• 100KM Foods connects farmers and chefs

    Paul Sawtell of 100KM Foods.

    I originally wrote this story for Edible Toronto Magazine. 

    There was a time when Paul Sawtell had an affinity for shiny, expensive items.

    Such objects still occasionally catch the former pharmaceutical sales rep’s eye. He gets excited, for instance, when he sees a newly washed delivery truck sparkling in the sunlight behind the warehouse of 100km Foods. These days he prefers his flash with substance – the kind that comes from trading a career with lucrative financial rewards for one rich in social benefits.

    100km Foods Inc. is a wholesale and distribution business bridging the gap between farmers and chefs and getting more local food onto our plates in the process. The venture, started by Sawtell and life partner Grace Mandarano nearly nine years ago, was admittedly “warm and fuzzy” at the beginning. But it has become an important link in Ontario’s food economy – by handling product marketing for farmers who’d rather be tending their crops, while sourcing the best ingredients for chefs who prefer to spend their time behind the burner.

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  • Peach Tree
  • St. Catharines shop shells out fresh tortillas

    My column, Eating Niagara, runs every second Wednesday in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune.

    One of Oscar Rivera’s first tasks when he arrived in Canada 10 years ago was to convert his backyard into a corn field.

    The former agricultural engineer from Guatemala City did it in a quest to find the perfect kernel. Each seed he planted promised possibility. Collectively, they represented the new life Rivera was cultivating for himself and his family, including four children, who left their homeland for the safety Canada promised.

    His plan was to grow corn ideal for grinding. He’d sell his harvest to a tortilleria that would turn his season’s work into a taste of home. He search for the right maize lasted two years. All the while his wife, Arminda, lamented the loss of her lawn.

    “My wife almost killed me,” Rivera, 56, said with a smile. “We had grass there but I had to erase it to plant corn.”

    After all his research, the buyer he had lined up for his crop fell through. So Rivera, who was dismayed at the additives he found in corn tortillas available in Canada, decided to make the Central American staple himself.

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  • Noodles draw oodles to Viet-Thai joint

    Kim Pham of Pho Xyclo.

    Strip Mall Gems is a series of Eating Niagara, my column that runs in the St. Catharines Standard, Niagara Falls Review and Welland Tribune. This instalment is about Pho Xyclo in Niagara Falls.

    You could call Kim Pham picky.

    After all, it’s how the Niagara Falls restaurateur will describe herself if asked.

    But then, you can’t build the city’s best Vietnamese eatery, according to crowd-sourced ratings, by being willy-nilly.

    Pham, who owns and operates Pho Xyclo (pronounced Feu Zicklow) with friend David Chau, is nothing short of exacting when it comes to turning out bowls of pho, the noodle soup slurped at street food stalls in Vietnamese villages and now beckoning Niagara locals to the restaurant’s home in a Dunn Street strip mall.

    Ditto for the stir-fried southeast Asian dishes that round out the menu at Pho Xyclo, named after the three-wheeled rickshaws weaving through the clogged streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

    Rather than order her vegetables from a restaurant supply company and risk them not being up to snuff, Pham heads to the grocery store every day to load up on peppers, cucumbers and lettuce.

    “That way I know how fresh it is. If it’s in a shipment, I don’t know how long it has been sitting there,” Pham insists.

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  • Wonton Way: This History of Fort Erie’s Chinese Restaurants

    This story I wrote about the history of Fort Erie’s Chinese restaurants originally appeared in Niagara Life magazine. This story was a year in the making and born out of a curiosity for why three Chinese restaurants existed side by side on the town’s quiet waterfront.

    The mindless scrolling through my Instagram feed came to a standstill when I saw it.

    It was a haphazard array of plates on a table: stir-fried vegetables with chicken, a combo meal with an egg roll and fried rice, and two half-drunk glasses of ice water. Peeking out from underneath the edible mess was a paper placemat, the kind that’s a magnet for the drippings of just such chop suey meals, easily replaced after the gluttony to make way for someone else’s order of sweet and sour and chicken.

    Along the upper edge, May Wah Restaurant and Tavern was written in red Shanghai-style font. In the caption below her photo, diner Melissa Rebholz wrote, “When in Canada.”

    The palatial May Wah is in Fort Erie where the Niagara River begins its unyielding advance toward Niagara Falls. Rebholz hails from a virtual universe away in Tennessee. The farmer and chef whose family lives in western New York, was fuelling up at the local legend – and one of a triumvirate of remaining Chinese restaurants that rule Fort Erie’s riverfront – after a day trip to Niagara Falls during the Christmas holidays.

    “Stopping for Chinese food on the way is a must,” she added in a follow-up comment.  Continue reading

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