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ONTARIO FEAST OF FIELDS
FOOD, WINE AND SUSTAINABLE LIVING

Story and photos by

Frederick Oh with carved vegetables
Frederick Oh with carved vegetables
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Feast of Fields is an idyllic multi-course gourmet picnic. Held at Cold Creek Conservation Area (northwest of Toronto in King Township, near Bolton, Ontario), the culinary event attracts enthusiastic chefs, winemakers, brewers, organic farmers, bakers and foodies.

Celebrity chefs

At the last event, warm September breezes carried aromas of grilled Beretta Farms Asian braised beef, while On the Dial entertained participants with easy-listening music.

Open-sided tents shaded food and drink stands. Couples, families and groups of friends strolled between tents to admire, discuss and taste the culinary bounty of Ontario.

"Feast of Fields is one of the best food events of the year because of all the great chefs," says Toronto's Richmond Station restaurant owner, Carl Heinrich. Acknowledging all the organic and local foods at the culinary event, he adds: "I predict that celebrity farmers will soon be as popular as celebrity chefs."

Natural foods

A spectacular tower of carved red and golden beet roses, cucumber, carrot, squash, leek and radish flowers drew us to the Centennial College School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture tent. Carver and culinary instructor, Frederick Oh, demonstrated his knife skills by transforming a watermelon into a giant pink-and-white flower as wide-eyed visitors watched.

Cheryl Dawson, owner of Black Willow farm
Cheryl Dawson, owner of Black Willow farm
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Local organic fruits and vegetables were highlighted at many stands. Chef Jason Reiner at Mono Cliffs Inn served delectable summer vegetable fritters with roasted red pepper chevre dip. The zucchini, onion, sugar snap peas, carrot and green onion ingredients, grown in the inn's garden, were roasted over a wood fire behind the booth.

All participants receive a cookbook with recipes for many of the delicious foods, drinks and preserves offered during the culinary festival. Anyone tempted to make the fritters could buy ingredients directly from the growers, such as Black Willow Farm. Their stands typified the freshness and diversity of local produce with displays of peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, chard and beans.

But Feast of Fields features much more than a colorful painter's palette of fresh vegetables. The part-educational, part-social celebration of organic foods, healthy sustainable living and environmentally friendly Ontario foods also showcases organic meat, dairy products, olive oil, bread, honey, grains, nuts, chocolate, coffee, beer and wine.

Sustainable seafood

Five participating restaurants gathered under a circular Fish Shack tent to serve sustainable seafood endorsed by Ocean Wise. "Everyone here created their dishes from ocean-friendly seafood donated by Seacore," said Colleen Turlo, Eastern Canada representative for Ocean Wise.

Tundra Restaurant's maple cured salmon pastrami, mustard cream, ramp leaf butter and edible soil
Tundra Restaurant's maple cured salmon pastrami, mustard cream, ramp leaf butter and edible soil
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Offerings ranged from closed-containment trout (which reduces the risks associated with open-net aquaculture) to Vietnamese shrimp. At the Pangaea Restaurant stand, Chef Martin Kouprie served the succulent pink morsels in deconstructed shrimp cocktails in biodegradable bamboo dishes.

"Mmmmm" said one woman as she sampled Tundra Restaurant's maple-cured sockeye pastrami with mustard cream, ramp leaf butter and edible soil (savory breadcrumbs). The beautiful creation of Executive Chef Kevin Prendergast was a clever play on the five-second rule. Displayed on a charred floor board, the sustainable salmon appetizers were quickly scooped up and served on fresh bagels.

Matching food and wines

Wine-and-food pairing is also featured at Feast of Fields. From the seafood pod of restaurants, we strolled to the Wellington, Ontario, Sandbanks Estate Winery stand. We brought our troll-caught albacore tuna appetizer with corn, tomato and capers on a baguette, created by Giocomo Paquini at the Vertical Restaurant booth.

Christine Michael suggested either the Sandbanks Sauvignon Blanc or the Gewurztraminer. Each V.Q.A. wine added different nuances of flavor to the dish.

