Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Purely Canadian: Stratford Chef Uses Domestic Ingredients and Cooks Seasonally

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Purely Canadian: Stratford Chef Uses Domestic Ingredients and Cooks Seasonally

Article excerpt

Stratford chef focuses on Canadian ingredients


STRATFORD, Ont. - If it's not a Canadian ingredient, Robert Rose doesn't want it in his restaurant.

That even extends to the fittings and furnishings, which he builds himself or sources from Canadian companies.

The chef and owner of Canadian Grub to Go opened his doors in this theatre town just over a year ago and, judging by the lineups to nosh on his uniquely Canadian and seasonal fare, has found a niche in the marketplace.

Last weekend, his Ontario Grains Arancini -- barley, wild rice, quinoa and sunflower seeds stuffed with hot pepper brick cheese -- was voted best vegetarian dish at the Sunday Tasting event at the Savour Stratford culinary festival. He supplied the dried peppers that Oak Grove Cheese in nearby Wilmot added to the cheese.

"The total mission for this place is to be 100 per cent Canadian based," Rose says.

"We won't import anything ourselves ... We're not trying to give you lemon when we can substitute, say, sorrel or lemon balm or find another flavour that is actually grown in the country.

"If we can find it in the country we'll use it. If we can't find it we just won't import it."

The decor of the take-out space -- painted green in a tribute to his mother's favourite colour -- is dominated by a Canadian flag and a map showing where his ingredients are sourced. A few examples include hazelnuts, crab and prawns from B.C.; wheat, quinoa and chickpeas from Saskatchewan; bison and hemp seeds from Manitoba; lamb, strawberries, peaches, pickerel, elk and blueberries from Ontario; Oka cheese and brie from Quebec; molasses from New Brunswick; lobster from Prince Edward Island; and birch syrup from Dawson City in Yukon along with arctic char from the far north.

"It's not like you're ever pinched," Rose says after a recent lunch-time rush before an afternoon performance at the nearby Avon Theatre.

"You just have to look harder and that's kind of our challenge. We've had as many as 37 different suppliers that I've called in a one-month span."

Rose took over a former shipping store and opted to start small, using less than half of the building's 30-metre length for a take-out area with seven stools. In April he added tables in the back section, and is installing a prep area in hopes of launching a cross-Canada tasting menu there. That space is ideally situated to accommodate theatre patrons with the exit from the Avon emptying right at his back entrance.

When you walk in the front door, you see Rose hard at work, whether he's making stock, smoking meats or preserving items that are placed in countless jars lined up on shelves and even along the crown moulding.

"As far as we know -- we researched this heavily before we opened -- no other restaurant in Canada serves exclusively Canadian. And I love when they say they do because it takes me about 20 seconds (to prove them wrong). …

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