How are you this morning? Ready to take on a brand spankin’ new week? This weekend was a pretty packed one over here. As I mentioned in Friday’s post, my mum and sister came to visit me on Saturday. My roomies also had visitors so we had one very full house! My fam arrived in the afternoon, and we immediately headed to our planned destination, Stratford.
If you’re from the province of Ontario, you probably know that Stratford is famous for theater, especially its annual Shakespeare festival. If you’re not from the province, you may know Stratford as the town that Justin Beiber made famous. When we stopped in at a visitor’s center along the waterfront, we soon learned that you can get maps for the Beiber tour of the town, which includes his favourite places like Long and McQuades, Boston Pizza, his school, etc. (If you were wondering, no, his house is not on the tour.) My sister and I aren’t really enormous Beiber fans, although we did have fun pretending….
So what was on the agenda for the afternoon? Well, we had tickets to see Much Ado About Nothing at the Festival Theater at 8pm, and dinner plans at a new local restaurant prior to that (but more about dinner later). Our afternoon began with a stroll along the riverfront.
Then we ventured up the street and strolled along the shops and cafes.
Like I said, the actual purpose for traveling to Stratford was the play, but this trip very quickly turned into a fabulous foodie tour (often the case when you spend weekends with yours truly.) Remember back when I visited my friend Dana and her lovely staff at Dana Shortt Gourmet for an introduction to Waterloo’s first olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar? That was in November, and I’ve been loving my vinegars ever since. I definitely need to pace myself because they cost a pretty penny, but the taste absolutely can’t be beat. Anyways, you can imagine my excitement when I saw a sign for Olive Your Favourites, a shop with the same gourmet tasting experience concept as Dana’s.
When I walked in, I couldn’t help but notice how clean and fresh the store atmosphere was. The shop smelled brand new, and sure enough, it was. I quickly got into a conversation with the owner, Michelle Hern. She described how it was initially her sister in Michigan who introduced her to the world of high-quality oils and vinegars, and she experienced her first tasting in Traverse City. Michelle continued to return to this same store to get her fix over and over again, each time sharing them with friends at home who loved the products just as much as she did. Finally, she decided it was time to contact the supplier and investigate locations for her own store here in Ontario. Since Stratford has a strong foodie culture and some very well-renowned restaurants, it made sense to set up shop downtown. (I did have a photo with Michelle but sadly we both had our eyes closed – #fail!)
Olive Your Favourites has only been open for a month, but with a setup like you’ll see in these photos, it’s no mystery why the bottles are already flying off the shelves.
I’ve mentioned in the past that my all-time favourite at Dana’s is the dark Maple Balsamic, but unfortunately Michelle didn’t have this flavour in at the time of our visit. She did however, have heaps of flavours I hadn’t tried yet, so it didn’t take long for me to start grabbing sample cups and knocking back shots of vinegar! Among them were Dark Chocolate (dark), Cinnamon Pear (white), Alfoos Mango (white), and the one I absolutely couldn’t resist buying, Blenheim Apricot (also white). Seriously friends, it’s like sinking your teeth into a pefectly ripened apricot, with the juices exploding in your mouth. Absolute heaven!
You definitely don’t need to be a foodie to appreciate this. I think anyone would really enjoy the whole sampling experience, and this was clearly the case for my mum and sister. They were both skeptical at first, but by the end I had them totally converted and my mum even bought 2 bottles for herself!
I know I’ve gone on about how fantastic these products are in the past, but it bears repeating: They’re all natural with no artificial flavours, colours, additives or preservatives. The traditional and flavoured olive oils are some of the highest quality in the world, captured from estates in Tunisia, Australia, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Chile. The dark balsamics are thick, syrupy, and aged to perfection, while the white balsamics are mostly fruity and have beautiful light but refreshing flavours. All of them are super versatile so you can put them on everything from meats and seafood to salads. I’ve promised mum some recipes on the blog in the near future that incorporate these, so stay tuned (and get some for yourself in the meantime!)
After we finished up with our sampling and purchasing, I figured I should let Michelle get back to helping her customers so we took off down the road to peruse some more shops. Lo and behold, I stumbled across Kitchen Connaisseur, I think there must be some sort of magnetic force of attraction between me and food-related venues!
Even more coincidental was that this shop also ended up being a tasting bar. This time, we were sampling various spreads, jams, and chutneys.
Kitchen Connaisseur is owned by a lovely lady named Sheena McLeod, who explained to me how the business began. She had graduated as a dietician at the University of Western Ontario, and knew a ton about nutrition, menus, and planning meals. She’s also pretty handy in the kitchen, which I learned as she chatted and I continued to stuff myself with samples! The first product to really take off was a Curry and Cream Sauce , which is a blend of coconut, cream, and warm curry spices. It was served at the wedding of one of her friends where people raved about it, and around this time she decided she wanted to take things to the next level and start a business. With several entrepreneurs already in her family and her educational background in nutrition already under her belt, Kitchen Connaisseur was born. The Curry and Cream sauce continues to be one of her best sellers today (and stay tuned on Wednesday because you might just hear a little bit more about it!)
As we went along scooping samples on to crackers, I got chatting with Debbie, one of Sheena’s lovely and super-informative staff members. She began telling me about all of Stratford’s foodie events, including the annual Savour Stratford festival, which is coming up this September 21st-23rd. The event showcases produce from local growers, as well as local food-focused businesses. The town is home to the Stratford Chefs School, and each year, chefs from this school are joined at the festival by celebs from the Food Network. This year, David Rocco (from David Rocco’s Dulce Vita) is in the lineup, as well as several award-winning authors and food experts. Any other bloggers out there want to arrange a little meet-up adventure? You won’t have to twist my arm to go!
Flavour-wise, we were totally spoiled for choice. There were dessert sauces (think maple cappuccino, sundried cherry, and chocolate mocha… oh my!) and savoury ones, including the famous Curry and Cream, Cajun, Caramelized Onion and Fig, Kalamata Olive Tapenade, Beer BBQ sauce, Roasted Red Pepper, and Peanut. I have to say, the Cajun was my favourite of them all – absolutely amazing flavour with a fantastic kick. YUM!
If sauces aren’t your thing, Kitchen Connaisseur also has a lot of other products to offer. There are maple syrups, flavoured oils and vinegars, gourmet rice and pasta, and gift baskets too. Is anyone else a sucker for petite casserole dishes and kitchen utensils?
It took every ounce of willpower in me not to purchase one in every colour, but if I go back, someone might have to confiscate my credit card…. Oh, and if you’ve got a mad obsession with white flatware in all shapes and sizes like I do, they’ve got that covered as well.
Thank you SO much to Michelle at Olive Your Favourites and Sheena and Debbie at Kitchen Connaisseur for totally making my afternoon! If you’d like to go and visit them to test out these fabulous finds for yourselves, be sure to check out their websites for directions. The two shops are literally about a 3 minute walk from each other so you’ve gotta see both if you’re in downtown Stratford!
You’re probably wondering… so what about this play? And dinner? Yes, both of those things happened too! But this post is already getting far too long, and I want to do the rest of the adventure justice so you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow!