He has cooked for the Queen of England, celebrities and now, an intimate audience of foodies at St. Lawrence Market. The chef in question is EPIC's very own Timothy Palmer, the hardworking and celebrated chef de cuisine at the Fairmont Royal York restaurant. On Thursday, Palmer painstakingly smoked pork belly, shaved prosciutto and drizzled honey over roasted peach streusel for St. Lawrence Market's wildly successful Executive Chef Series. It's the second last dinner of the season, with the last event happening next week with 360 Restaurant's Peter George taking over the Market's Miele Kitchen.
Using Ontario-sourced ingredients, Palmer worked quickly, assembling 6 elegant courses while educating diners on the provenance of various elements in his dishes. The flavourful heirloom tomatoes in Palmer's modern take on the caprese salad came from a family-owned greenhouse in Waterford, the ginger used in the "Labrador wild ginger air" was picked by a local forager and the pork was came from a farm in Perth County, a slow food movement mecca.
OurFaves quizzed Palmer on his food philosophy and celebrity diners. Here's what he had to say...
What was the preparation like for this dinner?
We started two days ago, getting some of the items, like the foie gras lolli ready. And sourcing all the products probably took the whole summer to find all these great gems we’re using today as well. But it’s going well, though.
All of this food is sourced from Ontario. Why do you think it’s so important to pull foods from the region you’re in?
The most important thing for me is the best quality. It’s the freshest ingredient you could possible use. We’re blessed to have this amazing growing area in Niagara and all over the province. If I can source it locally, it’s much better to support our local producers. It’s what’s going to keep pushing our industry and it’s going to make people more aware. They’ll know what an heirloom tomato is and they won’t think that because it’s purple, it’s bad.
I think it’s very important to support our local producers because if we don’t do it now, they’re not going to be around in 10, 15 years. It’s great relationships with them as well. It’s a friendship we build. They’ll grow certain products for us and they’ll come to us with a product and ask us if we can use it. It’s give and take.
Speaking of local, we’re in the St. Lawrence Market. Why do you think it’s important to have a place like this in Toronto?
The important thing is it brings awareness for everybody to know that they have the same opportunities to buy the amazing products from Ontario that I do. It’s not just because we buy in bulk and we buy a lot of it. Everybody can get that exact same product. If they come for dinner at EPIC and they have an amazing heirloom beet salad with feta, you’ll be able to find that product here in the market.
So the Toronto Film Festival has been upon us. Have you had a taste of it in The Royal York?
Well, I’ve had (famous) people in, dining. I can’t disclose any of their names. TIFF is a very busy week for us, so I’ve been working straight through, so I’ve been able to see the inside of it, if you will. Other than seeing stars on the street as I walk to work, that’s basically it for me.
What’s it like being on the inside during TIFF?
It’s really exciting. But everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time. Other than the higher expectations, it’s exciting to see some of the culinary trends. Our Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu which focuses on a lot of different macrobiotic diets, gluten-free diets, dairy-free diets, this menu is being accessed a lot more since we’ve had these visitors who have more of an eye on their waist-line.
What are some interesting orders that have come through this past week from TIFF goers?
I can’t even decipher, really, who’s having what. Everything from as simple as egg salad sandwiches to a nice, thick piece of seared foie gras on brioche and everything in between. But there’s a big focus on local ingredients, the freshest ingredients and the best thing for them is basically something that was breathing just a couple of minutes ago.
What has been the most interesting order you’ve gotten in the past few days?
Whole wheat chicken fingers. That was kind of a funky one. I’ve never heard of that one before.
Have you seen any TIFF movies?
I haven’t. I haven’t had a day off. I’ll catch up on the news.
If you weren’t as busy as you are at EPIC, where would you want to be this weekend for TIFF?
That’s tough. Other than EPIC, I’d be at the Ritz-Carlton’s Toca. It’s really funky, a really kind of a cool take on Canadiana cuisine and local food. There’s a lot of high-profile people going through there. So that’s probably where I’d be.