Tag Archives: farmtofork

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

cow vg meats

Canada’s Only Tenderness Tested Beef

Did you know that VG Meats is able to butcher custom cuts of beef and dry age them for you, to your exact specifications? Not only that, they breed their own cattle, raise them, slaughter, and then process them? That kind of traceability is quite unique within the Ontario beef industry! As part of this latest in our Sow and Tell series, their Beef Tenderloin Barrels are on sale! The beef tenderloin barrel is one of the most tender cuts of beef and these ones have chain meat removed to create a uniform piece – making it easy for you to turn into delicious, consistently sized portions (filet mignon, anyone?)! This sale runs for all deliveries from May 2nd 2017 – May 5th  2017.

VG Meats is family owned and operated, with four brothers – Cory, Chad, Kyle and Kevin – at the helm of the operation. Their family roots as butchers extends back generations – their grandpa Cornelius Van Groningen worked as a black market butcher in Amsterdam during WWII, hiding livestock from German troops! In the post war years, Cornelius decided to set out to Canada, where he got back into the butchery industry with a slaughter operation in Simcoe (VG Packers). Cornelius’ oldest son, Wayne, followed in his father’s footsteps by continuing the business. In the mid 1990s, the Van Groningen family decided to branch out from solely running a processing plant to delve into cattle farming.

Fast forward to present day, and the four Van Groningen brothers each bring their unique skill set and expertise to the table in their pursuit of beef perfection. Cory and his wife Heidi run one of the farms, and Cory also spends much of his time representing VG meats and the larger beef industry with officials and at conferences. Chad, second born, leads the butchery and processing plant operations, as well as doing outreach and sales. Kyle oversees all their retail operations both in Stoney Creek and Simcoe, and is the point person between the farm, processing plant, and customer. Last born, Kevin, is the food scientist of the family, and Morgan, his wife, is the marketing lead. Kevin studied agricultural science at Guelph, and he was the one to develop their unique tenderness testing method!

It just so happens, we were up at the VG farm and processing plant this week as part of our farm tours. 100km Foods staff, and a group of excited chefs, got to speak to the Van Groningen brothers, meet the cows and see how they’re cared for. Following that, we went up the road to their processing plant and delved more deeply into tenderness and grading beef.

VG Meats have their own bulls from whom they breed the rest of the herd. They put a big emphasis on developing their own genetic stock because the bulls from their farm are acclimated to Ontario’s environment, and they think this creates a resilient and healthy line of beef cattle. They’ve also spent lots of time developing the best feed for the cows – they are out on pasture and being fed grass most of the year, but during winter months, their diet is supplemented with feed mix with includes corn and other grains. They are constantly learning and innovating best practices to ensure their herd is healthy and happy! Not only do they feel it’s ethically important to have a happy, small herd, but beef quality and taste is affected by stress, so they do all they can to make sure the cows lead stress-free lives. VG Meats bring their cows to slaughter based on weight and condition – but most cows are between the ages of 14 months to 24 months, with a carcass weight of around 800lbs.

Now what’s this tenderness testing all about? Kevin is the mastermind behind their one-of-a-kind grading system. The standard grading system is a visual grading system that looks at fat marbling, and is a holdover from the 1960’s. As Kevin adamantly explained during the tour, agricultural and food science research is moving towards different ways of grading beef, and Kevin has innovated their in-house grading method based off new research. And, as Kevin showed to chefs in the hanging room, you can look at two identical cuts of beef from the same cow and have completely different marbling! So at VG, they want to grade their beef using a different, more reliable metric to determine quality: tenderness.

Below is an infographic that demonstrates their tenderness scale – and they will only put steaks and cuts on the market that fall into the “red zone” of tenderness.

So now’s your chance! Get yourself some of these tenderness tested, Beef Tenderloin Barrel cuts on sale and enjoy some beef where health, herd happiness and taste are of the utmost priority! Offer applicable for all deliveries May 2nd to May 5th, 2017.

Thanks to the Van Groningen family for hosting us for a great farm tour and providing all the information, and thanks to Maegan for providing photos!

By: Genrys Goochild