Anita Stewart’s Canada File: Langdon Hall
By Anita Stewart
Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa is pure country elegance in a Waterloo County Carolinian forest. Christmas is one of the most glorious times of year to visit, stay and dine as the snow falls and winter blankets the region.
Built in 1902 by Langdon Wilks, the son of an Englishman who inherited some of the Astor family’s American wealth, the grand home was intended as a summertime contrast to life in New York, London, and a château in the Loire valley. For decades it remained in the family till it was purchased and restored by architect Bill Bennett and his life partner, Mary Beaton.
Few hoteliers have had such an impact on the Canadian hospitality industry as Mr Bennett and Ms Beaton with their passion for old Ontario structures. Between them they completed the first renovation of The Millcroft Inn in the small mill town of Alton on the Credit River. The renovation was so fine that he won a National Award of Honour for Heritage Preservation. While they were operating that inn as a Relais et Chateaux (one of the Canadian charter members of that prestigious organization) they made a life-changing decision to take on the restoration of the Wilks property that they named Langdon Hall and was in massive disrepair. Today it is a national icon that honors the estate’s magnificent grandeur, the tradition of the past and absolutely outstanding cuisine. This is where Chef Jason Bangerter’s well-honed talent enters the story.
His credentials are impeccable, but great credentials do not a star chef make. Legendary culinarians, those whose names are emblazoned in history, also cooked with their hearts. And that is one of Chef Bangerter’s strongest suits. With this appointment to Langdon Hall, surrounded by magnificent gardens and having an enthusiastic culinary brigade tag-teamed with a stellar wine list, and in proximity to most of the finest ingredients in the Province, Chef Bangerter, with great good humor, is raising the the standard of Canadian dining to a whole new level.
“I feel like a kid in a candy store” he quipped after harvesting a bowlful of morels within minutes of the kitchen door. He and head gardener, Mario Muniz, have become fast friends, laying out the planting plans and identifying all the edible plants and flowers possible on the inn’s expansive grounds. Pheasant back tree fungus, watercress, garlic mustard…the list is long and delicious. It’s that spirit that propelled him to victory in Iron Chef Canada with his sous chefs beside him. Watching the program, his infectious upbeat spirit was obvious. He was just having fun.
On a whirlwind trip to Paris two years ago, he and his pastry chef Rachel Nicholson designed LH’s own private label chocolate. Named Terroir Noir and Terroir au Lait, they tasted single origin chocolate for two days to find the right blend that reflects the earthy, smoky flavours he sees as being reminiscent of the terroir of Langdon Hall itself. Like Bangerter himself, these chocolates are truly one of a kind and they show up in not only desserts but in main courses.
So what to look for over the festive season? Aside from Jason’s truffle soup that has been on his personal menu since he returned to Canada from Europe a decade ago, look for venison (he won Iron Chef in Battle Venison), a multitude of preserves, neat poultry like pigeon and plump local hens, the best oysters of the year and lots of root vegetables. His current favourites are salisfy, winter carrots which they’re still digging from the garden and parnsips. Then there are beets which he roasts, pickles, makes into chips or uses in a sparkling borscht gelee to garnish a savory goat cheese-filled, dill pollen-dusted macaron. Awesome!
In Wilk’s Bar, the inn’s more casual dining space, he’s developed his own panisse of chickpea flour ‘fries’ and garlic-herb seasoned yogurt sauce. The burgers, to be washed down with some good local beer, are topped with black pepper bacon relish, smoked washed rind cheese and garlic mayonnaise.
No Christmas meal is complete, at least in wintry Ontario, without an old-fashioned plum pudding with rum caramel and vanilla sauces. Rachel’s mom’s shortbread will be somewhere on the various menus as will what Jason calls “the ultimate” spiced pumpkin soufflé with crème anglaise poured into it table side.
The Wine Spectator has dubbed the inn’s cellar as one of the most outstanding in the world. Every December, Sommelier Faye MacLachlan selects The Twelve Magnums of Christmas, served forth on specified days prior to December 25th. On Christmas day it’ll be a N/V Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne, the perfect way to celebrate winter all its glory.
Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa
1 Langdon Drive, Cambridge, Ontario N3H 4R8
Anita Stewart was recently awarded the inaugural Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) Dinner Bell. She 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.