Whether we like it or not, the way that we approach food in the present time is going to have an incredible impact on our collective future. Especially in urban spaces, we need to re-conceptualize not only how we can grow food, but what we can grow, and to what end. Creativity needs to collide with innovation, while discovery makes new friends with pragmatism. Thankfully, this place that we need already happens to be in existence in the form of Durham College W. Galen Weston Centre for Food.
In October of 2013, four years of dreaming and planning came to fruition, and Durham Region’s first ever post secondary presence focused on field-to-fork was born. If you’ve been to the restaurant on campus, Bistro ‘67, you’ll know that this is truly field-to-fork. You can, quite literally, watch the fields being tended while you gaze out the window of the restaurant, and you can taste the difference.
The emphasis is on local food for local consumers, with the underlying notion that urban farming doesn’t have to be what we thought it had to be. As space becomes a bigger issue, and cities continue to grow, one can imagine that urban farming will be a hot topic for years to come, and Durham College W. Galen Weston Centre for Food has become something of an authority on the matter. As Kelly O’ Brien, the General Manager of the Centre for Food noted, “everything in the field has a purpose. We want to share our vision with the community.”
Durham College W. Galen Weston Centre for Food, as you can imagine, is more than just a lovely restaurant a little outside of Toronto. In fact, it’s much, much more than that. For starters, the Centre for Food can accommodate nearly 500 students in the fields of horticulture, culinary skills, hospitality, special events management, and more.
As the school states, they offer, “a diverse range of programs that crossover traditional academic schools with the curriculum, faculty expertise and equipment required to implement field to fork built into several of the college’s programs.”
It is, however, seeing these programs in action that is exciting. There’s a whole self-fulfilling ecosystem that works, and forces us to think about our previous ideas around sourcing our food. A student in the “Horticulture or Food and Farming” program might help grow the food which is then prepared in the kitchen of Bistro ‘67 by a student in a “Culinary” program. Your plate could then be served to you by a student in the “Hospitality or Special Events” program, or even a former student that was hired on full-time to work at the restaurant. If you were in a rush, you could also stop by “Pantry,” a retail food store on the Whitby Campus which is also run by, you guessed it, students.
Kelly O’ Brien believes that much of the success of Durham College W. Galen Weston Centre for Food has to do with the notion that everyone is on the same page, and has bought into the field-to-fork mentality, especially with the broader community in mind. With passion, she said, “you do a lot better when you’re working towards a common goal. We have to support each other and give back.” You get the sense that this isn’t just a school or a restaurant, but rather, an inexorable movement.
If the school is an engine, it is the students that are the fuel. Look no further than the cleverly named, “DC Thymes,” the official newsletter of the school, to get a sense of that. In the Fall 2017 issue, a second year student responsible for maintaining and harvesting over 100 varieties of crops on the CFF farm proudly said, “It’s an inviting space for forward thinkers, innovation, and hands-on learning, where creativity can flourish and students thrive. I’m proud to be a part of a facility that is playing a leading role in the local food industry and inspires students and visitors as it continues to evolve.” In that same issue, a former Durham College graduate talks about coming back to start an apiary, or “bee yard” at the Centre for Food. When students are given the baton, it turns out they can run awfully fast.
What goes on behind the scenes is all rather impressive, but all of that work does seem to culminate in the experience that is dining at Bistro ‘67. The menu directly reflects the youthful exuberance and optimism of the student body, but it also helpfully guided by the masterful executive chef, Raul Sojo. In many ways, they’re experimenting with what is possible in an Ontario kitchen, a kitchen that emphasizes sourcing locally. O’ Brien notes, “our students get to see the imperfect vegetables come in and how we deal with this. Compost is the last thing we want to do, we want to do things that are out of the norm!”
What makes Durham College W. Galen Weston Centre for Food intriguing isn’t necessarily their emphasis on the field-to-fork movement, it’s the way in which they’re empowering the next generation to carry that flag into the workforce that’s truly incredible. From climate change to a lack of food security and more, the world is rife with challenges for the future. In challenging the status quo, and highlighting new ways to produce and prepare food, the Centre for Food is forging a worthwhile path, and it couldn’t be more delicious.
Written by: Christopher James Mitchell