Visitor chats with Chef Adam Ryan and samples pork shoulder wrapped with Brussels sprouts leaves
Visitor chats with Chef Adam Ryan and samples pork shoulder wrapped with Brussels sprouts leaves
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The restaurants encircling the Orangeville Dinner Series tent drew line-ups to talk to the chefs and sample their dishes with matching wines. Some tasty examples? Woolwich Dairy watermelon gazpacho with goat cheese bar was skillfully paired with Niagara-on-the-Lake's Lailey Vineyard's 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay.

Executive Chef, Adam Ryan, tempted palates with delicious shredded pork shoulder appetizers wrapped in Brussels sprouts leaves from Albion Hills Community Farm. (It offers garden plots for growing your own vegetables, as well as seasonal produce boxes.) Lailey Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, recommended by sommelier Ric Kitowski, was a perfect match.

Environmentally friendly

Chef Jason Cooney from Barley Vine Rail Co displayed his perch escabeche with yogurt in red and yellow cherry tomato cups on wood slab plates. It was only one example of food being used as serving dishes.

Kolapore trout gravlax with radish seedlings, pickled fiddleheads and yogurt on crunchy roesti potato pancakes
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Thorntin Macdonald, from Bistro Riviere in Erin, Ontario, served organic tomatoes, marinated in coriander, garlic scapes and curry olive oil with Flying Monkey's Hoptical Beer cheese in crispy phyllo pastry cups.

At Thornbury's Bruce Wine Bar stand, we munched on mouthwatering Kolapore trout gravlax garnished with radish seedlings, pickled fiddleheads and yogurt on crunchy edible plates. We watched the roesti potato pancakes fry in cast iron fry pans on a unique fireplace made from smoldering vertical logs.

Organic meats

A variety of organic meats tempted our taste buds. Chef Suman Roy, from Toronto's Wild Burger restaurant, attracted crowds with his grilled wild rabbit burgers with jerk seasoning, homemade pineapple habanero salsa and jalapeno havarti cheese on onion buns.

Grand Valley, Ontario, Comolea Farms sold honey-garlic beef sausages made from Highland beef, honey and garlic, as well as onion-sage beef sausages. Their grass, hay and grain-fed cattle are raised without antibiotics, growth hormones and animal byproduct-containing feed.

Another crowd-pleaser was the marinated, grilled Wagyu beef, topped with heirloom tomato and cilantro salsa, made by Sam Glass and students at Centennial College's School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture.

Chef Daniel Janetos garnishes burgers in the Chef Theatre
Chef Daniel Janetos garnishes burgers in the Chef Theatre
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cooking demonstrations

For the first time, Feast of Fields featured its own culinary school at the Appliance Canada Chef Theatre, a state-of-the-art outdoor BBQ kitchen. Foodies gathered around the stage to watch chefs share their secrets and recipes.

Chef Daniel Janetos paid homage to the Big Mac with a lesson on how to make a tastier and healthier burger. His first secret? "A 60:40 ratio of ground chuck and short rib beef provides the ideal flavor and moisture," he advised.

He explained how to make attractive grill lines on the hamburgers, when to flip them over and how to garnish them. Piled high with pickled Ontario cucumbers, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, Roma tomato slices, julienned iceberg lettuce and homemade dressing, the hamburgers were far superior to Big Macs.

As he served viewers samples of his final creation, he added one more tip: "Don't season the meat ahead of time because salt leaches out the moisture. There's enough seasoning in the sauce."

Other chefs also gave cooking demonstrations, ranging from personal chef and caterer, Core Lee, who showed us how to make Asian-style grilled orange chicken to TV host, author and chef, Anna Olson. Her white chocolate black pepper scones looked so scrumptious that we stopped by the Bernadin tent to meet Anna and taste the scones, which she sandwiched together with blackberry jam.

Sign for cooking demonstrations
Sign for cooking demonstrations
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Gourmet desserts

At Harmony Organics, we enjoyed yummy whipped cream-topped German apple cake made from certified organic apples, Thornbury Apple Cider, sea-buckthorn and Eigensinn Farm honey glaze. We also have tasty memories of the homemade mint and chocolate ice cream made by Chef David Pope from the Redcrest/Cardinal Golf Club in Newmarket, Ontario.

