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The Women Of Savour Stratford

Sometimes it seems like it's always only about the men when we talk about exciting culinary scenes and, as a woman, that must be so frustrating. Often females are relegated to front of house, baking, and other behind the scenes jobs that are, indeed, important, but they are not usually the ones getting the accolades but I have to tell you, there are an impressive group of women who own and operate businesses, head up the kitchens and run the show in Stratford. I met cheesemakers, chefs, tea and coffee sommeliers and candy makers, all incredibly active in the community and supportive of each other in a way that made quite an impression on me. Every time I sat down to chat with someone, they would tell their story and almost every single time, it turned out that their story intersected with at least one other woman in town. The cheesemaker helped the coffee shop survive after the bank turned her down for a loan for her "hobby", the tea sommelier's teas are the teas offered at the same coffee shop and the Italian restaurant that has a female head chef, and on and on and on it goes.

Tea Leaves is housed in a big, rambling old victorian looking house with overgrown gardens and a welcoming air about it so if feels kind of like you are visiting your favourite, eccentric aunt instead of a meeting owner/tea sommelier, Karen Hartwick at her Tea Tasting Bar.  I will admit that I wasn't really aware that such a thing existed but after an hour with her, I now understand that this is most certainly a real skill and really no different than studying to be an expert in the art of wine tasting. Watching her go through the ritual of brewing and pouring tea was pretty mesmerizing and although I realized that I know much less about tea than I thought, I absolutely want to learn more.

At her tea tasting bar, she can accommodate up to 12 people for a tasting catered to your personal preference. You might want to explore Japanese green teas or the world of smoked or fermented teas. You can go in as absolute novice and not feel like an idiot because this is no pretentious tea snob. Sure, this woman knows her tea but she speaks plainly and uses terms we can all understand and really makes it all sound pretty straight forward. With her light manner and infectious laugh, she is impossible not to like immediately and I can imagine her various classes and seminars are well attended. This woman knows and loves her tea and when she is done with you, you will too.

At last year's Savour Stratford, she paired up with local forager,  Peter Blush from Pucks Plenty to take first place in the beverage category with their Digestive Fire Tonic and they are pairing up again this year to attempt to repeat that particular feat.


Wednesday to Saturday, 

11am to 5pm, or by appointment 

433 Erie Street, Stratford, 

Ontario, Canada N5A 2N3 

1-800-733-0376 (toll-free) 
519-273-1201 (local) 

We had a wonderful dinner our very first night at Pazzo Taverna where chef Yva Santini is churning out some pretty amazing food. Terms like Ocean Wise and Sustainable would be heard over and over again during my three day stay and Pazzo is absolutely a part of this movement to serve only food that they can stand behind. Of course, Chef Santini is another one of the graduates of the Stratford Chef School that I met in my travels and I started to get the whole world class chef school in a small, rural town thing. If you want to have great talent in your kitchens, open a school and train them yourself, right?

From what I have been told, after working her way up the kitchen ladder here, pretty much since graduation, she has really helped take Pazzo from a more traditional, fine dining experience and transform it into the modern, fresh Italian restaurant it is now. The decor is a great, as is the food, and I find myself, once again, lamenting the fact that this gem is an hour and a half away. As one of the few female members of the newly formed Stratford Chef's League, she is an active community member and is involved in all things Stratford.

We shared a ridiculously generous seafood tower (and at $65, it is the deal of the century) that was brimming with fresh oysters, plump, perfectly cooked shrimp with a housemade cocktail sauce and a quartet of seafood based salads. A scallop ceviche was so delicious that it pained me to share sat beside a bowl of octopus and mussels in aioli and comprised my two favourites of the bunch.
I also loved that little shrimp caesar shooter

Our server encouraged us to try the house made burrata and the pork sausage on crostini, also made in house and I have to say, I would echo that advice. They also make their own pasta but one bite of the tagliatelle told me without anyone having to say a word. Two of us gave top honours to the pasta and the other two of us preferred the risotto nero but we mutually agreed that if this place existed in Toronto, we would all be regulars. We also enjoyed the first of an array of great Ontario wines that we would enjoy during our stay from their small but lovely wine list.

