The Farm in Farm to Ta­ble

DINE and Destinations - - DRINK - www.ex­plore­wa­ter­loore­gion.com

WATER­LOO RE­GION IS A HUB OF CON­TRASTS.

It is home to the The Men­non­ite

Story, an ex­hibit of the Old Or­der Men­non­ites' beginnings to the present day; and in con­trast,

Ctrl V, Canada's first vir­tual re­al­ity ar­cade. There is a sur­pris­ing mix of at­trac­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences from the Fash­ion His­tory

Mu­seum of 10,000 wardrobe items from the 1600s to to­day, in­clud­ing con­tem­po­rary Cana­dian de­sign­ers; to ro­man­tic na­ture trails, raft­ing and fly-fish­ing in the Grand River; to fes­ti­vals like the largest Ok­to­ber­fest out­side of Ger­many. In St. Ja­cobs, a horse­drawn trol­ley takes us to a su­gar bush to tap maple syrup; and we board the Water­loo Cen­tral

Rail­way steam lo­co­mo­tive along the his­toric route to the St.

Ja­cobs Farm­ers’ Mar­ket, the largest farmer's mar­ket and flea mar­ket in Canada. It is a mag­net for passionate chefs who value fresh pro­duce, and farm­ers who har­vest some of the best qual­ity pro­duce in the world.

“Farm to ta­ble is our back­yard,” en­thuses Chef Ja­son Bangerter. His menus at Lang­don Hall Coun­try House Ho­tel & Spa are com­pendi­ums of the ter­roir. Renowned as a lux­ury spa and din­ing get­away, gar­den­ing and for­ag­ing are in­te­gral to this kitchen. He of­fers a “sur­prise course” in which he leads guests out along a wooded trail where, to­gether, they pull a plant out of the ground, wash it and eat it. “Ev­ery­thing I pre­pare is in­spired by the land here; by a veg­etable; a leaf; a weed. I try to bring that back to life on the plate.” His cook­ing classes in­clude Queen’s

Eggs cooked over a steam bath and fin­ished with cham­pagne and wild mush­rooms.

Chef Dar­nell Gregg at Fistro Sup­per Club Bistro grav­i­tates to the cor­nu­copia of pro­duce be­tween the Galt, Kitch­en­er­wa­ter­loo and St. Ja­cobs mar­kets, which in­spire his menus. Field cu­cum­ber gaz­pa­cho with pick­led prawn rel­ish sings of sum­mer. Del­i­cately seared On­tario perch is splashed with ap­ple gas­trique. Roasted rhubarb with mas­car­pone, crunchy sour­dough and del­i­cate greens make a lus­cious state­ment: show­case one main veg­etable and cleanly el­e­vate its iden­tity on a plate.

“Shine that wine, knock it back and you'll be fine,” Ben Mur­phy as­sures me. His Mur­phy’s Law

Dis­tillery is unique and draws tourists in droves to pur­chase his bou­tique se­lec­tion of moon­shine.

Mur­phy dis­tills from lo­cal corn and bot­tles in ma­son jars. Ap­ple Pie Moon­shine, made with cloves, nut­meg and lo­cal cider is the rage. There's also Peach Pie, White

Light­ning, Cherry Bomb and Moon­dance, which is like sip­ping smooth slow heat. For bar­beque lovers Lancaster

Smoke­house is “it.” The line up be­gins at 3:30pm, not for the blues and rock bands; it's for Texan-style short rib. This car­niv­o­rous bliss ex­ists nowhere else. Con­ver­sa­tion stops. We are trans­fixed with de­light on our plat­ter of meaty eight-inch side ribs, savoury beef brisket, colos­sal smoked wings and crunchy fried chicken. Along with lo­cal okra, col­lard greens, pota­toes and green toma­toes, th­ese pit masters prove it's not just the rub or the tech­nique; it's the qual­ity of meat. South­ern soul food has met On­tario pro­duce and moved in.

Chefs and farm­ers are neigh­bours here. At Chef Dan Mc­cowan's Red House, I or­der dishes of ten­der braised pork curry, and pulled lamb tortellini in a savoury broth of smoked pork and parme­san. The wait­ress whis­pers that the pork and lamb are from the fam­ily-run Church Hill Farm, and they're seated at the ta­ble right next to me. Sous

vide veal from nearby Delft Blue veal farm is the most ten­der veal I have ever tasted. Ac­cented with charred gar­lic rel­ish, this dish alone is worth a trip to Water­loo. Chef Jonathon Gushue's The

Ber­lin in Kitch­ener is a must. His crafts­man­ship in the kitchen is renowned. Mar­i­nated tuna might seem or­di­nary with­out his stack of six dif­fer­ent kinds of slen­der radishes that he ex­cit­edly dis­cov­ered at lo­cal farms. Ze­bra zuc­chini, pre­pared over a wood fired grill, is the star of a dish, and chef Gushue adroitly presents it with smoked trout roe and leek puree. Here is a chef who loves his in­gre­di­ents, and has the imag­i­na­tion to re­veal their sin­gu­lar beauty. Braised goose breast with caramelized fen­nel and wild arugula is yet an­other dis­play of chef Gushue's wiz­ardry in find­ing unique in­gre­di­ents and mak­ing magic with them.

The chefs in Water­loo Re­gion are like kids in a candy store, reach­ing for all the new pro­duce that sur­rounds them, and defin­ing a South­ern On­tario style of cui­sine based on sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents. I sur­ren­dered my­self to this glo­ri­ous food and met my own Water­loo.

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