Savouring Stratford to the Fullest

4 Nov

David Rocco and I at the Gala

Savour Stratford is an annual event held in September that has been providing amazing culinary experiences for not just locals, but for people all across Ontario and even some from the U.S. for the past 5 years. From a kids tent to a Tasting Tent, its lots of fun for the whole family! If you didn’t make it to the 5th Annual event this year, here are a few things I got to do.

This year, the Opening Ceremonies on Friday was presented by Fanshawe College. The culinary students prepped some great food in several tents and the media arts students taped and photographed the whole entire weekend. I went with my Dad and we started off by going around to some of the vendors and trying the various food they were offering. I tried the Pork Tent first, which was pulled pork on a mini ciabatta bun.

Fanshawe College Chefs at the Pork Shop

Then we went off to the Salmon Tent where I tried smoked salmon for the first time. They served two pieces of delicate smoked salmon wrapped around mini breadsticks. They paired the salmon with a colourful squash soup and balsamic caviar (which I had never tried either).

The Rib Hut Chefs

I was happily surprised that I liked it! I felt like I just had to try it! We went over to the Rib Tent where they served the meat of the rib on a bun. Personally, I liked the rib best because the meat was cooked and sauced to perfection and they paired it well with the bun.

Smoked Salmon & Squash Soup

The smoked salmon and pulled pork were really great too!

Then came the fun part! The Opening Ceremonies and the cutting of… the sausage!!?! Not the ribbon… but a sausage from the De Martines family farm. The 4’ length of sausage was cut by none other than Connie DeSousa, co-owner of Charcut Roast House in Calgary and runner-up of Season 1’s Top Chef Canada.

The Cutting of the Sausage

Last year, Chef Chuck Hughes was the celebrity chef at Savour Stratford and he “cut the cheese” at the opening ceremonies. Since we have already cut a milk product and a product from the meat & alternatives food group I think they should cut something from another food group next year. Like cut the cucumber, cut the bread or even cut the cake!

Saturday morning, I met up with Paul Finkelstein, founder of The Screaming Avocado Café at Northwestern Secondary School here in Stratford and who starred in the Food Network show “FINK”. I also got introduced to Steve Dolinsky who is a highly respected ABC food reporter from Chicago. Steve has won numerous awards, including being a 12-time James Beard Award Winner for tv and radio food reporting. They were cooking pigs in a LaCaja China box which was very cool! The LaCaja China box is made from wood and lined with aluminum.

One of the Pigs cooking in the LaCaja China Box

With the pig inside the box, coals were put on the top of the box in a tray and the pig gets cooked all the way through with some great heat for a few hours. Paul told me that I couldn’t blog about it, if I didn’t help. So, I took the saw and tried cutting off the poor little pig’s leg … I’ll admit that it was fun but I couldn’t quite cut through the bone so I needed some help with that.

Cutting off the pig’s leg

Then, Paul rubbed the whole pig in a garlic spice rub. That pig only served about a quarter of the hungry visitors, so throughout the day, they made three more pigs! Yum!

Pig or Paul?

For the rest of the day I just wandered and checked out all the local vendors. While I was walking around, all I could think of was how amazing Stratford is! We have The Stratford Festival Theatre that people from all over the world come to, The Stratford Chefs School, amazing restaurants, beautiful parks and an awesome downtown, and of course, great culinary experiences like Savour Stratford. We are also the home town of Justin Bieber and Olympic swimmer, Julia Wilkinson. And all of that in a small town of about 32,000 people. Wow! I love it here!

On the Saturday night, I went to my very first cocktail party!! It was the Gala Cocktail Party at the Avon Theatre, and celebrated Stratford’s culinary past that included founders of the Stratford Chefs School and early restaurant owners. The Inaugural Gala was hosted by Stratford residents Peter Mansbridge who is the CBC news anchor along with his wife, Cynthia Dale who is a Canadian actress and starred in 42ndStreet this season at the Stratford Festival.

Cynthia, Peter and I

I noticed that Connie DeSousa was there as well as David Rocco.

When I went into the Gala I thought that I would possibly meet David Rocco and maybe get a picture but Renée from the Siren Group (Savour Stratford’s PR firm) asked me if I would want to have an interview with him. Even though, I didn’t have any questions prepared, I couldn’t pass up this amazing opportunity.

Interviewing David Rocco

David Rocco stars in his Food Network show “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita”. He was never actually trained in any culinary schools but is an excellent chef that was influenced by his grandmother’s fine cuisine. I asked him about his family, which I could tell made him very happy to talk about. David Rocco and his wife have 4 year old twin girls and a baby boy. He and his girls love making risotto together at home. The process of stirring the rice, adding the seasonings and adding water is just really fun to do with daddy in Emma and Giorgia’s eyes! I can totally relate to that because I love cooking with my dad too! David also told me that many people ask him ‘If he was stranded on an island, what would be his last meal?’ He usually replies with ‘My main course would be lasagna and for dessert, a hamburger’. He chose both because he just can’t decide between those two dishes! I would really like to thank David Rocco for giving me a few moments of his time so I could talk with him. It was a really great experience to meet him!

