Kitchen Party: Cindy Bircham of Elgin Harvest

Everyone knows that the best parties always end in the kitchen. With our series Kitchen Party, we’re sitting down with Feast On Chefs to get to know them, and the local foods that inspire them, a little better. KitchenParty_banner
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Cindy Bircham

Elgin Harvest

St. Thomas, Ontario

Check out their Feast On profile here!

What’s your favourite seasonal ingredient? 

Sour Cherries! There are only a few days in the year when sour cherries are perfect for fresh picking and preserving. Miss the window and they’re either too soft or they’re shaken off the trees and shipped to the processors to be frozen.

During those few days there’s a cherry farm located on the east end of the county (Wall’s Farm) that opens for u-pick. Each year I make a trek into the orchard, the same time as many elderly Italian ladies, all of us armed with plastic buckets and a sun hats. Sour cherries aren’t really meant for fresh eating so it’s easy to fill the pails quickly. Sue, matriarch of the orchard, showed me a method of pitting cherries fast while keeping their shape by using a paperclip.

What’s your drink of choice?

Gin anything. And beer.  Most underrated ingredient? 

2 things: 1) Flour & grains and 2) koji.

Flour gets treated like it’s all the same – people shop for either hard or soft flour and usually the cheapest available. Within the current grain revolution there more options than ever in varieties available; as well as where, how, and when it was milled. Bread is often a staple at the table; shouldn’t the ingredients used to create it matter?  

I’m fascinated by koji, the mold used to culture grains used in many Japanese foods like miso, sake, and soy sauce. There are chefs using koji to replicate the dry-aging and curing results in meats and charcuterie that take days instead of weeks and also culturing locally sourced beans and legumes to create innovative miso-style pastes. It’s like the wild west of food with totally new flavours from the fermentation world.

Favourite restaurant? 

I’m a sucker for dumplings, falafel … and pizza. 

What’s the best part of working with Ontario food and drink?

Constant inspiration. It’s amazing to experience the quality and variety producers can offer in our climate and to see the food world adapt due to environmental and ethical shifts. A couple examples being: farmers extending the seasons using innovative techniques, commitments to eco-conscious and humane animal husbandry, and the collaborations that are taking place between chefs and growers to help each others’ businesses become and/or remain sustainable.

Why is Feast On important to you and your restaurant?

Because every region in the province has its own unique tastes and cultures.

It’s time to shine a light in my community, gastronomically speaking, where we are fortunate to have strong agricultural roots and big-hearted food-lovers who care about providing great hospitality and supporting entrepreneurship.

It’s also important to me because I feel there is still a disconnect between chefs & farmers. Chefs have the opportunity – if not responsibility – to educate themselves and their customers on what eating seasonally truly tastes like. It’s important to support local businesses and it’s also important to support local businesses using local products. 

Fill in the blank: “If I entered a competitive eating contest, I’d definitely win if the item was _______”. 

Deviled eggs!

What does your ‘Perfect Week-end’ in St. Thomas​ look like?

Las Chicas coffee, hanging out with the chickens and strolling through the vegetable gardens, a visit to Horton Farmers’ Market, cocktails or craft beer on a patio, wood-fired pizza, walk up to St. Thomas Elevated Park… in no particular order.
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