The coronavirus is re-writing the “contract” between the dining room and the customers at the tables, and, in response, Waterloo Region food operations large and small have focused on re-building that confidence.
The term ‘farm-to-table’ is frequently used to describe a growing movement by restaurants to use locally produced food in the dishes found on their menus. In Waterloo Region, farm-to-table is more than just a fashionable trend: here, farm-to-table is about relationships. With its proximity to some of the best agricultural land in Ontario, farm-to-table Waterloo Region style means it’s possible for chefs to meet face to face with local producers, see where their products are grown or made, and savour those ingredients in dishes prepared in their restaurants all in the same day. It’s a special type of relationship culture that’s happening here, and one that doesn’t happen in bigger centres where producers are farther removed from the restaurants they’re supplying.
In Waterloo Region this close proximity between farmers and restaurants also means chefs often develop special relationships with their local food providers. It allows for a better understanding of how the food has been produced, and ultimately results in the creation of incredible food experiences for restaurant goers in the region.
Here is an example of the unique farm-to-table relationships that are growing in Waterloo Region.
Adam van Bergeijk comes into Puddicombe House with a new product for Chef Lance Edwards to try.
“It’s Quark,” says van Bergeijk. “Give it a try, and see what you think.” The two discuss the attributes of Quark, and the creative possibilities for the restaurant. It’s obvious they know each other well, and they should – their two businesses are less than 10 minutes from each other in Wilmot Township.
Mountainoak Cheese is an award-winning cheese operation, owned by van Bergeijk and his wife, Hannie. They grow their own crops, raise their own herd of cows and make their own cheese. Puddicombe House, located in New Hamburg, is owned by the Cressman family – a local family who transformed the historical home into a multifaceted business operation that includes a restaurant, accommodations, a salon and spa, and a banquet hall.
“This is a farming community, and we’ve known the Cressman family for many of the 22 years we’ve been in Canada,” says van Bergeijk. “When they took on Puddicombe House, I wasn’t surprised to see them go into the restaurant business and succeed. In the meantime, we started making cheese on our farm, and worked at getting our license together so we could sell it, which took about four and a half years.”
The Cressman family also has an agricultural background, and continues to operate a farm in Wilmot Township. As a matter of fact, the Cressman farm produces several items that are used on the menu at Puddicombe, including tomatoes, edible flowers, all their herbs and even hops, which has been used to create a Puddicombe craft beer. This history of being producers as well as restaurant owners gives them a firsthand understanding of how important the farm-to-table relationship is. It’s not just about each business providing something for the other: in the case of Mountainoak and Puddicombe, this relationship has led to a special collaboration.
“One day Nick (Cressman) came up with the idea of us developing a cheese for them using Puddicombe’s popular Blueberry Mustard spread,” says van Bergeijk. “And we did.”
Blueberry Mustard is a creation of Edward’s, using his grandmother’s mustard recipe. Edwards added in the blueberries, creating a condiment that seemed to go well with everything at the restaurant. It was following a tour of Mountainoak that the idea of the collaboration was born.
“Nick said ‘Hey – Adam has this really great gouda, and we have this amazing mustard- what if we try to combine the two, and create a product that’s unique to us?’ “ says Edwards. A batch of blueberry mustard was sent to van Bergeijk, who worked with it to create the final product – ten wheels of Puddicombe Blueberry Mustard Gouda cheese.
The two also work together in other ways.
“We help each other,” says van Bergeijk. “When guests stay over at Puddicombe, and want something to do, Lance will suggest they come to Mountainoak to see our operation, and try some cheese. And, when customers are at Mountainoak and wonder about a place to grab a meal, I’ll suggest Puddicombe House.”
Both Mountainoak and Puddicombe agree that quality is key to their respective successes.
“We want a good product, so we can create really good meals,” says Edwards. “It’s important to know the farmer – I know what’s going on at Adam’s farm, and I know how the food is produced. I know that everything that comes from Mountainoak is going to be a top notch product. I can go and visit, and see what’s going on. And I know the person responsible for producing the food.”
“I’m passionate about farming and cheesemaking, and I want to be honest about how we make our product,” says van Bergeijk. “People can come and talk to us about how our cheese it produced. We do a lot of tours, so we have to be transparent about how we’re farming, and how we’re producing our product.”
There’s also a home town pride that comes into play, with both wanting to see the other succeed.
“It’s not just ‘keeping it local’ as in us getting things from down the highway – I’m getting that product 10 minutes away from here,” says Edwards. “I’m not going to Toronto to buy cheese. In fact, people from Toronto are coming here to buy cheese, and to stay here (at Puddicombe), and to eat at our restaurant. There’s a lot of New Hamburg pride in that. And when I go into a store, and see Adam’s cheese there, I smile and think, “Hey – I know Adam!’ ”
Van Bergeijk agrees. “When you support each other, it often comes right back to you. And for us, if we see this restaurant and these people that we know be successful, it’s fun for us as well.”
Want to find out more about the Farm-to-Table relationships that are growing in Waterloo Region? Check out these articles: