APPLE email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 1997-11-13 published
category e is education election employment athletics
'I should have come sooner'
Why a leading chef who abandoned life in the big city is in no hurry to return:
By R.W. APPLE Jr., Page A2
For a change of pace, here is a Canadian story told by a visitor, an esteemed writer for The New York Times.
Two hours or so northwest of Toronto, near the intersection of Osprey Township 10th Line Road and Side Road 30, almost within sight of Georgian Bay, a driveway branches off a dirt road. It leads to a ramshackle 19th century brick house and an old red barn. Chickens scratch and cackle in the barnyard, pigs laze nearby, and at dusk a dozen ducks fall smartly into line and waddle toward their sleeping quarters. Nasturtiums tumble picturesquely from an old iron kettle, and bushels of wild apples - small and splotchy but wonderfully scented - rest on a sagging porch.
There is no sign, but clearly this is a working farm: It lacks the carefully trimmed shrubbery and obsessively tended lawn that might mark it as a weekend place or summer house. Yet, a stack of polystyrene fish-shipping boxes and the unmistakable deep, beefy aroma of a simmering consomme that greets a pair of early-autumn visitors suggest that the place must be something more.
It is the unlikely refuge of one of Canada's better chefs, Michael STÄDTLANDER, 50, his wife, Nobuyo, and their three children. Weary of the Toronto rat race after almost 15 years of cooking in restaurants there, he left with his family four years ago, setting up shop in this remote spot. The family lives upstairs. Downstairs, six-course dinners are served to a maximum of 18 people a night, B.Y.O.B., by reservation only.
People come for walleyed pike or whitefish from the bay, grilled over coals, and local beef, and vegetables that spill from two gardens seven months a year. They fill the little dining room four or five nights a week in summer and on weekends in winter. Often, 50 seek reservations for a single night, and at the height of the summer, it sometimes takes eight weeks to get a table. Anne Hardy, the editor of the annual Where to Eat in Canada guide, ranks it among the country's top dozen restaurants.
The STÄDTLANDERs call the place Eigensinn Farm. The name, borrowed from the title of an essay by Hermann Hesse, means "single-mindedness" or "obstinacy," and it could hardly be more appropriate for a self-sufficient little world created by two determined people with not much money.
Cooking professionally has always been hard work. It is harder in a day when cooks have become media darlings. Some flourish, but some, like Mr. STÄDTLANDER, a friendly man born near Luebeck, Thomas Mann's home town in northern Germany, grow to detest the grind.
"You work like an idiot, 100 people a night," he said recently. "You seldom get a day off, let alone a real vacation. You miss life, and you miss the joys of life. Here, for the first time since I came to this country, I feel like I am at home. Mostly, I cook what I raise, and what a few others raise. I work with my wife, and the kids live close to nature."
Imbued with a love of the outdoors, he has sought personal and professional regeneration through living a simple life, in close communion with nature, far from the bright lights.
Like Alice Waters in the United States, he has come to believe strongly that a chef can ensure the integrity of what appears on the plate only by maintaining the closest possible links between the farmers and the fishers who produce the food that enters the kitchen. So he has become a farmer himself, but a farmer who still practices his old craft at the highest level. In a sense, he returned to his roots: He grew up on a small family farm, where as a boy he handled chores like feeding the chickens and ducks.
My wife, Betsey, and I arrived in Singhampton on a soft Sunday evening in early October after a leisurely drive through some of the nation's richest farmlands. It was Canada's Thanksgiving weekend. A harvest moon was rising, and the trees were aflame with the reds, yellows and oranges of the season.
After stumbling around a bit, we walked through the back door and found ourselves in a mud room jammed with kitchen supplies, an old couch and assorted paraphernalia of country living. But the dining room, just beyond, is something entirely different.
Above the crimson walls is a mock-rococo ceiling, painted by the chef himself, in pink, turquoise and beige, with gold highlights here and there. A massive fieldstone hearth dominates one wall. There is one electric light -- a single bulb, suspended in a homemade fixture in the shape of a fish, fashioned from bits of driftwood and shell -- supplemented by candles on each table.
This is the domain of the energetic Nobuyo STÄDTLANDER, 31, a tiny vibrant woman from Japan, who wears her hair in a bun. The night we were there, she and a helper served dinner to. three tables: a group of eight Japanese, who arrived with a cooler full of wine; a foursome, and us.
Maple boughs, their leaves just turning, had been brought inside in lieu of flowers. Recorded music played unobtrusively in the background: guitar, piano jazz, a Baroque divertimento.
The scene was both elegant and utilitarian, the mood unaffected and relaxed. Mrs. STÄDTLANDER joked with her clients while carefully explaining each dish. Neckties look out of place, as do high heels. This is a home as well as a restaurant, as we were reminded when the STÄDTLANDERs' four-year-old son ran in to hold urgent consultations with Mom.
The 6-foot-6 chef loped around his kitchen in Bermuda shorts and army boots. He eschews the formal toque, but not the white, side-buttoned tunic.
When he started here, he somehow managed to cook in a kitchen the size of two clothes closets, on an old blue electric stove with only two of four heating elements working. Now, he has a professional setup, including a Garland range.
"I never could cut the big-business stuff," he said. "I thought about moving out for three years before I did it. I should have come sooner."
New York Times Service
Appetizers: Crusty, whole-grain sourdough bread and carpaccio of tuna dressed with wasabi (Japanese prepared horseradish), rice vinegar, soy and ginger, and served in an abalone shell with seaweed collected, salted and mailed to Singhampton by Mrs. STÄDTLANDER's mother in Japan
Consomme: Mild broth containing ravioli (stuffed with celery root and beef tongue) and beef marrow, with chopped celery greens on top.
Seafood: Sauteed lobster and monkfish, barely moistened with a butter sauce that gave a hint of rosemary and juniper.
Risotto: Prepared with foie gras, herbs and plump, moist, locally picked chanterelle mushrooms, served with a caramelized pear.
Palate cleanser: An "egg" of dense, tart, black-currant sorbet, made with kirsch, red wine and little sugar.
Main course: Incredibly tender lamb chops and loin from milk-fed animals raised by a friend in neighbouring Grey County, with carrots, acorn squash, yellow summer squash and a wedge of cheesy rosti potatoes.
Dessert: Wild apple strudel with custardy homemade vanilla ice cream and, for contrast, spicy home-preserved damson plums.
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