Tag Archives: chef

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

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

Meet and Greet 2016

Have you wondered what’d it be like to get a group of farmers, invite a bunch of chefs, stick them in a room together with beer and wine, and see what happens? Well, we did, and thus was born our annual Chef/Farmer Meet and Greet.

In a highly industrialized food system characterized by disconnection, we are doing the exact opposite. We want to close the loop between the folks that work so hard to grow local food and the chefs that want to highlight these fresh, high quality ingredients. We want to connect people and create positive, powerful relationships. The annual Meet and Greet is one our favourite opportunities to do so.

This year was our biggest year yet, with thirty of our producers and over one hundred chefs in attendance at the beautiful and historic Carlu! Afterwards, we asked a few attendees for feedback on the event.

Chef Matt Simpson from The Chase had so many wonderful things to say (thanks Matt!):

“I thought the event was great. For me personally, a few specific people stood out. Jason [from Pristine Gourmet] was one, I really enjoyed speaking with him about his oils and his farm. Also, Hugh from Osprey Bluffs Honey. He was so passionate about the life of the bees and the importance of curating the property to enhance the bees which clearly results in a truly great product. He really does care about his craft just like I do with cooking.”

Matt also mentioned Mark from K2 Milling and how happy he was to learn that the grains Mark mills are grown locally, and that meeting Brent from the New Farm was particularly special, having developed a decade long relationship with their products! Matt also was really impressed with Jennifer from Pluck Tea, saying “I was almost taken aback from how much I enjoyed talking to her about tea. I feel like its such an under-utilized ingredient culinarily and she was just a really positive person. I am really looking forward to using her tea for some recipes.”

Overall, Matt emphasized that “It just really was an inspiring day for me to finally put faces to the products we use. That connection is so important to me (…) I am truly glad I got to attend this year and meet all of these truly passionate people who feel the same way about their products as I do with creating something with them.”

We received amazing feedback from some of our producers – Stefan from Bright Cheese floored us when he mentioned that since meeting Executive Chef Christine Flynn of IQ Food Co. at last years’ event, they have seen a 300% increase of sales on their old white cheddar. Stefan has completely revamped his production quotas to meet this increased demand!

As always, Vicki had great feed back for us (thanks Vicki!). She said, “Some chefs I had never met before asked if it was possible to come and visit our farm. They wanted to bring their staff to see where their food comes from… and visit and meet the people who grow some of the food they get (…) I was also asked to come and talk about being a farmer and how we grow food at a special dinner in one restaurant.

All of these conversations would not have happened if not for this day. Every exchange is just another way for people to feel connected to each other and learn from one another to get a better understanding of what we each do.”’

Hugh from Osprey Bluffs Honey told us that he has “enjoyed these social business events and agree that the essence of this local food hub model rests with the Chefs and Producers feeling a connection that makes the food story most authentic… 100km Foods is doing a great job of facilitating those relationships, supporting Producers and advancing the most authentic food story.”

Gil from The New Farm perfectly summed up what this event is really about, saying that “This event is not just simply a meet and greet. Both the chefs and the vendors come to the table ready to develop some new relationships.”

We want to extend an enormous thank you to everyone who was involved with this event, and to everyone who attended. We will see you next year!