From the Mount Julian Kitchen

by Mandy Weaver, Culinary Chef

And so, with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spring and summer seem to have blended into one and descended upon us in a rush and I, for one, am happy to welcome it in.

Greetings from the Mount Julian kitchen. I feel that it is high time I introduce myself. My name is Mandy and I will be cooking for you today. Taking the freshest ingredients I can either forage myself, gather from the garden (with Bob’s blessing, of course!), or source from local providers. Preparing and assembling said ingredients into a coherent dish for your sensory pleasure.

In my first couple weeks at Viamede, there were some adjustments made into my new surroundings: new relationships built, new foraging locations sought out, and new menu ideas blooming into existence. The North Kawartha area has proven to be a fascinating location, flush with much familiar vegetation as well as a few ‘new to me’ items ripe for the avid forager to discover. I always keep in mind the sustainability of the item foraged. Thus far in my short time at Viamede Resort, we have collected, frozen, pickled, preserved, dehydrated and utilised spruce tips, ramps (also known as wild leeks), lilac flowers, chive (so much chive), daylilies, as well as many other wild flowers. Now, berry season has started!

Bob the Gardener and I go for regular tours of the gardens to see what is usable now, and what I can start planning to use in the coming weeks. He’s grown oodles of lettuce varieties and herbs galore. The carrots, beets, and radishes are just at the baby stage, which pair perfectly with fish or make an enticing amuse bouche, and, don’t tell him, but I’ve even started getting into his peas.

I still have much to discover in the field of local farmers (mind the pun), however, Buckhorn Berry Farm has had a phenomenal strawberry season. Fingers crossed I make it out one more time before the berries are all gone.

Having been born and raised in Norfolk County on the shores of Lake Erie, farming, foraging, preserving and freezing has always been a big part of my life. To now be in a position that, though far from home, brings me back to my roots, I feel quite blessed. I am grateful to my parents for providing me with a solid foundation in sustainably harvesting from the land, as well as the Viamede Team for inviting me in and providing me this opportunity to expand my knowledge, while also pursuing my career and living my dream all at the same time.

Signing off for now,

Mandy

 

Enjoy a 5, 7, or 9 course tasting menu at Mount Julian restaurant – call or email to reserve your table!


Farm-to-Table Musings


Red Exclamation Point - Sensitivity WarningWarning: This blog post is about our farm program, and talks about animals being killed.


by Ben Samann, General Manager

For almost a decade, Viamede has had a farm program. From the first day, the purpose was officially to provide food for the kitchen and interest for the guests. Unofficially, it’s been a way for guests, staff, and me, to remind ourselves on where meat comes from.

For me, raising turkeys, chickens, and pigs for meat has been a way to keep myself grounded. The restaurant industry is full of wasteful practices, and for many, there’s simply a financial incentive to not waste food. By raising pigs, I look at bacon in the garbage and see a small part of a pig that gave its life. If I’m going to eat meat, and source meat for hundreds of people, then I need to make responsible, educated choices on the ethics and my own personal feelings.

Any meat served in our restaurants is killed at a licensed abattoir, which means it’s properly inspected and certified. However, there are times when we kill animals on site, and staff are invited to learn the process, participate, and take a chicken home with them. This is entirely voluntary, and people come away with a much deeper understanding of where meat comes from, and why that matters.

Each year, at Easter, we get our chicks for the season. We raise chickens for fun, mostly, rather than the eggs, and most years, we re-home them to local hobby farmers. The most common breeds we get are Silkies, Brahmas, and other heritage breeds, but this year, we got Cornish Cross, a classic meat chicken. They grow almost too fast for their own bodies, and after a few weeks, are ready for the table.

Recently our sous-chef Mandy, groundskeeper Brad, and I, went to the farm and killed our chickens. It’s not something I enjoy in the least, and it prompts a lot of thinking – hence this blog post.

For a while now, Chef Kyle, Mandy and I have been talking about meat and what it means. We all see it very similarly – meat can be delicious and a fantastic part of a meal, but too often, we end up with flavourless, overbred and poorly cooked meat in a dish that really doesn’t need it. “Tofu’s a poor substitute for meat, but then, so is supermarket chicken.”

I cooked some chicken on the grill without seasoning, and you know what it tasted like? Nothing. If the whole flavour of the dish needs to be added anyway, what’s the point of having chicken in there?

For years now, we’ve worked with the idea that all dishes should be vegan, gluten-free, and nut-free unless there’s a good reason for them not to be – we don’t use beef stock in our soups or flour in our gravies, for example. This makes it easy to accommodate guests with most of our menu, but it’s also highlighted how easy it is to work without these things in many cases. Obviously, our creamy pasta has cream and cheese, our burger is all beef, and our pork chop is amazing pork from the pigs we raised on the property.

Meat should be a feature. We should be sourcing the best meat we can get, and using it in ways where it really stands out. If it doesn’t stand out, we should look at replacing it.

As time goes on, I imagine we’ll be learning more and more about this. In the meantime, it’s a lot of musing, playing, and learning.

Thanks for listening.


