Arlene Stein has tried for three years to line up a date for Rene Redzepi to join Toronto's food industry at the annual Terroir Symposium. This year the schedules aligned and the executive chef of Noma is the marquee name among a list of culinary stars ready to appear at Monday's gathering that's focused on encouraging better practices in the industry and celebrating local food.
"I made a film with Rene last year about Noma's Saturday night menu, which is pretty significant and pretty fantastic. Getting to know Rene even more than I had before helped to build that relationship. We were trying to get him here for three years but in 2010 he and his wife had just had a baby, and last year our conference was four days away from the World's 50 Best awards," Stein, the event's founder and chairperson, said last week. "This year he decided to come and we are thrilled. We have outstanding international chefs and amazing Canadian chefs."
The day-long symposium will be held at the Arcadian Court, an Oliver & Bonacini venue at the historic Simpson Tower. It will include seminars that range from appetizing (cooking demonstrations) to thirst-quenching (craft brew workshop) to thought-provoking (a debate on "culinary cannibalism").
Along with Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant has ranked atop the World's 50 Best Restaurants list for three straight years, other international chefs at Terroir will include Magnus Nilsson of Sweden's Faviken, Kobe Desramaults of Michelin-starred In de Wulf in Belgium, and South African Peter Templehoff of The Collection by Liz McGrath.
Among the notable Canadian chefs in attendance are Marc Lepine of Ottawa's Atelier, Jeremy Charles of Raymonds in St. John's, and Connie DeSousa and John Jackson of CHARCUT in Calgary -- all of whom will perform cooking demonstrations.
Terroir will be a more high-profile gathering than culinary events with larger advertising budgets and more prominent histories in Toronto. While it is a gathering for the industry and not for culinary travellers, it is still a tourism driver for the city.
"It's subtle and very grassroots what we are doing," Stein said. "We're not overly swamped with people. You can stand in the halls and have a conversation. I think the chefs like that."
While Terroir started in Toronto and is in its seventh year, Stein is aiming to expand to "another Canadian city." The notion of Terroir -- which to a great degree depends on the willingness of chefs to share their coveted ideas, practices, recipes, and sources -- would not have worked in the 20th century, Stein said.
"We happened to come around just as the local food movement really started to take hold. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time for us. We filled a gap in the marketplace because all of a sudden everyone needed more information and a way to build real resources around sustainability," said Stein, who has spent recent months in Europe networking with several of the chefs who will be attending the symposium. (She is also a judge for the Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada.)
She thought of the idea for the conference while "sitting around in my back patio and talking to friends, those of us who were part of small owner-operated restaurants." Stein, who worked at Hart House on the University of Toronto campus, saw a need for more community within the city's food industry and she has built this networking event to facilitate that sense of togetherness.
"It's done so much for the industry in Canada and in Ontario. We get together and talk about ways to collaborate and make improvements to the industry," said Scott Vivian, owner and chef at Beast and a participant at this year's gathering. "We're really fortunate in Toronto to have a program like this."
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