In chef-obsessed food circles, the name Michael Stadtländer needs no introduction. In fact, it’s practically the stuff of legends. He is both the farmer and the chef for his one-table Eigensinn Farm, where he raises his own ducks, lambs and pigs; grows and preserves in-season vegetables; and gets most of his fish from Georgian Bay. Considered one of the top restaurants in the country, Eigensinn— located in Singhampton, Ontario, a 2-hour drive from Toronto — has become the site of (a costly, but by all accounts extraordinary) culinary pilgrimage.
Now Stadtländer is the one on a journey. He is travelling by kitchen-equipped school bus to Grande Pre in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, for the third Canadian Chefs’ Congress. And he’ll be paying a visit to his former apprentice, Ross Fraser, at Fraser Café. The Fraser brothers will collaborate with their special guest on a 6-course dinner featuring ingredients from the farm on September 10.
It’s nothing short of a culinary coup that Stadtländer has chosen Ottawa as one of only three stops on his journey to Nova Scotia next month. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the tickets are already sold out.) The purpose is to raise funds as well as awareness about the biannual Congress, an idea spearheaded by Stadtländer who envisioned a gathering of chefs, winemakers, growers, farmers, fishers, foragers, and artisanal food producers from across Canada to party together and inspire each other.
Ross has attended the Congress both years since 2008 and is looking forward to going again this year. “It’s a good time,” he says, “You get to see the different chefs bring their own products. It’s not a trade show though, people are not trying to profit from it. It’s unique that way.” He sounds equally excited to have Stadtländer coming to cook at his restaurant, having developed a friendship with the iconic chef and mentor at Eigensinn Farm as an apprentice for seven months back in 2004. He’ll be feeling nostalgia for the school bus as well. Although it’s a different bus this year, Ross was part of the crew that joined Stadtländer on a nearly two-month cooking road-trip to the last Congress that was held in Vancouver.
This won’t be Stadtländer’s first visit to Fraser Café. He was a guest for lunch with his wife, Nobuyo, and their son in 2010 when he won a Governor General’s Award for his contributions to the organic and locally grown food movement in Canada.
The dinner on September 10 will be held at Table 40, Fraser Café’s funky communal private dining room that is attached to the Café. Ross says the school bus will be parked out front and different courses will come from the bus and the restaurant kitchen. He tried to describe what is special about Stadtländer’s food and his style. “He’s very heavy handed, in a good way, with herbs and vegetables in his stocks and sauces – he can concentrate the flavours,” says Ross, “It has a different taste – it’s a familiar taste to me.”
Perhaps above all, he admires his mentor’s approach to not just cooking, but to life. “He’s been able to do everything his way. I always appreciate it.”