Some people say they don’t like food to look “too pretty”. I agree. I prefer it to be beautiful. Chef Jason Bangerter creates stunning dishes that enrich our eyes first, then our palates. Bangerter not only thinks outside the box, he’s inspired by what’s outside the window. No stranger to the finest kitchens in Toronto, as well as across Europe, he has, through his own gastronomic passion and curiousity in his position as Executive Chef at the renowned Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa in Cambridge, Ontario, become one of the most important chefs in the vanguard of those defining regional Canadian cuisine.
Stepping beyond the kitchen pantry into the woods with Chef Bangerter is like a stroll with Willy Wonka. Bending to pick a leaf, he smiles, “Try this. It’s Sweet Sicilian Chocolate Mint.” Holding up a fresh chamomile flower, he tells me, “This will become part of a chamomile lamb broth with fava beans and fresh tomatoes.” Leading me down another garden path, he excitedly points to a teensy shiny leaf with red dots, partially shrouded by foliage, and wonders aloud, “It looks like a speckled trout. I’ve never seen this before.” After showing it to his forager to confirm its edibility, they agree to collect more later on, but, much to their chagrin, in two days, all the red spots are gone, the leaves are darker and a yellow flower has appeared.
Everything changes. Even his coriander morphs into something new. “You can’t buy this from the grocery store; you can’t even order it from a supplier,” he tells me. “We have these things growing on our property that we can offer our guests at their table, but each ingredient has cycles in its life, and we can only offer it, as you see it, today.” Two days from now, it will be a totally different ingredient. For Bangerter, as for his dinner guests, this provides an exciting adventure. The menu changes according to life cycles. It’s an education, a creative conversation and, in the right hands, a rare privilege. “Everyday we have the opportunity to do something really special, unique and different than anyone else can offer on a plate.” There are endless possibilities to discover ingredients never seen before, and to include them in a unique dish that’s never been tasted before. “Fifty percent of our ingredients, I just found this year,” he enthuses. “It’s learning about the terroir and what you can eat.” Bangerter designs dishes based on what he can find on the Langdon Hall property. “Instead of asking: what am I going to do with venison; I find all these things and say, oh that would be great with venison.” During the summer, ninety percent of what is put on the plate is from vegetables and herbs found on the property. These are ingredients that most people would never think of plating; ingredients that we would typically walk past and not even notice. Embracing nature, the life-cycle of the garden is a story told on the plate.
In the smoker, he is making roast venison with veloute of smoked parsnips and wild mushrooms tossed with smoked pecans. He’s not just making a backyard bbq as is the trend. Bangerter is doing something totally unique and creative with new, interesting, fresh flavours. “Everything here lends itself so well to making delicate, beautiful, intricate dishes.”
In addition to dining in the height of comfort at Langdon Hall, and the luxurious new spa packages available, a complete culinary experience can include accompanying Chef Bangerter and his head gardener through the garden and into the woods as they forage for ingredients. Bangerter, a star of the culinary world, is like an actor breaking the fourth wall. Ask questions; receive gardening and foraging tips; collect what you find along your walk and request it’s inclusion on your plate. This dining experience has been elevated to one that is the most unique and unforgettable in Ontario. www.langdonhall.ca
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.