In the summer, Kingston is alive with numerous events and activities. Many promise delicious eats, perhaps none more so than the Local Food Local Chefs cooking demos that happen each Saturday in Market Square, hosted by Downtown Kingston!. The series kicked off on July 4. Here, the organization’s Projects Manager, Jan MacDonald, answers a few questions about the program, its history, and what to expect this year.
1. What was the inspiration behind the Local Food Local Chefs program, and how did it get off the ground?
It was about six years ago that the City of Kingston and Downtown Kingston! received a grant that brought some money, the purpose of which was to get people familiar with local food and the market. With those funds, we began producing the city’s culinary guide, which is a nice comprehensive guide to restaurants and producers in the city – everything that has to do with local food. From there, we used a second grant to purchase the equipment needed to run the chef demos. And we’ve kept them up each year on Saturday mornings.
2. What is part of the momentum behind the program that keeps it successful each year?
Well, local food has become very trendy. Restaurants are really on board with it. For example, last year the Grizzly Grill joined our chef demo program because they’ve been working really hard to incorporate more local food into their menu. Even Jack Astor’s, which you might think would be run strictly corporate, has been using local tomatoes. It’s really caught on, and it’s wonderful.
3. So how do you go about choosing the restaurants and chefs for the season?
I send out a notice to every restaurant in town and say, “If you have local food on your menu and you’re willing to do a chef demo using 75% of your ingredients from the market, let me know.” Chefs are super busy people, so sometimes we hound them a little bit, but typically those that have done it in the past are willing to participate again unless they’re having a particularly busy summer. It also depends on the number of Saturdays that we have. Last year there was 10 Saturdays, so I was able to add a few more demos in.
4. What has the audience response been like?
People really like it. And we also got a shaded covering for the amphitheatre. It used to be that all of our seating was in the sun. People would come down and stay for a few minutes, but would get too hot and need to leave. Now that the seating is shaded, I would say that our attendance has double or tripled. There are people who come to every single chef demo. I see them every time. It’s part of their morning ritual: go to the market, do their shopping, then come to the demo and have their sample. It’s amazing. Almost inevitably, someone says to me, “I learned something I didn’t know and I found out about a producer of an ingredient that I didn’t know I could get downtown.”
5. What does this year’s schedule look like? Which restaurants will be participating?
Participating restaurants include Le Chien Noir, Windmills, Harper’s, Aqua Terra and others. Also kind of exciting for me this year is that my daughter, Sarah Jane MacDonald, will be participating. She’s the chef at Stone City Ales. On our opening day, Derek MacGregor from Le Chien Noir made a delicious plate of grilled vegetables with steak. It was more like lunch than a sample!
6. Looking towards the future of the program, any elements you think you’ll change or add to?
I think the way it’s going now is perfect. We’ve had great response from the chefs, and we’ve had great response from the audience. The market vendors are always very busy on Saturdays but they’re more than happy to spend a few minutes talking to the audience about what they do, because that’s how they make their living. I think people are becoming much more aware of how important what they’re putting into their bodies is. Knowing that a farmer has taken the time to look after their soil properly, it has become a very important part of people’s lives. We’re lucky in Kingston to have that availability.
The Local Food Local Chefs demos will take place each Saturday in July and August at 11 a.m. Samples $2. For full lineup, visit Kingston Public Market.