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Field to Fork – Meet the Chefs

September 19, 2012
    Field to Fork 2012

    Field to Fork is UofT’s largest local food celebration. Campus chefs serve their local specialties at discounted prices ($3!) and student groups showcase their food and sustainability focused programming. A jazz band plays music while several thousand people get together for lunch.

    With less than 24 hours to go before the festival begins, the campus chefs are busy preparing gourmet local eats. We caught up with three chefs – Jaco Lokker from Chestnut Residence, Nathan Barratt from Victoria University, and Abdel Belkadi from New College and Aramark.


    Interiewed by Joolya

    Jaco Lokker

    Field to Fork is bringing many chefs from around campus together to show off their favourite local foods – but what about Chestnut Residence, which seems so far, far away? Sometimes neglected due to its distance from campus, Chestnut is a haven for around 1050 students and their ever-grumbling stomachs. Having lived there last year, I can vouch for any rumors that the food is delicious – I’d dream at breakfast of what the menu said was for dinner, and come back for seconds…thirds…fourths…perhaps a few too many times.

    Chef Jaco was a name you heard around Chestnut quite often. My friends and I would line up at the doors early before Jaco’s Tacos, the most anticipated event of the seven-week cycle. Jaco’s wings had also won the yearly tournament of Battle of the Wings in the past.  However, being a busy student, I never got to see or learn too much about the chef himself. When I was asked to interview this famous Jaco this year, I couldn’t help but be nervous. Who was this famous man, feeding me for a year in the past? What is he all about?

     Jaco Lokker is not just the head chef at Chestnut, but also the director of Food Services for all of U of T. He is a strong advocate for local and sustainable food and farming, which justifies your umpteenth omelet! I was very excited to ask him some questions and learn a little more about him and his dishes at Field to Fork this year.

     Joolya – What does local food mean to you?

     Jaco Lokker – We’ve gone away from what is sustainable and good for us for the sake of convenience, and we’ve been too hung up about how to save money, when we should actually be worrying about doing things properly. […] When you go to your supermarket, you’ll find a lot of your foods come from Chile or South Africa; there’s a lower price when it comes to harvesting, and our local farmers struggle to compete with that. We need to be mindful and support them.

    Joolya – Why did you choose to take part in Field to Fork?

     Jaco Lokker – I think it’s important that our community knows where our food comes from, and I think a lot of people are misled as to where we get our food. At Chestnut, we are able to teach students a little about these issues. We have young individuals who are coming into an environment where they’re experiencing new things and making decisions for themselves, and I think it’s important that they’re aware of the opportunities around them. Rather than buying things boxed from a grocery store, they should buy what’s around them. By hosting this event, we bring farmers and chefs to the street to show the student population what you can do with local food. It’s a celebration of what we do every day, in our residence, in our kitchens, and this is one day that we can bring this to the streets.

     Joolya – What advice do you have for students on a budget who want to support local food?

    Jaco Lokker – I think that the first thing to do is not to be intimidated by the local products that are around here! If you grow up in this environment, you might know some of the products, but if you’re an international student from far away, this is the first time you’re going to see a parsnip, rutabaga or squash. I think it’s important to explore! I explore food every day, I’ve been a chef for 25 years and there are still many foods I haven’t experienced in my life. As my son would say, ‘you’ve gotta try it at least once, Daddy!’ So, if you see a squash, pick it up and try it! It’s actually one of those versatile and economical foods. Make butternut squash soup today, and tomorrow, toss it through pasta! Thinking about economics, you should also look at the product and think about how you can use it multiple times.

     Joolya – What’s your favourite local food?

    Jaco Lokker – My favourite food in general is anything dairy, especially that’s been cured, so cheeses. If I had to pick a vegetable, definitely butternut squash. I also love sweet potato and corn.

    Joolya – Chef Jaco has recently adopted vegetarianism. What advice do you have for students hoping to go vegetarian or vegan?

    Jaco Lokker – The first thing you need to do is educate yourself on how you should be eating. You need to understand where you’re going to get your protein, iron, and vitamin B from. These are things you take for granted eating protein-based food, and you need to take supplements or find foods to fit into your diet that will give you these nutrients. From there, explore it! It’s cheaper to live as a vegetarian. I can feed my family on half of the cost now than I did when we ate meat.

