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100km Foods Chef Profile – Jason & Nicole Sawatsky, The Yellow Pear

man and woman standing in kitchen

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

man and woman sitting at table smiling at each other

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.

two chefs smiling and looking at eachother while standing in kitchen

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.

Favourite products?

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.

man and woman sitting at table

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

100km Foods Chef Profile – Taylor McMeekin, The Chase

Male chef, bearded with tattoos, standing in kitchen with a plate of food.

Next in our series: we sat down with Chef Taylor McMeekin, the executive chef from The Chase in Toronto. The Chase is known for being a fine dining establishment focused on fish and seafood, however, they have made a sustainability commitment and their restaurant menu is now 25% plant based!

Like all our other ambassadors, Chef Taylor has a long history working with 100km Foods as distribution partner. Taylor joined the team at the Chase just over a year and a half ago, but before that he was working at the Air Canada Centre. For the many years as a chef at various establishments, Taylor has worked with 100km Foods.

Why local food?

Taylor’s commitment for local food stems partly from his rural upbringing. He has many great memories as a kid of hiking and exploring Grey County with his parents. Some of Taylor’s fondest memories include foraging with his parents and cooking what they found in the bush, and Taylor still enjoys foraging to this day! He also spent a lot of time on farms, as most of his family members and community were farmers. Taylor started working in kitchens when he was 13 years old as a dishwasher. He loved the intense energy of the kitchen right from the start, and has stayed working in kitchens ever since! One of the things that has kept him going all these years is the fantastic people he has met in the restaurant industry. As Taylor says, ‘the passion that surrounds you keeps the passion within.’

Taylor’s rural roots is a huge factor into why he has pushed for a commitment to sourcing local food wherever he has worked. Growing up in Grey County, he learned plenty about produce. When he was in his late teens, Taylor moved to Bruce County for work, where he learned about animal husbandry. It was always important to him to support the local, rural economy through the purchasing power of restaurants in the city. For him, it’s a way to ‘come full circle.’ Of the different distributors Taylor has worked with, he says ‘100km has always been the most reliable. Always gave us the best information, always good working with them.’

Male chef, bearded with tattoos, leaning over a counter and plating a dish.

Planning seasonally?

When we asked Taylor about advice for other chefs to plan a seasonal menu and source local, he joked and said ‘work harder to get it done!’ Jokes aside, being strategic about planning your menu does take some effort. But the payoff is certainly worth it, since ‘it’s going to be closer to you and tasting better and going to be fresher, you’re also reducing your carbon footprint through transportation and supporting the local economy. It’s really a ‘no brainer’ for a sustainable choice.

Another thing Taylor swears by: using the Seasonality Calendar available through the 100km Foods website, calling it ‘one of the greatest tools ever made.’ Taylor says it’s very in-depth, and though as a chef he feels its important to have a general idea of seasonality, when you’re sitting down in the middle of February to plan the spring/summer menus, it helps to be able to pull it up and refresh your memory! He also appreciates the ongoing conversation 100km Foods provides around how the season is progressing, especially when the weather can be deeply unpredictable. We chatted about a spring a few years past where there were so many torrential downpours which affected availability. Taylor remembers that spring keenly, recalling a foraging trip with his uncle to find ramps and losing not one, but both of his rubber boots and finishing their trek barefoot!

We turned next to discussing Taylor’s favourite products to source through 100km. He is a big fan of Mark Hayhoe from k2 Milling, saying he goes through ‘a ton of different products,’ and that they are ‘doing a fantastic job!’ He also loves all the Fogo Island Fish products. The honey vinegars from Ontario Honey Creations are another of his staple products, and all of the oils from Pristine Gourmet. The Chase also gets all their dairy from Hewitts and use the Golden Dawn butter from Alliston Creamery on their menus.

Favourite products?

We asked Taylor what his favourite dish to cook was, and he said he didn’t have an answer. He loves everything he gets to cook and never fails to enjoy the satisfaction he gets from having all the different components of a dish come together. So, we asked him then, what are some of his favourite foods to eat? He (unsurprisingly, since he’s the executive chef at a seafood restaurant) said he loves to eat fish and seafood. However – his ‘desert island’ choice would probably be all the varieties of onions and farm-fresh eggs. You can’t go wrong with that choice!

We turned next to discussing who he’d want to have dinner with. He said his ‘chef’ answer is definitely the late Anthony Bourdain, but other people he’d love to chat with include the authors William S. Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson.

