Photography: Kelly Taylor (Chef Feswick), Ronald Tsang (Shepherd's Pie), Maya Visnyej (Produce), Stacey Brandford (Soup)
Since moving out to Prince Edward County almost a year ago, Chef Alexandra Feswick has embraced local harvests as she creates the menu at the Drake Devonshire
On a recent trip to Prince Edward County with my family, I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with Drake Devonshire Chef Alexandra Feswick. On a particularly balmy September day, we chatted about all things cold-weather and fall food—which makes sense now given that we’re in the swing of autumn. The next morning, Feswick took my family and me around her local farmer’s market, where she picks the produce for the hotel from local farmers. Hearing her chat with her arugula provider and her cherry tomato guy, was great to see—it’s not so often you can connect with the people growing the food you eat, and even better when you can see a restaurant practicing what it preaches.
Here’s what Chef Feswick had to say about shopping local, fighting food boredom and what she’s craving this season.
If you want to shop local, go to a farm
“If you want to know what’s local, go to a farm sale because they are pulling what’s coming out of their fields,” says Feswick. Stopping at farm stands by the side of the road on your next rural drive is a great way to see what’s seasonal—they likely pulled everything from the ground not long before you showed up.
If you’re based in a city or suburb where it’s hard to find farm stands your next best bet is signing up for a farmer’s basket service, which is what Feswick did before she moved to PEC. “I loved getting farmer’s baskets when I was living in the city—it sort of took over the need to think seasonally for me, you don’t have to worry about it.” The company does the research for you, and you get local, seasonal ingredients right at your door.
Tips for shopping the farmer’s market
Most towns have some sort of farmer’s market that you can head to if you can’t make it all the way out to the farm. But if you’ve never been, the whole experience can be a tad overwhelming. Chef Feswick’s top tip is to not buy too much. “Don’t overwhelm yourself when you first go to a farmer’s market,” she says. “It’s this beautiful spread of things, but if you’re not sure about an ingredient, buy it in small quantities and try it first.”
Another thing to remember to get the most out of your purchases is to chat with the people you’re buying from. “These items are all so fresh so ask who you’re buying from how to store it properly in your fridge,” says Feswick. That way you’ll prolong the shelf life and make sure you don’t waste any of your local purchases.
Prep for winter
There’s no way around it, winter brings with it slim pickings in the fresh food department. But, thinking about produce that has a long shelf life is key to keeping your food purchases local. “Living in winter, it’s just what you can keep and store,” says Feswick. “There is actually quite a lot of stuff, that if you keep it at the right temperature, it will last for a long time.” Her top produce picks for winter? “Potatoes, carrots, squash and artichokes keep really well throughout the winter,” says Feswick. “Artichokes are one of my favourite root vegetables because of the flavour—you can eat them raw, you can puree them, you can pickle them. So many great things you can do.”
Aside from properly storing food, you can also think about preserving or pickling your summer picks. Things like tomatoes and berries preserve very well and offer up nice accompaniments to future winter dishes.
Embrace underutilized fall harvests
Many people tend to have go-to ways to prepare their produce. Which means that it’s easy to get tired of something you buy and prepare often. The solution? Think about different varieties of your dish. “I think people don’t know about the varieties of squash out there,” says Feswick. Instead of sticking with butternut, why not opt for spaghetti squash? Sick of cauliflower? Look for purple or green varieties to experiment with.
Just as it’s a good idea to look for varietals of different ingredients, it’s important to experiment with your recipes too. “I like to keep things open. A slot on our menu this summer was just called ‘county veg.’ It gives us an opportunity because if we get squash blossoms we can use those, and when we’re out we have the ability to bounce around and change based on what’s available.”
Chef Alexandra’s tip is to find recipes that are versatile, where switching out one ingredient for another more seasonal one is possible. Take for example, pasta. “You can stuff ravioli with anything, you just need to know how to make ravioli,” says Feswick. “It can be squash it can be cheese, it can be meat—it doesn’t matter. Use your food to experiment.”
Spruce up your produce with other ingredients
Even chefs can sometimes get tired of only looking at what’s local. In order to keep things from getting boring, Feswick looks to other food groups to spruce up her dishes. “I’ll use different dried beans that I can hydrate myself or try going to a cheese shop and trying different types of cheeses to make sure my squash doesn’t get boring.” The key is experimenting with new flavours and switching up some of your staples for something new. Squash soup getting boring? Try tossing the ingredient in a bean salad after roasting it. Looking for something heartier? A baked squash and cheese dish will do the trick.
What Chef Alexandra Feswick will be eating this season
Unsurprisingly, Chef Fesiwck likes to indulge in heartier meals just like the rest of us when the temperature dips. What she’s looking forward to this season? “Once the cold weather comes in, I immediately want a hearty stew, a soup or a baked pasta. So I’m excited to put those on the menu at the Drake Devonshire.”