We had the privilege to attend the Terroir Symposium 2019 in Toronto. The event's mission is to bring together innovative people from the field of hospitality to educate, network and help grow the food industry. Aside from the bounty of delicious food served during the event, the spotlight was on the people involved and the messages shared by industry leaders from all around the globe. The theme this year was CHOICE: Risks + rewards in a changing food culture. Every day we take countless decisions, from what to wear to what to eat, what kind of transportation to use, who to support and how to spend our time. When it comes to food, we are constantly being bombarded with positive and negative messages from the food industry, after all, all human beings need to eat so it puts us in a situation we can't escape from... choosing what to put in our plates.
For some countries is a matter of whatever is available and what they can afford, but for others, like ours, the possibilities are broader. North American countries have a long history of food waste and excess availability. The fact that we are not yet in a critical food crisis, as other countries are currently facing, often put us in a position where it becomes easy to take the wrong choices. The big majority of people opts for quantity at the expense of the producing communities and environment. As a society, we need to value the ingredients more, appreciate the producers that care about the environment and start making it easier for everyone to take better food choices. It all starts with education. We need to become influencers and loud voices for those who haven't had the privilege to learn how to identify right from wrong. We need to lead with actions and not just words. We need to support people and industries that align with our beliefs, clearing all the "noise" that bad advertising brings to the table. We need to take the sustainability message further and open opportunities for the less fortunate to experiment and learn. We need to be the change we want to see in the world, and it all starts with our forks.
The Terroir reception was hosted by CN Tower with an impressive sunset view of Toronto and a wide array of food and drink tastings prepared by guest chefs. The symposium was hosted at The Carlu and divided into 12-min talks, alternating with chocolate breaks, lunch, samples and tastings. The event also included special workshops happening simultaneously on topics like wine, innovation, craft beer and drink pairings.
We created a list of highlights with some of the best moments from the event to share with those who were not able to attend. As a way to motivate more individuals to join the event for years to come and listen to those who are leading the way into promoting better food choices, being the change, and moving the culinary industry in the right direction.
The guest speakers invited are leading the way when it comes to culinary by preparing innovative recipes, creating community-building initiatives, connecting people through food, working towards equality or leading the path towards food availability and the recovery of our soil and water systems. The keynote speaker, Ron Tite from Church + State, made an amazing job keeping everyone engaged and motivated to listen. He made us laugh, reflect, and at some point bring tears to our eyes. As a takeaway, he hoped we all left the space inspired to ATTEND to future conferences and events, LISTEN to other perspectives, UNDERSTAND the challenges we're facing worldwide and TAKE ACTION.
We were glad to hear the plantbased message being repeatedly shared amongst the speakers, as well as words like culinary experiences, heritage, availability, sustainability, education, traditions and food for the future.
CULTURE, TRADITIONS AND CULINARY EXPERIENCES
Chef Selassie Aladika reminded us that food stands on four pillars: culture, regional variations, preservation and sustainability, and that we should all do our part in keeping them alive for future generations. Food is tightly related to tradition, taboos, celebrations and ceremonies. It is our mission to document these culinary practices, educate ourselves and share the lessons. She mentioned that in her community in Africa you can't fish on Tuesdays, and how people used traditional methods of salting, smoking and fermenting to preserve food during scare months. She also mentioned that in Ethiopia they have fasting days, which led them to develop a richer vegetarian cuisine, with bold flavours, unique spices and cooking techniques that don't involve adding ridiculous amounts of fat like in Frech cuisine. The importance of communal habits, foraging, using ancient grains and fermenting is still alive in some smaller communities, but sadly, the broader picture is not as promising. The imports bill for food is currently around 35 billion dollars in Africa, and it is projected to increase to 110 billion by 2025, which raises the question " What would it look like to invest all that money in the continent?", helping local farmers and producers instead of bringing everything from off-land.
Sarah Meikle from Wellington on a Plate showed us how we can bring people from all over the world to faraway regions by providing autochthonous experiences. She and her team created a culinary festival in the small town of Wellington, New Zealand, that provides more than 300.000 experiences during the course of one month. Food is not only sustenance, but it can also entertain, inspire, be shared, build community and promote growth. The festival includes 42 restaurants and its mission is to educate travellers about their indigenous traditions and promote the Wellington region as the premium food and drink destination of New Zealand. We can follow their example and replicate this kind of initiatives in the less visited regions of our country.
