September 26, 2012

Savour Stratford Culinary Festival 2012

I love visiting the beautiful town of Stratford, Ontario, so I never need much persuading to go. I will gladly see a show at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, stroll by the Avon River and try a new restaurant or speciality food shop there. I have even walked the chocolate trail and visited my favourite food trucks in Stratford. Even though I have lived in close proximity for the past few years I have never attended Savour Stratford before. This year I jumped at the chance to join in the festivities and spend another wonderful day in Stratford. 

Savour Stratford 2012 is a Perth County Culinary Festival featuring tasting events, demonstrations, talks, entertainment, markets and more. Although it highlights Perth County, foodies, chefs and local food enthusiasts come from all over Canada to the premier culinary event. The town is transformed into a "foodie" mecca over the weekend. Of course, some celebrity chefs were in attendance as well to mingle, demo their "quick fire" skills and well, be admired by Food Network fans like myself. 

From left: Carl Heinrich (Winner of Top Chef Canada 2), Connie DeSousa (Top Chef Canada finalist, owner of Charcut Restaurant, Calgary) and David Rocco (Celebrity Chef).

The theme for this year--the fifth year of the festival--was celebrating "celebrating culinary roots." Stratford obviously has a strong farming heritage and they take pride in the fact that they are connected to and close to their local food, like this close...

I was invited to Sunday's main event, which was the 2012 Savour Stratford Tasting in Market Square. The tasting featured about thirty local chefs and restaurants who were paired with Perth County producers to create dishes to taste along with Ontario VQA wines and craft beers. The point of the collaboration is to highlight the authentic relationship chefs and farmers have in the area. Before the doors opened I got a sneak peek at some of the dishes and a chance to mingle with some of the chefs and farmers. 

Diners also got to vote on their favourite dishes and drinks of the day in the categories of People's Choice, best meat dish, best vegetarian dish, best dessert, most creative dish and best beverage

The first stop was the Stone Willow Inn Wildstone Bar and Grill from St. Mary's, Ontario and TJ's Fins and Feathers. They displayed a smoked trout (two-day cured) with roasted corn and heirloom tomato salsa in a cumin scented phyllo pastry cup.

Next up was the The Church Restaurant and Delmac Farms. The Church Restaurant has been a go-to fine dining destination in Stratford for years with their "seasonally inspired modern French cuisine."

A chafing dish full of meat is always a good sign. They made their gourmet take on a "pulled pork sandwich" with lamb curry, pickled red onions and apricot conserve on a mini bun.

Pazzo Ristorante and Pizzeria is one of my favourite restaurants in Stratford. I can admit to driving to Stratford solely for pizza. I wanted to ask them the secret to their thin-crust gourmet goodness (especially the dough), but I figured they wouldn't spill the secrets to their legendary pizza.

Head Chef Yva Santini was serving up some beef and pork sausage made with meat from DeWetering Hill Farms topped with tomato chilli jam.

Madelyn's Diner and Youngbult Farm's took the prize for best dessert with their bacon butter tarts. Who can argue with bacon and butter, especially in dessert form. Am I right? 

Rheo Thomspon Candies offered a beautiful piece of chocolate topped with ginger and lavender jelly from Steed and Company Lavender. As a preserves junkie, I need to get my hands on a jar of that ginger jelly. Of course any time I'm in Stratford I stop by Rheo Thompson's for their famous mint smoothie chocolates. 

The Prune Restaurant and Northern Wood Mushrooms were voted the People's Choice with their smoked mushroom tart with house made herbed ricotta, squash and red pepper relish. 

WaWa Grub--a new takeout/sandwich shop--served up leek and mushroom terrine on spoons. 

With all that food tasting and indulging, you need something to settle your stomach. Digestive Tea by Tea Leaves Tasting Bar is a blend of ingredients foraged from the area with help from Peter Blush Foraging, such as stinging nettle, lemon balm, fennel seed and pu-erh. I have been meaning to check out Tea Leaves Tasting Bar for awhile now, so I may stop in to pick up a bag of this stomach soothing blend next time. 

Beartoozies Bistro had a gluten-free cinnamon bun topped with cream, raspberries and a tea-infused chocolate sauce. 

The Local Community Food Centre is a great organization in Stratford (originally started in Toronto) with a garden where anyone in the community can learn about and grow their own local food. Their dish was a corn cracker topped with pickled vegetables from the garden. 

The goal of the food centre is to be "a place where community members come together to access, grow, prepare, share and advocate for good food" and hopefully these centres will be opening up in cities across Canada soon to spread the good word. Check out all the neat stuff they're doing. 

The Annex Room featured fresh ingredients from their garden too with a goats cheese and roasted vegetable crostini. 

Obviously "pork done six ways" stuffed between crunchy, fresh bread from Mercer Hall and Churchill Farms won best meat dish with their Muffuletta sandwich of coppa,  rillette, proscuitto, country ham, molasses ham and pig's head mortadella. Look at all of that meaty goodness:

Stratford Thai Food served pork, pickled carrots and roasted garlic on a crispy wonton. 

There was some other fun stuff to marvel at and taste, such as "spaghetti and meatball" mini raspberry cakes from Rene's Bistro and Sheldon Berries. 

And tamale gazpacho shooters (a little too spicy for me though): 

The streets were also filled with food trucks, such as El Gastronomo Vagabundo, Gourmet Gringos, Tide and Vine and Caplansky's Delicatessen, and some beautiful local produce was on display at the Sunday market. Plenty of the local food artisan, vendors, farmers and sellers were out with fresh apples, fall vegetables and preserves. 

Of course when I found out my favourite cupcake truck, The Cupcake Diner, would be there, I had to pick up a few treats for the road. Yes, you read that sign correctly: pumpkin spice donuts. They were mini pumpkin spice donuts dipped in white and milk chocolate. The Cupcake Diner has never done me wrong. 

Thank you to the Siren Group Inc, Savour Stratford organizers and the Stratford Tourism Alliance. I can't believe this was my first year visiting the festival after being in the area so long. The thing about wonderful local food is we sometimes forget it's ready to be discovered in our own backyards. 

Visit Savour Stratford for more info and follow them on Twitter for info on next year's festivities and events throughout the year @SavourStratford.

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