Anita Stewart’s Canada File: Eigensinn Farm
“I do not feel that because I own this land, I can do with it whatever I want. The main philosophy of Eigensinn Farm is to work in harmony with Nature.” – Michael Stadtländer about their Heaven on Earth Project 2002.
Story by Anita Stewart. Photos by Margaret Mulligan
In 2002 it came as quite a shock to the global culinary community when Eigensinn Farm, Chef Michael and Nobuyo Stadtländer’s rustic, farmhouse-dining experience in the hills that edge the forested Niagara Escarpment was dubbed as one of the top 10 best restaurants on earth by British magazine, Restaurant. In that inaugural San Pellegrino Top 50 list, Eigensinn was in the company of El Bulli, Rockpool and Tetsuya. And they deserved to be. Theirs is indeed culinary art.
Never much for self-promotion, Michael and Nobuyo, sometimes with help of their son Hermann, continue on this once singular culinary pathway, marching resolutely to the beat of their own drum. It was this fierce independence that has earned them so many admirers and the awards of which they rarely speak.
Whether he was on an island in British Columbia or during one of his stints in downtown Toronto, Michael Stadtländer has been creating and serving forth menus that speak of this land and its waters. His is the heart and soul of Canadian cuisine. Few chefs I’ve met understand the nuances and the essence of food like Michael. He grows it, harvests it and he loves to share it. And he’s been doing it for some 38 years when he first arrived from Germany to open the kitchens of Toronto’s iconic Scaramouche with another now-star chef, Jamie Kennedy.
During the late spring, summer and autumn, the cave-like dining room in the rural farmhouse is the setting for their magical dinners. Ten places, no more, are laid, a candelabra of twisted driftwood from their time in British Columbia is lit while sconces of forest-foraged fungus balance other candles. The flickering light reflects on gilt-rimmed abstract circles above and on the walls that only can be described as the colour of well-aged Pomerol.
Arrive early enough and it’s almost guaranteed that the kitchen staff will be on their knees in the garden or harvesting fruit from the bushes or trees on the property. Menus are immediate to the point where they are only fully compiled till moments before service. Because guests bring their own wine, Nobuyo provides wise counsel at the time of reservation as to what main ingredients will likely be served forth. It never disappoints.
From early spring with its wild leeks and maple syrup till late autumn with autumn sweeping over the hills,“open-air gastronomical performances” as Michael dubs his outdoor events move to the resin-scented stillness of their forest or out onto one of the wildflower-strewn meadows. During these times, dozens of diners can partake and they happily trek up hill and down dale along a gravel laneway lined with empty wine bottles from some of the best cellars in the nation and lichen-smeared stone fences that speak of another era when settler families tried to scrape a living from this gravelly, unforgiving soil. These meandering multi-course feasts pass by sculptures and installations built by Michael and his team. Little cooking havens often overseen by some of the best chefs in the Province hold small outdoor kitchens and bracket the path where, in a variety of clearings, slabs of slate balance on logs to form tables.
This year is Eigensinn Farm’s 25th anniversary so a series of events are being planned. On Sunday April 29th, they are holding a Wild Leek & Maple Syrup Festival. From mid-August to early-September 2018, their official 25th anniversary dining series named “Trail 25” will welcome guests for 10 courses strewn about the massive property, served in natural alcoves and sunlight clearings between sculptures and installations. Then comes a three-day celebration, September 14-16, of the building of their forest dining room some 23 years ago.
Reservations are essential for any of their dining experiences! Bring the best bottles from your cellar and get ready for an experience of a lifetime.
Eigensinn Farm – #449357 – 10th Conc. Grey Highlands, R.R.#2, Singhampton, Ontario N0C 1M0
About The Canada File
Canada is a menu of stories. From the fir-spiked permafrost of the north to the luxuriant wine regions of the south, the culinary soul of this nation is as rich and deep as any on earth.
There is not one Canadian cuisine; there are hundreds, depending upon ethnicity, climate and history. Canada’s fabulous, internationally scripted menus are balanced by those of the original palate, the foods of the First Nations. Ultimately, however, Canadian cuisine is based on the land and in the sea. It’s herring roe dried on kelp fronds in Waglisla and abalone and sea cucumber and geoduck clams that encircle Vancouver Island with an extraordinary wild harvest. It’s Ontario’s own Red Fife wheat harvested in Speerville New Brunswick and baked into bread on the farm next to the mill. It’s whitefish hauled out of Lake Huron between the mid-winter ice floes. It’s a perfect muskmelon sliced still warm from a summer field near Leamington, Ontario and the marvelous lamb from the St Lawrence’s Ile Verte and the extraordinary cheeses of Quebec. It’s bison from the Prairies and cherries from the Okanagan Valley.
Canadian cuisine is the smell of over-ripe blackberries on a soft Quadra Island night and a fresh lobster, steamed and ready to crack on a Prince Edward Island beach. It’s a sun-soaked Loring peach from Vineland sliced onto shortcake and served with a splash of chilled Niagara Ice wine.
The late M.F.K. Fisher understood the elemental nature of food. “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine is drunk,” she wrote. She understood that there is a food voice. It was my search for that voice that led me on an odyssey to find the authentic Canadian meal. As I hit the road, and often the railroad, I found the language of food embedded in the country inns of our nation. These were places made intimate by those men and women who spoke “food” and whose kitchens were personality-inspired.
Although the soothsayers and forecasters will claim that ‘local’ and ‘seasonal’ and ‘sustainable’ are hot new trends, there are restaurants and inns, chefs and producers across Canada where these earth-honoring, culinary philosophies have been in place, often for decades.
In the months ahead we’ll share the stories of some of these pioneers and ground-breakers and take a small glimpse into their kitchens and the regions that have inspired them.
Anita Stewart is the Food Laureate for the University of Guelph and founder of Food Day Canada. She holds a graduate degree in Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu/University of Adelaide and is a Member of the Order of Canada. She lives in Ontario. (The salmon in the photo was guided by Mark Stewart of East West Charters in Campbell River, B.C.