Here at OCTA, we are all about doing something delicious – and connecting with the deliverers of said deliciousness. A�Meeting the great growers and proud producers spread across our province is one of our most pursued pastimes, so we were thrilled when we recently had the opportunity to attend one of Taste of Huron‘s “Food for Thought” dinners.
The “Food for Thought” dinner series pairs Huron harvesters with local chefs and restaurateurs for a memorable evening that lets guests meet the masters behind their meal. Held at Benmiller Inn & Spa, July’s installment of the popular series featured Creekdale Farms’ lamb prepared three ways by expert Executive Chef Spencer Vail and team.
We sampled phyllo-wrapped lamb kofka dressed with a yogurt chutney, before moving on to a spicy, birch beer braised lamb flatbread with heirloom tomato marmalade, chevre and fittingly, lamb’s lettuce. A�The finale? A manchego creme caramel, with local quince jam (to the mystery man who surprised Chef Spencer with a basket of quince, thank you!) and sheep’s milk cheese, all washed down with a beautiful bottle of Tawse Winery‘s pinot noir.
Between the courses, a truly amuse-ing bouche took place, as Josh Bruton and Chef Spencer took turns at the podium, sharing their experiences and perspectives from opposite ends of the local food supply chain.
For Josh, the journey to becoming a sheep farmer has been a long time coming. A�Before establishing his own lambing enterprise, Josh spent five years alternating between Australia, New Zealand, Montana and his home region of Huron, learning the tricks of the trade from sheep farmers and enrolling in training programs. A�A firm believer in the “you are what you eat” philosophy (or perhaps “ewe are what ewe eat”), Josh’s lambs graze on grass during the summer months and enjoy a mix of peas and oats well into the fall. A�Thanks to an an innovative partnership with a nearby cash cropping farm, Josh is able to plant his peas and oats on the neighbouring property once the combine has finished its cutting cycle.
As the dinner continued, it became evident that Josh is not done innovating. A�He spoke intently of creating shepherding courses and training opportunities, modelled after the Telford Rural Polytechnic program in New Zealand, that will offer new farmers the same level of education without having to leave the province. A�In the future, value-adding by producing lambskins and wool blankets may provide Creekdale Farm with additional revenue — in fact, Josh is already looking into this possibility.
Josh’s enthusiasm and passion extends to his work creating relationships with local chefs. While Creekdale Farms currently supplies to three restaurants (of which Benmiller Inn is one), there is interest from numerous others whom Josh has contacted directly. A�For Chef Spencer Vail, the decision to work with Creekdale Farms meant buying local lamb and buying into a new restaurant model.
The Benmiller Inn’s dining menu is now a revolving one – giving Chef Spencer the flexibility and creativity to work with more seasonal ingredients and the various cuts of lamb that Josh brings in. A�So far Chef Spencer’s decision is paying off — he deemed the flagship program as “wildly successful” and his ground lamb dishes are consistently one of the most popular items. A�While Chef Spencer acknowledges that there are still challenges to working with a local supplier, among them product availability and scheduling issues, he is proud to be spending his purchasing dollars in the local economy.
The partnership between Chef Spencer Vail and Josh Bruton is not an anomaly in today’s restaurant industry — the local food movement continues to be inspired and strengthened through these farmer-chef connections. A�Nowhere is this more evident than at the Taste of Huron “Food for Thought” dinners. A�Next up? “It’s the Schnitz!“, a traditional German dining experience at Hessenland Country Inn in August and “This Little Piggy Went to Pisa” – an Italian dinner at SamuelsA�Boutique HotelA�featuring Perth Pork Products. A�And if you’re in Huron, may we suggest a stop at Culbert’s Bakery in Goderich for their cream-filled pillows of donut perfection?