Locavore Catering in Toronto
Photos by: Sian Richards
We are celebrating at Les Louises. We’re now one year old, one partner bigger and happily ensconced in our home at the National Ballet of Canada. A year ago, we hit the ground running with our two “almost separate” businesses; the café and the catering. You might think those two would be a seamless combination and when we first envisioned the business we thought so too. However, with hindsight, we realize now it really was starting two new businesses. Starting one new business is always tough, but starting two……..But all the long hours and steep learning curves aside it’s been really worth it. And so it seems fitting that our next big challenge would come on our birthday.
We were approached by a company committed to responsible and environmentally sustainable business practices who where looking for a new caterer. This company produces beautiful bath and body products based on botanicals and organics. We love their products, their philosophy and immediately thought about creating an exotic menu filled with fruits from tropical islands, exotic seafood, and South Asian inspired spice blends. However, the company instead wanted a local menu. Our initial ideas for exquisite avocado and wasabi topped crab cakes must be replaced by something else. But what??
Localism or locavore eating is the hottest craze and although its rules are somewhat elastic depending on each devotee, the idea is to eat food produced within miles of your home. Locavore eating encourages sustainable agriculture from local farms with seasonal foods that don’t have to travel thousands of miles in trucks and planes leaving large environmental foot prints. So from an environmental viewpoint, it’s the responsible thing to do. Les Louises has always used seasonal ingredients and we love shopping at the local market. But sometimes a gal just needs a little lemon or olive oil or a little sugar in her bowl. What to do?
We decide not to panic about what we can’t use. We already pride ourselves on being Magivers of the kitchen able to create incredible meals with the simplest of ingredients- say a slice of avocado and a couple of tomatoes. But wait? Where does avocado come from? So we start at some of the local farmers’ markets. Almost immediately my fears are assuaged. The tables are loaded with beautiful, fresh vegetables and fruit. Out in the dappled sunlight of the Dufferin Grove Market we find honey, wild rice and rose petal syrup from Forbes Wild Foods. They take it a step further from farms to using trained pickers who practice sustainable harvesting of wild foods from Labrador to British Columbia. I know it’s more than one hundred miles but if we buy “local” wild food that’s harvested in a sustainable manner then our conscience is clear.
Then on Saturday we head to the Brickworks where I find Ruth Klahsen of Monforte Dairy. I try some of her Nika cheese which is heavenly- a soft creamy sheeps’ milk cheese just a slip away from chevre and redolent with garlic flowers and lavender. Monforte Dairy produces an incredible variety of cheeses while building a viable sheep dairy industry for all their partners: their Amish and Mennonite shepherds, the cheese makers and consumers. I’m also thrilled to find their Pecorino Fresco, a fresh cheese reminiscent of bocconcini.
On Sunday at The Liberty Village Farmers Market, we meet Ron and Loretta from Van Hart Farms which produces all organic produce. Their family legacy greenhouse growing began in the 1900s on a small farm in Holland. They studied greenhouse structures and environments for years before building their ten thousand square foot greenhouse in 1994 in Kettleby. I’d never seen such a variety of beautiful heirloom tomatoes from those that are heavy and wildly striped with purple and green to those tiny yellow tear drop shaped varieties. But the best find of the day are small, exquisite orange, red, yellow and purple baby bell peppers.
After a few weeks of combing the markets we almost have too many ideas and options. Because our potential clients have requested a vegetarian tasting menu we haven’t even taken proper stock of all the meat options. There’s Peterborough Buffalo Farms, Akiwenzies Fish who provide fresh and smoked fish from Georgian Bay and Scotch Mountain Meats with their naturally raised beef, pork and lamb. But our assignment is clear; produce a hors d’oeuvers menu with elegant sophistication using only locally grown and sourced ingredients. And make it beautiful.
We start with the baby bell peppers roasted and stuffed with wild rice and wild mushrooms on a bed of fresh thyme. Then we bake little phyllo cups to be stuffed with a velvety puree of peppered butternut squash, fresh sage, topped with naturally smoked sheep’s milk cheese and then plated with fresh squash blossoms. Next up is a twist on one of our favorite combinations; fresh bocconcini, basil and tomato skewers. We use little multi colored heirloom tomatoes, purple and green basil and the wonderful pecorino fresco from Monforte. And finally we steam golden and red baby beets with fresh bay leaves which are then sliced and layered with the heavenly chevre-like sheep’s milk cheese Nika.
Success! Our second year starts with welcoming our newest and largest client ever.
About the Authors:
Les Louises, is a catering team based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
About the Photographer:
Sian Richards is a freelance photographer based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Articles on Food Ontario (Toronto):