Year of the RAM and a cold cold, -30ºc trip to Stratford, ON.

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The DRC culinary team set out on another fantastic culinary trip, this time to the birthplace of Justin Bieber.  Much to the disappointment of our minivans full of cooks, there was no sign of aforementioned #bieber anywhere, nor was there a sign.  No shrines, no monument, no banners, no fanfare – just a frigid frozen landscape of Ontario farmland.  The beauty, for sake of redneck hooligan teenagers riding skidoo’s down the sidewalk, was quaint and old world.  A beautiful little town..

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So year of the ram, what’s this got to do with the price of fish?  Nothing.  It does however relate to our monthly skills competition called “The Greatest Dish” or the GDC.  Now this year, we have decided to relate our GDC comp. to our field trip, tying the two together.  So this month we tied together the culmination of the Chinese New Year, year of the ram – and thought it a great idea to go to a lamb farm in Ontario, buy the lamb for the competition and bring it home to The Distillery.

We would then hold a butchery demo, break the lamb down to cuts and then raffle them off in a draw for the GDC competitors.  The cuts of lamb were put in a hat (not literally – that’s gross) and pulled out by the cooks.  They would then have that cut of lamb to cook for their competition.

Back into the minivans and we were off to Koskamp Family Farms to walk their facility and meet their wonderful Water Buffalo and Holstein cattle.  This little family run dairy farm specialize in water buffalo milk, something only very few farms in North America produce.

Their Water Buffalo milk is processed into Buffalo Mozzarella by Quality Cheese in Vaughan and is used on our menus here in The Distillery.  Fantastic “farm to table” moment for our cooks.
The Koskamp philosophy is simple, “We take good care of our Water Buffalo; they will take good care of us.  We provide fresh air, clean water, nutritious feed and a clean dry place to rest”

Hungry cooks – we set off to Monforte Dairy Cafe in the centre of town for some local grub.  Charcuterie boards, grilled cheese sandwiches and coffee and we were ready to roll on to the next farm.  Oh – and a surprise visit from the one and only Jose Matamoros!  He skipped class at Stratford Culinary School to come and say g’day.  Hope you didn’t get in trouble mate…

Erbcroft Farm
This little farm was literally a family business employing one farm hand to look over their sheep, ducks, pigs and dogs all under the one roof.  It was touching to see the small scale of this operation and how they are carving out a living, off the land.  Honest hard work and a love for his herd, a genuine old soul.
Here was  where we purchased our lamb for the competition and butchery demo.

Enough from me….  Here are some thoughts from our DRC cooks that came along.

“Last Thursday we went on another awesome DRC field trip.  First, we went to a cattle farm which predominantly had Holstein and Water Buffalo.  We were able to see up close both animals and learned about the milking and breeding cycles of both type of cattle.  I found this very interesting as it provides insight to the living conditions of cattle, how they eat, and how they are treated.  As a cook, it really helps us see how our product goes from farm to kitchen”
 – Steve Hoang
Apprentice Chef, Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill

“The most interesting thing I learned on the field trip was how farmers in Canada have to manage and care for their stock during the severe winter temperatures here.  Most aspects of farming life are quite familiar to me as i grew up on a farm.  -20ºC and below temperatures are not.  Housing all of your livestock indoors for half of the year, using heat lamps to keep the young warm, and the limited feed options available are not familiar aspects.
The technology used on the water buffalo farm was quite interesting as well.  Pedometers used to count the animals steps each day, which can then be associated to events such as breeding, and then linked to the animals milk production was something I had not seen before”
 –  Travis Cropley
Chef de Cuisine, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie

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“This week I got the privilege of visiting Koskamp Family water buffalo farm in Stratford.  It was an amazing experience, it brought a whole new meaning to the saying, “From Farm To Table”.  This trip opened my eyes on how hard our local farmers work to provide us with great quality meat, day in day out.  No matter the weather, it could be -30 to +30 degrees outside, they still put there all in to raising a great product.  Throughout the trip it was super cold, all i was thinking about was keeping my feet warm.  But once you see the proud look on all the farmers faces, being out there with them in the cold was all worth it.  It’s clear they love what they do.  It’s refreshing to know that there are still farmers that are raising animals the old fashion way.  They welcome us with open arms, and eagerly answered all our questions.  I had a great time. 🙂 ”
 – 
Teneisha Anderson-Stewart
Grill Cook, El Catrin Destileria

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“Hello Chef Miles, I’m emailing you to thank you for allowing us to participate in the enlightening field trip to the farms last Thursday.  It was a humbling experience to be reminded of the hard work and care that is put into our food before it has even been cooked.  Also, after shaking the farmer’s hand who raised our competition lamb with love, I feel it is only right when cooking that i do justice to the protein i have at hand.  The passion that i have for food and cooking burns a little brighter with me from going on a trip like this.
So thank you on behalf of all DRC cooks and myself for allowing things like this to happen.  It not only teaches us about the story behind our food, but strengthens the bond between the DRC family.”
 Michael Stafford
  Garde Manger, Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie

“We started the day at Tenderbuff farms where they specialized in buffalo milk.  They have also fallen into selling buffalo meat.  Their first buffalo was from the US and since then they’ve been importing semen from Italy to help improve the herd to produce better quality milk, with a greater yield.
Water Buffalo are really smart.  They form ‘friendships’ with other Buffalo.  They can recognize and react to familiar people and are very curious.  As we walked through, they were jumping and clamouring over each other to get a look.  When they are young they have their horns frozen then cut off to avoid issues later in life among other buffalo.
Milk from buffalo differs in a few ways from cow’s milk.  They make a lot less milk than typcial Holsteins make but it contains a much higher milk fat percentage.  Water buffalo have a longer gestation and extra chromosomes.  The meat is a good alternative to beef due to it being a leaner animal and has a cleaner taste with low fat and cholesterol.
Next we went to Erbcroft farm to see and learn about sheep and lamb.  I noticed right away how many different types of sheep there were.  I could pick out different colours, head shapes and wool types.  Another thing I noticed was how attached to the farmer they all seemed.  Sheep get their tails removed for sanitation and to prevent other animals from biting at them.  When butchered at 6-8 months, the meat is know as spring lamb.  If butchered between 8-12 months it is referred to as lamb, 12 to 24 months 
hogget, and after that, mutton.
Once again, this display of “from farm to table” was enjoyable, and educational.”

 – Bryan Lang
   Garde Manger, Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill

Butchery Demo

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Back home and on to phase 2.  Butchery.  Sous Chef jLo from Cluny Bistro and Chef de Partie Jeff Glowacki from Pure Spirits led the butchery demo in the Pure Spirits Prep Kitchen.
Check out the video!

Greatest Dish Comp
Competition day !
Some fantastic entries from our DRC cooks, pictures are below.  The winner though,
Aviv Moshe, Cluny Bistro – for his “Moroccan Lamb Roll”

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Honourable mention to,
Jeff Glowacki, Pure Spirits – for his “Chicken Fried Lamb & Braised Lamb collar”
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And here are the all the other GDC entries!  Fantastic work guys.

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Stay tuned for next months Field Trip and GDC.  Should be a blast.
We are visiting the Redpath Sugar Museum, Cheese Boutique for a Q&A on maple syrup and cheese pairings, and then on to a Maple Syrup Farm in Halton, ON.  See you then!

   – Chef.

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