their food samples. Many popular Toronto restaurants (Marben, Torito, Splendido, Pizzeria Libretto, Pagaea, Oliver & Bonaccini, Sakora, Hiro, Globe, etc.) and culinary schools (Georgian, George Brown) were present and carried the longest lines. There was no running water or electricity available for the chef teams to use on site, which seemed to make things difficult for cooking. Many resolved to cook over fire or used smokers or barbecues. It was impossible for us to eat at every stand but we averaged around 30 stops or so. All sorts of foods were served. Unfortunately the event layout was not too great as sweet and savory foods were mixed.
We tasted various types of cooking and food pairings from pulled-pork on house-made pita, to artisanal ice cream with handmade chocolates, to phyllo filled with goat cheese and apple compote with granola, to sushi, to steamed pork belly with kimchi on steam buns, to fennel and apple salad on a potato-beet rösti, to apple cider beef hip taco, to house-cured prosciutto served on goats’ cheese and artisan bread, to hay-smoked arctic char on soya-marinated daikon, to smoked trout with caramelized beet on potato chip, to Georgian bay smoked white fish dip with homemade potato chips, to heirloom tomato soup, to parmesan and lobster risotto, to bean and tomato gnocchi with olive oil and parmesan, to fire-roasted pork belly with sweet and sour cabbage salad, to braised rabbit sandwich, to mustard-grain rabbit with white polenta and kelp, pork and potato bomb with American mustard and bacon, to the adult peanut-butter and jam (with bacon) sandwich, to cabbage soup served in a cabbage leaf, to raw potato pizza with smoked trout in arugula, to spicy meatballs.
The working conditions being primal and the weather conditions not being optimal, it is difficult to properly critique the event and the food. On a general trend, pairings of some ingredients was very courageous and some compositions were not up to par with the standards of their source restaurants. Based on our pallets and on the panel of dishes available, Marben and its team provided the tastiest sample. There were many stands we did not choose to line up for as their food was not appealing. By the same token, it was not possible to clearly identify which of the samples we tried as the worst as there were too many that fit into this category. We also felt that some teams invested in pricy bamboo decorations and utensils rather than investing in better quality ingredients or compositions. It was disappointing to see restaurants use this opportunity as a publicity stunt rather than advertising the beauty, versatility and malleability of Ontario produce. Again, we understand that the working conditions are very precarious compared to the luxury of a restaurant kitchen.
Albeit our last comments, it was a great experience and we strongly believe the underlying idea is fantastic. The event definitely merited better weather and ultimately, we wish that the goal for this chefs’ congress was achieved.