However you want to approach it – looking back or looking forward – New Year’s Eve in Waterloo Region has many bright lights of possibility that allow you to reflect on 2016 or dream ahead to 2017 – or both.
Fall harvest means an abundance of the best fall food grown in Waterloo Region, which is in perfect harmony with chefs who embrace a farm-to-table approach. It’s their favourite time of the year: from Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes to apples, cranberries and pears, fall harvest challenges them. It entices them. It inspires them. And that means great flavours in Waterloo Region restaurants for their customers.
“From Taste Local! Taste Fresh! to Oktoberfest to smaller scale family-farm open houses, I love the celebration of farm-to-table, often right in the field,” says Nick Benninger of Waterloo’s Taco Farm Co. and his new catering and culinary event hub at Uptown 21. “I always look forward to getting inspired either hosting or attending these events.”
Chef Lance Edwards says the geography fuels a similar inspiration for him and helps him serve local food all year. He runs the kitchen at The Puddicombe House, located in New Hamburg and at the very heart of some of the region’s best farm land. He says he loves fall and looks forward to local Honeycrisp apples from Martin’s Family Fruit Farm and pumpkin which will make it into one of his fresh pastas.
“Nothing beats working out in the country during the autumn and seeing what our local farmers have to offer,” Edwards says. “I use the autumn to pickle and preserve so I still have locally grown product to get me through winter.”
The bounty comes fast and furious. Jonathan Gushue of Kitchener’s The Berlin makes a tartine with cauliflower, romanesco and radish along with ricotta cheese on a seaweed bread. It represents a shift from the more delicate, crisp flavours of summer to deep and earthy autumn.
“For me, it is the most exciting season,” Gushue says. “You’re getting into a lot more bold flavours which really capture the product you can find in this region.”
The quantity, adds Benninger, is as astounding as the quality. From sweet corn and autumn greens to pumpkins and apples, chefs have to adapt quickly, in fact. “It’s funny how farm-to-table works in our region,” Benninger says. “We spend half the year pushing through storage crops like beets, potatoes, onions and other root vegetables, patiently waiting for asparagus, the official harbinger of spring produce, to pop up through the earth. From that day forward, it’s almost a race to keep up with what’s next.”
Gushue says the region produces some of the best carrots and beets you’ll ever eat. “The terroir really gravitates to producing robust flavours in root vegetables. After some intense heat of summer, there’s a bit of cold which produces a lovely sweetness. The flavours explode.”
It’s forced him to contemplate the relationship between our terroir and the fall harvest. “I don’t know if the Waterloo Region lends itself to the fall season or vice versa, but they’re just very well suited partners,” says Gushue.
Chef Steve Allen sees the same partnership.
“Fall is always my favourite time of the year,” says Allen who runs Lily Ruth Catering and one of the best burger spots in Waterloo Region, Little Louie’s Burger Joint and Soupery on Clyde Road, Cambridge. “You can easily reap the benefits of the fall season at a place like Gillespie’s Garden in Cambridge, and at Oakridge Acres in Ayr,” he says. “It’s like shopping at 10 different farms under one roof.”
Allen – with a lot of experience and double-checking with expert sources, mind you – forages for mushrooms, something the region is blessed with at this time of year, he says. “There are dozens and dozens of edible varieties available here like bear’s head tooth fungus and puff balls. I came across chicken-of-the-woods recently. It has a chicken texture and tastes like chicken. I’m going to make a vegan chicken-of-the-woods mushroom soup for the restaurant tomorrow.”
When the evenings are a bit crisp and the sun a bit lower, autumn offers limitless possibilities to chefs. Benninger calls fall “any true farm-to-table cook’s favorite season,” adding that it produces an amazing symphony of perfect ingredients if you pay attention. “The story of Waterloo Region’s summer days and nights get told through the flavours of our fall harvest. We just need to quietly listen.”