A lot of people are talking about 100 mile diets. Eating more local food seems like a natural way to support the local economy and reduce the amount of transportation it takes to get food onto our table. The Red Apron, a local staple in the budding foodie haven of Gladstone Avenue, is finding ways to make 100 mile food options a reality for their customers. The ladies behind the Red Apron, kindly offered me a few of their 100 mile meals last week to find more about how they were working local food into their business.
It was interesting to see how the Red Apron made their 100 mile vision a reality. In chatting with Jo-Anne (the chef behind the menu) I was struck by the effort that went into building the relationships with local suppliers. In an effort to get the volume and consistency needed to meet the standards and demands of their customers, the Red Apron works proactively to build relationships with local farmers. For instance, the Pork that was featured in the second day of their hundred mile menu comes from a farm near Vankleek Hill, called the Pickle Patch. The Red Apron is working with Aartje den Boer to raise enough pork for their menu, as well as working with her to supply Thanksgiving turkeys.
“There isn’t an unlimited supply,” says Jo-Anne, pointing out that she can’t just order up an unlimited amount of meat or produce. It pushes the Red Apron not only to be creative in their sources, but also forces them to work to educate their customers about the real value of the ingredients that they use.
Each of the meals come with a note from Jo-anne and Jennifer describing where the food comes from and what went into its production. It’s a nice touch for a meal that is as much about an idea as it is about the about food.
The food itself was great. Everything is slightly under-cooked, so you just toss it in your oven at home for 25 minutes or so and it’s perfect. Last Tuesday was their vegetarian option, created with tofu from La Soyarie in Gatineau. It featured a vegetarian terrine, which was was great. Made with summer squash and kale, the texture was excellent and my (VERY) non-vegetarian dinner companion was particularly impressed with how satisfying the meal was. My favourite part of the meal was the Foccacia, a showcase for locally produced grain, cooked to highlight the flavour of the grains. The meal was topped off with the most extravagant condiment, a container of goat cheese from Clarmell farms on the Rideau River. The meal overall was a great vegetarian interpretation of the 100 mile theme. And finding a source for the local tofu and cheese will likely be helpful going forward.
Jo-Anne insisted that we try two meals to ensure that we had an opportunity to taste her pork stew. It was well worth it — an apple/ pork concoction served with some pretty amazing local mashed root vegetables. It was a perfect fall meal. More traditional than the previous night’s vegetarian option and comforting in its simplicity, the stew was easy to heat and serve. The pork was nicely tender and the apples added a tart/ sweetness to the stew that was appropriately rich.
All in all, the experience with the Red Apron meals was great. You can pick up something home-made and healthy for about the price of take-out. The portions were generous and sufficient and the prep couldn’t have been easier. There were a bit fancier than my usual week-night fare, but nothing was over the top. If you can’t stand the thought of regular grocery story frozen food, but are looking for something on nights you can’t (or just don’t feel like) cooking, you have to stop into the Red Apron. It’s food I might have made had I had the time or energy.
In full disclosure, this place is a few houses down from me and I’m a big fan. The 100 mile menu certainly grabbed my attention and I applaud Jennifer and Jo-Anne for their efforts to support local farmers and producers. On my list of of other Red Apron favourites would have to be their house made dips. The whalesbone trout and the Beau’s beer and onion dips are crazy good. The cinnamon rolls are epic and extravagant. If you don’t have a decent supply of will power, you might want to think twice about trying one. Red Apron sandwiches are also a popular choice. We’ve got a nice cluster of foodie stops along Gladstone and Bronson now and the Red Apron is a great reason to make the trip into our neck of Centretown. They have a supply of frozen meals in store, but many items (like the 100 mile menu) must be ordered in advance. See their website for the details.
All photos courtesy of Ben Huang. Thanks Ben!