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Deconstructing Dinner

Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY

Nelson, B.C. Canada

 

April 6, 2006

 

Title: Conscientious Cooks I

 

Producer/Host: Jon Steinman

Transcript: Karen Yepson

 

Jon Steinman: And welcome to Deconstructing Dinner - produced in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

Deconstructing Dinner is a program that does just that deconstructs our dinner, our food, so that we can better understand the origins of our food and in the end, understand the impacts that our food choices have on ourselves, our communities and the planet.

 

Almost all of the broadcasts up until now have focused on specific issues that ultimately relate to the food we purchase, so in relation to the program's title - we have really only deconstructed various components or implications of our dinners and our food. But on today's program, we will actually be Deconstructing Dinner from start to finish so to speak, and I will be asking two very well-known British Columbian chefs to do just that, and they will explain the process in planning a meal and planning a menu.

 

This will be the first of a periodic series entitled "Conscientious Cooks."

 

The two chefs we will be hearing from are Michael Allemeier - the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate located in Westbank, British Columbia, and Andrea Carlson - the Chef de Cuisine at Raincity Grill in Vancouver.

 

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It's not so often that the general public gets a chance to take a look behind the scenes of a restaurant and see where our food is coming from - in a way this has always been the mystique of the restaurant concept - only seeing your food once it's ready to be presented and eaten.

 

The mysteriousness that comes with this concept of never seeing the kitchen has led to in more recent times, an increased prevalence in open-concept kitchens where customers are able to see their food being prepared right from their table.

 

But even these open-concept kitchens do not allow for the inner-workings of a kitchen to be fully transparent, and nor do they allow customers to jump into the head of the chef and understand how it is they plan a menu.

 

As has been mentioned on many shows prior to this one, our particular food choices - those of the general public - are very much limited to the choices available at large grocery stores, where the option of buying a fresh loaf of bread from a corner bakery does exist, but is certainly a threatened option when glancing at the sheer size and advantage that a chain retailer like Safeway or Costco has on the little guy.

 

And the restaurant industry is not much different - in fact, choice is even more limited. More than 75% of food service distribution in this country is controlled by two companies - two. So just as it becomes difficult for the general public to find small operations at which to buy healthy, sustainable and affordable food, restaurants are equally challenged to do so, and when restaurants are commonly known to be one of the most difficult businesses to make financially successful, the attractiveness of buying all your food and ingredients from one company that will deliver everything to your restaurant in one truck becomes almost a necessity in order to remain competitive and viable.

 

One of the unfortunate elements of exploring the alternatives to large-scale restaurant distribution is that it is commonly the most prestigious restaurants that are able to afford such alternatives. And although my two guests on today's program both come from very prestigious restaurants, I will admit that there are many small restaurants that are able to survive without relying on these large distributors and they will be featured in upcoming Conscientious Cooks broadcasts here on Deconstructing Dinner.

 

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If you're just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, where on today's show we are exploring where some of our restaurant food comes from and how it gets to our plate.

 

As was just mentioned, most restaurants have very little choice but to rely on large food service distributors to deliver their food. This in turn limits the choices they have, and ultimately, limits the choices we have in restaurants. It's no coincidence that in almost every restaurant we walk into, the tomatoes all look the same, and the salad greens spare no differences to the ones you had a few days earlier.

 

But there are alternatives to large-scale foodservice distribution, and as we will hear shortly, these alternatives are far more sustainable than what is the common restaurant industry practice. These alternatives are actually not alternatives at all - and are far more along the lines of how restaurants have traditionally operated since the idea of sitting down and paying for a meal was first conceived.

 

In exploring these alternatives, I spoke with Michael Allemeier. Michael is the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate located in Westbank, British Columbia. Westbank is more or less a suburb of Kelowna, located in the fertile Okanagan Valley. Michael joined the Winery in 2003 after working in restaurants such as Bishop's in Vancouver, Wildflower in Whistler and Teatro in Calgary. But you would best recognize Michael Allemeier as one of the chefs who among others has in recent times hosted the Food Network's television program "Cook Like A Chef."

 

Since joining Mission Hill, Michael has had the opportunity to create a restaurant and food service operation more or less from square-one, where he has developed very close relationships with local growers and producers and this has helped him rely very little on large-scale food-service distribution.

 

I spoke with Michael recently over the phone, and he provides a background on the Mission Hill operation.

 

Michael Allemeier: At Mission Hill, we have a variety of food service operations. We have a seasonal restaurant that runs from the spring to fall. We have year-round catering and banquet events as well. It can be as small as 10 people up to 225. We really concentrate a lot on education as well, and in the shoulder season, which is our winter season up here, when things quiet down a bit, we hold a series of culinary classes as well.

 

Jon Steinman: As Michael mentioned, the restaurant itself is only open seasonally throughout late-spring to early-fall, and I asked him how he stays busy throughout the winter.

