Local Food

By Hina Jasim

Chefs in Toronto are gearing their menus to a sustainable trend: locally grown foods.

Bonita Magee, project manager of Get Local, a program from British Colombia brings restaurants and farmers together.

“There’s an odd disconnect with what people are eating and their lack of knowledge of where it’s coming from,” Magee said.

The program has an innovative way of not only encouraging local foods but also showcasing  Canadian restaurants.

“People need to know the reasons behind what they’re eating and chefs are now becoming more interested in local foods. We’re actually not producing as much local as what people are asking for,” a disappinted Magee said.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency local food is defined as being grown 50 km of where the item is sold. Local farms are also less likely to use hormones in their foods.

By choosing locally grown food, restaurants can server fresh food, support the local economy and reduce pollution since the food travels less distance. “..It’s better than just taking out frozen items, defrosting and just serving it,” Magee exclaimed. “People want local foods!”

Deb Mackay, the farm manager of Cooks Town Green, located in Thornton, Ontario, has been in business since 1988 and has farm land of nearly 100 acres with only 70 per cent being used. She was in the restaurant industry for 25 years before joining the farm 10 years ago.

She says she knows the needs of restaurateurs and tries to deliver only the best products.

“I have to make sure the products are cleaned and sanitized before being delivered,” Mackay explained.

The farm is well-known for their salads; seedlings used for garnishing and root vegetables like carrots, beets and potatoes.

“Local food has been happening for nearly 20 years now and we were actually one of the first farms to be involved in the now well-known trend,” Mackay said with a smile.

Cooks Town caters out to restaurants like Booca, Pangaea, Canoe and Harbor 60. They also provide service to major hotels like the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and the Sheraton.

“There’s more availability with local foods now than there was 10 years ago and chefs prefer it,” Mackay said.

According to Restaurant Central, a survey done by Ispos Reid showed 86 per cent of Canadians believe food produced in Canada is safe. Eight out of 10 agree it’s important to know where your food comes from. Another survey done by the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservice Association this year found that choosing locally grown foods is a number one trend in the business. The CRFA’s also claims that Torontonians spend 20 per cent of their food expenditures on local products.

Adam Dolly, the head chef at Hank’s Wine and Bar, located at 9 Church St., only cooks with local products. The owner, Bryan Burke, took over the restaurant from Chef Jamie Kennedy two years ago and carried on Kennedy’s committment to local farmers.

“We have a wide variety of items available, for example, our asparagus is unbeatable and strawberries, which come fresh from the farmer’s market,” Dolly said. “Us using local foods is a way of supporting our local farmers and the money is being spent in our economy and city.

“Ninety per cent of our menu is local foods.”

The restaurant gets all their cattle beef from Cumbrae’s Farm in Ontario and their  seafood  comes from Lake Erie and Huron.

“We make sure we get our produce from a long-time supplier, one the owner has known for years. Our produce comes in daily, seafood is maybe twice a week,” Dolly added.

Toronto resident Andrika Dias is a restaurant ethusiast and enjoys local food trend but finds that it doesn’t suit her student budget.

“It’s kind of sad that you have to pay more for food just because the food is coming from a certain amount of kilometers [away],” Dias said in disappointment.

Mackay says customers are getting what they are paying for.

“Our products are more expensive than a retailer but it’s because everything’s done by hand, by all of us here” she explained.

For Dolly,  locally  grown  foods  also make for unique dining.

“Using local foods will make us stand out from other restaurants, it’s a better tasting product and I believe it will cost less to use local items and its fresher,” he said.

What’s the difference with a local food item versus an imported one?

“Let’s use asparagus as an example,” Dolly said.

“It’s sweet and juicy  from Ontario but if you  get it  from Mexico, it’s duller in taste and color. Our strawberries are much richer in taste and bigger in size, compared to ones from California,” he said.

‭ ‬YOU CAN TRUST LOCAL‭ ‬

“You as a customer know where the food’s coming from, or you should know. You’re not just supporting local foods but also the local wineries we have. I think chefs have more fun with local ingredients and menus,” Magee laughed.

Local items like burgundy radish, baby pea tendrils and purple basil are all examples of items used to decorate and garnish dishes and the names sound exotic and fun.

“Local food is something you can trust, it’s not being handled by someone from God knows where. I think local food tends to be fancier and in my opinion, it has an expensive menu,” Dias said.

Restaurants and small local farms have a mutually beneficial reslationship, Mackay said.

According to Cooks Town, Canadian produce gets the premium price in the U.S. market because it has more flavours and Canada has the cheapest food in the world.

Chef Dolly explained one setback with using local foods.

“Sometimes the items do get limiting, it’s a really hard season for produce. You have to go out of the box, go somewhere else to get specific foods,” he said.

But one thing is for sure, Dolly said. “You as a customer need to know what’s in your food, I feel it’s necessary to spread local food in the economy.”

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