3 posts tagged with “El Gastronomo Vagabundo”

  • Food folks who inspired in 2012

    With the year waning, I can’t help but reflect on the 12 months that were.

    I contemplate all aspects of life as Dec. 31 nears, career especially. My finances are always a close second. I’m one of those geeks who has been fretting about retirement since I was 19.

    As I look ahead to the opportunity that seems to come with the changing of the calendar, I have all these ideas about what I hope to achieve. I find myself pondering what’s worth pursuing, what’s worth taking the risk, what’s better left to brew for a while.

    Fortunately, I always have this website as a diversion. And reflecting on the year that was in food is a welcome distraction from the other heavies.

    In 2011, I had a long list of experiences to whittle down to my absolute favourite and most memorable moments in food. This year, however, was decidedly more low-key for me when it came to dining excursions. A big reason for it was focusing more of my time on the Garden of Eating — Niagara, the residential fruit picking program I run that harvests unwanted fruit and donates it to local social organizations.

    Sometimes I also had the sinking feeling that some food-focused events were getting away from being moments to build community, share knowledge and nourishment, and merely becoming places to be seen. And, well, that’s not my scene.

    At times, it felt more like competitive eating and left me longing to get back to what food really means to me. Nourishment for the soul, body and community.

    So rather than particular moments, this year I’m reflecting on the people who inspired me in 2012 — many have inspired me for much longer — and helped keep me grounded, brought me great joy with their company, generosity and kindness, and fed me well.

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  • Peach Tree
  • NiAGara Farm Heroes and Agvocates: Lauren O’Malley Norris, Market Manager

    Look out, Lauren O’Malley Norris is on a mission.

    And it’s not just the clipboard in her hand as she makes the rounds at the Farmers Market at the Village on a recent Saturday morning that should tip you off.

    O’Malley Norris, the newly anointed manager for the Niagara-on-the-Lake farmers market, has big plans for this little market — one that she shopped at regularly until she took over the reins to run it earlier this year.

    Of course there are farmers, as many as O’Malley Norris can fit under cover of the white tents staked into a field wedged comfortably between the suburbia of strip mall and the pastoral beauty of a vineyard. And everything they sell will be harvested from Niagara.

    But there are also artisans — sock monkey wine bottle cosy, anyone? — those proffering prepared food, including Willow Cakes and Pastries, Market Chef Mark Walpole, food truck the Tide and Vine serving up freshly shucked oysters and live music.

    And there’s more. A community garden is taking shape at the market. Zumba classes, co-working sessions, running group meet-ups, yoga and vendor-led workshops are in the works to make this a market for the masses or at the very least, one with as strong a sense of community as the historic town in which it’s located.

    A smaller dinnertime edition of the market on Wednesday evenings, starting June 20, will complement the main Saturday market and feature more prepared foods, including the gourmet fare of St. Catharines food truck El Gastronomo Vagabundo.

    Farmers markets with just farmers are “one kind of farmers market and it has its place,” O’Malley Norris said. “In our community, if we just had farmers, there are people who wouldn’t come. To bring people to the farmers, you sometimes had to have other lures to bring them in.

    “I really want to create a mood, an event, something special.”

    For O’Malley Norris, though, her favourite part of any market is the farmers themselves. Growing up in Toronto, she was a regular with her mother at the north market of the St. Lawrence Market,  used by farmers to sell their wares.

    “She loved knowing the … guy with the chickens who gave her her eggs,” she said.

    So does O’Malley Norris. That passion for market shopping was a passed on to her and O’Malley Norris has made a point of shopping at farmers markets in Niagara since she moved here from Toronto 10 years ago. She has also made the weekly jaunt to the Niagara-on-the-Lake edition since it opened in 2007.

    Getting local food into the bellies of others has also been a passion. O’Malley Norris volunteered with the Niagara Local Food Co-op to help promote that virtual farmers market when it launched around the same time and she helped get the Good Food Fair in Beamsville up and running two years ago.

    “I have been an avid, avid attender of farmers markets. I’m there rain, shine or windstorm,” she said.

    It was her regular appearances at Niagara-on-the-Lake that made her an easy pick when the market was in need of a new manager. Recommended by Beth Smith of Ridge Meadow Farms and Rose Bartel of Bartel Organics, O’Malley Norris, a graphic designer by training, didn’t hesitate when offered the job.


    “I just jumped up and down. I was honoured,” she said. “It brings together everything important to me: local food, the people growing local food, the land, the artisans and artists around us, too.”

    The job was only meant to be part-time, but driven to make the most of a market brimming with potential, O’Malley Norris has been clocking full-time hours in pursuit of more farmers, musicians, community groups and artists who could make the Farmers Market at the Village “irresistible to everyone.”

    Her dream market is one with primarily organic producers complemented by artists and prepared food vendors. Right now, about half the vendors in Niagara-on-the-Lake are farmers but they’re all from small farms with diverse offerings.
    Not only do they have a wide variety of produce for shoppers, the also have O’Malley Norris’s respect.
    “There’s a grace, the earthiness, the rootedness and that letting go attitude with what they do,” she explained. “Small growers are diversified so they can roll with the punches. I love that small farmer attitude.”
    O’Malley Norris is also working hard to create a family atmosphere at the market — she refers to the vendors as her brood — one that she hopes will spill into the larger community and help that market grow with consumers, too.

    “I really hope that people who haven’t come to the market come,” she said. “I love the idea of bringing new people into this.”

    Catch the Farmers Market at the Village Saturdays until the fall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesdays for 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. starting June 20.