The prune plum kuchen made by Wanda Beaver from Wanda's Pie in the Sky in Kensington Market, Toronto, was lip-smacking delicious. "It's a day of decadence," remarked one visitor, as she licked her fingers.

Other desserts beckoned, including grilled Ontario peaches topped with homemade vanilla ice cream, made by The Drake Hotel chef, Alexandra Feswick. At The Bakery Pod of stands, we sampled luscious madeleine cookies made by Kyla Eaglesham at Madeleines in Toronto.

Organic grains, breads and crackers

The Evelyn's Crackers stand was also in The Bakery tent. It was hard to pick our favorite from the many crackers on display. We really liked the Cheddar Crispies, which tasted like cheese and crackers combined.

"La Semolina goes great with mild cheeses," said co-owner Edmund Rek. "Slightly Seedy is a perfect base for any cheese, while Currant Rye is a tasty cracker to serve with strong cheeses." Quite honestly, we would be content just eating any of them plain, straight from the bag.

Evelyn's Crackers are made from Ontario heritage and organic grains, like the whole wheat flour produced by another exhibitor, Mark Hayhoe at k2Milling from Beeton, Ontario. The company's Raven Rye flour was the prime ingredient in the delicious old world-style rye bread that we sampled at his stand.

Fresh bread is great dipped in olive oil. At Richmond Hill's Louianna Estates stand, we learned about certified organic first cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil and how reputable olive oils carried the DOP designation.

Ken Woods and Samantha Gould pour samples at the Black Oak Brewing Co. tent
Ken Woods and Samantha Gould pour samples at the Black Oak Brewing Co. tent
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks

Nearly two dozen wineries, breweries and dairies offered beverages to accompany the culinary creations prepared by Ontario chefs. Friendly folks at the Ontario wineries and breweries helped us match local dishes to wines and beers. (Visitors receive loaner wine glasses with their admission tickets.)

At the Black Oak Brewing Co. tent, Ken Woods and Samantha Gould poured samples Black Oak Pale Ale and 10 Bitter Years beer. They explained that the IBU (International Bittering Unit) of each beer was an indication of the degree of bitterness created by an acid in the hops.

Just as popular as the wine and beer stands, on this sunny day, were the Nimbus water coolers dispensing pure filtered water and the cold pineapple and coconut Bao Smoothies made with the baobab superfruit. Nature's Emporium served two more healthy drinks — kale lemonade and bionic tonic made from organic apples, organic beets and organic lemons.

Both children and adults enjoyed Harmony Organic Dairy's delicious organic chocolate milk, served from glass bottles. Tea and coffee suppliers also gave out samples.

"Kicking Horse is the number one Fair Trade coffee in Canada," said Selia Branco, as she gave us a sample of the company's popular Kick Ass coffee. "The Arabica beans are certified organic and Canadian-roasted."

Bruce Wine Bar pickles and preserves
Bruce Wine Bar pickles and preserves
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Cheese-makers to caterers

The diversity of Feast of Fields participants amazed us. We met Ontario organic cheese-makers, farmers, bakers, chefs and restaurant-owners, winemakers, craft beer brewers, fair trade green coffee, tea and chocolate merchants, heirloom seed distributors, herbalists, organic sprout growers and bee-keepers. Each person gave us valuable, practical information.

Several exhibitors displayed preserves. We admired the jars of pickles and relishes at the Bruce Wine Bar stand and sampled savory butternut-and-beer chutney at the Sarafino table.

Local food

Many Feast of Fields dishes were perfect examples of why eating local Ontario food is not only delicious, but also environmentally friendly, saving fossil fuels used for transportation. According to the authors of The 110 Mile Diet, the average grocery item travels 2,400 kilometers between the farmer and the consumer's table.

Besides organic meats and local fruits and vegetables, Ontario foods at this year's Feast of Fields ranged from Organic Meadow cheeses to hemp seeds from Hempola Valley Farm.