Two dishes of pasta and salad on a table with cutlery and water glasses.

And if he wasn’t a chef? Taylor thinks he’d go right back to his roots and be a farmer. He loves the physicality of the job and needing to be consistent and on top of things – he thinks it’s a very close fit to what he treasures about being a chef.

At the end of the day, Taylor wants to continue to innovate how restaurants source and plan menus to prioritize sustainability. He thinks often about the impact human society is having on the planet and would love to, some day, be involved with more programs that are focused on sustainability.

Bearded male chef with glasses, smiling and standing in a kitchen.

We loved chatting with Taylor and were very spoiled when he cooked us a delicious plant-based lunch afterwards. Taylor is such a warm, kind and funny person whose culinary talent and commitment to local food and sustainability shines through in everything he does. We feel so lucky to be able to include him as an ambassador for 100km Foods!

Written By: Genrys Goodchild

Photos By: Sara May

lorakirk, rubywatchcho, 100kmfoods, farmtotable, localfood, ontarioeats, torontoeats

100km Foods Chef Profile – Lora Kirk, Ruby Watchco

female chef with tattoos standing with arms folded in a kitchen

For the next installment in our Chef ambassador series, we sat down with Chef Lora Kirk. Lora is chef & co-owner of Ruby Watchco in Toronto. Chef Lora has an impressive culinary resume, having worked as a chef internationally for over fifteen years – including working with Gordon Ramsey and Angela Hartnett at the Connaught Hotel!

Lora is another amazing local food advocate who has a long history and strong relationship with 100km Foods. She and her wife, Lynn, opened Ruby Watchco ten years ago and have been sourcing through 100km since its opening. For Lora, she was drawn to pursue a career as a chef in part because of her profound connection to food and the land through her family. Lora’s parents had a hobby farm, and her grandparents were farmers just outside of Peterborough, ON. From a young age, they instilled within Lora a love and appreciation of being in nature, harvesting food, and cooking meals from scratch using ingredients they grew themselves. Having grown up with such an intimate familiarity with all things food, it was a really natural fit for Lora to become a chef.

There are two things that keep Lora passionate and motivated in her career as a chef: sharing in the joy and delight as her daughters, Addie Pepper and Gemma Jet, try different foods for the first time. And the other: working with great farmers and growers. As Lora says, ‘surrounding yourself with good people (…) pushes you forward.’

As mentioned, Lora has been sourcing through 100km Foods for almost as long as 100km has existed. Lora appreciates that 100km does ‘a lot of the leg work for you.’ The legitimacy 100km Foods offers (since we are able to connect with the farmers directly and guarantee the products are local) provides the comfort and safety of knowing with certainty you’re getting what you think you’re getting. 100km Foods also partners with farms who not only have great stories, but also grow great products. For Lora, these connections continuously inspire her to craft something spectacular with the ingredients.

Female chef peeling a purple carrot

Sourcing local, planning seasonal

We were really eager to pick Lora’s brain about sourcing local and planning seasonal menus. She encourages chefs to think deeply about what you want to cook with, and why. She likens being a chef nowadays to being a kid in a candy store – you can order ‘anything, from anybody, from anywhere. That doesn’t mean the quality is going to be the greatest.’ For Lora, she prioritizes sourcing locally, because then she knows where the product is coming from and because ‘if I’m going to support someone, I want to support someone in my community.’ Back when Lora and Lynn were opening Ruby Watchco, they chose to prioritize local because it made sense with their decision to frequently change the menu. They didn’t do it to be trendy: they did it because they intuitively understood that the relationship building fostered through sourcing from local farms nurtures a small restaurant business. However, she emphasizes that there needs to be a level of legitimacy behind it and the quality of ingredient that she looks for. Simply branding something ‘local’ isn’t enough.

She has two other crucial points to make. First, once that product is in your door, you need to ‘use every last peeling’ and be smart about how you use it, store it, and plan with it. Second, ‘good chefs are good problem solvers,’ so she urges other chefs to pay attention to how the growing season is progressing. Some years will be great for certain kinds of crops, and some years won’t. If you pay attention to how the season is trending, you can push yourself to be creative when things may not go as planned. Like the other chefs we’ve spoken to, Lora cites the seasonality calendar as a useful tool, as well as the new growing forecast emails we send out monthly. This proactive information we provide is something other suppliers are unlikely to do, where the best you’ll get when you ask if a product is available is simply, ‘no.’

