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Thoughts of Terroir: Buffalo chefs reflect on food conference

A (Bigger) Taste of Toronto

By Lauren Newkirk Maynard

Last
week I attended Terroir, Toronto’s seventh annual hospitality industry symposium. A full day of presentations and
workshops on April 8 kicked off a week of hedonistic food and wine tours,
cooking demos, book signings, late nights and shared kitchen experiences for
some of the world’s top culinary professionals.

Those kind Canadians let me cross the border to hear chefs recall their childhood food memories and to nibble tasty, weird things like
trout skin and maple syrup taffy. I was also lucky enough to hang with some of
Buffalo’s most talented chefs over really strong cocktails.

Afterward,
the local crew had much to say about Terroir 7 and what it means for the future
of the profession
. They
chimed in about the best oysters in Toronto, why cooking meat matters, and how
the “little private club” that is Western New York’s dining scene could someday
grow into a world-class destination for foodies and farmers.

 A
few of their longer responses are posted here for your reading pleasure.
Cheers!

 Buffalo News: Why did you attend Terroir this
year? 

 James
D. Roberts, executive chef, Park
Country Club of Buffalo:

I always want to attend the event for the people and the networking (and they
are great every time), but there is always one big hook that I end up leaving
with. This year’s was the affirmation that our efforts here in Western New York are the same as the efforts on the
global stage.

I also end up with some great new friends from it. This time I was
traveling with Craig
Deihl
, a chef from a restaurant called Cypress
in Charleston, South Carolina. He blew my mind with some of
his charcuterie
techniques and ideas, and we had a great time cooking with the other chefs at
the symposium and out in Prince
Edward County
at a winery “mystery basket” dinner.

Quality charcuterie is something that is unique and in pretty low
quantities here in WNY, despite having some of the highest quality local meats
in the world, so it was great to have Craig with us sharing ideas that I can
hopefully help facilitate in this area.

Michael Obarka, executive chef, Ristorante Lombardo : I attended
the symposium because I thought it would be beneficial to me as a chef to get a
look at things from a more international viewpoint. In a city the size we live
in, we all know each other fairly well. So, I think it’s good to network
outside of the "comfort zone," so to speak. 

Brad Rowell, sous chef, Park Country Club of Buffalo: There are very few places in the
world where this many influential food people gather to share their diverse
experiences. You never know what you’re going to learn;
all you know is that you will learn a lot. Attending Terroir is also
special because of the camaraderie it builds between people in the Buffalo food
community. We all get to go on this adventure together and have so many
memorable experiences.

BN: Describe a specific moment, presentation, person or dish that made
an impression on you, at the symposium or out and about in Toronto.

JR: There were several moments
that really stood out to me. René Redzepi’s speech really hit home, and not
only because he is one of the greatest chefs in the world, but because he talked about his
weakest moment of not being sure if he was doing the right thing and that
everyone was telling him to change to be better or more like the rest of the
great restaurants in history.

He basically said that he would only do what he thought was best and
what made him feel good about doing … and that is what has made him great. And it
was not in a "I am not listening to anyone" way, but in a "I have a dream of
what I want" way.

Also, many of the moments in the kitchens with all the international
chefs the last two days made me realize and affirmed that the philosophy I hold
true—of caring for ingredients and caring for where they are sourced, making
sure to respect them by preparing them properly and feeding them to guests in a
wholesome way—is more than just an idea I had for a program here at PCC, but is
recognized all over the world as a standard for excellence and effort. That was
really refreshing to hear.

Ross Warhol, Executive Chef, Athenaeum Hotel: A couple of presentations
really caught my attention—one being about gastronomy and the art of plating,
and the other, of course, by René Redzepi. René presented something completely
different than what everyone was expecting. I thought it was brilliant,
and it has inspired me to go 10 times harder than I am now. He basically
summed up what every chef in this industry has once or will feel about ‘burning
out’ and transformed it into something so motivational for me.

Food-wise, I always make it a point
to make it to Starfish when I am in Toronto to feast on
amazing European varietal oysters that we cannot get here in the States.

MO: I was really impressed by the session with Magnus Nilsson. It was a very profound and thought-provoking look at the
consumption of meat and what it takes for an animal to make it to our plates.
It was a very responsible and pointed discussion. Having grown up hunting and
fishing, I share Nilsson’s attitude. But I feel it is one thing I need to share
with more people I come in contact with, especially my cooks and other
restaurant folk.

BR: There were two dishes and restaurants that really inspired me
in Toronto. The
first was the pig ears with fried egg at Electric Mud; it was a wonderfully
balanced dish both with flavor and texture. I also love Electric Mud’s
relaxed atmosphere and genuine service, and that they played the entire ‘Beggars
Banquet’ album by the Rolling Stones on vinyl. 

