[This article was previously published in Kalev.com and AOL/Huffington Post.]
CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO — In a lot of ways, sustainability starts with the food we eat. The more we can consume foods that are in our own backyards, the less food needs to be shipped in from disparate parts of the world.
At Langdon Hall, a Relais & Chateaux country manor close to Toronto, executive chef Jonathan Gushue has succeeded in turning the property on which he cooks into the source for a large percentage of his ingredients. Gushue is one of North America’s finest chefs, having attained 5-Diamond Award status from CAA/AAA judges for six straight years at Langdon Hall as well as a World’s Top 100 Restaurants ranking and acclaim throughout Canada.
“People talk about a 100-mile menu. This is a quarter-mile menu here,” says Gushue, who was the chef at the Four Seasons in Toronto before coming aboard at Langdon Hall in 2005. “It really took us about four years, the time to understand our harvesting. We’ve learned to use wild herbs, what our gardeners had been ripping up as weeds. These are the things that are indigenous to the area, what people were eating 100 years ago.”
INSPIRATION AND HISTORY
Gushue says the soil at Langdon Hall is exceptional for growing beets, so those root vegetables are almost always on the menu. Although he will fly in products from elsewhere in Canada, including snow crab from the east coast, Gushue sticks to sourcing his meat and fish close to home. The fish & chips served in Langdon Hall’s comfortable bar are made with pickerel — and they’re as tasty as any you’ll find with cod or halibut.
“We use everything here for our inspiration. Don’t expect the typical lobster, steak, salmon dishes,” he says of his menu.
Langdon Hall, which was built in 1898 for the grand-daughter of John Jacob Astor, opened in 1989 as a hotel after being a private residence for nearly a century. It sits on 200 acres that includes expansive lawns, a long driveway that leads up to the view of the grand mansion on the hill, and plenty of mushrooms, vegetables and even wild grapes that Gushue uses in his cuisine.
“What Jonathan does is focus on what’s in the area, whether it’s buying local pork or veal, or making sure he sources products in a 100-mile radius,” says Bill Bennett, Langdon Hall’s owner. “We can get produce on the grounds here about eight months of the year and we can do it year-round too with what you can get from the greenhouse, so I think using those ingredients from here gives Jonathan a leg up.”
Not all chefs are able to accomplish what Gushue has, however. As he points out, major international hotels such as the Four Seasons want their guests to have “the same experience, whether they’re in Singapore or Toronto.” That means shipping in items that are exotic, but also costly and not environmentally sound. The locavore movement, where consumers shop for foods that are harvested or produced close to home, has improved sustainability efforts within the food industry in recent years. Gushue happens to be at the forefront of the local movement because of his notoriety as well as the support he has at Langdon Hall.
“Relais & Chateaux wants guests to have a different experience wherever they go. That comes from the personality of the property and the sense of place,” he says while standing in the property’s atrium that features long, tall windows glistening with sunlight. “Really this property dictates how we react to our cuisine and what we put in our food.”