 

Michael Allemeier: There are a lot of things going on in the winter. While on the surface things appear to slow down, in reality, it generally doesn't. We generally have less people working with us, but there are always lots of things going on to fill the voids. We have two or three different classes a week - that definitely keeps us very busy as we try to keep the classes very exciting and very different and with a lot of detail in them. There's always lots of planning, strategic planning for a season as well. We do a lot of recruiting, a lot of budget work, a lot of administration that we couldn't ordinarily do during our busy season just because of business levels and volume. Plus, there's always things being a winery, we always have lots of things going on with sales and marketing. We try to really capture a lot of those things in the shoulder season. I do quite a bit of traveling in the winter. Some of the highlights this winter were going to London, England and doing three dinners over there. Also, I did a series of dinners at the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino so lots of those little projects to keep me busy.

Jon Steinman: The main reason I chose to spoke with Michael Allemeier for today's Conscientious Cooks broadcast is that he holds a philosophy towards food and to wine that is very unique. And he explains.

 

Michael Allemeier: Our philosophy at Mission Hill is really quite unique and refreshing. I've been a chef for quite a while and it's always fun to kind of re-motivate yourself and working here certainly does that because most chefs create their food and then they rely on a sommelier to find the appropriate wines to go along with that dish. But here at Mission Hill, we start with all the wines and we build all our food around our wines, so it's kind of a very creative, very interesting, very fresh approach to look at food because at the end of the day, you almost have kind of an acid test factor in that your dish is only half complete - in order to make it fully complete, it has to work with the wine which it's paired with. So it's pretty exciting. The name for our food and our culinary style is cuisine de terroir. "Terroir" is the French winemaking word used to reflect the region, the weather, the soil, all of those factors. What we want with our food is that we want our food to really speak of this Valley and of this region. The Okanagan is quite a unique place it's probably one of Canada's richest growing regions. Our season is quite long and quite varied; we can really pull off quite a few different things here. So we really want the food to speak of the region and of the season. Very seasonal, very regional.

 

Jon Steinman: As Michael Allemeier explained, he places a tremendous focus on sourcing his ingredients from local growers and suppliers. I had the opportunity last summer to see this very list of growers and producers and it's pages and pages long - a very different scenario than the average restaurant that can make one or two phone calls and receive all required food and ingredients in one or two deliveries. This process in the end limits choice, and relies on sourcing ingredients whose origins are determined by the very company distributing the food.

 

Michael explained to me how personal his relationships with suppliers become when he looks to the immediate area for ingredients.

 

Michael Allemeier: For instance, our suppliers that we use are really strong - it's our strength up here. We deal with quite a few small artisan producers - that's all we're really interested in looking at working with, if possible. For instance, we have five organic farms that do custom work for us. We meet with them in January, we go through the seed catalogues together and we kind of plan out the year. So for us, menu creation really begins in the heart of the winter when things are dormant and it starts with the whole seed process. From there, as things start coming on throughout the season, our menus reflect those ingredients and their seasons. So we never try to force things out of season or push them. It involves a bit of work on our side of things, certainly administratively, but ultimately it's worth it. The menus are constantly changing, and then for our restaurant, we try to change the menu. It all depends on the ingredients, of course, and the growing season, but the menu can change a couple of times a month to reflect the ingredients. That way, we try to keep the menu fairly small so that we can change it quickly and keep it interesting and fresh. For our banquets on the catering side of things, we write the menu for every single group and event that comes in based on what we can procure out of the Valley. When you look at this region, we've got the five farms that we're dealing with plus there are a couple of orchards that we deal with for all our fresh tree fruits, then we have a couple of game and meat producers that work in the region as well and once again they're all environmentally conscious - there aren't any large producers force feeding all that sort of stuff and there are amazing artisan cheese producers as well. So, we really have quite a variety and selection of ingredients to choose from up here.

 

Jon Steinman: We're presently hearing clips from my conversation with Michael Allemeier, the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate. In speaking with Michael, he explained to me the advantages when sourcing ingredients from local suppliers and he speaks of the relationships he develops with his suppliers and how a sense of community is created - a sense of community that otherwise has been lost as a result of the very impersonal food system we see today.

 

Michael Allemeier: There are many advantages to working with smaller producers. First of all, something I always try to instill with these guys is that it's more than just a business relationship. We're working together as a community and a group. Basically, by dealing with smaller people, we build a relationship and we talk to each other a couple of times a week. We find out how the growing season is going and what's coming up in the next week. There are many advantages because you really have an in-depth idea of what's coming out of the fields, how it's growing and how everything is developing. For me, it's a lot more special than having everything showing up in the back of a semi-trailer. You don't really have any sense of ownership of what's arriving at your doorstep. As part of our orientation process for all our fruit and beverage staff, we actually pay for them to go out to a couple of these farms and spend a few days working in these fields getting to know the producers and once again, it's the whole building of the community and knowing where your food comes from. I think that's really, really important.