Gilley Bashan has worn many hats in her life, from English teacher to food writer, journalist and author of 40 books. An unexpected turn of events in her life led her to start crafting food experiences on her mother's land in Scottland. The exotic getaway includes cooking workshops, picnics and whisky pairings. "Hospitality comes from the heart", she said. From her humble beginnings, Gilley learned that providing memorable experiences can't be bought or faked, it must come from one's self. The best experiences usually come from people who put others above themselves, in most cases people who don't have a lot to give but it's in their heart to share the little they have. Authenticity is the key to truly connect with others.
Speaking of preserving heritage, Chef Bill Alexander from Grey Eagle Resort & Casino in Alberta shared how it became his life mission to preserve indigenous traditions by adapting them to modern lifestyles. Aboriginal meals are often associated with lots of meats and high contents of fat. His approach is to adapt the original recipes to healthier habits and include more vegetables without altering the emotional connections of the traditional preparations. He pointed out that it should be a two-way street, indigenous populations need to stand up and share their traditions and also non-indigenous should show more interest in learning, working together is the only way to keep the elder's voices alive. He highly encouraged the public to "pursue what makes you happy, never settle and never let others tell you what to you. Follow your heart and make sure your kids understand what you're doing and why you're doing it so they can pass the message in the future and continue your legacy."
For Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz from The Gelfiteria, preserving tradition can get in the hands of the wrong people too. They believe the International Food aisles in the supermarkets are "where food goes to die," and they're right! Big companies see the opportunity in using the emotional aspect of traditional preparations to drive customer's buying impulses. They mentioned Gelfita fish, an iconic Jew preparation, and pickles. You can find them in bottles at the grocery store but they will never ever be the same as their homemade counterparts. When machines cook, all the generations of cooking disappear. They reclaimed Agsganashi cookbooks, dug into old recipe notes, cooked with the elders, travelled to Europe to learn from the source and brought all that information together into their cookbook, called The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods.
THE PLANTBASED PATH
A great intro by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of Dirt Candy (the only vegetable restaurant in NY) led the way for many plant-based discussions throughout the day. Paul Newman, director of SDG2 Advocacy hub pointed out what we all know but fail to remember on a daily basis. We all need to eat and we all enjoy it, food is something we all have in common, something that connects us and we are all responsible for the food challenges we are currently facing. He created a chefs manifesto and advocacy hub that proposes a game plan on how to get chefs, restaurants, farmers, UN agencies, nutritionists and the private sector involved in change. The initiative aspires to engage with 2020 chefs in 100 countries by 2020, to add diverse ingredients to their menus, highlight nutritional properties, start transitioning into eco-conscious habits and educate others about the different food choices available that are less destructive of our environment. One of the solutions the program proposes is to bring the plantbased movement forward to keep working on food accessibility. "Most of us eat three times a day. That is at least three opportunities to take food choices that are better for the planet and our health." More info at: sdg2advocacyhub.org
Wida Winarno, a leader in food safety, science and nutrition from Indonesia, founded The Indonesian Tempeh Movement in an effort to promote healthy nutrition habits and preserve ancient traditions. Fermented beans have been used for centuries in her country, they were part of the early manuscripts and family meals. They have been proven to carry similar protein content as animal meats as well as high amounts of B12, iron, calcium and zinc. They're also easier to absorb, good for gut and brain health, highly nutritious and less contaminant. Growing beans involve 1/5 of the CO2 emissions compared to cows meat and costs 1/3 of the price to be produced. Part of Wida's mission is to teach others how to prepare Tempeh, how to cook with it and how to unlock all its health properties. She has created programs in schools and prisons, as well as empowering opportunities for women. She aspires to see more Tempeh on people's plates worldwide as a way to be more gentle to the planet and beneficial to people's digestive system. After all, it all starts in the gut!
