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.
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.’
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.
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