 

Jon Steinman: In continuing on with my conversation on the topic of suppliers, I asked Michael to describe some of these people and these farms from where he sources his ingredients, and he speaks of one man who is known all over the province for growing the tastiest tomatoes one can find.

 

Michael Allemeier: One of our prized producers is Stony Paradise. The producer's name is Millen. Great guy, he's really famous for his tomatoes. If there was ever a celebrity farmer, Millen would be that guy. His family's farm is only a few acres, certified organic, southern exposure which means they get a lot of heat units. So a lot of the Mediterranean style vegetables do very, very well up there. They've got really nice sloped and well-draining soil which means things like tomatoes of course thrive up there, eggplants, different types of zucchinis, peas and beans at the beginning part of the season when it's a little cooler, different types of onions, and of course a lot of table grapes as well - things like Muskets, Coronations, Concord - grapes like those do very well up there. And then we've got Dale at Fiddle Creek Gardens. His farm has a bit more of a northern exposure - a little cooler, closer down to the lake. So as a result of the terroir - the soil structure he has - things that do better in a cooler type of environment, just thrive down there. We get our salad greens from him, things like peas and beans, vegetables that enjoy a little cooler weather just thrive down there. And then we've got Tony and Nancy at Suncatcher Farms. Their farm is on an old riverbed so thousands of years of rich nutrients deposits and as a result things like root vegetables, corn things that need a lot of nutrients really thrive in that soil as well. Everything from corn to celery to celeriac to parsnips and things like that do really, really well. They've got about five acres and within that farm, they've got several different types of soil structures and they're really able to manage their crops really well as a result.

 

Jon Steinman: When many of us think of organic food, environmentally-friendly food or local farming, it's more common to imagine fruits and vegetables. But meat and animal products are certainly a common component of any menu. So I asked Michael if he's able to source local meat or if he has to rely on the factory farms that seem to dominate the industry.

 

Michael Allemeier: Our prime supplier, which we get our meat from, is a farm up in Enderby, which is in the northern part of the Valley. It's probably pretty close to a two-hour drive north of us but it's still regarded to be part of the Valley. The producer up there has 50 acres located on a little creek and it's probably some of the best pasture land I've ever seen. He is a small producer - he has his own abattoir and he basically controls the whole process. Probably the reason I like dealing with him is that it's probably one of the healthiest and best-run farms I've ever seen. The animals are in healthy, healthy shape - they're very happy. He creates a great environment for them so as a result he's not dependent on using a lot of growth hormones, a lot of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick, and things like that. It's the same sort of organic/ecologically friendly philosophy that all the other producers practice because he believes that by creating a healthy environment, in turn, his animals are going to reflect that as well, and it's true, they really do. We get lamb, wild boar, venison, free range chickens, rabbits, partridge, quail, pheasant - all come from this one producer.

 

Jon Steinman: As was mentioned, the farmer raising meat for Michael's operation has his very own abattoir where his animals are slaughtered. This presents a more ethical and environmentally friendly option for this process. The animals are not forced into trucks and shipped off hundreds of kilometres away, and nor is there a requirement for any fuel. But what will be a topic for an upcoming broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner is that the regulations governing slaughterhouses in British Columbia have been changed, and these changes take effect in September of 2006. Without getting into too much detail, these regulations are going to force small local farmers to send their animals incredible distances to provincial slaughterhouses that meet various criteria. These new regulations will force many small-scale farmers out of business and create an even more unsustainable food-system.

 

Michael Allemeier explains how the farmer in Enderby supplying him with meat has responded to this.

 

Michael Allemeier: These new regulations are coming down the track and he's fully aware of them. He's actually going through a huge capital expansion where he's actually basically building a whole new processing facility on his farm to meet these new regulations. So he's fully aware of it and he doesn't want to lose the control he has on his production because he's not interested in shipping his animals off and some of the larger plants can be quite horrific places. I think after tasting his product there is a marked difference - there is definitely a difference in the product and a lot of it has to do with the process that he goes through. It's a lot calmer, it's a lot more relaxed, it's a lot easier on the beasts. It really reflects ultimately on the final product. He doesn't want to give up on the control he has over that so as a result he's spending quite a bit of capital resources in order to meet these new standards because he doesn't want to lose that control. So all we can do is support and encourage him for things like that.

 

Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner - a weekly one-hour broadcast produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. Today's broadcast is the first of a periodic series titled Conscientious Cooks, where we will visit with cooks around the province and perhaps from abroad who are making unique efforts in their restaurant or foodservice kitchens.

 

We are presently hearing clips from my recent conversation with Michael Allemeier - the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate located in the Okanagan. Michael is well recognized as one of the recent hosts among others of the Food Network's, Cook Like a Chef television show. And many of his recipes can be found at www.foodtv.ca.

