I originally published this story HERE on The Huffington Post.
The mandate at the Stratford Chefs School is to “help people experience, enjoy and understand the gastronomy of our time, so that a distinctly Canadian cuisine may continue to develop.”
When asked for specifics about Canadian cuisine, Eleanor Kane, co-founder of the school, reminds me that “If one examines other “foodie” cultures such as France or Italy, one will never find a “national” cuisine, but only a myriad of regional cuisines, rich in tradition and practice.”
“Canada is no different: we are a country of diverse geography and therefore of distinct regional cuisines and cooking traditions,” she adds.
The school offers a variety of lunch and dinners, with the students doing everything from checking coats to preparing the meals. Imagine an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen, except you are seated in the dining room. And there’s probably a lot less swearing in the kitchen.
Although, I imagine, just as much tension.
The student chefs have devoted over a year to carving out their niche in the culinary arts. At my recent lunch there I met a student who carved her niche from uncommon cuts of meat.
Here’s the menu. It offers an impressive array of organ meats and locally sourced vegetables. Click to enlarge it.
The beef heart, tendon, tongue and marrow appetizer intrigued me.
Thanks to my mother’s succulent beef tongue creole, I have a fondness for tongue. It was a staple of my youth and I’ll never forget the packages of whole tongue at the local Dominion, “mainly because of the meat,” grocery store.
Check out the appetizer in the photo below. It delivered on its promise of extraordinary tastes and textures, crsipy and juicy all at once. That’s a decorative bone on the left.
When was the last time you saw heart, kidney, liver and tongue on a plate, let alone actually ate some?
Kane, notes that “organ meats have been popular in Europe for centuries and are of growing interest in North America.”
This is in part due to Fergus Henderson’s book “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.” The award winning “foodie” classic offers advice on how to eat every part of a pig.
I spoke with Stephanie Reich, the student chef who created the menu featuring cuts of meat that, despite the popularity of Henderson’s book, have yet to reclaim their place in grocery stores.
Stephanie told me that she, and both her parents, grew up on farms in south-western Ontario. Her mother on a beef farm (a cow/calf operation), her father on a dairy, pig, and chicken farm.
Reich told me that “since my family raised beef, we would receive cuts
that people didn’t want with their orders.”
Her grandmothers and mother would cook things like stuffed heart, fried liver with onion and beef tongue.
Stephanie’s adventurous spirit isn’t limited to livestock.
The parsley root was gently roasted to bring out the natural sugars.
The flavor and texture was a creamy surprise, marvelously complemented by poached pear.
It was a memorable lunch. Miss Reich met the Stratford Chefs School’s mandate. She encouraged diners to “experience and enjoy” a menu featuring local food, reflective of the region.
Hailing from south-western Ontario, a region which boasts some of the richest farmland, Reich’s menu draws not only on the traditions of her family table, but the agricultural heritage of her homeland.