There’s something special about Fogo Island Cod

When we turned to some of Lora’s favourite products she sources, and she said her current favourite is the hand-line caught cod from Fogo Island Fish. For those who may not know, Lora was able to spend time in Fogo Island with Tony and Janice and has gone out to catch the cod with the fishers – which you can read about here. The product is great, and the story is so special. Her other favourites include The New Farm greens. These greens are more than just greens. Lora says they are also extraordinary because of the work Brent and Gil are doing and how they’re changing agriculture to adapt to climate change. She also loves carrots from Gwillimdale Farms, saying they sometimes ‘can be the sweetest carrots I’ve ever had.’

chef peeling a purple carrot

We asked Lora her favourite meals to cook. Her answer was straight the to the point: ‘anything with eggs!’. Lora and Lynn both are big egg eaters at home, and that’s also one of Addie Pepper’s favourites (she may be young but she’s already learning to crack eggs one handed!). Poached, scrambled, omelette, you name it, they love it. Another one of her favourite late-night meals is pasta, bacon and scrambled eggs with hot sauce. Lora also loves working with the espelette peppers from St. David’s, and always makes time to smoke them and make a huge batch of hot sauce.

Who would Lora share a meal with?

Now, the question that has stumped everyone thus far – who would Lora eat with, dead or alive? After much deliberation, Lora settled on a very beautiful answer: her great-grandmother and her babka (grandma). She only was able to meet her great-grandmother once when she was thirteen, and because of the second world war, her babka was separated from her great-grandmother at a very young age. Lora’s babka is a fantastic cook, and so was her great-grandmother, so she would love to sit down with them to share a dinner, three generations of women who made magic with food.

female chef smiling in kitchen

If Lora wasn’t a chef, she thinks she would have gone either one of two ways: back to her roots as a farmer (probably raising ducks, chickens or rabbits, which is what her parents raised) or a photographer. That being said, Lora loves what she does as a chef. She considers herself a giving person and wants to pay forward the care and dedication that the farmers showed by growing these products in a way that resonates with diners. There are many who come to Ruby Watchco who want to learn, and having a great team that is knowledgeable, passionate and excited to share with diners is just one way to realize Lora’s vision.

We had a wonderful time sitting down with Lora (and meeting the newest addition to their family, baby Gemma Jet!). Lora has a lot of wisdom and expertise born from her own family history and her extensive culinary experience, and we feel truly lucky to have had such excellent support from her over the years. She is an amazing champion and advocate of the local food movement, and it was an absolute no-brainer to have her be part of our fantastic ambassadors!

Written By: Genrys Goodchild

Photos by: Sara May

100kmfoods, localfood, torontoeats, constantine, mattsimpson, 100kmfoodsambassador

100km Foods Chef Profile – Matt Simpson, Constantine

100km Foods and Chef Matt Simpson

Chef Matt would be the first to tell you he became a chef somewhat by accident. He got his first job working at a Kelsey’s in the dish pit and doing prep when he was a young teenager. He kept up with that job all throughout high school, and when he graduated, he made some forays into different areas: for a time he studied to be an electrician, and then business. He had a light bulb moment where he realized he’d been working in kitchens for years and had always enjoyed it, especially as he began to learn how to cook entirely from scratch. He finally thought: maybe I should be doing this as a career?! Matt’s father encouraged him to complete a post-secondary education, so he enrolled in George Brown for culinary arts. After he finished the program, he moved from Whitby to Toronto to work in restaurants, and hasn’t looked back since. 

As Matt puts it, working in the restaurant business isn’t for the faint of heart: ‘It’s a really daunting business, it can be really long days and it can be really easy to get kind of down in the dumps.’ What keeps him passionate in such a demanding job? He says at the end of the day, it’s about the people, and there are two sides to that. On the one hand, it’s gratifying to look out on the dining room and see your guests enjoying their meals. On the other, you also get to meet the people growing your food. Their passion, Matt feels, invigorates and renews him in turn. Matt is also one of the biggest fans of the Meet and Greet we host annually for Chefs and Farmers, an opportunity he appreciates to deepen connections. We see him there every year without fail! 

Tall, bearded male chef wearing an apron and standing in restaurant with arms folded.

Matt Simpson’s relationship with 100km Foods is very special one. How does he source local products and plan his menus?

