>Six in the morning is David Garcelon’s favourite time to shop at the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market. David is executive chef of the Royal York Hotel in Toronto and today I was going shopping with him.
We met in the lobby and began our short walk to the market. Toronto seems to be alive no matter what time of day and the market was in full swing by the time we arrived. It’s customary to walk about with a cup of coffee so chef with his coffee and I with my tea made our first sighting. On one counter we found jars of Forbes Pickled Spruce Tips and Milkweed Pods. The chef chatted a bit about wild foods and we moved on.
We reached the meat section with lots of vendors competing for business. Chef, inspired by the ultra thick, glistening pork chops began his appreciation of Ontario pork. “It’s the best in the world,” he starts. Like a walking, talking billboard for Ontario Pork, his heart is in every word.
We moved on to the fish section and chef asked to see a large Lake Erie Pickerel on ice behind the glass. The fishmonger placed it on a sheet of brown wrapping paper and handed it over. “It’s really fresh when it has no smell, there’s still blood in the gills and the eyes are glistening,” explains chef as he examines it closely then holds it up for me to smell the fish that has no smell.
Someone from behind us yelled to the chef that fresh spring salmon should be in next week. I turned to see who it was when a sign caught my eye. It said, “We will not sell Chilean Seabass.” Hum, a fish monger with ethics – the appreciation is not lost on me.
Next stop was Golden Orchards Fine Foods where we met owner Murray Graziano. Murray worked with his mom in this shop since he was a small boy. He shows us information on the local farmers he’s working with and tells the chef he’ll soon have bags of local shelled sweet peas for him. “There are nights I don’t sleep,” says Murray. “If we don’t support local farmers today, they’ll all be factories tomorrow and it will be too late.”
All this talk of food is making the chef hungry and I follow him like a little puppy to Carousel Bakery where he buys two internationally famous, Peameal Bacon on a Soft Country Bun. He hands me a my sandwich wrapped in white paper and quickly runs off again. We end up at the Kozlik’s mustard stand where he pulls out 4 of his favourite mustards and asks me to pick one for my sandwich. We eat in the hustle and bustle of the market, washing the sandwich down with more tea.
With no time to waste, we’re off passing another meat place before he stops abruptly. He picks up a few bags of bones explaining, “these are the best deal in the market.” At $1.50 for a giant bag of bones, I agree. Then as if distracted by the calling of succulent slabs of savoury, fresh beef, chef begins to teach me all I need to know about buying the best quality beef. Like a good student I soak it all in studying the examples he points to as he talks.
Next we head across the street to the north market. Unlike the main building which is open all week, the north market is only open on Saturday. We meet John Rowe, founder of Rowe Farms who has partnered with Niagara grower Paul Moyer to growing red fyfe wheat. Together they mill it and make delicious pasta that he sells fresh at the market. John starts to talk about lessening our carbon footprint with farming when chef realizes he needs to get back to his kitchen. “Dinner, seven tonight, don’t be late,” he says as he leaves me at the market.
No, no I wasn’t dining with the chef, he’d be busy in the kitchen. Although I would have given anything to cook with him, but he was gone before I could ask.
The Royal York is a grand hotel and they offer a Shop With Chef package that anyone can book. The package is best taken from the time the Niagara orchards are bursting with their bounty to the fall harvest of Ontario’s fertile soil and through the holiday season when the best of free range poultry and festive meats are in demand. It’s a great opportunity to meet one on one with some of the people who produce the best food in Ontario. It includes an insider’s tour of the market with the chef, 2 nights accommodation, dinner in EPIC and a culinary tour of the market with historian Bruce Bell (1.800.441.1414, www.fairmont.com).
Bruce shares stories enthusiastically on the buildings previous incarnations. Once town hall only to be repurposed many times until what we see today as the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market. It’s a captivating and brilliantly executed tour (www.brucebelltours.ca).