 

As Michael has explained, his philosophy sees him sourcing ingredients from the local area and he thereby uses only ingredients that are in season, and I asked him if operating a kitchen in such a fashion poses a lot of difficulty.

 

Michael Allemeier: There certainly is a bit of challenge in cooking this way because administratively, it's a lot more work. I've got quite a few of my peers that prefer to use conventional methods saying, "Why do you make so much work yourself?" I think it's all about having the courage and conviction and having faith and believing in these products. I think that in order to be the best chef you can be, you need to procure the best ingredients you can and these guys are producing without a doubt the best ingredients that there are. And of course it's a lot more work - it means meeting with them always, talking, communicating and that all takes a lot of work. To me, it's not really work - the people that we're working with are terrific people. They're all families, they're great people to know, they have as much passion as us. They have as much passion for what I'm doing as for what they're doing. At the end of the day, we're just sharing something we believe in. So while it may seem like more work, it really isn't because if you love what you're doing, it's definitely worth it. It does take a bit to juggle these different producers - without a doubt, I could just use one or two of the larger conglomerates, but at the end of the day, I'd rather not.

 

Jon Steinman: As Michael has proven, there are many ways in which ingredients and foods can be found right in our own communities and regions, but there are of course a number of key cooking ingredients that are very difficult to find such as certain dried goods and oils. I asked Michael how he sources these non-local ingredients.

 

Michael Allemeier: Ultimately, we want to extract everything from the Valley and procure everything from the Valley, but of course it's not reasonable to expect we can do that 100%. So the times that we do need to bring in other ingredients, I use quite a few contacts that I have in Vancouver for things like that and what we do is ship everything up as a result and these tend to be larger, more organized companies where I can bring things up depending on business levels, when I need to augment different dry goods and things like that. Fish, for instance, there isn't any sort of fish program in the Okanagan so all of our fresh seafood comes up out of Vancouver but we only use fish that's from the Pacific Northwest and we only use fish and seafood that comes from an ecologically sound source so we're not interested in any farmed products. We only use wild, naturally harvested products whenever possible.

 

Jon Steinman: The most extreme any chef could take in adhering to a philosophy of buying only local ingredients, is of course if they are actually growing their own, and this is just the case at Mission Hill. Michael explains.

 

Michael Allemeier: We have a terrific garden onsite. It's our kitchen garden; it's actually gong through some changes as we're pushing it to a new level. Historically, what it's held is predominantly herbs, which we use in the kitchen. It's augmented with quite a few fruit trees as well and quite a bit of fruits and ferns since we have plums, peaches, pears, nectarines, and apples. We also have strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries, gooseberries, some kiwis, and a couple of other things. For the most part, it's always been our kitchen herb garden but what we're going to be doing this season is redesigning it and turning it into a varietal garden. Now varietal is generally a term we use to refer to different types of grapes and different styles of wine. For instance, Chardonnay is a grape and a varietal as well. So what we're going to do is divide the garden up into six sections - it's going to be three white wines and three red wines. For instance, for the white wines, we're going to have Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a Riesling garden and it's said within the wine community that different wine styles and varietals have certain characteristics to different vegetables, fruits and herbs. For instance, in our Sauvignon Blanc garden, a lot of the ways to describe a Sauvignon Blanc is that it can remind one of gooseberries, chives, tarragon, things like that. So in that garden, we're actually going to have those things growing so you can in theory take a glass of Sauvignon Blanc down there and try a little bit of chive and rub and smell it and then smell a bit of the wine, same with the gooseberries. So it really gives people quite a bit of understanding and a bit of depth. For instance, in the red wine garden, the Pinot Noir is described as having nuances of beets and plums and things like that so we'll be growing beets and plums and there will be sage and other herbs all paired with those certain varietals. We're pretty excited about that - I think it's going to add a bit more depth to our culinary program and our education program because ultimately I see us having a tour and organizing it so they can actually go in there and use their sense of smell and taste and sight to help them understand wines a little bit more.

 

Jon Steinman: We're currently listening to clips from my conversation with Chef Michael Allemeier of Mission Hill Family Estate - a common wine-label we can find in local liquor stores.

 

This extreme that Michael Allemeier goes to in not only locally sourcing ingredients and even growing his own ingredients right on the property itself, he takes this philosophy even further, and even looks for ingredients in the wild.

