by Malcolm Jolley
It’s unlikely that any of the eight Canyon Creek Chophouse locations, spread across the Golden Horseshoe, is going to be mistaken for Gilead, Belong or any other independent restaurants in Ontario that put their commitment to local, seasonal and sustainable food at the forefront of their operations. And yet the SIR Corp chain’s Executive Chef, Mark Jachecki, has brought forward limited time “Local Harvest” menu that may be exactly what the good food revolution might look like as the local food movement moves from fine to mainstream dining. (Full disclosure: SIR Corp also owns Red’s Bistro, which is a ‘Certified Good Food Fighter‘ sponsor of Good Food Revolution.)
The Local Harvest menu at Canyon Creek, which describes its contemporary take on steakhouse restaurants as “premium yet still casual”, lasts from September 13 to October 31. It’s not huge, featuring two appetizers (a mushroom soup or chicken wings), four mains (smoked duck salad, flat iron steak, pork chop or pickerel) and a single dessert (a pumpkin crème brûlée). It features suggested pairings with wines from Niagara’s Henry of Pelham (their ‘House’ labels) and Muskoka Brewery’s seasonal Harvest Ale, as well as a ‘Black Forest Martini’ made with Oakville’s TAG 5 vodka and Ontario cherries. Prices are in line with Canyon Creek’s conventional menu: the cheapest main is the duck salad at $14.50 and the most expensive is the pork chop at $25.95. The menu adopts the Chez Pannisse pioneered style of naming the farm of origin of each ingredient listed.
I tasted a sample of the menu at a press lunch held at the chain’s downtown Toronto location. On had were representatives from Henry or Pelham and Muskoka Brewery who recreated a “Beer vs. Wine Dinner” promotion that Canyon Creek is putting on to spread the word about the menu, along with an advertising campaign that features a stylised version of the duck salad on a three-pointed plate shaped like a trillium. I enjoyed the dishes, which as far as I could tell were honestly cooked from scratch. I can’t remember which beverage “won”, but the general consensus was the wines and beer were equally good. I was much more interested in the menu and how it came about.
Chef Jachecki appeared with each course, explaining the provenance of the ingredients of each dish, and the relationship he had struck with each supplier. I asked him if there were any plans to extend the Harvest Menu program throughout the year. He explained there weren’t for the time being, although the seasonal menu is in its second year and has been judged a success such that he is looking forward to working with his farmers to design another one for next year. His challenge is to find ingredients that are available in quantities sufficient for the entire chain that are also as good or better quality as alternative ingredients and at a price point low enough that the local items on Canyon Creek’s menu can compete with the conventional ones. In this sense, he explained, the Harvest Menu is more than a marketing promotion, it coincides with the only time of the year he can depend on enough ingredients from his suppliers to serve it.
Jachecki is the father of the program. It was his initiative to work more closely with suppliers he’d met “at the back door” of the kitchen and he was able to get SIR Corp executives to green light the menu, which meant he could guarantee sales to his suppliers. Jachecki and his team work closely with their farmers, determining what will be planted or raised in the spring to be served in the fall. He brings the chefs from all the Canyon Creek locations to the farms to familiarise them with the ingredients.
Listening to Jachecki, it struck me that much of what he described was exactly what I heard from fine dining, boutique restaurant chefs seven years ago when I began covering the food scene in Southern Ontario. While it’s early to pronounce Canyon Creek as a centre of Canadian locavorism, I think they deserve credit for putting some of their money where there mouth is and as the menu proves popular, which they claim it is, it’s reasonable to expect their local food program to expand. Jachecki continues to use local suppliers throughout the year, just not in such a concentrated way. And Canyon Creek’s relationship with Henry of Pelham and Muskoka Brewery remains year long. Mighty oaks from these small acorns may grow.
Canyon Creek’s Local Harvest Menu runs until October 31 and their website is canyoncreekchophouse.com.
Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the non-profit organization that publishes GFR. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley. Photo: John Gundy.