    Joolya – What’s your favourite vegetarian dish?

    Jaco Lokker – We’ve been doing a lot of pastas, sometimes with white bean and kale, trying out different pestos. I love working with different vegetables; I would never eat rapini or beet leaves before, but now I’m actually surprised that I’m enjoying it so much!

    Chef Jaco will be serving a creamy polenta with roasted autumn vegetables and braised beef at Field to Fork this year. Be sure to swing by and try it out; I promise you won’t regret!



    Interiewed by Peter

    Nathan Barratt

    In order to celebrate the upcoming Field to Fork street festival this coming Thursday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chef Nathan Barratt of Victoria College.  Chef Barratt seems intimidating at first, with his broad shoulders and height but once you get to know him he is quite friendly.  I met him on a Friday after the lunch hour meal at Burwash dining hall.  I figured we would only chat for a couple of minutes before I would have to let him return to his job, but I was wrong.  Chef Barratt made sure to give me his full attention and time so that I could fully understand who he was and what he believes in.

    The first thing you will become aware of is how much he cares about his community.  With such a high residence percentage living on campus at Victoria College, he really gets to know the students and staff he feeds every day.  This family community setting might be bigger than what he was used to growing up in Stratford Ontario, but the same principles apply of caring for one another.  Chef Barratt shows that he cares by making sure the meals that he serves are healthy, and delicious.  Going beyond just serving good food, Chef Barratt also makes sure to include as much organic fruits and vegetables as possible that come from the local farming community.

    While including organic food from nearby farms might seem a difficult task, Chef Barratt wants to be a beacon of light to show others that it can be done without having to break the bank, or be a chef.  The key for him applies to individuals being adventurous in what they eat.  This means going to the market and buying what is in season and adjusting it to what you want to eat and creating something new.  Buying in season usually will mean you pay a lot less, and if you buy in bulk you can preserve those items to last you all year.  Buying local will also help local farms not just economically but will prevent the need for imports, allowing for local sustainability.   The idea of buying in-season local produce is not just beneficial to your health, but creates excitement in what you eat.

    Chef Barratt will be at Field to Fork on Thursday, September 20, 2012.  This festival will be held on Willcocks Street from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  Chef Barratt will be serving warm caramel toffee cake with Ontario apple and pear jelle and maple sugar cream.  Come early because this is one food item among many that is sure to sell out quickly. So join us this week as we not only celebrate food, but also welcome a farmers market, student groups, and musicians at Field to Fork.



    Interiewed by Julia

    Abdel Belkadi

    To Executive Chef Abdel Belkadi, eating local is more than a passing fad.  This past Saturday I stopped by Chef Abdel’s kitchen at New College to chat about food, eating local, and U of T’s upcoming Field to Fork event.

    Chef Abdel began studying the culinary arts in Morocco, before moving on to train in Paris.  He says that Toronto is his “last stop,” and for the past four years, he has been committed to supporting Ontario farmers and producers in his work at U of T.  Chef Abdel connects with local food suppliers in order to provide local meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables for the students at New College.  Abdel believes that even students working with a tight budget can afford to eat locally, and points to the seasonal, fresh fruit around his kitchen as an example, affirming that students are charged the same price for both Ontario and non-Ontario apples.

    One look around the New College cafeteria yields a sense of how important eating locally and thoughtfully is to Chef Abdel and his staff.  The cafeteria walls are adorned with posters encouraging students to think about what they’re eating, and where it comes from.

    Chef Abdel’s fondest wish is for students to take an interest in their food.  “I’d like to see students come to me and say: ‘I want to know what kind of mushroom I’m eating,’ ‘Where did you buy these carrots?,’ or ‘Can you give us some idea about where this comes from?’  I would be really happy if I felt like the students were with me about eating locally.”

    New College Dining Hall

    This is the fourth consecutive year that Abdel will be participating in Field to Fork.  His planned menu is a beet risotto garnished with pea sprouts, and topped with shaved Ontario cheese.

    Make sure to check out Chef Abdel’s stall at the Field to Fork event on the St. George campus on Thursday, September 20th!

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