You can pop next door to their take out joint, Bambino and enjoy some of Karen Hartwick's tea...see what I mean?

PAZZO PIZZERIA AND TAVERNA70 Ontario Street | Stratford | Ontario | Canada | N5A 3H2 
Tel: 519.273.6666 or 1.877.440.9666 
Fax : 519.273.6554

The next morning we had a coffee at Revel Caffe and sat down with owner, Anne Campion to talk about single source coffee, Stratford, sexism in the banking industry and, of course Savour Stratford. One of the things that really sets Revel apart, besides their delicious coffee, is Anne's commitment to ethical coffee production. She knows the farmer who grows her coffee and , in fact, she has been to that farm in Nicaragua where she has picked the beans, helped to dry them by hand on huge patios and knows these people. Because there is no middle man, this direct sourcing of coffee means that all the money goes to those who grow, pick and process the beans. She also has a relationship with her roaster and works closely with them as well to ensure that the coffee is done the way she likes it every time.

Anne is also committed to her community and goes out of her way to make sure that everyone who walks through her door can feel safe and welcome and assures us that no one will ever be turned away without a coffee, regardless of their ability to actually purchase one that day. The walls are lined with the work of local artists and she has plans to use the large basement space as a place where people can gather and use it as a meeting space. Perhaps Yva can bring the league of chefs there to brainstorm on their next pop up collaboration over Revel americanos and some nice oolong from their exclusive supplier, Stratford Tea Leaves.....
I'm sensing a thread here.

She told us the story of how this beautiful, airy space came to be and we learn that when she had the chance to move her tiny cafe into this lovely building, the bank refused her a loan. The female bank manager said that they were not in the habit of lending women money for their "hobbies" and, perhaps if her husband would be willing to cosign, they could work something out. Never mind that Anne's husband is a long time musician at Stratford which means he actually only works part of the year - he was a man and if a man was willing to vouch, she could probably get the money she needed. Just when she was losing hope that her dream of this large, community hub was ever going to happen, another Stratford business owner gave her an idea. Ruth Klassen, of Monforte Cheese, told her to sell shares in her coffee. It was basically crowdfunding before there was such a thing but Ruth promised her that if she sold people shares in actual coffee that she would have 20 thousand dollars by the end of the month.  Klassen had one the same thing when she was building her dairy. Basically, people would buy shares in the product and get a set amount of it each month , all while helping the business raise the funds they would need to survive.

Well, in just two weeks time they actually exceeded the 20,000 mark, Anne changed banks, Revel moved into their new home with the same community pitching in and helping move the cafe across the street from it's tiny former location. Even the long harvest table we sat at was a collaboration between a loyal customer and a bunch of Stratford Theatre set builders that was gifted to the cafe. It is a testament to her sunny nature that she will share the name of her new bank (TD) and will not give the bank that turned her down even bad press by revealing their identity.

You know, the only time we see even a hint of competitiveness is when Anne tells us that she won the best alcoholic drink category at the 2013 Savour Stratford with her Cafe con Picuete and is planning to win again this year but will not reveal what her newest concoction will be, just that it will be delicious. And it will be a winner.

Revel Caffe

independent Coffee for a Revolution

37 Market Place

Stratford, ON N5A 1A4

Telephone: 519 305 1600

Now, this is the weirdest story about my trip...we were taken to Bradshaws, Stratfords beautiful mercantile type store with a heavy emphasis on all things culinary. As we were waiting for the owner to come meet us, I see a familiar face walking toward me and I think "holy crap, that looks like Carrie but what would a wardrobe stylist from Toronto be doing here? Maybe she is here visiting friends?"

The next thing I know she is being introduced as the owner of Bradshaws and we look at each other and squeal and hug and everyone looks at us like we are insane. It IS my old work pal and she also happens to be married to Jeremy, the third generation Wreford to run the family business since they took the store over from the Bradshaw family back in 1975. Jeremy used to an art director in the tv commercial business that we worked with as well. At least this explains the beautiful window displays - an art director married to a wardrobe stylist are going to make sure that every inch of their store looks fabulous. If it's beautiful, well made and has something to do with getting food and drink into you, you will probably find it here and you can't swing a cat without seeing the name Bradshaws attached to not just Savour Stratford, but pretty much every festival and event in the city.