Continuing with the plant-based conversation we found Taylor Widrig from Mermaid Fare, who's actively working on the development and growth of the seaweed industry. The demand for fish is increasingly growing worldwide leaving us with depleted oceans and not enough time for fish to reproduce and reestablish the natural balance of sea life. Seaweed does not require feed, fertilizers or land space, it offers the highly desired Umami flavour along with vitamins and minerals like Vitamin B, calcium, Iron, among others. Naturally growing seaweed helps with CO2 sequestration, aids ocean acidification from industries waste and can nutritionally enhance the food sector. It is not news that we are facing plenty of mineral deficiencies due to nutrient depletion of the soils and waters, climate change and bad food habits/trends, by incorporating more sea vegetables into our diet and reducing the consumption of seafood we can aid some of those deficiencies as well as helping restore the sealife balance.
As the conversation moved along with seafood topics, we had a panel that involved Dr. Paul Uys from the Marine Stewardship Council, Ned Bell from Ocean Wise, Marvin Budd from Planet Shrimp and Jennifer Johnston from Fisherfolk discussing the pros and cons of Wild seafood vs farmed seafood. As the demand increases, the oceans get more polluted and depleted, promoting the rise in the number of companies that are farming seafood in land. A reduction of consumption and an increase in the appreciation of animals and ingredients are needed in order to continue eating the things we enjoy the most. It becomes a choice of quality over quantity, having in mind the water ecosystems wellbeing.
Christina Palassio from the Community Food Centres of Canada showed us a difficult reality that some of our fellow Canadians are facing: food insecurity. Currently, there are approximately 4 million individuals with limited to no access to food, it represents 11% of the Canadian population. The CFCC mission is to build health, belonging, and social justice in low-income communities through the power of food. Christina invited us all to help by checking out the opportunities available to collaborate with the organization on their website cfccanada.ca. Lori Nickel from Second Harvest continued the conversation by introducing initiatives to rescue food that otherwise will be thrown away. She pointed out that 58% of all food produced in Canada is wasted for several reasons and 38% of all of it can still be rescued and repurposed to feed those in need.
Along the same lines, Mark Brand brought tears to our eyes with his inspiring message. His mission is to support local communities by providing employment opportunities to the homeless and feeding those in need. The culinary industry has one of the highest rates or employees turnovers, as high as 70% on average. Mark has proven that by providing work opportunities and hope to those with employment barriers everybody wins. As part of his program, he trains and educates homeless on how to be part of the kitchen staff, creating community and bringing good people in. He realized that those in need become hard workers, complain less, show up, are willing to learn and eager to move upwards. They're appreciative for the job and the people around them, and they become accomplices and allies in bringing everyone up. There is availability of staff, just not in the places everyone is comfortable looking. In his own words: "When things get the darkest, we must be the brightest and love the hardest" and his closing lines, along with Rebecca Mackenzie, president of the Ontario Culinary Alliance: "I promise to leave the world a better place than I found it," with Rebecca replying "I promise to do the same alongside you."
Director and filmmaker Ann Shin from Fathom Film Group added a little twist to the table. She created The Superfood Chain documentary, which explores how superfood trends can affect farmers on the other side of the planet. In the documentary, Ann uncovers the truth about quinoa, teff, fish and coconut, and how the "hype" around them have affected the producers in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Philippines, and Haida Gwaii. As the demand increases, larger farmers with better resources see the opportunity and start controlling the price, often leaving the smaller farmers in a critical situation as prices drop. Choosing fair trade will allow smaller producers to continue growing crops without getting buried by larger companies that are in the business merely for profit. Fairtrade will guarantee that farmers are well treated and allowed to make a profit for their hard work, creating a nurturing food system that will benefit the farmers and consumers. The documentary is available here: thesuperfoodchain.com
Intermissions were filled with inspiring conversations with fellow restauranteurs, farmers, chefs, journalists and food enthusiasts over carefully crafted, locally sourced feasts that included a full breakfast, two chocolate breaks, creative lunch and plenty of small bites, cocktails, wine and beer throughout the day. It is important to mention that the lunch was created based on “rescued ingredients” that are often thrown out in busy kitchens. Every chef chose an ingredient to save and repurpose to create a new masterpiece out of them. Some of the creations were: two-day-old sandwiches by Anna Mae Crespo (Bistro '67), day-old rye bread ice cream by Meghan Robbins (Superpoint), egg whites with garlic ends and tree trimmings by Ryan Crawford (Backhouse), tuna bloodlines with day-old bread Kiki Aranita (Poi Dog), lobster shells soup by Jason Sawision (Stofa Restaurant), haggis bread pudding, soup with corn cobs, husks and silks by Rossy Earle (Diablo Fuego), vegan poutine with kale stems, potato skins, cashew cheese and tofu by Barry Sera (Paintbox Bistro), seal with brown avocado cream and pickled wilted cucumbers by George Lenser (Skeena), and plenty other options.
