Welcome to the fifth, and final, profile in our chef series! Jason and Nicole Sawatsky are the Chef owners of The Yellow Pear in St. Catharines, ON. The Yellow Pear represents many iterations of farm-to-table food: it is a food truck, event catering, AND an extremely popular brunch spot in St. Catharines, ON.
Chefs Jay and Nicole’s paths to becoming chefs were very similar ones. They both loved food and loved learning how to cook early in their childhoods. It was always expected by everyone who knew them that they’d pursue careers in the food industry. They first met each other when they were in culinary school together and ended up being assigned as lab partners. They immediately connected, but at the time, Nicole was in a relationship with someone else. School ended and they parted ways, forging their own paths working in kitchens across Toronto and Southern Ontario. A few years later, Nicole reached out again to Jay on a whim to ask him on a date. Two weeks later, they’d moved in together! Now, they are coming up to their ten year wedding anniversary.
The Evolution of The Yellow Pear
They began The Yellow Pear back in 2013. So named, by the way, after a variety of heirloom tomato they grew in their backyard! By that point, they’d both worked in an array of restaurants and settled in St. Catharines. They wanted to work for themselves but didn’t yet feel they were in a position to take on the financial risk of a bricks-and-mortar restaurant. They settled on the idea of a farm-to-fork food truck, doing mostly event catering. Being based in St. Catherines and so close to Niagara-on-the-lake, they decided they’d drive their truck to farms in the region and base their event menus on what was available at the time. Fun fact: theirs was the first solar powered, propane free, generator free food truck in North America!
Their concept behind The Yellow Pear turned out to be an enormous success, and they very quickly built up their event business focusing on catering weddings. They’d sit down with the bride and groom and get a sense of what kind of meals they wanted to serve, but they left it up to chance and only created the final menu based off what Nicole and Jay could source from farms that week. As Nicole explains, they wanted to ‘give them something they’re not going to get at home or anywhere. Let’s make it special.’ It’s easier to do that ‘when you have great ingredients.’ They still cater weddings and the menus continue to be made with at least 90% Ontario grown ingredients. That’s spectacular!
Eventually, their business expanded to the point where they needed a prep kitchen & storage space. They hadn’t actually decided on opening a sit-down restaurant until they were shown the location by their realtor, and they realized it would make a perfect brunch spot. Thus, The Yellow Pear opened its doors back in October 2017.
They’ve been in the food business for a long time now, and to stay motivated, there are two things that play a big role. One, they feel lucky to live on the doorstep of the lush Niagara region. Being so close to so many farms and wineries keeps them connected to their vision. Second, seeing what their peers are doing with local food continues to inspire them.
100km Foods is their core supplier, since they curate a menu that is over 90% local. In the early days, Nicole would drive around to each farm herself. But as their business grew, that became impossible to continue. 100km Foods was an ‘amazing’ fit for them, letting them continue to source products from some of the same farmers as before and be introduced to new ones.
We asked their advice to sourcing local and planning seasonally. Jay says ‘you have to be smart about it!’ Nicole, who does the ordering, says ‘It’s pretty easy with 100km. Financially, it all works out.’ This is in part because the labour time needed to work with the ingredients is less, since they are of such ‘high quality.’ When it comes to being seasonal, they have a lot of flexibility. Nicole and Jay develop their specials and their menus based on what is available and switch it up all the time. They love the ability to showcase their creativity in this way, which keeps it exciting for them! One of the things they love best is the excitement they share with their diners, who are often being introduced to heirloom varieties of vegetables they may never have eaten before.
Since Jay and Nicole source almost entirely from 100km, they have plenty of favourite products. They love the eggs from Homestead, Seed to Sausage products, the Sheldon Creek and Harmony dairy products – especially the egg nog! K2 milling products are a huge hit, as well. They love the New Farm greens and one of their newest favourites is Planet Shrimp. For the food truck events especially, they LOVE the Welsh Bros Corn. Nicole loves the huge cheese selection, saying a recent favourite of hers has been the Game Changer from Stonetown Cheese.
When it comes to what they love to cook, Jay and Nicole both said Welsh Bros. sweet corn is one of their favourites. They do a Mexican-style street corn off their truck and some weeks they go through hundreds of cobs. They also get pallets of firewood from Warner’s Farm to cook and grill over the fire in the summer months.
Next, our question that stumped everyone! Who would they have dinner with, dead or alive? Jay decided he would like to have dinner with his Oma, who was a huge influence on Jay growing up and a wonderful home cook. Nicole decided on Lady Gaga! Nicole said Lady Gaga seems like she’d enjoy a variety of food, and Nicole would take it one step further and would love to cook for her someday!
If they weren’t chefs, what would they be doing?
Jay said once upon a time, he considered being an architect. But now, if he wasn’t a chef, he’s certain he’d still be connected to food by becoming a farmer. At the end of the day though, Jay says ‘I’ve never really second guessed my career, so I haven’t really thought about that. No, I love my job. It’s hard work, but I love my job.’ Nicole said she’d still like to be a chef, but she’d love to ‘be a chef in Europe!’ She admires and respects the food culture in Europe and would love to learn from the chefs in that region.
We had a fantastic time sitting down with Jay and Nicole. They are such a great team and are transforming the food scene in their corner of St. Catharines. They have woven local food into their business every step of the way, and we are so impressed by their steadfast commitment – so of course they are a wonderful addition to our group of ambassadors! Next time you’re in St. Catharines, we recommend making a reservation at The Yellow Pear for brunch!
Written By: Genrys Goodchild
Photos By: Sara May