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The Taste of Place: Seasonal Eating Captures the Flavour of Stratford

Chef Randi Rudner


I am an absolute piglet for Ontario produce.


I wait all year for asparagus and rhubarb to come into season, and during those precious weeks, I want asparagus and rhubarb on, and with, everything. The Prune’s restaurant season coincides with the tail end of the local white asparagus season, and we serve as much of it as we can, while this special product is available to us. When it’s gone, it’s gone.


Once they are past their peak, we will bid asparagus and rhubarb a fond (and tearful) farewell, and open our hearts to peas, zucchini and strawberries, until strawberries give way to a (heartbreakingly) short cherry season. Then blueberries and raspberries and unimaginably small and tender baby beets that are so sweet you can eat them out of hand. And then corn, tomatoes, and peaches. And then plums and melons and the first of the early fall squash. Some years radicchio and pears are ready before the restaurant closes for the winter, but not always. I notice the passing of time with the local fruits and vegetables that come into season, and as a chef, there is no better feeling than the annual return of my favourites. 


In the bustling aisles of big box supermarkets, it’s easy to lose sight of where our food comes from. The availability of tomatoes, peaches, and strawberries in the dead of winter, and asparagus all-year round disconnects us from the rhythms of nature. There is, however, a growing movement that encourages us to reconnect with our food sources by embracing local and seasonal eating. 


Beyond just a culinary trend, this shift holds profound benefits for our health, community, and the planet. Fruits and vegetables are more nutritious when they are picked at their peak and consumed shortly thereafter. The environmental cost of transporting perishable food over long distances is mitigated when we choose produce from nearby, and supporting local producers strengthens our community, fostering economic resilience and creating jobs. 


For me, though, the most important reason to choose local and seasonal is ‘terroir’. Borrowed from winemaking, the term expresses the idea that a wine’s character is deeply influenced by the environment in which the grapes are grown. From the soil composition and climate, to the topography and local traditions, terroir encompasses all the natural and human factors that shape a vineyard’s unique identity. I truly believe that the same is true of all produce: the fruit and vegetables we eat, when grown with eating quality in mind (rather than uniformity, crop yield, or ease of transport), can express the taste of the place they were grown, or terroir. 


As a chef in Stratford hoping to celebrate the bounty that surrounds me, seasonal menus are the best way to tell the story of this place on a plate. The first baby carrots from up the road in Sebringville are so achingly, perfectly sweet exactly because of the calcium-rich soil in which they are grown, calcium being one of the primary determinants of sugar development in root vegetables. The soil in Sebringville is calcium-rich as a result of the glaciers that retreated after the last ice age. Carrots from elsewhere just don’t taste the same. Strawberries from 15 minutes away that come to our kitchen still warm from the sun, having never seen the inside of a refrigerator, may as well come from a different planet from their mealy, flavourless brethren that are trucked in from California all year round. 


We will gladly wait all year for Tomato Time, that magical time of year when tomatoes are as good as they will ever get – ripe all the way through, bursting with flavour, luscious in colour and texture, resplendent with juice. You can only really get these peak tomatoes from nearby, as they surely wouldn’t survive transcontinental truck rides and warehousing. The Prune’s menus are tomato-less until Tomato Time, but the beauty of seasonal cooking and eating in a place like Stratford is that there are untold riches until Tomato Time comes, and there will be more just around the corner once Tomato Time has passed. 


We are blessed to work with local producers whose care and concern provide such exceptional delights for our kitchen, we are grateful to work at a restaurant that embraces a menu that changes with the seasons (sometimes unpredictably), and we are thankful to our guests who share our enthusiasm for Tomato Time.

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