 

Michael Allemeier: We try to use wild ingredients as much as possible. There was quite a large fire in the Okanagan in the summer of 2003. I'm sure everyone is familiar with that and one of the great consequences or after-effects of a large fire in sandy soil is morel mushrooms. So for instance, we had a stellar crop of morel mushrooms after that. We have a few people that are very good at procuring wild things - forced switches, I like to call them. Things like ramps, which are like wild leeks, we can procure locally. Also, stinging nettle is something that grows quite a bit here. In fact, our producer in Enderby who we get all our meats from, on the banks of the creek that runs through his property, nettles grow very, very well there so I've actually convinced his kids to pick them for me. When the nettles are young and tender, his kids will go out there and pick them. I think nettle is one of the most exciting things to eat. It's almost like a very aggressive spinach but it doesn't lose its colour like spinach does when you cook it. A lot of nutrients, especially essential elements, and a lot of minerals are located within them, and they just have a terrific, terrific flavour.

 

Jon Steinman: One of the most difficult realities for any Canadian whether it be you and I of the general public or a chef at a restaurant, is that Canada is a rather cold climate. And in this climate, our options for local foods seem to become rather scarce. As we will hear shortly from my next guest, it's not as difficult as it may seem. And as Michael Allemeier explains in this next clip, the abundant supply of fruits and vegetables that Canadians do have access to does not have to be limited to just the summer.

 

Michael Allemeier: The Okanagan, for probably pretty close to 100 years, has been known for its fruit tree industry. There are amazing fruits coming here - cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, quince - quite a staggering amount. So what we do in the summer months, and this is something I started the first summer I came here, is to set up a canning program. So what we do is can - first, what we do is procure organically grown fruits in the peak of their season and then we can them. Basically we built a pantry or a larder where in the shoulder season when we can't get fruit, and I certainly don't want to buy imported fruits, we can turn to this larder which we've got and it's packed with all this exciting fruit and vegetables. Great examples are cherries - we do a couple of different types of cherries. I have sour cherries, regular sweet cherries, a savoury type of cherry which is called Oculus which is a Bordeaux style of wine so it's more of a savoury application. We have cheeses and pates and terrines and things like that. Another great example is tomatoes. We know how great a tomato tastes in the summer and we know how different it can taste in the winter when it's grown somewhere else and picked when it's not ripe and then shipped up. So what we do is we always can a lot of Cascade tomatoes in particular in the end of September and then throughout the winter whenever we need tomato in any sort of culinary application, we'll turn to them. Of course you have to cook them appropriately - they're not good for salads or anything. Then again, we feel that tomato salads should only be eaten for a few weeks of the year when tomatoes are at their best. Last year, we had a very successful canning season. Last year, we did 7,000 jars and we sell them at the winery as well in our gift shop. Long before this valley was known for its wine, it was known for its fruit and that's really the spirit of this whole thing. So not only does it help the kitchen in the winter, in the shoulder season when fruit is not available, it's another great gift item that visitors to the Valley can take with them to give them a little reminder, a little taste of the Okanagan.

 

Jon Steinman: When almost every restaurant in our local communities relies on mass shipments of foods that have travelled thousands of miles to arrive in these kitchens, there is of course one ultimate advantage - and that is efficiency - it's easy to order from less than a handful of suppliers or distributors and in the end, it's much cheaper.

 

In wrapping up my conversation with Michael, I asked him if operating a restaurant and foodservice operation in the complex way in which he does, allows the operation to be financially viable.

 

Michael Allemeier: Ultimately, at the end of the day, it certainly does cost a bit more operating the way we do as far as using so many smaller producers. It's certainly not a good model for box store concepts because again at the end of the day, they're always looking at making their purchasing as efficient as possible. From that perspective, it's certainly not a good fit for them - it does cost more and is it viable? Well, ultimately we need to pass those costs down. Of course, we obviously don't gouge but ultimately at the end of the day, it costs us more and naturally that's passed down. But ultimately at the end of the day, there's a group of clientele out there that's interested in eating this way. It's environmentally sustainable, it speaks of the region, it's a lot healthier for one, and ultimately it tastes better. So at the end of the day, we certainly think it's worth it and thankfully we have a following of guests that believe it as well.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Michael Allemeier - the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate in Westbank, British Columbia. You can find out more about the winery at www.missionhillwinery.com. Michael was also recently one of the periodic hosts of the Food Network's Cook Like a Chef television program, and you can find many of his recipes on the Food Network's website - www.foodtv.ca.

 

It's not so often we have much time for any music on this program. With the importance that food has in our lives, having only 1-hour a week to discuss such an important topic is not nearly enough. I would argue that food issues should be at the forefront of media on a daily basis. But we do have some time for music on today's program, and I've invited Nelson resident Derek Grsanz to join me in the studio today and share a live performance using his authentic Didgeridoo, an Australian wind-instrument of the country's aboriginal population. A here is Derek Grisanz.

 

music

 

Jon Steinman: And you're tuned in to Deconstructing Dinner - a one-hour weekly program produced in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. I'm Jon Steinman.

 

We were just taking a short musical break and were listening to Nelson musician Derek Grisanz as he shared with us the sounds of his Didgeridoo live here in the studio. We'll hear a little more from Derek at the end of the show today.