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  • Peach Tree
  • Niagara’s wandering gourmets: El Gastronomo Vagabundo


    Adam Hynam-Smith and Tamara Jensen are putting a new spin on dining in Niagara.

    Think stepping right up and placing your order for some fine fare at the window of a kitchen located in the back of a souped up cube van.

    Called El Gastronomo Vagabundo, this mobile mouthful of a gourmet food truck is Hynam-Smith and Jensen living their dream of feeding people good food while driving away the pretense that can sometimes come with it.

    “We want to do something different, something cool, something out of the norm, something relaxed, unpretentious,” Hynam-Smith said as he readied for a busy day serving Israeli couscous and tacos to hungry visitors at Flat Rock Cellars in Jordan where El  Gastronomo Vagabundo is currently parked.

    “People just have to see it and experience it,” he added. “I can’t feel comfortable anymore in a restaurant.  You’re tucked in. I want to be relaxed and comfortable. When you’re here, you’re relaxed and comfortable.”

    The only thing getting tucked in at the duo’s driving diner are the edges of tortillas for the gourmet tacos being served up at El Gastronomo Vagabundo. Although it says tacos on the chalkboard menu that changes daily — sometimes even multiple times in one day — don’t expect your usual Mexican fare.

    The menu at El Gastronomo Vagabundo

    This past Sunday, Hynam-Smith and his partner and apprentice Jensen were serving up such surprises as the Don Caprese, a concoction of tempura mozzarella, avocado, tomato and basil dressing. It was accompanied on the menu by Budha Belly, a taco containing five spice pork belly, chili jam, coconut cream and kaffir lime. Geishian Vacation with its tempura salmon, mango, papaya and jalapeno salsa and tobiko aioli rounded out the taco trio.

    All the fixings that can be are sourced locally from farmers such as Eating Niagara co-blogger Linda Crago, Lake Land Meats, lamb farmer Liz Black and the garden growing at Flat Rock.

    “It’s not meant to be fusion,” Hynam-Smith stressed as the scent of red curry for the pork belly taco wafted through the truck’s galley kitchen. “We don’t want to be seen as fusion.”

    The tortilla, he added, is merely the vehicle with which to hold and transport the food.

    The wheels for El Gastronomo Vagabundo — translation the Gourmet Vegabond — started turning for Hynam-Smith while he worked in a kitchen in Ottawa. The Australian-born chef, who has trained in diverse kitchens down under before travelling to Southeast Asia to learn the traditional cooking methods there, recalled coming up with the idea for a gourmet food truck while putting tacos together at work.

    He mused about having a storefront where he could serve up the tortilla-wrapped take out. But with the Kogi BBQ putting rubber to asphalt in L.A. and making headlines all the while for taking dining on the road, Hynam-Smith thought a mobile kitchen would be even better.

    “They started the revolution of coolness,” Hynam-Smith said.

    Then other Michelin Star chefs started following suit.

    The benefit: “Overhead first and foremost. You can do something different,” Hynam-Smith said.

    That’s exactly what he and Jensen were ready for when they decided to leave Ottawa a year and a half ago for a place less bureaucratic. They settled on Niagara after Jensen, who has her masters in forensic psychology, brought her family to Niagara for a getaway.

    “It was just such a contrast to Ottawa,” Jensen said while taking a break from chopping tomatoes. “We thought the best climate in Ontario is here. There’s great wine, great produce. It seemed to make sense coming down here.”

    Tamara Jensen and Adam Hynam-Smith talk about the day ahead of them at El Gastronomo Vagabundo.


    Jensen, who had already been keen to trade in her job at correctional headquarters for something in the hospitality industry, and Hynam-Smith began cold-calling local chefs to talk about their idea. They bent the ear of Wellington Court’s Erik Peacock, who lauded the idea, before Hynam-Smith met Flat Rock winemaker Ross Wise at last year’s Niagara Wine Festival and handed him a card.

    “I was so pissed. I had red wine on my shirt,” Hynam-Smith said with a laugh.

    The next month they got a call and an offer. They were given a budget and told to show the powers that be at Flat Rock what they could do.

    After wowing taste buds, they pitched the idea of the truck and have been going full throttle getting El Gastronomo Vagabundo going ever since. The duo began serving tacos officially three weeks ago.

    “They’ve been passionate and helpful getting it started,” Hynam-Smith said. “They’ve done a lot to help us, which we’ve been absolutely grateful — over the moon — for.”

    Adam Hynam-Smith slices up Berkshire pork in the El  Gastronomo kitchen.


    The truck is parked at Flat Rock each weekend until October, serving meals 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Fifteen dollars gets you the prix fixe meal of two tacos and a side salad. Tacos are also individually priced.

    The plan is to take El Gastronomo on the road the days it’s not at the winery, pulling up to food festivals or local businesses to serve the masses. In the winter, Hynam-Smith envisions stews and soups being created in his mobile kitchen.

    El Gastronomo’s arrival on the Niagara culinary scene is a milestone, being the first gourmet truck in the region. That aside, it’s also a milestone for Jensen.

    “This is the first vehicle I’ve ever bought,” she said taking stock of the flamboyant white, pink and black cube truck. “My first vehicle is a gourmet taco truck.”

    To learn more about El Gastronomo Vagabundo, visit www.elgastro.com or follow Hynam-Smith and Jensen’s globally inspired, locally driven culinary adventures on Twitter.

    * Editor’s note: I would have liked to include pictures of tacos, but my husband and I devoured them before it could happen. They were awesome, though.

    El Gastronomo Vagabundo @ Flat Rock Cellars on Urbanspoon

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