Brewers Plate is a celebration of local food at a time when it's hard to find

preserves at brewers plate
CC BY 2.0 Jamie Kennedy's Canning at Brewers Feast 2011/ Lloyd Alter

preserves at brewers plateJamie Kennedy's Canning at Brewers Feast 2011/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

So starts T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, with his description of the local and seasonal food scene in Toronto at this time of year. It was snowing just a few days ago, nothing new has come out of the ground yet, and if you are eating local, it is coming out of your mason jars, like those shown above, filled by Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy.

That's why I keep pitching , the Brewers Plate. Chris Lowry and his team have convinced some of the City's best chefs and restauranteurs to serve dishes made from local food, at a time of year when this is really hard to do. Then it is paired with local brews. They write:

Food is the harbinger of where we all need to go now. The future lies increasingly in regional self-reliance all over the world, with local living economies trading fairly, useful, durable goods, food, and good low-carbon ideas. A shift toward regional self reliance, with food leading the way for the whole economy, is our best chance to stem the rising tides of changing weather and rivers, diminishing fossil fuels, scarcities of fresh water, fish, soil - what many are now calling 'peak everything'.

This year, the patron of the event is Jamie Kennedy, a Toronto chef who started promoting local food long before it was popular. (TreeHugger Kelly has sourced many of her dishes from his cookbook, Seasons, like this Asparagus with Classic Vinaigrette from 2007). Chris Lowry calls him a " spokesperson for the local food economy,local ownership, import substitution, and the joys of fresh craft beer and fresh local food." I interviewed him in 2009 about the problems of cooking in April. He told me:

We have to look back in time, a hundred years lets say, and gaining inspiration from what was going on in communities at that time, how people coped with harsh winters at the community level. Because of course at that time there was not worldwide transport, importation of foods from around the world. ...To gain inspiration and help foster the local food movement, for it is a means to rediscover a local food culture based on what nature gives us, and build up a repertoire of cuisine which is seasonal.

So now, instead of Peruvian asparagus and Mexican tomatoes, Torontonians rave about a different kind of food:

Artisanal cheeses, fresh country breads, fresh as smoked local fish, preserved and cold-stored veggies and fruits, sausages and roasts, stews of wild game and root vegetables, local greenhouse produce, pickles and preserves of all kinds.

Did Kennedy start the trend to local food in Toronto? He certainly was among the first to seriously promote it and his influence is tasted in many restaurants, and throughout the Brewers Plate event. The trend has made local dining a lot more interesting. That's why I look forward to The Brewers Plate, this year on April 17.

Brewers Plate is a celebration of local food at a time when it's hard to find
It's always a surprise to see what chefs can do at this time of year in this kind of climate.

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