FIFTY-FOUR STOREYS UP, INSIDE A MIES VAN DER ROHE MASTERPIECE, the view of Toronto’s financial district from the dining room at Canoe is fit for a master of the universe. While the architecture may be International Style, the restaurant itself is adamantly Canadian.
Canoe has taken the concept of farm to table and expanded it to include the whole country. This allows Executive Chef John Horne and Chef de Cuisine Ron McKinlay to extend the season of sometimes fleeting ingredients when planning their menus. “I’d say we work with over 30 suppliers coast to coast,” Horne estimates. “And that’s just people we consistently work with. There are lots more who are kind of just one hit wonders who show up with, say, wild blueberries from Thunder Bay or green strawberries from Quebec.”
Horne cites one current dish in particular as capturing Canoe’s philosophy especially well: Tamarack Farms lamb with Jerusalem artichoke gratin, sunflower purée, wild licorice jus and samphire and nettle haché. The sunchokes come from a series of local farms as sourced by supplier 100km Foods. The purée is made with sunflower oil from Pristine Gourmet. The jus features wild licorice from a local forager, and, depending on the season, the wild greens will come either from a forager in B.C. or Nova Scotia.
Tamarack Farms, which supplies the lamb as well as many other ingredients, is intimately linked with the restaurant’s planning processes. “We’ll sit down with the farmers, Richard and Nancy, every winter and go over what we want,” Horne explains. “We’ll ask, ‘Can you plant this type of tomato?,’ ‘Can you plant these types of herbs for us?,’ and they also come to the table saying, ‘Hey, we found these amazing heirloom beans’ or ‘We got our hands on some incredible mushrooms.’
“Working with farmers like that makes me and the chefs really want to put all we’ve got into these dishes. Now, we need that connection.”