Honey and nuts

The Pioneer Brand Honey stand displayed jars of wildflower and buckwheat honey, next to beeswax candles and lip balm. We discussed environmental hazards to honey bees and causes of colony collapse disorder.

Equally addictive, were the Ontario maple pear ginger walnuts and apple pie pecans that we tried at Jewels Under the Kilt, a company that grows heartnuts, pecans and other nuts in Fergus, Ontario. "We dehydrate fruit from Bizjack Farms in Niagara, and roast it on to the nuts," explained co-owner Elisabeth Burrow.

Stephen Lee does a Chinese pulse assessment
Stephen Lee does a Chinese pulse assessment
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Health and wellness

We silently hoped that walking from tent-to-tent would burn up some of the calories we consumed. It was a good time to visit the exhibitors at the health and wellness-themed pod.

Holistic nutritionists, yoga, Chinese medicine practitioners and health food suppliers answered questions about their work and provided information about preventive medicine. At the Aculife tent, acupuncturist Stephen Lee provided a free Chinese pulse assessment and diagnosis to visitors.

Famous chefs

Feast of Fields unites people who eat and prepare organic foods and drinks with people who produce them. The organic food festival began in 1989, when Toronto chefs, Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander, formed a group called Knives & Forks-Advocates for Organic Agriculture to link chefs with organic farmers.

"We have a great organization behind us," said president, Daniel Gilbert, "and many dedicated volunteers." Organic Advocates, the non-profit organization that hosts Feast of Fields and supports organic food awareness, donates a portion of ticket sales to promote organic agriculture and education.

Recipients have included FoodShare Toronto, The Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Organic Crop Improvement Association, Canadian Organic Growers, Everdale Farmer Chef Intern Program and the University of Guelph Organic Agriculture Department. Last year's funds supported the Children's Organic Garden at King Township's Cold Creek Conservation Area, which educates local schoolchildren about organic agriculture.

Feast of Fields location

First held at a farm near Rob Roy, Ontario, the location of Feast of Fields has changed frequently over its 25-year history.

Previous locations included Vineland Estates Winery, Vineland (1990), Cave Spring Estates Winery, Beamsville (1991), Boker Organic Farm, Elmvale (1992), Ignatius Community Farm, Guelph (1993), Kortright Conservation Area, Bolton (1995 & 2009), Maple Lawn Organic Farm, Schomberg (1998), Albion Hills Conservation Area (2006) and Everdale Organic Farm in Hillsburgh (2007 & 2008).

Kent and Dawn Breedon display maple syrup in their sugar shack
Kent and Dawn Breedon display maple syrup in their sugar shack
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Maple sugar shack

Ontario Feast of Fields tickets cost $100. With each ticket, you receive a wine glass for sampling, a linen napkin and an informative organic cookbook in an eco-friendly cloth bag. (Participants return glasses and napkins after the 1-to-6 pm event.)

Visitors also receive a list of the restaurants, bakeries, caterers, wineries, micro-breweries, organic farms, meat suppliers, dairies, organic partners and non-profit organizations at the annual event.

Many exhibitors offered their products for sale. Merchandise ranged from Neal Brothers' organic blue tortilla chips to Breedon's Maple Syrup. The Alliston-based owners, Kent and Dawn Breedon, offered samples of their flavorful syrup from a portable sugar shack, complete with a chimney.

A unique shopping opportunity was also available at the silent auction, which featured gift certificates from the chefs, autographed cookbooks, products from Feast of Fields exhibitors, hotel stays and spa and golf packages.

Bookmark this page to find the date, hours and location of the next Feast of Fields as soon as it is announced.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Feast of Fields: www.feastoffields.org

Farm-to-table cookbook: Outstanding in the Field

More things to see and do in Ontario:

Stratford Ontario - Theater and Attractions

York Region - Attractions for Everyone North of Toronto

Taste the County Food Festival - Picton Ontario

Ottawa - Things to Do in Canada's Capital City

Niagara Wine Festival Parade, Tastings, Touring Passport