Story by Karen Burshtein
HAMILTON, ONTARIO — The recent ketchup kerfuffle (about French’s ketchup, made with Leamington, Ontario-grown tomatoes, and Loblaw’s initial unwillingness to stock the rival brand) only reminded us how much Canadians love their condiments (and, of course, their Canadian farmers).
Not that we need that much reminding: cue snack time with Lay’s Ketchup chips — one of Canada’s culinary claims to fame. Cue snack-time background music: Stompin’ Tom Connors’ classic ditty “The Ketchup Song.”
Of course, there’s a kind of condiment moment in the culture now with Beyonce’s “I got hot sauce in my bag” lyric from her hit song “Formation” causing a stir. Hillary Clinton’s controversial love of hot sauce and the popularity of enigmatic, multi-tasking Sriracha, its fans talking about it like it was the greatest invention ever (until, that is, they thought of lacing ketchup with Sriracha, then that was the greatest invention ever).
The cultural moment and the great Canadian ketchup scuffle of 2016 came at a time when Toronto cuisine is enjoying recognition for its compilation of flavours — a result of the cultural melting pot of a city, and, really, what Toronto cuisine does best. (Where else can you find diners getting all glassy-eyed as they pour Gochujang, the Korean go-to, all-in-one magic sauce of chili peppers, glutinous rice powder, fermented soybeans and red peppers, over summer barbecue meats and poutines?) And it comes at at time when a growing food scene in Hamilton puts focus on its importance on the international condiment map.
“You’ve got to have your condiments in Canada,” an attendee explained to me at the recent Terroir Symposium in Toronto when I asked about the rush of hipster sauces. “Then, there are so many different cultures and styles of cooking in Toronto. It’s a perfect mix. You have to see the West Indian sauces alone,” she said, also mentioning the smoked tomato ketchup that Thomas Lavers Cannery in Toronto’s Kensington Market served as a revelatory artisanal condiment moment for her.
The world got to know Toronto’s condiment artisans at last year’s Pan Am Games. Rossy Earle’s SupiCucu Diablo’s Fuego’s, and its firey flavours of Panama and Latin America; and No. 7’s Veran, a gluten-, salt-, sugar-, and nut-free hot sauce, helped show the new face of Toronto cuisine to the world.
Here are some more places to check them out:
At gourmet grilled cheese restaurant Cut the Cheese in Toronto’s hip Junction neighbourhood owner/chef Randal So and his kitchen do an ever-changing menu of ketchups including, in the spirit of neighbourliness, a breakfast porter ketchup with ale from next door’s Indie Ale House. “Right now we have grape soda ketchup, but we have done root beer ketchup, and some of the customers’ favourites have been a curry ketchup and jerk ketchup. Our menu has influences from different ethnicities so basically we’re doing the same thing with our ketchups, creating an experience with the different flavours,” So said.
No Ontario story about condiments would be complete without mention of Kozlik’s mustard established in 1948, and which has expanded its made-in-Canada line with savoury, sweet or spicy flavours such as maple, balsamic, fig and date, and “Double C” Dijon. Kozlik’s stall at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market always has long lines on Saturdays with people sampling those established and new flavours, as well as the company’s addictive mustard cheese sticks.
In Hamilton, a comeback city that’s enjoying a culinary moment thanks to community-driven initiatives and Toronto transplants who are upping the food game you’ll find interesting hipster condiments.
That’s natural given that 80 per cent of the world’s milled mustard comes from Hamilton. The city is actually known as mustard capital of North America, thanks to G.S. Dunn, the mustard miller as old as Canada, headquartered here.
Scott Carrothers, one of the partners of some of Hamilton’s most trendy restaurants, has a side business, Savvy Chef, that makes small-batch, handmade mustards in flavours such as truffle, creole and apple, and a grainy mustard I found worked as a tangy dipping sauce. The truffle mustard is not overwhelmingly truffle-scented and has a nice balance of acid and earthiness.
At Eat Inc’s Taqueria in the newly buzzing Hamilton Farmers Market, co-owner/chef Matthew Pigeon, a Toronto transplant who worked as a sous chef at Mark McEwan’s Bymark, showed off his range of artisanal condiments, and treated me to a taste of his flavourful, sophisticated, fennel, mustard and champagne pepper relish which he uses to punch up braised beef sandwiches on their menu. That and his line of other condiments are made with vegetables from nearby Buttrum’s Family Farm.
Hamilton-based The Farm Network is an online distribution centre of some of Ontario’s best small-batch condiments and sauces, including Mansauce, invented by a group of guys on a fishing trip in Northern Ontario in 2013, and Muskoka-based Yummie’s Sawdust City Mustard (“just add sausage”).
Artisanal condiments are on the menu, too. Chef Jason Parsons, for example, who helms the Peller Estates Winery Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, has a brilliant Ice-wine ketchup, a full tomato-flavoured sauce with a sweeter, softer finish, sugar that really zings up his signature burger on the estate’s summer-time Barrel House Grill menu.
Twisted Ketchup out of Stony Creek, a tiny town between Hamilton and Niagara Falls, is a new line of of out-there flavoured ketchup, small batch and handmade, by husband and wife Sabrina and Anthony Tomasic. The couple were running a popular food truck in Hamilton called Twisted Potato when they thought of developing a line of artisanal ketchups. “The biggest thing is different flavours,” Anthony Tomasic says. “Everyone wants to have great combinations now.”
They put out a ketchup buffet on their food truck, testing different flavours to see which would be in their core line. It now includes ketchups with flavours like Dill Pickle, Cherry Chipotle, Banana, Bacon, and Ghost Pepper, all sold in stores across Ontario. But they constantly try novelty flavours like egg-nog ketchup. Tomasic calls it, “Definitely a dessert ketchup, good on sweet potatoes.”