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Terroir is an annual hospitality industry symposium that brings together chefs, winemakers, food writers, sommeliers, farmers, servers, and other lovers of food and vino, for a jam-packed day of speakers, seminars, tastings and networking. Taking place at the University of Toronto’s Hart House, the big day started with a field-to-table buffet cooked by chef Michael Potters and crew from Angeline’s in Prince Edward County. Not only did chef Potters collect his own eggs for the spread, “healthy eggs from healthy chickens,” as he said, but he also made his own nitrate-free ham and bacon, no doubt from a happy pig. “Local to me means 10 miles,” said the chef, eschewing the regular old 100-mile meal ideal.

There’s nothing I like more than a nice glass of Riesling, so I was quick to sign up for the Riesling Kamp, a tasting and talk put together by Charles Baker of Charles Baker Riesling. It started with master sommelier John Szabo filling us in on the history of the grape and moved onto Cave Spring’s Tom Pennachett's fact-filled geology lesson. This led into a videotaped yet totally enchanting message from the steep slopes of Germany’s wine region, by Riesling star Nik Weis, then finished off with a chat with Randall Graham, of Boony Doon Vineyard, who many credit with making it cool to drink Riesling in North America. “Riesling has the most transparent character for terroir,” he said. After sipping my way through six glasses of stellar examples, which ran from Niagara to Germany to California, I had to agree. (Yay Riesling!)

Playing into the fun, casual vibe of the day was the brown bag “secret lunch”, where six of the city’s best chefs, among them Donna Dooher of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, Jamie Kennedy of Gilead Café, and Scott and Rachelle Vivian of Beast, lovingly filled paper lunch sacks with containers of warm deliciousness. My lucky pick was a curried chicken and rice dish with raita, by Aman Patel of the Indian Rice Factory. Mini bottles of VQA wines were supplied by Chateau des Charmes and Cave Springs Cellars. (Yay, more wine!)

The afternoon session I attended was called The World of Steak, a structured beef tasting led by Mark Schatzker, the author of Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef (2010 Viking). Just as we learned with the Rieslings, Schatzker explained: “You can taste the terroir in the steak.” (Turns out this fab symposium was aptly named!) I happened to plunk myself down at the table where all of the ranch owners were gathered, including the nice folks from the local YU Ranch, and First Light Waygu from New Zealand. “Keep an open mind,” said Schatzker as we bit into our first bites of commodity beef (the baseline strip of beef). “Think about the way steak tastes. Is it juicy? Is tenderness overrated?” He said to think about the tasting notes, like wine. “A pretty good steak can taste okay,” he said, “but then a great steak lands on your plate and it’s life-changing.” The Waygu, the YU Ranch and the Scotch Mountain Meats steaks were all rare, juicy, incredible cuts that filled the mouth with beefy flavour. (Yay steak!)

The day ended with keynote speaker Fergus Henderson, the groundbreaking nose-to-tail chef and owner of the famed St. John Bar & Restaurant in London, U.K. I must admit to missing much of what he said as I couldn’t hear so well at the back of the packed room, but he wowed the crowd with tidbits such as, “Trends in food lends itself to chaos. Sadness.” And, “It’s lunch. What could be better?” And finally, “Spread your cheffy wings and fly: There’s so much more out there. Don’t sleep under the stove.”

Words to live by.

For more of my adventures in foodie events, read up on The Wine Establishment blog post.

Photo credits:
Amy Rosen

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