 

If you are just tuning in, again this is Deconstructing Dinner where we take a closer look into our food choices and discuss how these choices impact ourselves, our communities and the planet.

 

Today's show is the first of periodic series titled Conscientious Cooks - where we will speak with chefs from around B.C. and perhaps abroad, and discover the ways in which these individuals take alternative approaches to planning a menu and preparing food.

 

These alternatives are just that - alternatives as the common methods by which food arrives in the kitchens of restaurants or food service operations are through large food-service distributors who are shipping out truckloads of food from main distribution centres. There are many negative environmental, economical and social impacts from such a system of large-scale food service distribution - all of these issues are consistently discussed on this program.

 

We were just hearing from Michael Allemeier - the Winery Chef at Mission Hill Family Estate located in the Okanagan. If you missed that interview, you can check out an archived version of this broadcast at www.cjly.net(slash)deconstructingdinner.

 

Michael shared with us his philosophy of supporting local farmers and producers and using food on a seasonal basis. This is in the end decreases the distance food travels and thereby the food retains freshness, nutritional qualities and requires less fuel to get the food into the stomachs of customers. And this philosophy helps support the local economy.

 

My next guest is a Vancouver-based chef who has taken using seasonal and local ingredients to a new level, and that is chef Andrea Carlson of Vancouver's Raincity Grill.

 

Andrea has only recently joined the restaurant after spending time at Vancouver's C Restaurant and the Sooke Harbour House on Vancouver Island. She has always been exposed to using local and seasonal ingredients and was further inspired by the recent series that has received much media attention - the 100-Mile Diet. For those of you who haven't yet heard about the 100-Mile Diet - it was a goal set out by authors James Mackinnon and Alisa Smith, who passed a resolution that they would only eat food that originated within 100-miles of where they lived. They documented their adventure in a column that appeared in the Tyee - a Vancouver-based online news resource.

 

This and other inspiration led Andrea to create a Tasting Menu of which all ingredients were sourced from within a 100-mile radius of Raincity Grill, and she titled this tasting menu the 100-Mile Tasting Menu.

 

I spoke with Andrea Carlson earlier and here she is explaining the inspiration in getting such a menu going.

 

Andrea Carlson:The influences for me for the 100-mile menu have been varied. They've been through different aspects of the places I've worked for such as the Sooke Harbour House and volunteering for the Tofino Botanical Gardens where the owner of the gardens once imagined what it was like to own restaurants that only use ingredients within 100 miles which is something that I think he is still quite passionate about trying to do. As well, the folks who are writing the article in the Tyee, they started their journey about a year ago to this day and they've been working on the 100-mile diet and that was definitely an influence as well.

 

Jon Steinman: As Andrea explained, the idea of creating a menu where all ingredients come from within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant is not entirely unique to the restaurant as many of their ingredients are typically sourced from as close as possible. This 100-mile menu is only a tasting menu - which is a multi-course meal that can be ordered instead of the regular menu of appetizers and entrees. So I asked Andrea if she was able to put a mileage on the ingredients that go into the restaurants standard menu, and she explains the limits to which she was able to source ingredients for the 100-Mile Tasting Menu.

 

Andrea Carlson: At this time of the year, what we have available to us is a lot of things that are already from within 100 miles. In the summer, we expand out to the Okanagan and I'm not sure what the mileage is on that, but from Vancouver, 100 miles pretty much encompasses Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and most of the Gulf Islands and all the way out to Hope in the Lower Mainland so it's a fairly broad area and we have a lot of small producers within that zone.

 

Jon Steinman: I asked Andrea whether the common staples that we find in kitchens such as salt, oils and butter were also sourced within 100 miles.

 

Andrea Carlson: We did as best as we could. We have butter, which is made here at Avalon Dairies. Unfortunately, there is no salt production at this time that we were able to find. The only oil production is hazelnut oil, which is from Agassiz. Naturally, that's not the best thing for cooking and the allergies, which so many people seem to have to nuts these days. So when it came to salt and to oils, we're still using those and we're not able to work around those. Other things that were surprising were flour, which is something we're quite dependent on and that's not something that is grown in this region at all so it was a challenge.

 

Jon Steinman: I know for myself, when I'm deconstructing my own dinner, one of the most difficult tasks is knowing when to draw the line. With such limited local and sustainable choices available to us, it seems almost impossible to make choices that sit 100% comfortably in our stomachs so to speak.

 

In the case of Andrea Carlson's 100-Mile Tasting Menu, I asked her whether the pork, for example that was on a recent 100-Mile menu, was actually fed food that also originated within 100-miles of the restaurant - certainly the next question in trying to eat meat that is raised as locally as possible.

 

Andrea Carlson: No, I didn't go that far. Our pork is from Flipping Hills Farm in Qualicum Beach. I have to be honest, I don't know what the pigs are eating.

