Archive for September, 2014

Who’s making a difference on England’s local food scene

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
South London's Borough Market Photo: V. Ward

South London’s Borough Market
Photo: V. Ward

What comes to your mind when you think of British food?
Despite culinary stars like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, I continued to link it with all things unhealthy and unappetizing: Veggies boiled to mush. Spam. Marmite. Traditional dishes with names like Toad-in-the-Hole and Spotted Dick.
At least, those were my views until a few weeks ago, when I actually visited England to help my daughter settle in there for a year of university. Not only has British cuisine improved by leaps and bounds, so has public awareness of and support for local sustainable food. Whether we were in London or in smaller cities or villages, we enjoyed consistently good food in restaurants and pubs, and were blown away by the number of high-quality farmers’ markets, and farm and artisanal food shops.
To be sure, the UK has its share of the food system problems that afflict other Western countries, from rising obesity rates to food safety scandals. But lots of people and organizations are working to find solutions.
Here’s a snapshot of a few of them.
Producers, processors and retailers
• Laverstoke Park Farm: a 2500-acre biodynamic farm in Hampshire. In addition to fresh produce, Laverstoke raises wild boar, pigs, cows, sheep, chickens and water buffalo and maintains an onsite abattoir. It sells products through its own butcher shop, farm shop and website, as well as through the Waitrose supermarket chain and the Ocado online supermarket
• The Severn Project: This social enterprise produces the highest quality salad greens for customers in and around Bristol while also creating employment for people from socially excluded groups, such as those recovering from substance abuse, or mental health issues.
• Alara Dream Farm: Organic, fair trade muesli producer Alex Smith of Alara Wholefoods has overseen the transformation of derelict land in central London into a lush permaculture garden that produces a variety of fruit and vegetables. Over the years, he’s added a vineyard, an orchard and a community garden.
• hiSbe: how it Should be, or hiSbe, is an ethical grocery store in Brighton that specializes in local, sustainable and fair trade products. Launched last year as a pilot, hiSbe turns the old supermarket model on its head by putting people first, selling at a lower profit margin and paying staff more than minimum wage.

Borough Market (Photo: V Ward)

Borough Market (Photo: V Ward)

Food and farming policymakers
The Soil Association: A favourite charity of Prince Charles, the Soil Association campaigns for healthy, humane, sustainable food, farming and land use. Its work centres on: supporting organic farming systems; finding viable ways to tackle climate change, enhance biodiversity, improve animal welfare and promote fair access to healthy food; providing technical support and advice to farmers and businesses, and; creating consumer trust through a certification program.

The association’s partnerships projects include its Food for Life Partnership to improve school food, and the Sustainable Food Cities Network, that brings together organizations in different regions and municipalities to share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice in all aspects of sustainable food.

Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming: Sustain represents about 100 national public interest organizations working at the international, national, regional and local levels to improve food and farming. It advises and negotiates with governments and other regulatory agencies to ensure that food/farming legislation and policies are publicly accountable and socially and environmentally responsible. It also encourages businesses to produce, process and market foods that are good for health and the environment, and to develop policies and practices that make it easier for people to choose sustainable foods.

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA): Regardless of the political party in power, DEFRA policies recognize the importance of local producers and a more environmentally sustainable food system. For example, a recent report encourages opportunities for British producers to supply food to public institutions such as government departments, hospitals and school boards. A report on sustainable consumption outlines key principles for healthy and sustainable eating including: eating less meat and more plant-based foods; choosing fish from sustainable stocks; and valuing food by finding out how it’s produced and by not wasting it.

Places to buy and eat good local food in the UK
• For the best farm shops and delis, check out The Independent’s list top 50.
• For top farmers’ markets, try these lists from The Ecologist, The Guardian, the Independent and the VisitBritain SuperBlog.
• Choose local food producers, markets and shops in the UK’s National Parks with this guide.

Have you traveled outside Canada recently? Is there an active local food scene in the place you visited?