Sunday was probably my favourite day of the whole weekend because I got the opportunity to co-host the Culinary Breakfast of Champions with Paul Finkelstein and Steve Dolinsky at the Stratford Country Club!

Carl, Connie and I

It was exciting because the two Top Chef Canada champions I strongly look up to were Carl Heinrich, winner of Season 2, Stratford Chefs School graduate and co-owner/chef at Richmond Station in Toronto as well as  Connie Desousa, runner up of Season 1, co-owner/ chef at Charcut Roast House in Calgary and food truck Alley Burger. I had followed and cheered for Carl all the way through his journey on Top Chef Canada and I felt a special bond with Connie as I had talked to her many times over the weekend. I respect her as a female chef AND she is also a dancer just like me!

Before we actually had breakfast, Danielle Broadhagen, Director of Savour Stratford welcomed the guests and introduced the co-hosts. Paul, Steve and I then introduced ourselves, which I was extremely nervous about at the start but managed to get through with some notes I had prepared. I left the crowd thinking about one of my comments – “You need to expand your taste buds no matter how old you are.” The really cool thing was that my quote actually got tweeted (and re-tweeted) right away!

After that, Connie and Carl did a fun series of Quickfire Challenges that consisted of three stations – peeling carrots, dicing onions, and shucking corn. They got 2 minutes to get as much done as possible at each station. Before they started, Connie put on her brand new fireman apron (she really likes firemen), hoping it would bring her luck! I was the official timekeeper and also got to provide commentary and judging. At the carrot peeling station, Carl got all of his 12 carrots peeled in under 45 seconds but with some skin left on them, Connie was the victor.

Carrot Peeling Station

We then walked over to onion dicing station where I yelled “GO” and they both started peeling their onions prior to the dicing. Unexpectedly, Connie pulled out her secret weapon – the Slap Chop!

Slap Chop Surprise

Despite lots of laughter, the Slap Chop didn’t match up to Chef Carl’s fine dicing, who was the champion of this round.

Onions are diced

Finally, we came to the corn shucking station where Carl removed a half cob of corn from his “finished” bucket right before I yelled STOP!

Professional Corn Shuckers

While talking about choosing the winner with Paul and Steve, we noticed that even though Carl did remove that cob from his bucket, he still shucked one more than Connie. It was a very close call, but in the end, Carl won two rounds out of three and Connie won one.

And the winner is…

Congrats to Carl who won this fun competition!

With the fun competition over, breakfast was finally under way! The kitchen staff brought out many plates full of local bacon, eggs, tomatoes, sausage and toast. It was a very good and filling meal! Over breakfast, I sat with Paul and Steve and we talked about a potential program for students to learn how to write about food at the high school level. It was neat to be involved in the conversation with them and hope to be invited to participate one day.

After that great experience I went over to the Tasting Tent to see what our local restaurants had prepared this year. The Tasting Tent is the premier event at Savour Stratford, where chefs/restaurants of Perth County and area are paired with local producers and together they make scrumptious hors d’oeuvres. I really enjoyed all the dishes that I tried but there were some that really stood out for me. The Prune and Northern Woods Mushrooms made a Smoked Mushroom tart with house made herbed ricotta, delicata squash and red pepper relish which myself and many other people enjoyed too, because it received the Peoples Choice Award. The Best Meat Dish was won by Mercer Hall and Churchill Farms with their Muffuletta Sandwich – it’s pork done 6 ways – coppa, rillette, prosciutto, country ham, black-strap molasses ham and pigs head mortadella. The Best Dessert was presented by Madelyn’s Diner and Yungblut Meats with their Delicious Bacon Butter Tarts. Yes, I said BACON Butter Tarts! Yum!

Loved the Bacon Butter Tarts from Madelyn’s Diner!

There was also the Best Vegetarian Dish which was created by Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 and my friends at Soiled Reputation. The dish was named the Veggisaurus-Rex and consisted of Cornmeal crusted beets with pickled hot peppers, cabbage-radish slaw and bronze fennel tips. Loco Fields and Pickles Eh! produced the most creative dish with their Tomatillo Corn and Black Bean Salsa. The Best Overall Beverage was the “Savouring Stratford Digestive Tea Blend” from Tea Leaves Tasting Bar and Peter Blush Foraging. Of course, there were some beverages  that I couldn’t try like the Best Alcoholic Beverage won by Silversmith Brewery with their Black Lager. My dad sampled these though, and he thoroughly enjoyed them.

After the Tasting Tent, we walked over to The Blue Donkey which is a Greek food truck from Toronto I met during my first blog post. When I noticed that they were there, I got really excited and told my dad that we had to get something. We got a Calamari pita and their yummy honey pita sticks. I was surprised that they recognized me since it had been a while, but sure enough, they came over to say hello. It was also great to hear that they have been reading my blog.

Savour Stratford was so good, but after eating for the whole weekend, I was so full that I  didn’t even need to eat dinner.

Thanks for the WIFI access Amanda!

The Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival  was a great event to be at! Full of my favourite thing… FOOD!! I was so glad to be there. Thanks to everyone at Savour Stratford and Stratford Tourism Alliance for putting on this great culinary festival every year. I especially want to thank them for getting me involved this year! I’m already looking forward to year 6!

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