 

Jon Steinman: Canadians have become so accustomed to having a readily available selection of vegetables and fruits all year round, we walk into grocery stores and there seems to always be strawberries, there always seems to be tomatoes, but of course, in January these items are certainly not native to our Canadian climate. Many of us as Canadians have very little idea of what items are locally grown and available throughout the winter. I asked Andrea to shed some light on which fruits and vegetables she had to choose from when planning her 100-mile Tasting Menu, and what is ultimately available to British Columbians throughout the winter months.

 

Andrea Carlson: We have a lot more choice here on the west coast because of the mild climate that we have. As we started the menu and went into the early part of November, we still had access to apples, crab apples and a bit of pear as well. Now that we are in the February, March time period that unfortunately is no longer available to us so it's become really heavily a root vegetable situation. Our dessert is a cheesecake with beet, and beet is quite a sweet root vegetable so we're trying to use that as our sweet element. Things like honey rather than sugar are what's available to us in terms of sweetening. There's a tremendous amount of root vegetables, celeriac, potatoes sun chokes, onions and garlic. But as far as fruit, it's a little on the limited side unless you were able to put things away in the summer.

 

Jon Steinman: As was the focus of my conversation with Andrea Carlson of Vancouver's Raincity Grill, the big question is of course - what does her 100-Mile Tasting Menu look like, and ultimately the question was asking Andrea to really deconstruct her dinner.

 

To give you an idea as to the increased effort in sourcing ingredients from a 100-mile radius, seasonality becomes a major factor, so much so that the menu that was available on the restaurant's website had already been changed by the time I spoke with Andrea. In not knowing this, I asked her to explain the first course of Root Vegetable Crisps with Preserved Tomato Compotes.

 

Andrea Carlson: I can tell from the menu you have that that is one of our older menus. It keeps evolving because we've been working through things that we have preserved over frozen and unfortunately the preserved tomatoes are no longer with us. So presently, we are using a goat yogurt and preserved garlic dip. The goat yoghurt is from Abbotsford but the tomatoes that are on your menu are from Sedoro Farms out towards the Langley area.

 

Jon Steinman: Andrea continues on with deconstructing her current 100-Mile Tasting Menu and starts by explaining the second course - an Oyster Panna Cotta.

 

Andrea Carlson: The dairy products are from Avalon Dairies. The eggs are from the Lower Mainland here, celery root - most of our vegetables and root vegetables specifically are from Mount Lehman Farms in the Langley area. The roe, the Coho roe, is from Agassiz, from land-based fish farming at Swift Aquaculture. The honey mussels that we have right now are from Cortes Island. Right now we're serving a fennel seed and salsify curry, which is a selection of root vegetables, mainly salsify which are grown in Aldergrove. For the nettle and hazelnut vinaigrette, the hazelnuts are from Agassiz and the nettles are a wild forged product from Vancouver Island. Next we have seared sun valley trout which is grown in Ladner, I believe. That is with roasted beet and potato puree which are both from the Mount Lehman area. Brown butter, which is from Avalon again and Merridale Cider which is from Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. Next we have braised Matsqui lamb. Matsqui is an area not too far from Abbotsford served with sun chokes, spring kale and bacon jus. Sun chokes are from the Mount Lehman area from Susan at Glorious Salads. The kale is from the Friesens in Aldergrove (Friesen Farms) and the bacon is house cured made from the pork from Flipping Hills Farms. And for the final course, we have candied golden beets and castle blue cheesecake. The castle blue and the cream cheese that are used in the cheesecake are from Farmhouse Cheese, which is in Agassiz as well. That is served with honey from Agassiz and a beet sorbet. Beets are from the Fraser Valley from Friesen Farms once again and that's served with a hazelnut meringue.

 

Jon Steinman: If you're just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner - a weekly 1-hour broadcast produced and recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. Today's broadcast is the first of a periodic series titled Conscientious Cooks, where we will visit with cooks around the province and perhaps from abroad who are making unique efforts in their restaurant or foodservice kitchens.

 

We are currently hearing clips from my conversation with Andrea Carlson - the Chef de Cuisine of Vancouver's Raincity Grill. Andrea is currently running a feature menu titled the 100-Mile Tasting Menu - a menu as she just explained, contains ingredients that are only sourced within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant.

 

Prior to joining Raincity Grill in the summer of 2005, Andrea had had experience with organic gardening, and one focus of hers as a chef is using organic ingredients. I asked Andrea if restricting herself to only looking for ingredients from within 100 miles of the restaurant restricted her ability to find organic foods.

 

Andrea Carlson: It was actually easier to get more organic for a 100 mile menu because our smaller local producers tend to be organic so I would say everything on this menu is organic.

 

Jon Steinman: At first glance, the idea of using only food that has been grown or produced within 100-miles may seem as a daunting task to the average Canadian, so I asked Andrea if she faced any difficulties in finding these ingredients and these foods.

