It seemed fitting the inaugural DRC Field Trip coincided with the start of the fall harvest. A magical time for cooks, chefs, food lovers and indeed the industry of agriculture.
First and foremost let’s bring you all up to speed.
The DRC, (Distillery Restaurants Corp) wanted to find a way to keep inspiring and educating our young generation of cooks. There’s more to just working an 8 hour (12 hour, 16 hour…..etc!) day, punching in, punching out and going home (….going to bettie’s (ed.) There’s gotta be more to it then that!
Hence, the field trip was born.
To give our cooks valuable lessons, experience, memories and a reality, of where food comes from. Asparagus to the uninitiated comes sensibly packaged in bunches wrapped in elastic bands that magically all weigh a pound. Lemons, well they come polished, often individually wrapped in crepe paper. and in cardboard boxes perfectly sized… you want 115’s 110’s ? whatever you want…..
Well, at the farm food comes from the ground, from dirt, sunshine and water, incredible ay?!
The shock and awe when our group of 11 young cooks first took sight of the fields, their feet planted in the pungent soil of a real farm, well it was epic!
A real farm. With real people (real Mexicans too!), that cut the vegetables from the earth with a knife and bunched them by hand in a basket. Real farmers that cut the herbs by hand with scissors. I’m not sure what they all expected, perhaps a scene reminiscent of a canning factory with machinery doing all the work. It was gratifying for all to see that real people were still methodically and meticulously handling the food.
The day started early. VERY early for some, for others the night before hadn’t even ended…. Anyway, surprisingly everyone made it on time or early for the 6am meet up. Only one late was our host for the day Ezio Bondi, (nice one buddy, at least you’re consistent!). Bondi Produce were looking after us today, namely Mat, Ezio & Will. Matt and Ezio are our sales rep’s and Will our chief picker at the Food Terminal.
First stop was the Food Terminal, then on to Bondi Produce warehouse for a tour and breakfast, to Riga Farms in Newmarket then onto Cookstown Greens, finishing with lunch at a pub in Cookstown.
The terminal was an eyeopener, BUSY! Watch your feet! forklifts driving at crazy speeds, weaving in and out of business deals left right and centre. Cash deals flying here, card games and bets over there, of course legitimate fruit & vegetable sales were also common place . Purveyors screaming “DONT touch! Look only or buy!! or something to that effect, Jose can fill you in… It was a big, big place.
On to Bondi Produce. Mat and Ezio’s brand new warehouse, lots of square feet, i forget the number… They were very proud of it, and rightly so, a beautiful shop. We even got the grand tour of their gym and lunch room. It was great for the cooks to see where their veggies come from, Jose and Suk staring down palettes of avocados like they own them, well, they kinda do… Pure and Cluny guys going nuts over a new strain of grapes called Cotton Candy Grapes…. Actually, legit, taste and smell like cotton candy. Nice.
Onto Riga Farms. After our GPS got us totally lost in the middle of nowhere near Newmarket we finally ended up where we were supposed to be. Riga, predominantly a producer/grower of kale, kohlrabi and collard greens. In fact, all the kale we use in the Distillery comes straight from Riga to the Bondi warehouse and to us. The first thing we noticed was how amazingly green these vegetables were. A noticeable difference straight out of the ground (1 day) shipped to Bondi 2nd day, into the restaurant, 3rd or 4th day. Greenest green veg we had ever seen! Then we went out into the field and saw the kale being picked and cut, yup, by real people…
The boys at Riga then took us through a few of their other projects they were starting showing us fig trees, many, many herbs. The sorrel! wow so good, so lemony! Crowd favourite goes to the “stevia” which is a sweet herb originating from South America. Pure’s own Bryan “Candyman” Lang, already conjuring up desserts with the sickly sweet herb.
Another solid moment at the farm was Jose saying “hello where you from?” to every Mexican guy on the farm… Keeping up international relations, good on you mate.
The boys then took us out to the most beautiful Kale field where he told us that ducks, or was it deer??, i couldn’t quite hear him, could eat the entire field in as little as a couple of days if kept unchecked. Awesome.
On to Cookstown. Cookstown Greens, commonly known by chefs and cooks for producing seedlings and baby lettuces. This is a 100% certified organic farm, so they do things a little different. It was rather different, a little more laid back and relaxed, a little more chaotic but it had a certain feel to it. It had an artisan quality that you couldn’t quite put a finger on.
Here the crew again got out in the fields and dug around, finding the asparagus tips shooting from the soil, tasting the lettuces growing in the ground, seeing how hot, hot houses are, tasting a tomato off the vine as it should be. The flavour, amazing! A long, long way from the food terminal where much of the produce is imported from far flung countries of the world, picked completely unripe, then gassed on arrival to Canada with ethylene to instantly ripen. Not really the same taste, by a country farm mile.
The pictures tell a thousand more words, the team had an amazing day, learnt a lot and are still talking about it a week later. The cooks that didn’t get to go are green with envy and all vying to be the next DRC line cook to make it out on our next Field Trip.
I’d like to thank Bondi Produce for hosting us, Riga Farms and Cookstown Greens for the tours and especially the Distillery Restaurants Corp. for providing our young culinary stars a place to grow and nurture into educated, inspired cooks of tomorrow.