Mount Julian’s Fall Harvest

by Alyssa Joynt

As the leaves turn from green to gold, the numbers on the thermometer start to drop, and we watch summer roll into fall, it is the perfect time to look back at the summer gardens of Mount Julian.  When we say that the food we serve is local, we really aren’t kidding.  For the next installment of the Mount Julian blog series, Chef Alexander took me on a tour of the gardens around Viamede and explained how he uses each plant in various ways to create incredible meals.

One of the first gardens I saw was the one situated right next to Mount Julian. The building has gardens both on the side and facing the lake, and all are filled with delicious greenery!

 

 

This lavender has a very short growing season, but can be used in crème brûlées and infused into almost anything, especially in dishes involving cream and milk.

In the neighbouring garden, a variety of greens take centre stage.  Our goal is to grow all the lettuce used at Mount Julian, and the leaf lettuce seen here can be used in a classic salad or as a burger topper.

 

Right next door is Genovese Basil, which is used in classic pesto.  One of the dishes featured this summer included a homemade pesto that was made with these pretty homegrown leaves.

 

Leaving the Mount Julian side of the property, we explored the gardens by the main building.  These pear tomatoes, which are a kind of cherry tomato, grow right near one of the outbuildings by the main entrance to Viamede.  They aren’t quite ripe in this picture, but once they are, they are delicious!

 

Right beside the cherry tomatoes are string beans and peas, both of which are beautiful and fresh veggies for any dish!

 

While I recognized many of the plants on my tour, dinosaur kale was a new introduction.  Another neighbour of the incredible pear tomato, this is a very large and extremely tough variety of kale that would generally not be eaten raw.  When the leaves are big like this, they are better sautéed or in a stew.

At the front of the building, there is a vibrant flower garden, but those flowers aren’t just for show!  Some of them are nasturtium flowers, which have a bit of a peppery taste and add a fun bunch of flavour and a fun punch of colour to the summer salad they were added to.

 

In between the Mount Julian and main building gardens, there is a very special plant growing.  Viamede doesn’t use any pesticides and we try to preserve the natural landscape of the Kawarthas as much as possible. Because of that effort we are blessed with native plants like this wild grape.  This variety is completely edible, and not only can we munch on these grapes but we also use them in jelly.  Their leaves are especially exciting – Chef used them during the summer to make dolma as a starting course at Mount Julian.

 

Chef harvests the leaves before service and then boil them to make them nice and tender.

 

 

Once boiled, he fills them with wild rice and rolls them up into delcious dolma!

 

Another example of the wild Kawartha landscape incorporating itself into the Mount Julian menu is our sumac and honey butter.

 

Featured earlier on in the summer, this butter is hand-whipped and mixed with honey and sumac, which can be seen growing all over the property.

Our gardens supply our kitchen with as much natural produce as possible, and we are so grateful!  As our gardens transition into the end of the fall harvest, Viamede transitions along with them.  Into our fall season now, these Mount Julian blog posts are near their end.  Thank you for exploring the kitchen with me, and I look forward to sharing the exciting world of preserves with you later on in the winter.  We all need some way to preserve the summer season, right?


Mount Julian: From 1874 to 2018

by Alyssa Joynt

This is the first in a series of blog posts about Mount Julian restaurant at Viamede Resort. We’ll be talking about the food, the history, the ambiance, and more! Check back regularly for the latest!

In 1874, Mount Julian stood alone, serving as both an inn and restaurant.  It has always been a destination for great food and incredible experiences, with lakers boating over for meals and people riding from Lakefield, almost 30 km away, just for dinner and a one night stay.

Mount Julian used to be a stand-alone location, with the restaurant on the main floor and a handful of rooms on the upper floor.  When Viamede Resort opened in 1885, Mount Julian served as the leisure side of the property, while Viamede hosted the labour crowd with miners and loggers filling the rooms.  In 1999, Don Bennet took over the resort and joined the two businesses, making Viamede the resort and turning Mount Julian into an Italian style resto, called MJ Bistro.

When Ben Samann took over Viamede in 2011, he knew he wanted to turn MJ Bistro into something special.  A dinner at Bluehill at Stone Barn served as the inspiration for the locally-sourced menu, and when the groundskeeper at the time suggested that Viamede start it’s own farm, Ben was all over the idea.  Food that went straight from farm to table?  Food foraged from the forest?  It was a menu that wrote itself, and the stories behind the food match the storied history of the building itself.

In a recent interview with Ben, he explained that eating at Mount Julian should be a very natural, comfortable experience.  As he said, “we’re not serving asparagus soup in a shoe”.  The food is not overly surprising, deliberately weird, or alienating in any way.  This isn’t a fine dining experience governed by overly strict rules – it’s a place where you can sit down in shorts and a T-shirt and enjoy historic ambience and local food.  Ingredients sourced from as close as the land the building sits on and as far afield as the Lakefield farmer’s market, it’s a meal that feels like you’re coming home.

Welcome to Mount Julian.  This summer, we are opening our doors to a new, online experience on this blog.  From the way the food is foraged to the hand-selected wine pairings, we invite you to join us as we rediscover the stories behind Mount Julian.