I remember when Arlene first talked to me about organizing Terroir. She was very excited to start this conference, dealing with issues and discussions around food, food procurement, food politics, accessibility and enjoyment - all with a focus on supporting local resources. The idea intrigued me, so when she invited me to deliver the key-note at the first Terroir conference, I accepted.
This year, chef and local food advocate, Jamie Kennedy, returns to Terroir. It’s been 10 years since he delivered the first key-note at the opening symposium back in 2007, giving him a unique perspective from other speakers and an understanding of the events evolution. Since the humble beginnings he’s remained an advocate and honorary member of the Terroir Symposium family.
Since the early days Arlene was really onto something, gathering people from the industry in a room to discuss and debate food; there was a lot of excitement surrounding it. Many ideas were brought forward, leaving people walking away feeling charged-up with new thoughts and purpose surrounding gastronomy. Since then, as Terroir has continued to evolve, the industry has gathered equal momentum meaning the discussion keeps getting broader and more interesting. More and more people have joined the conversation and it’s become self-propelling.
Since the first Terroir conference, our integral goals have remained, in many ways, unchanged, but the conversation has been ever transforming.
At Terroir 1, conversation surrounded the importance of establishing a food identity for Canada and the region of southern Ontario; making connections with local producers and encouraging education, regarding the importance of local food procurement. The results led to furthering our food culture locally in southern Ontario. Now, there’s this feeling of a groundswell of interest in food in general that’s being recognized globally. We’ve gone beyond just thinking about the gastronomical aspects of these issues and become more conscious of establishing viable local economies in food, as well as on issues surrounding food sovereignty and sustainability.
What I want to bring to Terroir this year, is to encapsulate the progress that’s been made in the last 10 years since I first spoke. Every year since, I’ve come as a delegate to observe the conversation, but it will be a nice comparison to show what’s important in food now, versus then.
You’re recognised as a pioneer of the “farm-to-table” sustainable and local food movement in Toronto and Canada, how have you seen the state of the movement change since it’s early beginnings - is it flourishing or is it still yet to be better implemented and embraced throughout our food industry?
It still needs time - we had a way of thinking in the 20th century which was a strong lobby comprised of the industrial food complex and the economies around global food distribution; which unfortunately is still the norm. In Ontario, if we were to grow and support everything possible in our climate we’d still want to have our coffee, tea and citrus - all things that we hold dear. I don’t challenge the acceptance of items such as these coming into our country from across the world, even just from a cultural perspective. Using coffee as an example, if the commerce surrounding it supports local communities, wherever it’s being grown, and not being exploitive due to large corporate motives, then I’m okay with it. The same goes for wines being imported from other parts of the world, as long as they’re organic, bio-dynamic wines coming from small vineyards that support the surrounding community, that’s okay too. I favor supporting my local economy, of course, but I don’t deny that there’s some exceptions that can reasonably be made. You are choosing who you want to support through every dollar that you spend, whether it’s a dollar that goes into your local economy or one that goes into a global economy, the choice is ours. We are encouraging people to vote with their dollars, to vote to support their local economy and thereby, community, as much as possible.
Tell me a bit about your current partnership with Durham College and how this initiative is working towards your goals of supporting education and initiating change within the food industry.
My ideas surrounding food that I wish to share with a greater audience have brought me to where I am today; in a position to help others understand the importance of supporting and sustaining local food economies, now and into the future. Again, these ideas are always tied to promoting food sovereignty and food accessibility globally, but beginning with a local focus here in Southern Ontario. Talking to students at Durham is the perfect opportunity to start planting the seeds to the next generation of food service professionals. The curriculum is comprised of subjects ranging from planting seeds, growing vegetables - right in front of their classrooms - allowing the opportunity for culinary, management and horticultural students to have this cross-fertilization happening. When cook students get to see how vegetables are grown, it imbues in them a new respect for the work involved in growing food. From my own experience, when you have that understanding it informs how you approach cooking; it helps you to produce better food. When you have that connection to where it came from and you understand how it was grown, participating in the cultivation and harvest of these crops yourself, it can be very inspiring.
You recently published your cookbook, J.K. The Jamie Kennedy Cookbook; what was the goal of this project, and how has it met your expectations?
This was the third book of my career, and it was more collaborative in nature than the others before it. This was a big point about it because as we talk about food related issues, we can't live in silos; there’s a collaborative spirit that has to exist, in order to move the agenda forward. It’s why change is happening more quickly, and why conferences like Terroir play such an important role because they present a broad cross section of what’s happening in food, in our community and in society; all in one place. The object of the book was retrospective in a way; it talks about food in the restaurant context and the creative process of making food for restaurants, whilst also addressing topics such as education, apprenticeships and my position on a political level. Instead of being limited to recipes, the book includes stories, told to address larger and more important issues around food than simply how to cook.
What current projects are you involved with?
I’m really excited about the relationship I have with Durham College. Also, since I’m no longer operating the restaurant I’ll have the opportunity to spend more time on the farm this summer. I believe that the farm will help to inform what my next steps are with my work and I’m looking forward to engaging in the community of Prince Edward County. Throughout the summer I plan to orchestrate a dinner series every Saturday night, giving the people of PEC an opportunity to come to my farm, eat local food, drink local wine and enjoy themselves.