Women are finally speaking up and being more open about "taboo" topics that had been ignored in the past, especially in the culinary industry. We listened to four inspiring women that are making the change and being there for others, motivating women to speak loud and take a step forward. The panel was moderated by Marie-Claude Lortie and included Soleil Ho, food and culture writer; Mary Scherpe, writer, activist and founder of Still in Berlin; and Petra Mutch, publisher and businesswoman, founder of Eve-volution Inc. they made us realize that we need to redefine success. If we look for money-driven businesses and cold environments we'll probably find men at the head, willing to destroy everything in their path to achieve their goal. If we look at places that take care of their people, growing inside and out, B-corps, colourful and kind environments we'll most likely find women. Women are mothers, their sense of care, kindness and hard work can be translated to all aspects of life and work.
Kristen Hawley from Skift Table guided us through some very tech upcoming trends that must be applied to the culinary industry. All restaurants should take advantage of the versatility and efficiency of Google and how we can make it work in our favour. A well-integrated site will allow customers to check menus, make reservations, calculate when to leave, call an uber to pick them up, leave a review and much more. The only thing guests will do is show up and eat! Tech companies are also improving the way they process feedback from reviews, identifying preferences and sending useful information on special events, menu changes, future promos, new restaurants opening and more. Loyalty programs will continue growing and front of house will have to up its game to adapt to the new industry standards. Providing a memorable experience from from start to finish is the key to succeed!
Ben Branson from Seedlip shared his story with us and opened our eyes into a new world of non-alcoholic possibilities. Ben was born and raised on a farm, playing with sticks and stones, building treehouses and chasing rabbits. His mother was a farmer and his father a designer, so he was exposed to a world of creativity surrounded by nature. At some point in his life, he found an antique book called "The Art of Distillation" that sparked his interest and motivated him to start playing around with some of the recipes. He started taking it seriously after having a very bad "pink experience" at a restaurant when ordering a mocktail. The sugary drink was so unpleasant that he spent the following months trying to find the perfect sophisticated spirit to "drink when you're not drinking". The birth of Seedily was a combination of knowing herbal distilling techniques with some bad mocktail experiences. In November 2015, Seedlip became the worlds first non-alcoholic distilled spirit and it's currently one of the fastest growing drinks company.
The Worlds 50 Best explorers are coming to Canada this August to explorer our finest gastronomic regions. Their mission is to promote good food, be a barometer for food trends and track topics of interest to bring the Canadian cuisine message across the border. A team of renown chefs that include Chef Ignacio Matas will spend five days touring our country in search of memorable culinary experiences. Joining them will be Jason Bangerter from Langdon Hall, Ricky Casipe and Olivia Simpson from Ricky + Olivia, and many more important personalities to be announced. In the meantime, check out the previous episodes here: 50 Best Explorers
Chef Darren McLean, owner of Shokunin was in charge of the closing speech. The final takeaway inspired us to reflect on our choices, in his case, from who to collaborate with to what to cook, who to hire or when to change the path. Hi highly encouraged us to empower others, acknowledge the ethnic minorities that built this country and trust one another. It isn't always about winning or being the best, it is about doing the right thing and collaborating with others so that everyone can win. As the conversation around sustainability was one of the main topics discussed during the symposium, he added a final twist to it; instead of trying to "sustain" we should start thinking about restoring, rebuilding and enhancing. To not settle just with the "sustainable" but to act towards improvement.
The choice is ours, and every single action we take every day, big or small, can contribute to the wellbeing or destruction of our surroundings. We look forward to more events like Terroir to get inspired, informed and motivated to continue working towards a better future for our children. Everyone can be part of the change, we just need to walk the talk!
Stay tuned for future events: