Never losing sight of his roots, food-loving executive chef John Cordeaux draws inspiration from the local food supply – proving that when it comes to delivering world-class dishes – this world is his oyster.
John Cordeaux, Casino Rama Resort’s executive chef, slid his hands into the pink rubber gloves. Ignoring the snickers from behind, he studied the large box of tender, wild mushrooms in front of him. The mushrooms were a spontaneous delivery earlier in the day from one of his growers, Jan Darley of Nurture all Naturals in Bracebridge. Jan grows a variety of wild mushrooms that inspire mouth-watering conversations of fungi growing, cooking possibilities and the deliciousness of mushrooms so fresh their aroma fills the entire kitchen. Coming in the back door earlier in the day, the mushrooms were all but irresistible.
Cordeaux is a food-loving chef who has never lost sight of his roots. Just as the Internet spreads around the globe, so too does his accessibility to the foods from every continent. But Chef Cordeaux reaches beyond the variety of easily transportable foods grown at the expense of flavour to seek out succulent, flavourful, fresh foods grown in the convenience of his own backyard. The relationship he has with the fresh field mushrooms that Jan grows is just one example of the flavour differences that can be tasted at Casino Rama Resort.
Local food not only comes with superior flavour but it comes with a level of trust that’s becoming all too rare in todays food world. Buying local whether you’re a large corporation like Casino Rama Resort or a single consumer, you get to know your farmer. Jan of Nurture All Natural grows organic mushrooms in large, repurposed, shipping containers. “There are no bugs, no slugs,” says Jan of her innovative mushroom farm that doesn’t need any pesticides or herbicides. Her mushrooms are not grown in manure, but organic oat straw, others on sawdust blocks. She grows a mixture of blue, white and elm oyster mushrooms for Chef Cordeaux and for other fine dining chefs, she grows shiitake and chestnut mushrooms, “they’re pretty mushrooms with pretty brown frilly edges,” Jan says while cradling a chestnut mushroom in the palm of her hand.
Knowing Jan means Chef Cordeaux can have conversations with her about growing practices and methods, about shelf life and culinary applications. This creates a level of trust that goes beyond corporate ordering practices and is virtually nonexistent in grocer’s produce departments.
If you want to taste Jan’s mushrooms, it’s as easy as dining at St. Germain’s Steakhouse. Take a bite of the Pan Roasted “Coq Au Vin” with rich forest mushrooms and notice how the full meaty, earthy flavours are carried along on a luscious, velvety texture straight to the olfactory senses for a feeling of pure contentment. One huge sigh, and who would ever have thought that this culinary experience comes from a partnership between chef and farmer.
Cordeaux has been known to preach that the true flavours of a region are not found in the aisles of a food store but in the back country roads where all discerning palates get to run amok in the fields. He believes that the care and attention it takes to nurture a tiny seedling into a fully mature plant is equal to the care and attention it takes to turn that produce into a luscious meal and he is as particular about a farmers produce coming into his kitchen as he is particular about each dish he serves at Casino Rama Resort.
Mushrooms are porous and have the ability to act like little sponges. To know mushrooms, Cordeaux knows their greatest assets are the partners he puts in the skillet. Taking on the flavours they’re cooked with, they can be rich and meaty like in the Coq au Vin or pure, sensuous and almost sweet like in the Alaskan Black Cod dish.
Like the mushrooms, local foods can be tasted throughout the many restaurants in Casino Rama Resort. In Cedar Restaurant you’ll taste local foods such as the chicken in the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich to the Ontario turkey in the Oven Roasted Turkey Breast Club. The Classic French Onion Soup is made from onions grown in the black rich soils of the Holland Marsh and the eggs for their dozens of breakfast dishes come from a large Ontario egg farm.
Visitors have been traveling to Casino Rama Resort for many generations mostly due to their love of gaming and resort facilities, but more and more are starting to visit due to their culinary inquisitiveness. In Simcoe County, a fine system of agri-tourism is being born. Gamers can stop off at Hewitts Farm Market for fresh maple syrup tapped from their own trees, pick up some just-picked corn from Johnstone’s Farm Market or multi-coloured, heritage carrots from Carron Farms, a short drive down Highway 400. These are just some of the farms that offer produce from their own lands and you can taste the different flavours of Simcoe County that are unique to Ontario.
Of course Chef Cordeaux has fun with seasonal produce creating a fresh, Ontario raspberry drizzle for his Atlantic Oysters or custom made Chorizio Sausage (Spanish-style) that pairs so well with the exotic Grilled Octopus. Throughout the menus you’ll find a combination of local year round produce as well as Ontario’s seasonal bounty.
One of Cordeaux’s most exciting moments was when he finally secured large enough quantities of Ontario lamb. Then he went to work and crafted the Grilled Ontario Lamb Rack Chops for St Germain’s Steakhouse: it’s delicious! Ontario produces small quantities of high quality lamb meat and when a large corporation like Casino Rama Resort wants only the tender racks, it presents a challenge to farmers who then need to sell volumes of the lesser-known cuts of the animal. But as the industry grows, so does its ability to provide the best in greater quantities. And when the lamb industry grew, Cordeaux was first in line to scoop it up because he’s a man with his finger on the pulse of the best food around him.
Take for example Perth County. It’s Ontario’s pork capital so it makes sense that’s where Cordeaux looks to for the best pork for his menus. Just one bite of the Grilled Ontario Pork Loin Chops with Caramelized Apricot Chutney and the subtle, succulent, tender pork intermixes with the fruity, robust apricots for a culinary experience never expected from a mere pork chop. Of course, it’s not a mere pork chop, it’s grown locally just like the apricots are grown in orchards of Ontario’s tender fruit belt.
In fact, some of the dishes throughout the many restaurants in Casino Rama Resort teach us a thing or two about Ontario’s culinary geography. The Apple & Cranberry French Toast served in Weirs Restaurant showcase apples from Blue Mountain, Ontario’s apple country and cranberries from Bala, a little town a short drive north of the resort.
In fact, Casino Rama Resort is surrounded by good food. To the northwest is cranberry country, to the south is the Holland Marsh, Ontario’s salad bowl, to the northeast is apple country and the birthplace of the MacIntosh Apple and to the west are rich lakes with pristine waters and a bounty of recreational fish.
Ontario holds a long and distinguished heritage for producing some of Canada’s finest foods and Simcoe County is ripe with produce that is identified on the Simcoe County Farm Fresh map, simcoecountyfarmfresh.ca. Check it out and get as excited about the food you eat as the chefs at Casino Rama Resort.
Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo