A food activist intent on keeping things real.
Chef Michael Stadtländer isn’t just a Canadian culinary icon, he’s a passionate locavore activist who believes in supporting local farmers, fishers and artisanal food producers. A pilgrimage to Michael’s 100-acre Eigensinn Farm on the Niagara Escarpment has practically been a rite of passage for serious foodies since 1993 (he's since opened a second venture, Haisai, in Singhampton, Ontario).
On Monday, March 31 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., visitors can sample Michael’s fare, along with other chefs, at the Spring Thaw fundraiser for the Canadian Chefs’ Congress at the Palais Royale in Toronto (tickets are $175, you can order them here). Twenty-three chefs (including Jamie Kennedy, Michael’s partner from Scaramouche) will cook their chosen dishes at various stations. We asked Michael about the event, sponsored by All-Clad (and snagged a recipe from one of the participating chefs!)
House & Home: Tell us about the Canadian Chefs’ Congress and why you created?
Michael Stadtländer: It is a biennial gathering of chefs from across our country that reinforces the passion and integrity of the Canadian food culture. When we started the congress we felt that there was a disconnect between chefs and the people who raise, grow, forage and fish for our food. I believe that as Canada is such a huge country with a relatively small populace spread across this land, it is a wonderful thing to have a meeting place for the chefs. Get the chefs from coast to coast together in one place and let them talk about, experience and visualize new ways of seeing things and doing things. Especially in relation to the people who produce our food.
H&H: What can visitors look forward to at the Spring Thaw fundraiser on March 31?
MS: Spring Thaw is the first edition of the congress involving the public in a gala event. The chefs who participate are then hosted for a couple of days afterwards for the Canadian Chef's Congress. Spring Thaw celebrates spring arriving after a particularly difficult winter; it lets us welcome the new growing season and new ideas.
H&H: What are some of the main issues you would like the congress to address?
MS: At the Chefs’ Congress in Singhampton we’re going to talk about the recently approved Genetically Modified Salmon (the first GM animal engineered for human consumption, approved by Health Canada.) We intend to have the chefs sign a declaration stating that they will never work with or serve GM Salmon in their restaurants. We’re intending to take this initiative of anti-GM Salmon across North America.
H&H: What are some guidelines for consumers to keep in mind when they are shopping for groceries (and what should they be avoiding).
MS: For sure you should avoid GMO foods, like corn, high fructose corn syrup, soya and papaya, look for certified organic foods. I recommend consumers avoid all processed foods and support growers of free-range and certified organic.
H&H: Do you have any favourite farmer's markets you frequent?
MS: Shop local, in season, and if you can, know who grew the food you’re going to eat. My favourite farmer’s market is my own backyard. We grow, between May and November, about 80%-90% of the produce and livestock served at Eigensinn Farm and Haisai Restaurant and Bakery. The rest of the produce comes from local organic growers like The New Farm in Maple Valley.
H&H: Who are some of your favourite producers of artisanal fare?
MS: New Farm in Maple Valley grows heirloom and organic veg; David MacNeill of Ganderglenelg Farm in Markdale grows amazing potatoes, squash, Harmony Organic Dairy produces a range of excellent dairy products; Terry Chappelle of Bayview Organic Farms grows shallots and other heirloom vegetables in Meaford.
H&H: When you imagine your perfect meal, what is on the table?
MS: Mostly produce from Eigensinn Farm, including our own livestock and vegetables, the whole palette of food that we grow and raise, ideally in late summer and early fall, and accompanied by Ontario wine.
Read winter cooking tips from H&H's online interview with chef Susur Lee.