This Is The True Meaning Of Farm To Table
If it is four o’clock in the afternoon, you’re likely to find Chef Guerin Sykes, owner of the popular farm-to-table restaurant, The Marans Dinebar, sitting at one of the tables, espresso in hand, planning out that night’s tasting menu.
“I’ve still got lots of time to figure it out,” he tells me, when I ask him, at 2 p.m., what he’s planning to serve for the tasting courses that evening.
Like many chefs throughout Prince Edward County, Guerin tailors his menu to the changing seasons and what is available from local farms. But unlike many restaurants, The Marans has an ever-changing menu that does not shy away from including dishes inspired by places all around the world. At any given time, you’re likely to find something with an Asian influence, maybe Ethiopian or North African.
Guerin, an East Coast native who now calls the County home, likes to keep his diners interested by keeping his menu interesting.
“If there’s something that’s on the menu that’s almost turning into a signature dish, I will get rid of it,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one particular style or dish.”
An ever-changing menu inspired by local farms
Guerin’s keep-’em-guessing vision seems to be working. Even as a global pandemic shuttered many restaurants, The Marans continued to thrive. Last July, Guerin relocated his restaurant from its original spot to a bigger space down the road in Picton’s downtown and turned the original location into Bantam, a dine-in/take-out lunch spot also serving a farm-fresh menu. The new space has been sold out almost every night since it opened and Guerin has already had to upgrade the new kitchen to be able to accommodate the growing clientele.
One of The Marans’ most popular offerings is the nightly tasting menu — a chef’s choice of five courses, created with the ingredients available that week from local farmers and producers. It is a showcase of seasonal delights.
Guerin says that a good portion of his guests come in for the tasting menu and want to be surprised. They’d rather not know what they are going to be eating until the server puts it in front of them. And Guerin also doesn’t know exactly what will be on the menu until he sees what’s fresh coming from the farm — thus his 4 p.m. menu-writing ritual.
“I don’t create a menu based on what I can get right now and force someone to stick to it. I basically create the menu with what is available,” he says. “If they say to me, ‘Guerin, I’m going to have tons of torpedo onions’, I say ‘ok’ and then I can do something with roasted onions.”
That symbiotic relationship between farmer and chef is what the farm-to-table movement is all about. It minimizes food waste while maximizing freshness and taste.
Sourcing local year-round
Even during the winter season, Guerin is able to source ingredients locally. He works with greenhouses that grow microgreens for him and with farmers who are able to store and provide root vegetables all winter long. One farmer Guerin works with even utilizes the frozen earth as a natural storage place: beets and radishes, for example, stay in the ground and get harvested frozen.
In Prince Edward County, where the rural roots run deep, you don’t have to travel far from the restaurant to find the source of the ingredients you are eating.
Just three kilometres down the road from The Marans is Honey Wagon Farm, a County staple that provides many local restaurants with a steady supply of fresh vegetables, from peppers and squashes to tomatoes and kale. Run by husband-and-wife duo Ed and Sandi Taylor, Honey Wagon Farms is an 86-acre oasis that prides itself on not using herbicides, pesticides or fungicides.
On that night’s tasting menu — when he finalized it later that day — Guerin incorporated vegetables picked fresh from the fields at Honey Wagon Farm into one of his five course: a pan-roasted maple pork loin dish with roasted squash, heirloom carrots, Swiss chard and a maple-apple gastrique.
But Honey Wagon Farms wasn’t the only local source for that dish. Guerin had to travel slightly further afield — a whopping 30 kilometres — to source the maple syrup and pasture-raised pork he used for the dish. Walt’s Sugar Shack, operated by the Walt family, is a traditional sugar maple farm that produces maple syrup and maple products. The family also uses the land to raise pork and beef, which is sold directly to consumers as well as local restauranteurs like Guerin.
Globally inspired, locally sourced
The motto for The Marans is simple: “Globally Inspired, Locally Sourced, Family Run.”
But creating a global menu with ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible requires some out-of-the-box thinking.
“There are no rules,” Guerin tells me when I ask him how he does it. When he wanted to make Ethiopian injera bread but knew teff couldn’t be grown in Ontario, Guerin turned for help to local producers and eventually settled on buckwheat — fermenting the flour and using that in place of the traditional teff. “For our purposes, it was pretty darn close.”
Guerin grew up in Nova Scotia and travelled all over the world before settling in Prince Edward County, a place he says is as close to the East Coast lifestyle as you can get in Ontario. When asked why he chose to cook such a global menu, Guerin says the menu actually represents Canada.
“Go into 20 houses in any Canadian suburbia and you’ll find a very diverse background of food, and that’s what our restaurant represents,” he says.
“It’s how I eat, it’s how I grew up. And it was missing here in the County when I was looking to open up The Marans,” he added. “We wanted to do something that no one else was doing and we’ve stayed true to that philosophy.”
Guerin says the response from both locals and visitors has been encouraging and supportive. While you never know what flavours the next menu will bring, you can count on Guerin to make it tasty and deliver it in style.
“We are all over the board,” he says. “But we are all over the board consistently.”
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