While there are many progressive and innovative aspects to Canada's food system, it is far from perfect. A growing number of households do not have access to affordable, nutritious food. Many families rely on food banks or do without. The issue of food insecurity is growing and a group of chefs and restauaranteurs across Canada have joined together and come up with a solution we can all be a part of. Restaurants for Change is a night dedicated to a fairer and healthier Canadian food system. This year’s participating restaurants are committed to supporting Community Food Centres Canada - an advocate for local food systems, local producers, and the right to good food for all.
By dining out at any participating Restaurant for Change on October 19, proceeds from dinner service will be donated to Community Food Centres across the country, who in turn support food programs in low-income communities across Canada.
I talked with some of the chefs participating in this initiative about memorable meals, cocktails,and late night snacks.
Lora Kirk - One of the most high-profile chefs in the country. Chef Kirk shares her talents at Ruby Watchco in Toronto. Growing up in Peterborough, Ontario, Lora was greatly influenced by working on her grandparent's farm, and it was there that Lora learnt the importance of supporting local farmers and growers.
Carl Heinrich - Born in Calgary, Chef Heinrich has lived in in Montreal, the North West Territories, Vancouver Island and now calls Toronto home. Chef Heinrich cooked his way to victory on Season Two of Top Chef Canada. His restaurant Richmond Station showcases cuisine driven by quality, local ingredients and classic and modern techniques. He makes food that he knows his mom would like to eat and keeps flavours pure, never getting too complicated.
Ted Corrado - Corporate Executive Chef of the Drake Group of Properties, Chef Corrado believes that Toronto cuisine excels when celebrating its multicultural roots and creates a unique spin on comfort dishes that incorporate amazing local offerings and seasonal Ontario flavours. Chef Corrado supports local sustainable initiatives, and works closely with The Stop Community Food Centre.
Q: Describe the last truly memorable meal you ate.
LK: On one of my trips to Fogo Islaad , I was lucky enough to go out on a small boat with two talented local fisherman and hand line caught cod with my own two hands. Then I was able to clean and cook the cod for my friends. Its doesn't get any better than that!
TC: On my last visit to Montreal I stopped into Vin Papillon (chef Dave McMilan's restaurant) and was 'truly memorable'. It didn't even matter what the exact dishes were - the meal truly captured the essence of Montreal cuisine and it was just Dave's food. What an extremely talented chef loves to eat, cook and just executed perfectly. The ambiance, plating, quality of ingredients - it was like eating at your family's home - a must-visit.
CH: Last night, I smoked a small chicken on my outdoor grill and made some fresh buns as well as some of the last heirloom tomatoes and basil from the garden.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the most underrated or underused spice?
LK: Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a bold lemony flavor.
TC: Tough one... I guess Star Anise. Star Anise has a licorice flavour and is used in Asian cuisine traditionally in savory dishes (it's also an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder!) I know licorice can be a strong flavour, but star anise is more mild and bitter and just adds complexity to dishes. People should definitely try this spice more in their homes!
CH: Is there one?! We use a bit of spices at Richmond Station but really focus on fresh herbs.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 representing preparing food as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking techniques, where do you rank yourself?
LK: I would say I am a 5, using classic techniques with interesting twists, letting the product speak for itself with using high tech scientific techniques.
TC: 5. I'm right down the middle. As much as I love innovative cooking techniques and experimenting with new approaches; I am rooted in tradition. I am Italian and the beauty of Mediterranean cuisine is its simplicity. I was raised to appreciate ingredients and let the quality shine.
CH: I would say that the food at Richmond Station hovers around a 5. We try to honor each ingredient individually and gather our inspiration from pure, whole ingredients, but we still have fun with our flavour combinations and cook sous-vide.
Q: Favourite late night snack?
LK: Eggs, Bacon & Pasta with Hot Sauce
TC: After a long shift, my go-to is Sneaky D's. They make the best nachos in the city - hands down. The place is unpretentious, inviting and delicious. It's an institution.
CH: Fried egg sandwich on toasted bread with lots of ketchup.
Q: Your go-to cocktail?
LK: Bourbon Sour
TC: Negroni. We make a great one at The Drake Hotel. Negronis all day long.
Q: Aside from going to Restaurants for Change, what is one thing Torontonians can do to help achieve the goal of ensuring that everyone has access to good, healthy food in a dignified way?
TC: There are many ways! We love being a part of Restaurants for Change as it's an incredible program, but it goes beyond charities as well. Canadians need to support sustainable food culture. With every food purchase, consumers make a choice. They are telling their grocers or markets what to stock, provide etc. Choose local, eat seasonal, and appreciate the imperfections of produce - those are the best parts! Try not to be wasteful when cooking. Look for creative ways to store food and prepare meals with "leftovers" (bones make great broth, over-ripened fruit is perfect for baking as they are sweeter etc) Food should be respected, take a little effort and everyone should have access to it.
CH: There are many other events that benefit Community Food Centres Canada: Chefs for Change, What's on the Table, The Stop's Nightmarket, Farms for Change. Something lots of people don't know is that The Stop also runs markets where anyone can go and buy high-quality, local food. Check out the Wychwood Barns Farmers Market on Saturdays and The Good Food Market on Tuesdays.
Last year restaurants and sponsors raised $200,000 to support local organizations and a national movement for good food for all. This year, we want to raise even more! Join in and show your support by making a reservation at a participating restaurant in your city. See you on October 19!