Mini-Interview with Mark Cutrara and Cowbell!

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Since the Tour de Greenbelt showcases the beautiful countryside and all it has to offer, I thought it'd be interesting to interview a restaurant in Toronto that takes everything from Ontario's countryside and brings it to the urban public.

It's a rarity to find a restaurant in TO that's 100% dedicated to using local, high quality (organic, free range, etc) ingredients. Cowbell, located at 1564 Queen St West, is one of the few restaurants that is leading the way when it comes to promoting, educating, and serving local food.

Here's my mini-interview with Mark Cutrara, Executive Chef and Owner of Cowbell! Enjoy!

Who is Mark Cutrara? Inside and outside of Cowbell.

I'm a 40 year father of 2 that runs a restaurant, and that is an incredible amount of work. We believe in trying to make a sustainable food set up. That means full animal, from farm to table. We also keep in mind the labour involved, we work as a team here. Everyone contributes, even when it comes to menu development and menu planning.

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Tell me about Cowbell.

It's more then just a philosophy.  What we do it tastes better, you can taste the integrity. It's an education process with our guests. We don't have a steak frites, pasta, or chicken breast on the menu,  which is standard in TO. We have an ever changing menu, since we use the whole animal. We use our skills, as cooks, to bring out the best in every piece. We use older techniques, thinking in terms of preservation, we do a lot of canning, stewing, confit. This is how a restaurant used to work. This is how your grandmother's kitchen used to work.

What's your favourite dish to make? What local ingredients do you use?

Duck confit. It's always been my favourite. The duck comes from Rockwood, just outside of Guelph, and we use Ontario garlic and thyme .. and of course the fat from many of the ducks.

Why is local food and its producers important to you? 

It's really about the connection I have with my farmers and producers. I know these people and trust them to raise the animals properly, like animal welfare and  NO use of antibiotics. Large scale industrial use of food is a bad ideology, and when someone cares about the animals they're raising, it's a better product. And this leads to little manipulation on my end. The product just tastes better. The base level of quality that we start with is very high.

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Do you think your patrons are aware of "Ontario's Greenbelt" or know what it means?

That's a great question. I really don't know. I think we've attracted people that are concerned about the right thing, like buying and eating local, organic and free range. And that care about a sustainable way of eating. We are one of the few restaurants that push local food.

Do you ride a bike? What kind of bike do you have? Are you considering doing any of the Tour de Greenbelt?

I used to ride a lot. I toured most of Europe on a bike before the restaurant. I would love to do the Tour de Greenbelt.

Do you think having a country bike ride around parts of the Greenbelt is a good way to educate the public on local food and producers?

I think a bike tour is the best way to see the rural landscape up close! On a bike you get to see every kilometer.

Any final words about local food?
Local tastes better.

Big thank you to Mark Cutrara for taking the time to chat with me!

Jen Fawcette

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