Food for Thought: The Flavor of Toronto’s Terroir Conference

Can a city set out to make itself a food destination? Are inspiration and innovation in food meaningful without integrity and sincerity? How do you provide a sustainable culinary experience in an urban environment. These questions and many more were addressed at the Terroir hospitality symposium held earlier this week in Toronto at the stately Hart House on the University of Toronto campus.

The conference opened with what seemed more like a pitch for business than the exposition on inspiration it was supposed to be by the “it” duo of the design world, Dan Menchions and Keith Rushbrook, who co-own the world-renowned II by IV design firm. They showed drawings and design concepts for several of their recent projects, including the new Yankee Statdium and the new Trump Tower that is being erected in Toronto.

Langdon Hall chef Jonathan Gushue with journalist Adam Sachs.

A delegation of American journalists and food authorities, including Alan Richman of GQ, Adam Sachs of Travel & Leisure, Corby Kummer of the Atlantic, Gabriella Gershenson of Time Out New York, and myself, were on hand to field questions from Bonnie Stern and other Canadian media and hospitality industry leaders about what role media plays in creating a vibrant food culture and how new media have changed that role.

Celebrated chef David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos delivered the keynote address. While describing his restaurant’s commitment to sustainability, which manifests itself in the acres of gardens and  farms the restaurant maintains, Kinch underscored that the decisions he’s made to produce his own food “are not a political statement. They are about taste.”

Our dinner table was set in the middle of The Cheese Boutique.

Throughout the conference local chefs, producers, and purveyors, coordinated by chef Jonathan Gushue of the Relais & Châteaux Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario, plied us with an incredible selection of foodstuffs—Ontario and Québec cheeses, Québec foie gras, wines from Niagara and Prince Edward county, winter produce from Stratford, Ontario, and more. The event culiminated at a communal dinner in the center of an impressive gourmet shop in the west end of the city called The Cheese Boutique, where we ate and drank ourselves into oblivion among the aisles and showcases of local and imported products, and the substantial aging caves for cheese and salumi.

Bones about it: The marrow from these bones was extracted, breaded and fried, and they were filled with a purée of celery root to accompany our main course.

Though most of the questions raised  during the conference were unanswerable, many passionate suggestions were proffered. Our panel seemed to conclude that media plays a part in promoting the gastronomy and food culture of a place, but without dedicated, hard-working people behind it, media attention can only do so much. Inspiration, no surprise, comes from different places for different people. But one thing is for sure, bringing people together to share their thoughts and ideas and experiences and opinions about and over good food and good wine is a great way to light a fire that might just grow into something great.

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