The movement to make eating a healthier and more environmentally friendly affair is bigger than ever. Free-range meat is sold everywhere, the 100-mile diet is ingrained in our lexicon, and even the White House has a vegetable garden. In Toronto, a number of chefs and restaurants have long promoted a more sustainable dining experience with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients in oft-changing but always delicious menus. Where presents a primer on a few of the well-regarded establishments that are giving this city’s foodies even more reasons to go green. BY ALEX HUGHES
“From farm to table, nose to tail” is the motto of popular west-end bistro Cowbell, which embraces “full boar” many of the slow food movement’s principles by sourcing only the freshest seasonal ingredients for its high-end fare. Almost all of the organic meats—from Berkshire pork to red deer—and produce served here are from Ontario farms, and it’s also one of the few restaurants in Toronto to buy whole animals, which are butchered, smoked and cured on-site. It’s no wonder Toronto diners still clamour for chef Mark Cutrara’s daily menu. An added bonus: Cowbell hosts reservation-only “Farmers Nights,” where a five-course meal is created using ingredients from a single farm. Along with chef Cutrara, the featured farmers are also on-hand to discuss their craft at the restaurant’s communal table.
While many restaurants in Toronto do their best to use organic ingredients where possible, True is the only one that can boast an entirely organic menu. This dedication to purity is reflected in a sleek yet understated dining room that’s swathed in white vinyl, and even extends to the hand soap dispensed in the restrooms. Among the numerous delightful options on the Italy-meets-California menu—alongside thin-crust pizzas and stalwarts like rib-eye steak—is the fuchsia spaghetti, which tosses gold and purple beets, pine nuts and garlic with pasta, resulting in a hyper-colour mélange of mouthwatering flavours.
FROM THE CHEF’S SOIL
One of the local food movement’s primary tenets is, loosely, that you should attempt to ensure that your preferred ingredients are not better travelled than you are. In this day and age it’s not an easy principal to adhere to; it’s an even greater challenge at a full-scale restaurant, what with the constant attention paid to the bottom line. Yet this is exactly what chef Brad Long tries to accomplish at Veritas, an urbane Design District restaurant catering to the area’s condo dwellers and young professionals. Diners will note there are but a few items served here that are not of local provenance, and they’re predominantly found on the wine list. In fact, wherever possible, chef Long creates his mouthwatering cuisine using vegetables and herbs from his own Stouffville-area farm. Veritas is also equipped with an intimate back patio; enjoy your local fare alfresco in warmer months.
You can’t discuss sustainable dining in this city without mentioning Jamie Kennedy. The star chef was a leading supporter of locally grown, organic ingredients long before any of those attributes were considered sexy, and his Gilead Café is now a hub for his artisan cuisine. Snagging a lunchtime table at this intimate neighbourhood eatery provides the opportunity to enjoy Kennedy’s comforting concoctions without breaking the bank. The daily à la carte menu trumpets affordable fare such as freshly prepared soups, salads and sandwiches—Kennedy uses a flour ground from heritage Red Fife wheat to produce his exceptional bread—as well as the chef’s renowned Yukon gold frites with mayo. Like Cowbell, the Gilead also hosts a “Local Food Movement Dinner Series” that brings diners together with artisan food producers, vintners and even cheese makers in a slow-food free-for-all.
The ecologically conscious king of hotel dining in Toronto is the Fairmont Royal York’s restaurant, Epic. Globally, Fairmont hotels are leaders in encouraging sustainability—since 1990, the company’s Green Partnership program has created a variety of enterprises aimed at reducing its hotels’ impact on the planet, from water-saving projects to the environmental management of their golf courses. At Epic, chef Ryan Gustafson has at his disposal both a prodigious rooftop garden and a six-hive apiary—top quality freshness is but an elevator ride away. In summer, the hotel even offers tours of this green oasis, packaged with its afternoon tea on weekends. The restaurant has also signed on to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise initiative, which promotes the conservation of aquatic life through seafood that is sustainably fished or farmed. The classy Epic dining room is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, offering ample opportunity to graze from one of the city’s greener culinary pastures.