We also asked Matt specifically about his long relationship with 100km Foods, since as he says himself ‘you guys have a special place in my heart.’ Matt wasn’t one of those who grew up with a strong food history. He doesn’t have a lot of nostalgia or familial food memories that guide many other chefs. Instead, he has come to be a locavore through years of learning in kitchens and building relationships with farmers, and he feels 100km Foods has been a huge component in bridging that gap. When he’s choosing ingredients, he frames it this way: if he were travelling, what would he look for when he is eating out? A dish that gives him a sense of place, even if it’s a specific style of cuisine from another part of the world. At Constantine, Matt has a unique opportunity to do just that. It is a hotel that has a Mediterranean menu, but he infuses the cuisine with Ontario ingredients to showcase the terroir of Southern Ontario. It’s exciting and creates endless possibilities to be creative. 

We turned then to the subject of sourcing local, and how to build a seasonal menu. Matt was firm on this: It’s not just about the idealistic picture of a farmer painstakingly harvesting to order, because sometimes that doesn’t always translate to high-quality ingredients chefs look for. It’s about both knowing the story and the traceability 100km Foods provides, as well as the guarantee that the products are excellent. When it comes to planning seasonally, Matt makes a great point: if you are attuned to the seasons in Ontario and plan accordingly, prices will be competitive. And if you find strawberries in the winter that aren’t super expensive, Matt thinks we need to start asking the hard questions: ‘Why isn’t it? Why wouldn’t something that’s grown (…) and then flown halfway across the continent be more expensive? Shouldn’t it be more expensive?’  

That being said, he’s happy that today’s diner is more educated about how we source and grow our food, and they are the ones asking questions. Matt is more than happy to tell them the story of the farmers who grew what’s on their plate. He has other great advice for chefs: if you’re paying a premium for vegetables, make them the star of the plate. If you have the room and the means, buy whole animals and serve off cuts to keep your pricing in line. Since traceability is Matt’s #1 priority for sourcing, he makes sure that this translates to the back of house and the front of house staff, who can convey this to the guest. He isn’t exaggerating when he can say ‘I know the name of the farmers who grew this food’ and that is the kind of connection he wants, and one that he sees being appreciated more and more by guests. He says himself: ‘I want to live in a world where the little things matter.’ 100km Foods makes planning seasonally and sourcing local even easier, he says, since at any time he can ask us questions or use the seasonality calendar to help him plan ahead.  

What are some of Matt’s FAVOURITE products from 100km Foods?

We asked Matt for some of his favourite products he sources through 100km. Without hesitation, he said ‘New Farm Greens.’ He can still remember the first time he tried them, thinking, oh it’s a handful of lettuce. He was blown away by them and said ‘you don’t even need dressing, it’s SO GOOD.’ We absolutely agree! Matt also loves k2 Milling saying that anything Mark Hayhoe touches is ‘gold to me.’ He loves the Algonquin grits, even making sure he has his own supply of k2 products in his kitchen at home! He also loves the Welsh Brothers sweet corn, citing it as ‘amazing.’ Lastly, he rhapsodized about the Highland Blue from Back Forty Artisan Cheese, saying it was one of his favourites (ours too!).  

Naturally, we turned then to discussing what his favourite meals are to cook, to which Matt said ‘anything over live fire.’ Even simple, good ingredients can be turned into something awesome over the grill – asparagus with a little salt and pepper and steak being one of his go-to’s. He also loves making things in a terrine, or different kinds of paté. He really enjoys cooking for family and friends, and hosts a lot of dinner parties in his home.  

Tall bearded male chef standing in pass of restaurant kitchen, cooking utensils in background.

Next, the hard question. When we asked Matt who he’d have dinner with, dead or alive, he couldn’t settle on one person. His first pick is Geddy Lee from Rush, because he’s a big foodie and eats in Toronto restaurants, and Matt thinks it would be awesome. He’d also love to eat with Alton Brown. And Paul McCartney. And George Harrison! 

If it wasn’t clear by now, Matt’s second great love is music. If he wasn’t working as a Chef, he definitely thinks he’d want to do something with music. Matt’s father is a musician and instilled within Matt a good ear for music and a deep appreciation for it. 

We loved sitting down with Matt to listen to him talk to us about local food. He’s knowledgeable and deeply committed to the ethos of 100km Foods – he truly walks the walk. We’re lucky to have always had such a great supporter in him, and we are thrilled to have him on board as one of our awesome ambassadors! 

Written By: Genrys Goodchild

Pictures By: Sara May