Cuisine orginates where ingredients grow. No surprise that chefs beyond the city limits make up the vanguard of Ontario cuisine. Part interlocutor, interpreting local harvests, part survivor-man, daily foraging in the woods, the rural chef can understand terroir and how to plate it better than anyone.
Stratford has long been renowned as an important food destination in Ontario with a thriving arts scene, and it is without parallel for a city of its size. The new kid on the block is the one that has been missing all this time. Stratford needed a high-end hotel with the dining to match. Jennifer Birmingham has provided this with The Bruce Hotel, named for her father.
Glowing orbs light a path around a hill and over a footbridge for those returning from the Stratford Festival Theatre into this new French chateau-style hotel. Seated in the dining room we’re treated to smart, caring and enthusiastic service that is a happy surprise, because it’s new and fresh and professional. Executive Chef Arron Carley, formerly of famed Toronto O&B restaurants Canoe and Luma, and Copenhagen’s Noma, focuses on building a menu based on Canadian roots—both historically and horticulturaly.
We begin with a Spuds in Dirt of potatoes sous-vide in beer and buried in peanut, sumac and ramp dust with blue cheese cream and burnt onions in an herb jus. An artful representation of the land with a medley of textures in a savoury envelopment, this reflects the Chef’s personal touch. It is a portent of things to come. The Flatland Foie Gras looks like pretty confectionary. With velvety smooth consistency, it is layered with a black current and lavender gel, and crowned with edible jewelry: torched corn, camelina seeds, wild flowers and herbs.
Chef Carley does not rest on his laurels. Each dish is a unique artistic composition that we admire for the colours and intricacies of their design. They showcase not only Carley’s style and range of techniques, but they’re like his own personal portraits. Life and Death is an esoteric but dynamic juxtaposition of wild rice, chanterelles, maitake and oyster mushrooms on one side and bright wild flowers and herbs on the other. A sprinkling of mushroom, koji and wild ginger powder, and a tableside pour of wild ginger and koji broth provide a purity and organic confluence flowing between. More than a mouthful, this is food for thought to appreciate; a bowl of well being with an umami quality that reminds me of something I might only find at a quiet riverside restaurant in Kyoto.
Designed like a three-dimensional Miro painting, the Great Lake Pickerel is a generous portion of fish sous-vide to uniform tenderness and dressed in a light and mildly sweet garlic emulsion. Dulse-infused potatoes and pan seared zucchini and patty pan squash are positioned along a brush stroke of herb of grace purée. Each tasty ingredient is given it’s proper care and attention. A generous portion of pan seared bison and slow cooked short rib marinated in Ungava gin are cooked to the right a point to elicit their distinct succulent qualities. Maple-fired root vegetables, Saskatoon berries and chanterelles set atop a carrot puree—also lightly sweetened with a touch of Ungava—add flare to complete a vibrant medley of colours and textures. Reflecting pure Canadiana. Along with Pastry Chef Gilad Rozenberg this is a kitchen ripe with creative experimentation both in recipes and presentations. Our dessert of dark chocolate custard, salted peanut ice cream, caramel, frozen nougat and brownie crust is a sweet symphony of all my dream flavours laid in a palette of decadence.
Boldly reflecting local terroir and the development of local cuisine, The Bruce is one Stratford production not to miss.
~The Bruce Hotel, 89 Parkview Dr, Stratford, ON, 519-508-7100~
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 Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.