If you’re looking for a bite to eat that will open your eyes to local flavours, head to some of the restaurants owned by the star chefs of Southwest Ontario for their well-known dishes.
Dan Megna from Twisted Lemon, Cayuga
Dan Megna and his wife moved to Cayuga to build a business, community, and raise their family. Dan is a graduate of the Humber College Culinary Program, and has cooked in some of Ontario’s best kitchens including North 44, Oliver’s of Oakville, Rosewood Bistro, and the Metropolitan Hotel. Dan is well known for his experimental and renowned food classes. His menu is stuffed with full flavours and freshness. By starting with the source, Dan gives his guests the best quality product that he can possibly provide: “Twisted Lemon has become more of a philosophy now: that good food and good service in a warm, welcoming environment should be accessible to everyone” (Dan Megna). Ultimately, Dan and the rest of the team at Twisted Lemon pour their heart and soul into every dish so that their guests can separate themselves from their everyday and relish in a home cooked meal.
Benjamin Leblanc-Beaudoin from Iron Kettle, Comber
Benjamin Leblanc has developed his culinary skills by working all over the world including Michelin Star rated restaurants in Europe. You may recognize him from the Food Network’s Chopped Canada, but Benjamin and his wife, Jeanette, run their own Bed and Breakfast. They were first introduced to the Iron Kettle Bed & Breakfast as guests when they stayed for their wedding night in 2013. A few months later they discovered it was for sale, and it didn’t take too long after that until they moved in. They were drawn in by the charm: the bricks, the hardwood floors, the 10-12 foot ceilings. Benjamin wanted to be a part of the movement toward local food and become a culinary destination as a chef in the area: “The industry offers a lot of different opportunities for chefs, but a chef run bed and breakfast is not something that’s always done” (Benjamin Leblanc). Not only do they set up fresh baked goods, seasonal fruit, and varieties of jams, but Benjamin cooks food so fresh that it feels like you can taste the colour.
Eric Boyar from SixThirtyNine, Woodstock
Eric Boyar discovered his passion for cooking at a young age, and also attended Humber College. He worked at many well known Toronto restaurants including Mistura, Splendido, and Crush Wine Bar, where he gained the skills he needed to pursue his own adventure. At SixThirtyNine, Eric offers unique flavours that you can only find in the backyard of Oxford County and Ontario’s Southwest. Since opening SixThirtyNine in 2005, Eric has received the OHI Top 30 Under 30, attended the Premieres’ Agri-Food Summit, and received an award as a 2016 SCOR Local Food Champion. Eric’s philosophy is that people really appreciate something that’s been picked with care and passion. His focus is on the love and care that people put into what they’re raising or growing so that he can provide clean, fresh, and delicious dishes. He’s excited about things he can procure by foraging them by trudging through the field and into the bush, such as wild mushrooms and fiddleheads. Eric hopes to give his customers food that is handcrafted, that is made with care, that is made with love: “Every plate that goes out is part of me. You can only get that if you really have passion and really love what you do” (Eric Boyar).
Ryan Rivard from The Combine, Simcoe
Ryan Rivard returned to his hometown after making a name for himself by owning and running restaurants all over Canada, including Calgary, Vancouver, Bermuda, and Banff. For Ryan, The Combine is first and foremost his home. The idea of seasonality hit him very early on. He wanted to be eating what’s in season, what’s around him, and for the community to learn to appreciate yearning for something until it comes back again. To Ryan, Norfolk County is synonymous with Lake Erie Perch, so it’s no surprise that perch tacos are the biggest seller on their menu. The Combine is truly an illustration of what Norfolk County has and can be: “When you, as a guest, come into my restaurant, you are truly getting a taste of right here” (Ryan Rivard). It’s simple: they present familiar food with fresh seasonal ingredients made from scratch.
Mark Graham from The Clock Tower Bistro, Strathroy
When Mark Graham was about 5 or 6 years old, he told his mother he was going to become a chef, and he’s been cooking ever since. He’s been a chef for 40 years now, and always dreamed of having his own restaurant. They stumbled on the Clocktower by chance; they stopped there for lunch one day and Mark fell in love with the history and character of the building. Now, they are a culinary destination for anyone visiting in and around Strathroy. Mark’s food is simple, clean, and fresh: “Local for me symbolizes the quality, the uniqueness, and the ability to bring that sense of community back” (Mark Graham). Mark is always looking to do something unique, something different that still delivers the best quality they possibly can.
Want to learn about more great culinary destinations? Check out some of our Next Stop Taste videos here to learn about what Ontario’s Southwest has to offer.