What ever hap­pened to Jamie Kennedy?

T.O.’s poster boy for lo­cal and or­ganic cui­sine tran­si­tions to laid-back farm life

Richmond Hill Post - - Food - by Tif­fany Leigh

Many Toron­to­ni­ans still sali­vate think­ing about Jamie Kennedy’s leg­endary J.K. fries, with fond mem­o­ries of tuck­ing into them with reck­less aban­don at his epony­mous wine bar. To the city’s dis­may, af­ter build­ing a culi­nary em­pire start­ing in the mid-1970s, Kennedy shut­tered his last ur­ban out­post, Gilead Café, in 2015. Gone, but not for­got­ten, where is he now? It turns out that he bid farewell to city dwellings and now re­sides at his farm in the pris­tine coun­try­side of Prince Ed­ward County (P.E.C.).

Af­ter a 40-year ca­reer in the restau­rant world, the tran­si­tion has been a good one. “I’m very happy, per­haps hap­pier than I was be­fore,” ex­plains the cook­book author and dec­o­rated chef (who has been awarded the Or­der of Canada).

“I had a lot of fan­tas­tic and re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that helped de­fine gas­tron­omy and con­tributed to our Cana­dian cul­tural ta­pes­try,” he re­calls. “I’ve left that part of my ca­reer be­hind and have got­ten into some­thing else, but the heart of it still cen­tres around food cul­ture — its rel­e­vance and im­por­tance. In a sense, this is the next chap­ter.”

Away from the daily grind of the de­mand­ing restau­rant work en­vi­ron­ment, he now re­sides at his sum­mer home and farm, which he’s owned since 2001. He’s cur­rently tran­si­tion­ing his 115 acres from a con­ven­tional to an or­ganic farm (and ap­ply­ing for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion). Al­though the farm doesn’t of­fi­cially bear a name, it’s af­fec­tion­ately been called “Pleas­ant Val­ley” (the his­tor­i­cal name of the re­gion, which is now re­ferred to as Hil­lier), and “J.K. Farm”.

For Kennedy, the farm is an ex­ten­sion of his en­dur­ing food phi­los­o­phy, pas­sion for the sur­round­ing land and his sup­port for lo­cal pro­duce.

“Niche farm­ing is part of the new econ­omy but this area has his­tor­i­cally been a haven for grow­ing crops,” he says. “Right now, I’m in­ter­ested in or­ganic grain pro­duc­tion.”

Chef is cur­rently cul­ti­vat­ing and grow­ing wheat, spelt and win­ter rye to sell to ar­ti­san bak­ers next spring. At the mo­ment, he’s fo­cus­ing on sell­ing busi­ness to busi­ness, but pend­ing suc­cess, he could ex­pand and sell his grains to the pub­lic.

In­deed, the pub­lic still flocks to see him. Along with an an­nual fish fry that ben­e­fits the lo­cal com­mu­nity (this year, pro­ceeds went to Store­House Food­bank in Welling­ton), for the last two sum­mers he’s hosted in­ti­mate farm din­ners at his prop­erty ev­ery Satur­day. With only 60 spots avail­able, and seats booked up fast and fu­ri­ously. A self-de­scribed im­pre­sario, Kennedy played gas­tro­nomic guide, show­ing guests all that Prince Ed­ward County of­fers epi­cure­ans.The weekly feasts in­cluded lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, lo­cal wines that spot­light the re­gion’s ter­roir and ro­bust funk-tac­u­lar cheeses from all over On­tario.

Kennedy’s fo­cus is not only on the food, it’s also on the ex­pe­ri­ence it­self.

“Es­pe­cially if you re­side in large cities, the first thing I have guests do is rec­og­nize the dif­fer­ences in where they are,” he says. “It means me hav­ing them sim­ply hang out in my vine­yard, lis­ten to song­birds, feel the breeze on their necks and en­joy the beauty of be­ing in an out­door en­vi­ron­ment.”

It’s the ul­ti­mate in des­ti­na­tion din­ing that’s bol­stered with ru­ral ap­peal. But back up.… Did he say vine­yard?

“Yes, I have my own per­sonal 1.5-acre vine­yard where I grow Pinot Noir grapes,” Kennedy ex­plains. “I’m no wine­maker, but I do have a great French oak bar­relaged wine from 2014.” Chef ex­plains that the tem­per­a­men­tal weather has made it a chal­lenge to con­tin­u­ously pro­duce the vino — so for the time be­ing, it’s sim­ply a point of pride as well as his per­sonal sip­ping stash.

Iron­i­cally, suc­cesses and growth have put a tem­po­rary halt to the din­ners.

Kennedy elab­o­rates: “We’re on a bit of a hia­tus with the Sum­mer Din­ner Se­ries at the mo­ment be­cause we’re re­zon­ing the prop­erty for in­fra­struc­ture pur­poses. The Prince Ed­ward County plan­ning de­part­ment sees us as a restau­rant, so we need to con­form to these reg­u­la­tions and stan­dards.”

But have no fear! They will be re­sum­ing din­ners in spring 2019 — bolder and bet­ter than be­fore. Plans in­clude Barn Door Burg­ers + Fries, a col­lab­o­ra­tive din­ner se­ries, and even a beer gar­den.

Chef en­cour­ages peo­ple to visit his web­site and sign up for his news­let­ter to re­ceive the most upto-date in­for­ma­tion.

In the mean­time, if your stom­ach is still growl­ing for those J.K. fries, you can ap­pease your tummy’s pleas and visit chef who still gets a kick out of serv­ing at the Farmer’s Mar­ket in Welling­ton on Satur­days (from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.). En­joy the or­ganic thin frites pip­ing hot — ide­ally dunked in one of his two home­made sauces (one is al­ways a cider vine­gar mayo, and the other is a sea­sonal cre­ation).

Whether it is fries or farms, one thing’s for cer­tain: Chef Jamie Kennedy’s cu­ri­ous na­ture and mis­sion to cham­pion lo­cal food cul­ture per­me­ates ev­ery­thing he cre­ates and shares. The re­sult is a re­sound­ing “yum” from both city and coun­try folk alike.

Clock­wise from left: Jamie Kennedy pour­ing a glass of P.E.C.’s bounty; ‘J.K. Farm’ a.k.a. Pleas­ant Val­ley; those fa­mous J.K. fries

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