Story by Sandra Williams-Hervé
STRATFORD, ONTARIO — Years ago, while on vacation in Wales, a blonde and statuesque Canadian named Danielle Brodhagenmade a discovery: she found Stratford, Ontario’s undeclared twin town.
With a population of less than 15,000, Abergavenny, Wales is a quiet, if not sleepy town. However, for two days in September it transforms itself into the Glastonbury of food (Abergavenny Food Festival).
True, Stratford may not have a medieval castle but it is a beautiful little town with a rich agricultural history that dates to 1855. Moreover, the region of Perth County boasts some of the best growing conditions in North America, which accounts for its diverse farming community, acclaimed Stratford Chefs School and fine dining that all contribute to the local economy.
Brodhagen, who is also the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival (SSPCCF) director, was inspired by what she experienced at the Abergavenny Food Festival. So much so that it didn’t take much to convince her that a festival of this stature was needed back in her hometown.
This year, the festival is shaping up to be bigger and more star-studded than ever. More than 25,000 people are expected for the event that runs from September 21-23. Celebrity chefs like David Rocco (David Rocco’s Dolce Vita), Carl Heinrich (winner of Top Chef Canada Season 2) and Emily Richards (Canadian Living Cooks) will be joining the weekend party.
On the festival’s Saturday night, Dry County, a country-rock band, will be performing underneath the Market Square tent. Also headlining will be Toronto’s Ginger St. James and New Country Rehab. While the music plays on you can chow down on authentic southern BBQ.
Humble beginnings for Savour Stratford
In the festival’s early days, a committee of seven like-minded and passionate locals used a shoestring budget to organize Savour Stratford. They also relied on the participation and generosity of the area’s restaurants, producers and musicians to commit their time and effort into creating an entire weekend of culinary entertainment.
In 2008, the celebration of Stratford’s unique culinary character began with a two-day outdoor food festival highlighting regional cuisine, the area’s chefs, farmers and their harvest, as well as local musicians and artists. Every September since, an outdoor farmers’ market lines the Avon River, buskers mill about the streets and free concerts are held in the park. The centrepiece of the festival, of course, is the food. As such, an abundance of educational activities for children, tutored tastings, workshops, chef demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes are available to visitors.
If you come on a Sunday, be sure to check out the Sunday Tasting event, a sophisticated garden party pairing more than 30 chefs with farmers and producers alongside Ontario VQA wineries and craft breweries.
At the festival’s inaugural year approximately 5,000 people attended the culinary celebration and as word of the festival cascaded into surrounding area the numbers have consistently grown. Last year, Savour Stratford drew a crowd of 25,000 people, with celebrity chefs that included Chuck Hughes of Montreal’s Le Bremner and Garde Manger.
Savour Stratford is serious about the environment
From its inception, the festival’s environmental footprint has been of utmost importance. For instance, bottled water is not for sale during the weekend. Alternatively, water stations can be found throughout the festival sites and this year organizers have introduced composting. Furthermore, the event has banned soft drinks and prepackaged condiments, such as ketchup. Instead, it will encourage vendors to make their own condiments. In lieu of conventional beverages, vendors sell locally blended Niagara grape juice, locally brewed iced teas and apple cider.
In less than five years, the grassroots efforts of the Stratford Tourism Alliance and the Savour Stratford Perth County have been awarded with the 2011 Culinary Tourism Leadership Award and 2010 Culinary Tourism Experience Award by the province. Receiving these accolades has garnered the SSPCCF the reputation as being Ontario’s premier culinary festival.
More About the 2012 Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival
Dates: September 21-23, 2012
2012 Events: See complete schedule and ticketing information on the event’s website.
Tickets: General admission is $125; wristbands $5; individual workshops $15, for more details visit the festival’s website. Or contact the Stratford Tourism Alliance at 1-800-561-7926.
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