Seasonal Eats: Steelhead trout campfire-style from Chef Norm Aitken, Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar

Monday, September 1st, 2014
(Photo: Brian Walter via Flickr)

(Photo: Brian Walter via Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0)

Steelhead trout is a variety of rainbow trout that makes its way up rivers and streams to the sea — or in the case of Eastern and Central Canada, to the Great Lakes — in spring and fall. Farmed steelhead are available year-round. Similar to salmon in appearance and taste, steelhead trout is ranked highly by SeaChoice as a fish that is abundant and caught or farmed sustainably.

Also like salmon, steelhead trout is good for you. Not only is it packed with lean protein, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids, it contains low levels of contaminants such as mercury, pesticides, dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, says the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

This recipe from Chef Norm Aitken of Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar cures the trout and pairs it with a zesty quinoa salad and a chamomile syrup for delicious late summer dining. You can change up the vegetables according to the season, Norm says, going from spring shoots to roasted or pickled beets and adding sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

The veggies listed in the recipe were sourced from producers such as Rochon Gardens, Acorn Creek and Juniper Farm.

About Chef Norm Aitken

Chef Norm is co-owner of Juniper Kitchen & Wine Bar in Ottawa’s Westboro Village, dubbed one of the city’s top tables by food critics.

A native of Souris, PEI, Norm began his cooking career more than 22 years ago at the prestigious Inn At Bay Fortune under the guidance of Chef Michael Smith of FoodNetwork Canada fame. There he developed the understanding of and respect for fresh local ingredients that form the cornerstone of his personal cooking philosophy.

Over the course of his career, Chef Norm continually pushes the boundaries to create distinctive cuisine that’s also simple regional, seasonal and sustainable. He is passionate about delivering top-notch, house-made quality dishes that surprise and satisfy his customers. He is also committed to ensuring that Ottawa stays a vibrant culinary destination, supports camaraderie among his peers on the Ottawa food scene and believes in giving back to the community through fundraising. He has worked with some of Canada’s top chefs including Ned Bell, Vikram Vij, Susur Lee, Robert Clark, Michael Howell, and Anita Stewart and has been recognized in Gold Medal Plates and Food Day Canada competitions. ABC Good Morning America & LA Entertainment profiled him for bringing “Le Whaf” vaporizing innovation to North America from Europe.

Norm has appeared on FoodNetwork Canada’s Chopped Canada as a celebrity chef. Outside the kitchen, he’s an avid food activist, teacher, and devoted dad to daughters Jade and Erika.

Steelhead trout campfire style

Combined cooking and prep times about 1 ½  hrs

  1. Trout cure

½ c sugar

1/8 c salt

zest of 3 lemons

zest of 3 limes

zest of 1 orange

1 ½ lb cleaned trout

Season the filet generously with the cure and let stand in the fridge, uncovered, for 1 hour.

  1. Quinoa citrus salad

2 c cooked quinoa

2 oranges segmented

shaved fennel bulb

pea shoots / wild garlic leaves

wild fennel fronds (soft green leaves)

  1. Salad vinaigrette

zest and juice of 2 lemons

3/4 cup olive oil

1 tsp shallot and garlic, minced

1/8 c fine grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake until combined.

  1. Chamomile syrup

2 oz loose chamomile tea

2 c cane sugar

2 lemons, with peels, no pith

1 c white balsamic vinegar

Steep for an hour and strain.

  1. Assemble the plate

Season the skin of the trout filet with sea salt and place it in an oiled, pre-heated pan on high heat.

Turn the heat to medium and crisp the skin till golden brown.

Flip the filet over so that the flesh side is in the pan.

Cook for 2 minutes and turn the heat off.  Add a couple of tablespoons of the syrup to the pan to glaze the fish.  Let stand at room temperature for 3 min (i.e., let it rest) while you plate.

Combine all ingredients for the salad and season with the vinaigrette.

Place the salad and present the trout skin up over the salad.  Sauce the plate with the camomile tea syrup.

What’s your favourite way to prepare fish?