by Malcolm Jolley

Andrew Morrison photographs Adam Sachs at The Niagara Street Cafe

Terroir is Ontario’s hospitality industry symposium and the day long event was held at the University of Toronto’s Hart House for the fourth time on March the 2nd. I am a member of the not-for-profit, all-volunteer conference’s steering committee and have been honoured for years to be part of this community of food and wine professionals. Though I have been covering the region’s culinary seen for more than five years, I’ve never actually worked in a restaurant or sold a bottle of wine and I am ever cognizant of my role as a privileged outsider. But this year, with help from Tourism Toronto, Terroir was able to invite a small delegation of journalists to the symposium to make up a “media panel” to be led by Bonnie Stern. although the purpose of the panel was to help the culinary industry understand the people who cover them, I really looked forward to meeting some of North America’s best food writers. Finally, we food media types could have a session of Terroir all to our own.

On Monday, March 1, the Terroir group of out-of-town journalists decended on Toronto. Arlene Stein and the Terroir Committee, decided to take them all out for lunch and chit chat on the state of food writing organised by Shaun Smith, Sasha Chapman and Pamela Cuthbert. Lunch was served in the private dining room at Pangaea and the visitors included:

  • Mitchell Davis, Vice-President of the James Beard Foundation from New York;
  • Anne DesBrisay, Citizen restaurant critic and publisher from Ottawa;
  • Gabriella Gershenson, Food & Drink Editor at Time-Out New York;
  • Corby Kummer, Food Editor for The Atlantic Monthly from Boston;
  • Andrew Morrison, restaurant critic and publisher of Scout from Vancouver;
  • Alan Richman, the multiple award winning food writer for GQ, also from New York; and
  • Adam Sachs, much published travel writer – see – also from New York.

An impressive line-up. But then, so was the local contingent in attendance which featured food writing legends like Joanne Kates (who never, ever goes to industry events), James Chatto, Lucy Waverman as well as new guarders like Amy Rosen, Cory Mintz, Ivy Knight and Sarah Elton. I am afraid that, like all participants, I agreed that all that was said would be strictly off the record, so I can’t write much about what was said except to say their was lively, though always collegial, discussion.

The next day, at the Terroir conference proper, the visiting writers formed their panel and offered advice and opinion to the 300 odd chefs, restaurateurs and hospitality professionals assembled in the great hall at Hart House. On the topic of what defines Toronto, as a a food city the general consensus among the visitors seemed to be that we hadn’t quite figured it out. I suspect we kind of have, it’s just we’ve not been terribly great at spreading the word. Maybe we’ve been too busy spreading the table with the amazing array of locally produced artisanal foods and wines we pull from our northern climate in Ontario… but I digress. If the panel didn’t know too much about the Toronto food scene that Tuesday morning, they would by the end of the next day.

Salade Lyonnaise at Mildred's Temple Kitchen

Terroir is more than just a conference, it’s also a feast. The day began with the most amazing breakfast spread imaginable and progressed with wine tastings, cocktail tastings, beer tastings, multiple course lunches and incredible post-conference spread from Perth County afterwards, and much revelry at the after party at The Drake. Sufficed to say, when I met up with fellow organisers Stein and Rebecca LeHeup and Donna Dooher as well as photographer Jo Dickins at Dooher’s Mildred’s Temple Kitchen restaurant to kick-start a gastromic tour of the city for the benefit of the panel, some herbal tea and a thin broth would have been about our speed. But it was not to be. Joining us was visiting key note speaker and Michelin-starred chef David Kinch from Manresa Restuarant in Los Gatos, California and Franco Naccataro from Savour Ontario Dining a government of Ontario agency that encourages restaurants to use local ingredients. We started on a mountain of food, including MTK’s famous pancakes and a salade Lyonnaise that included Jonathan Forbes’ pickled spruce tips. In between bites, we washed down our breakfast with alternate sips of coffee and bloody Caesar – the quintessential Canadian breakfast drink. This repaste was merely the fortification for the next 12 hours of non-stop eating and drinking I experienced with the visiting writers.

From Mildred’s we headed across town to SOMA to meet with organic chocolatier David Castellan and sample some of his roughest just made confectionary – something Kinch had never done before and the chef seemed fascinated. Then, we crossed town again to meet up with Chef John Lee at the corner of College and Augusta. Lee is the owner and operator of Chippy’s, the two store fish’n’chips chain that uses whole, sustainably caught fish and real potatoes to make their gourmet take out. He is also a bit of a Kensignton Market afficionado and he led us on a no-holds barred tour of the bohemian hood and neighbouring Chinatown.

John Lee in front of his original Chippy's on Queen West

Our tour included:

  • Caplansky’s for smoked meat
  • La Pallette for restorative espresso and mini-lecture on the Kensington pedestrian movement from owner Shamaz Amlani
  • Oxford Fruit
  • Sanagan’s meat locker
  • Patty King for a goat curry patty
  • European Meats for a Peameal Bacon sandwich (ok, actually Andrew Morrison decided to grab one as we walked by, but it was admired by all)

Then it was over to Spadina to borowse through some of the Asian markets until we got to Rol San, for their famous dim sum. Lee, whose heritage is Korean, explained that he was introduced to Rol San by none other than Susur Lee, who pronounced it the best Cantonese downtown. John Lee then demonstrated the correct method of ordering, cheerfully asking for “everything”. And everything came from ha gau shrimp dumplings to chicken feet until we literally begged the kitchen to stop… after all there was more to eat!

Next stop Anton Potvin’s Niagara Street Cafe where he led us through an eight wine tasting of Niagara and Prince Edward County wines from top artisanal producers like Closson Chase and Tawse. (Watch GFR for proper tasting notes from my colleague Jamie Drummond who joined us there along with cheesemaker Ruth Klahsen.) Chef Nick Liu provided us with a dainty little snack of three dishes: housemade rillettes, a lamb shoulder with salad and a shredded beef heart dish. Everyone ate everything.

Anton Potvin leads the group in a structured tasting.

By four thirty we had been eating and drinking for seven hours and a few of us decided to walk to the Drake Hotel, where our next course lay: Ninutik maple taffy made on an improvised bed of crushed ice “snow”, washed down with maple sour cocktails on their roof top deck. Chef Anthony Rose joined us by the fire and our dessert and refreshment were served just in time to hold us over for dinner at 6.

Dinner was hosted by Perth County, featuring Chef Jonathn Gushue and a team of cooks and servers  from Langdon Hall, with a special guest appearance by Rundles’ Neil Baxter from Stratford. I will not belabour the six course meal of almost all Southwestern Ontario provenance with lengthy descriptions. The crowd was bolstered by more Toronto fooderatti who cleaned their plates to last man and woman. All of this was washed down with a paired wine from Norman Hardie, introduced by the man himself. Before sitting down, we were split into two groups who alternated between the tasting stations of brothers Afrim and Agim Pristine, whose family owns and operates the Cheese Boutique. Agim sliced a mountain of charcuterie inviting us to compare their housemade prosciutto and salami with Italian classics. Afrim invited us into the sotres great finishing cave where we compared variously aged Canadian cheeses and discussed the work of affinage.

Dinner at The Cheese Boutique.

By midnight I had been eating and drinking for about 15 hours. Sasha Chapman took pity on me in my calorie-induced stupour and offered me a lift home. On the way I recounted the days work and I wondered if we had even scratched the surface of Toronto gastronomy or what Ontario cuisine. Who knows? And who cares? As long as there is more and more good food and wine to write about, videocast and eat and drink, we’ll all do fine thank you very much.

Malcolm Jolley is the editor of Good Food Revolution.