 

The second was the oysters at
Starfish, which has become a tradition for Buffalonians attending Terrior. The
attention to detail of the oyster-obsessed staff is always an experience. Flawless
preparation and sourcing of North American and rare European oyster with a few
pints of craft beer makes this place really special.

The speakers that inspired me were
Gillian Flies and Brent Preston from The New Farm. The way they
talked about organic farming with a focus on quality over quantity was
very inspiring. They showed how appealing this model is to chefs
and restaurants, and how this is profitable for them and beneficial to the
entire community.

BN: James, why do you
take so many of your staff to this event each year? What do you see happen to
them over the course of the symposium?

JR: The experiences that my
staff has at these events are much like mine—an influence from someone else of
considerable proficiency. When I wanted to learn how to bake bread, I went and
worked for four or five great bakers. Not because I needed to, but because I
wanted to understand more about bread for myself, not just one mentor’s way.
These events pack a ton of mentors in one area, in a set pattern of
programming, so people can grasp the information and bring it back with them to
their jobs and lives.

The more people I have experiencing the level of execution and ideas I
want to put forth, the more they understand why I push myself, and them, so
hard. I also want them to see that what we are doing in a little private club
in Buffalo, is
not unlike what great restaurants all over the world are doing, and then they
get it. They come back proud of what we accomplish but yet begin to work harder
to achieve the next level, to stay in front of the rest of the world, whatever
that is…

And I don’t take them to these events. I tell them about them, invite
them to come with me and share in my experiences, but they have to get
themselves there. They have to put forth the effort to save, make sure their
work is done and to really want it. This also makes them take it more seriously
from an educational standpoint. That is the kind of effort I require of my
staff.

BN: Why should the Buffalo food community care about what’s cooking in Toronto and around the
world?

JR: I think we would be very
silly to ignore the fact that we have a metropolitan, progressive city just two
hours north of us. There are some really great things happening in Toronto, and the support
of the community and government is tremendous for their culinary tourism and
hospitality industry.

The scene, as good as it is now, is continually growing and getting
stronger. Their sense of camaraderie and companionship is unlike anything I
have ever seen in a major city. Everyone helps each other and is a collaborator
with someone else. They look out for each another and believe that if they
build up the whole, there will be more to go around for anyone, rather than
just one person succeeding.

Not so very long ago, Toronto
had a young struggling scene just like ours, so we have a good model of success
that we can learn from and translate, hopefully, into our own city’s economic
and social growth.

We have to broaden our horizons in order to attract people into our
community. We have to seek out influences to create an attractive package for
our customers and to enrich our lives. It would be foolish just to live in a Buffalo bubble.

MO: I think we should keep an ear to the ground when it comes to
the Toronto
food scene, mainly because of its proximity to us as an international city.
[Terroir] had a debate about David Chang and Daniel Boulud coming to their city
and the effect it is having on their food scene. I think we are building a good
foundation in Buffalo.
If two culinary titans such as these two had ideas of bringing spots to Buffalo,
that would mean that we would have built up quite a reputation as a food city—something
I think we could take a lot of pride in. 

RW: Buffalo
should be aware of events like this because our city is well on its way to
becoming a food destination for people around the world. A hard working,
incredible and driven person who goes by the name of Christa [Glennie] Seychew
has built the food scene here in Buffalo
to what it is now in just a few short years. 

Without a doubt, I believe Buffalo has very talented, passionate and driven chefs who
will put Buffalo
on the map.

BR: Over the past five years, several chefs in Toronto who have worked
at restaurants with million-dollar budgets have left to open smaller, more
casual and less expensive spots that have kept the high level of food and
service without as many frills. (This is happening all over the
world). This should be very inspiring to young cooks in Buffalo. 

BN: Describe some new ideas or information you took back with you to
your kitchen. Did the conference reinforce what you already knew?

RW: I was very inspired and am determined to push forth in this
industry with all I’ve got. Most of all the presenters really reinforced
what I already know and my philosophy and outlook on food. It was a great
day for all of us there that share the same ideas and really great to talk with
one another and network.

BN: Ross, does cooking in Chautauqua ever get isolating for you? How
does an event like Terroir help you socially and professionally?

RW: Being down here in the ‘sticks,’ if you will, gets lonely in a
way. Honestly, there is no other chef in the area who shares the same passion
for food and philosophy that I do.  I would love to be more of a part of
the continuously growing Buffalo
chef family while learning from them as well.

On the other hand, I am very
fortunate to have hundreds of farms to choose from whenever I source locally as
well as having a generous plot of land where I grow vegetables for the hotel and
its Farm to Table program. 

My love for food starts from the
seed and soil, growing crops and tending them, driving down the road to my
chicken, beef and pork farmers, and picking up freshly made local cheese curd
and raw milk. This carries through to preparing such ingredients with a great
deal of respect and serving this food to eager guests.

email: laurennmaynard@gmail.com

 

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