Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cooking up a Storm: Expanding Saskatoon's Food Culture

I’ve been dreaming about ways in which Saskatoon can support and expand its local food and culinary enterprises. Here’s my 2012 wish list in no particular order.

Start-up Grants & Resources
New businesses often need help – from drawing up a business plan to renting space in a commercial kitchen to building a production facility. Let’s establish a community platform that links people and resources to culinary entrepreneurs who need help.

Note: The Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre does important work, but its focus is limited to developing commercial food products. Similarly, Ideas Inc. is a local business incubator, but it does not have a food focus and lacks a commercial kitchen, which is sorely needed. (This last sentence was added in response to a reader's comment.)

Role Models:
The Toronto Food Business Incubator is a non-profit organization that supports the growth of food industry micro-enterprises. Members have access to business plan analysis and feedback, a fully-equipped commercially-certified kitchen, shared liability insurance, and assistance in migrating to independent facilities.

The Small Change Fund is a Canadian, grant-making micro philanthropy. Grassroots charities submit proposals. Investors choose the projects they want to support (a community orchard management and fruit harvesting program in Toronto, a student-led, school-based food learning project in Kitchener).

Kickstarter is a large American funding platform for creative projects. It supports a wide range of food projects, from chocolate bars to greenhouses to cookbooks.

Promotion & Support Networks
Bakers and chefs are often more at home in the kitchen than out on the street marketing their products. Let’s provide our local culinary entrepreneurs with a marketing network that actively promotes local businesses.

In addition, let’s create a group that supports the work of individual entrepreneurs by providing opportunities for them to share ideas, problems and successes and that creates community support for their activities.

Role Models:
Edmonton’s Live Local is a non-profit organization that encourages people to eat, dine, shop, play and work locally.

Shop Local promotes local, independent businesses through a website, store decals and brochures. Eat Local First connects local farmers with people who love to eat fresh quality food at a reasonable price. Dine Local supports independently-owned restaurants that endorse regional cuisine made with local ingredients.

Slow Food is an international movement dedicated to supporting good, clean, fair food. It recognizes that food is a source of pleasure, community and culture. Local chapters host a variety of events. There are active chapters in British Columbia, Calgary and Edmonton – but none in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

The Toronto Food Policy Council connects people from the food, farming and community sectors to develop policies and projects that support a health-focused food system. They were a key player in the development of the Toronto food strategy (Cultivating Food Connections: Toward a Healthy and Sustainable Food System for Toronto).

Pop-up Restaurants & Supper Clubs
Variety is the spice of life. One-time-only restaurants or food events introduce local residents to new food ideas and give novice chefs and restaurateurs a chance to spread their wings and establish a reputation.

Role Models:
Saskatoon’s White Birch Catering has hosted pop-up dining events on a farm, in a flower shop and in a heritage building.

The Social Feed organizes dinner parties at local, independent restaurants in a number of Canadian cities. The food is served at large communal tables so you have a chance to meet new people as well as sample a new restaurant’s dishes.

A Txoko is a Basque gastronomical society. Male members come together to experiment with new ways of cooking, eat and socialize. (A Canadian version doesn’t have to be restricted to men!)

Vegetarian Restaurants
I long for the day when Saskatoon has a classy, vegetarian restaurant where vegetables, legumes and grains are the star attractions.

Role Models:
Check out these amazing vegetarian restaurants – I don’t even recognize some of the menu items:

Vanilla Black, England (fried mushroom mousse and pernod pancakes or warm celery pannacotta and blue Wensleydale profiteroles are just two of many mains)

Green Zebra, Chicago (Hen Of The Woods Mushroom Pâté, date mostarda, pumpkin seed brittle or Mustard & Caraway Spaetzle Stroganoff, hon shimeji, smoked cipollinis, dill, crème fraîche)

Millenium, San Francisco (Roasted Winter Squash & Quince Bastilla or Cannellini Runner Bean & Smoked Leek Gratin)

Customer Service Awards
Many young people support their education by working in a restaurant. It’s a stop-gap measure rather than a career choice. And yet good cooks, bar tenders and servers are worth their weight in gold. What can we do to make restaurant work a viable career option? Higher wages would definitely help, but it's not enough on its own. I’m short on solutions – hopefully you can suggest some.

Role Models:
Planet S newspaper asks readers to vote for Best Bartender, Best Barista, Best Server and Best Staff.

I’ve included more foodie daydreams – food truck festivals, progressive transit dinners and urban farms – in Random Acts of Urban Playfulness.

Now it’s your turn. What would you like to see added to Saskatoon’s food scene?

Photos: Barcelona, Alicante, Tarragona


Eileen said...

more social enterprises like Three Sisters/Nestors Bakery which employs youth at risk. Love that! - Eileen

Penny McKinlay said...

I agree. I also love the fact that Three Sisters is maintaining and building on a historic bakery - continuing a long tradition but with a new spin -