Oct/Nov 2015 Aug/Sept 2015 - Page 14

retailer of the year: Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen While hip new startups have embraced local eating and heritage techniques, the folks behind Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen can truly say they were doing it before it was cool. 25 years after opening their first bakery, they continue to set the standard for local and environmentally responsible sourcing. The business’s roots go back to the original Tall Grass Prairie bakery on Westminster Avenue, which began as a way to connect customers to the farmers that produced their food, a rallying cry against mass production and the undervaluing of the agricultural industry. From these seeds sprouted the location at The Forks, where owners Tabitha and Paul Langel, Lyle and Kathy Barkman, and Loïc Perrot have turned a simple retail space into a local institution. Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen’s bake-athome meals and party-saving appetizers keep customers’ freezers well stocked, while packed shelves of preserves (pickles, veggies, salsas, jams) make browsing the selection feel like a no-holds-barred raid of Grandma’s pantry. Perhaps most impressive are the bottles of organic Manitoba sunflower oil, which is cold pressed on site, eliminating the environmental and financial toll of hauling by truck. “It’s a ‘back to the future’ kind of company,” says Tabitha Langel. From flour freshly ground from Manitoba wheat to mason jars of local fruits, the lost arts of preserving and baking from scratch are practiced here. “We’ve always believed in the goodness of simple food.” It may seem surprising in 2015 to find a business built on techniques commonplace 100 years ago, but the revolution Grass Roots is leading is a quiet one. This respect for tradition has earned Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen Ciao! magazine’s 2015 Good Food Manitoba Award for Retailer of the Year.—JK inthekitchen keeps them passionate while serving large crowds. They also enjoy a challenge. Last year Kramer’s goal was not to use a single out-of-season tomato at Elements. In an industry where consistency is prized, importing veggies from afar is standard, but a localvore directive prevents such a plan. Instead, summer was spent canning, freezing, and preserving, and ripe Manitoba tomatoes became flavourful condiments all year long. Such limitations lead to creative problem solving; rather than slide a slice of fresh tomato onto a burger patty, Kramer explains, “We have to ask, ‘what’s that tomato for?’ Flavour, moisture, offsetting the meat with some acidity – and then figure out what else can do that job.” In the end, the burger wore a dollop of rich red tomato chutney. Buying locally and seasonally can be limiting, but the company has also had a hand in widening ingredient availability, as its large scale allows local producers to take a chance on guaranteed demand. Searching for fresh new finds has led to some boundary-pushing meals. The Folk Fest menu this year, for instance, includes protein bars and a chutney made from crickets. The bug (which, we’re told, tastes like a sunflower seed) is efficient to produce and packs a powerful protein punch. Such wild ideas speak to the passion that all the chefs of Diversity share. Watching Kramer, Cattani, and Epp pinch purple leaves of orach – ‘mountain spinach’, a leafy, nutritionally dense heritage plant – during a morning photoshoot at Riverview Community Garden, it is evident that connecting to food’s origins brings pure joy. Taste reigns, and makes satisfied customers willing to hear why local eggs’ rich orange yolks or the oft-tossed tops of radishes are so surprisingly delicious. “We want people to bite in and say, ‘why does this taste so good?’” says Kramer. Hemingway was on to something when he called Paris a moveable feast – like a beautiful city, a good meal stays alive in the memory, no matter where it’s served. Food fresh from the land, prepared well, will always be delicious. 12 ciao! / aug/sep / two thousand fifteen