 

Andrea Carlson: No, we have one supplier, Kim Biovia, who is just phenomenal. She is really in touch with all of the local growers and her distribution company that she started a couple of years ago has made it much easier for restaurants like ours to have contact with all these unique growers.

 

Jon Steinman: As was the subject of one of my final questions posed to my previous guest Michael Allemeier, the cost of operating a restaurant in more sustainable and ecological ways seem as though it would be rather expensive. Here's Andrea responding to the same question.

 

Andrea Carlson: I've never worked at a place that deals with an extremely large distributor. We've always had access to smaller growers but specifically with a 100 mile menu, things are a lot more expensive. With the eggs, for example, cost is quite prohibitive on the organic free run eggs that we're getting. They cost twice as much as conventional eggs. Onions cost five times as much as conventional onions. So it's something that can be more challenging. People expect the fancier items, the proteins, the cheeses that sort of thing to cost more when they're organic, but surprisingly, it's the things you don't notice as much like the onions which are fairly essential to most aspects of cooking from the very base that you end up spending a lot more money on and that's where I find the difference is with the 100 mile menu, in that a lot of the root vegetables are quite a bit more expensive.

 

Jon Steinman: As Raincity Grill's 100-Mile Tasting Menu may be providing you with some inspiration to try and plan your own meals in the same way, Chef Andrea Carlson explained that this is a common question from her guests.

 

Andrea Carlson: A lot of people are excited by the idea of it and we have had people make comments about how can regular people get to a grocery store and access these products and unfortunately there doesn't seem to an answer for that at this time. Through things like community supported agriculture and box programs, that seems to be the best opportunity for people to get personal access to local growers. But as far as buying locally in the winter in supermarkets, it doesn't seem to be something that's available right now.

 

Jon Steinman: And this is the sad truth, that for British Columbians or many North Americans for that matter, if we tried to live as sustainably as possible and only eat foods grown within a limited radius, it is and would be very difficult. The opportunities do exist, through as Andrea explained, Organic Food Delivery services, Community Supported Agriculture, but in the grand scheme of things, these options are very limited, and this presents one of the very reasons this program - Deconstructing Dinner was conceived - that as citizens and as human beings, we all deserve the right to have access to local, ethical, and sustainably produced foods. And this is certainly not the political environment or culture we live in.

 

In wrapping up my conversation with Andrea Carlson, I asked her whether her 100-Mile Tasting Menu has changed her approach to cooking and to designing menus.

 

Andrea Carlson: It will actually. It really brought into focus what is and what is not available to us - things that we take for granted like flowers the legumes, certain protein sources. It has already motivated us to work with some of our contacts in Agassiz and they are looking into growing Red Fife wheat, three different types of legumes. It's a great motivator for us to try and potentially create a growing community that is basically wanting to grow something for restaurants and for profit. It seems that a lot of the growers in the Valley, they know that they can't compete in the current farming situation that's happening in terms of really massive monocrop, corporate environments and having to grow a mass amount of something in order to sell enough of it to make it really worth your while. Also, they understand that they need to focus on doing specialties for the growing and it seems that they're interested in trying to establish a relationship with restaurants so that they benefit and we benefit. It will be very interesting to see how that develops.

 

Jon Steinman: As my previous guest Michael Allemeier explained, he has the luxury of using a fruit, vegetable and herb garden directly on the Mission Hill property. This is certainly an advantage of operating in a more sub-urban environment where the Winery is located. But in Andrea Carlson's case - Raincity Grill is right smack in Vancouver, so I asked her if she has the ability to grow her own ingredients, and she also explains a new pilot project that she is working on.

 

Andrea Carlson: Ideally, I would love it if I could persuade the restaurant owner and building manager to put a rooftop garden on Raincity but it's not going too well so far. As well, the pastry chef at C Restaurant, her name is Mary and she started a program called Growing Chefs and we have a pilot program on the go right now this spring at one of these schools here in Vancouver so the motivation is to have chefs go into the classrooms and talk to the kids about growing and food and help create an environment where kids can get more in touch with where they get their food source. So that's what we're working on right now. We had our second class this morning and it's going really well - it's a lot of fun.

 

Jon Steinman: And that was Andrea Carlson - the Chef de Cuisine at Raincity Grill. The restaurant is located at 1193 Denman St. in Vancouver and you can find out more information about the restaurant at www.raincitygrill.com.

 

You can also find out more about the 100-Mile Diet that provided one influence in the creation of her 100-Mile Tasting Menu by visiting www.thetyee.ca and type in 100-mile in the search field.

 

ending theme

 

Jon Steinman: That was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant Dianne Matenko. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. For more information on the station or to become a member, you can visit www.cjly.net, or dial 250-352-9600. And should you have any comments about tonight's show, want to learn more about topics covered, or want to listen to any segments of this broadcast again, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.

 

‘Til next week…

 


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