Carrie and Jeremy Wreford
When you use one of the tickets from your chocolate trail there, you receive a Govino wine glass with some dark chocolate inside that you are encouraged to take across the street where a second ticket can get your glass filled up at Mercer Hall with some wine to pair with those chocolates.

129 Ontario St
Stratford Ontario
Phone 519-271-6283
Toll Free 1-844-271-6281

If you go to any of the farmer's markets in the city, you will be familiar with the name Monforte, since their cheese is a regular staple at most of them. I first bought a sheep's milk curd at The Brickworks for The Kid years ago and have been a fan ever since so I was pretty excited to eat lunch at their restaurant,  Monforte on Wellington. We were told that we would be sharing a charcuterie and cheese plate and a glass of wine and, if we were lucky, we might meet Ruth Klassen, the owner/cheesemaker.

Ruth is another alumni of The Stratford Chef School (class of 83 but who's counting) who left her job as the chef at the Stratford Theatre to find her way in the art of making cheese. After many hurdles and roadblocks, she is now an established cheesemaker with a great restaurant to add to her list of accomplishments. To build her cheese empire, she used the same type of  crowd funding that she encouraged Anne, from Revel, to use and you can still buy shares in Monforte. If you purchase, say, a CSA(community shared agriculture) subscription for $200 you can either get $200 in vouchers to use to purchase cheese at markets, the dairy or any participating outlets or you can get two cheese baskets delivered to your door twice a year. Having just purchased a new farm just outside of Stratford on which they plan to grow produce to serve at the restaurant and sell at market, they hope to encourage others to follow their lead and preserve the land for farming.

So, in we go and we walk by Ruth sitting at a table and we are introduced, expecting to carry on to find a shady spot on the lovely little patio. Instead, she demands that we sit with her and the food just starts coming. We get a bottle of Malivoire Lady Bug Rose to share and then she decides we need to compare it to this french rose that she loves so a bottle of that appears. More food, a morel stuffed with some sort of meltingly delicious cheese, some local charcuterie, more cheese, a tourtiere that made me want to roll around on it and a shot of something boozy here and there..... it was never ending. 

While we ate, she regaled us with tales of Stratford and the ever growing food scene, gave opinions on just about everything and was a wonderful hostess in every way. I was very sad that we had to leave to make our next stop but I am afraid that if we had stayed, it might have gotten a little sloppy and I might still be there, sitting on the same chair, munching and sipping and rambling about co ops and cheese fermentation.

 On my very last day, when I had a couple of hours to myself, this is the place that I went back to for something to eat before catching my bus back to Toronto. That eggplant involtini with a bowl of potato ramp soup that you see down there was the kind of thing I would eat every day if I had the chance.

Monforte on Wellington
80 Wellington St. Stratford

Jenn and Larry's Brittle N Shakes

Larry Stacey and his wife, Gail, operated a drive in restaurant from 1967-1974 and over time he had become known for his incredible milkshakes. Anxious to start making milkshakes again, he and daughter, Jenn, opened up shop in 2010 when her brittle business outgrew her kitchen. A true family business, with the whole family involved (Jenn's twin brother Dan is also part of the team), they are one of the most popular spots in town to get ice cream, and ice cream cake,  a shake or a bag of her sinfully good brittle. She is as known for her brittle as her father is for his milkshakes and I am hoping that they are going to be available online soon so I can order them from my computer chair. I wanted the chili but it was sold out, as is often the case but the maple brittle that I got in exchange for my Maple Trail Ticket was pretty great so I won't complain.

During this year's Savour Stratford festival, Jenn and Larry's will be running the show as far as the kid's tent is concerned. Their Emporium of Wonders will be set up on the road right in front of the store and will prove to be two days of jam packed kid friendly action including a Bug Fest Feast, some food science workshops and lots more.

Jenn and Larry's Brittle and Shakes
49 York St
Stratford Ontario

I know I am missing some other wonderful women that are doing great things in the city but I will just have to keep going back to find them, right?

Once again, many thanks to The Siren Group and Savour Stratford for giving me the opportunity to fall in love with this wonderful town and it's culinarily stimulating inhabitants.

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