Enjoy Waterloo Region’s bounty with Taste the Countryside

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by Andrew Coppolino| August 2021

Fall brings the great taste of the harvest but also a slice and a bite of what some of southwestern Ontario’s richest farmland – and the food businesses that draw on that produce – have to offer.

Taste the Countryside – currently ramping up to run September 23 to October 3 – is a ten-day prix fixe (set menu) dining event that has been inspired by other such events around the province. SARS, for instance in 2003, inspired Winterlicious and Summerlicious in Toronto which was a springboard for other special-menu events including, closer to home, Eloralicious last year.

The event is designed to support the business community in Woolwich in a variety of different ways during Covid-19, according to Jenna Morris, economic development and tourism officer with the Township of Woolwich.

“Especially since the pandemic, we’ve been working to increase patronage to these businesses and getting the word out about them, including food businesses,” Morris said.

It’s an idea for a comprehensive food event that has been on their back burner for some time, but Covid-19 prompted them to take action, she added, noting that there’s a slight twist to this year’s version.

“The participating businesses create a set-price menu that highlights and showcases what their kitchen has to offer,” said Morris. “This is our second year, and last year, during the pandemic, we pulled it together very quickly.”

For Roger Lichti of Rural Roots Brewing Company in Elmira, the pandemic was difficult, although they are not a production-style brewery.

“Our focus has been as a social gathering place and of course that was taken away from us with Covid. It was very challenging for us and our staff,” said Lichti. “But we came through it.”

Lichti calls Taste the Countryside an important initiative not only for sustaining business but for economic and community growth. “It’s great to be part of a bigger project with similar local businesses and across the townships,” he said.


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A Celebration of Local Food

Morris notes that the event is not just about finer dining: Nick Benninger of Fat Sparrow Group, which includes the Stone Crock, agree that the concept allows the celebration of all restaurants and local foods.

“No one is excluded and there is no pretention. It’s just good food for people celebrating amazing partnerships between cook and producer,” said Benninger.

Last year saw a dozen restaurants participating, and Morris says that as they approach businesses currently they will have roughly that same number. But she’s confident it will include even more food selections.

Morris speaks to the passion behind the event. “What is different this year is that we decided to ask the participating restaurants to include at least three local ingredients on the menu. We have so much abundance of local produce in our communities. The chefs and restaurateurs want to showcase what they can source, literally, just a few kilometres away.”


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A Celebration of Community

Benninger says the event captures the essence of the communities. “It’s a way for all restaurants, producers and diners to show their love for locally grown, brewed and crafted goods. Ours is a region with amazing farmland, diverse restaurant offerings and a wide range of customers to support that,” he said.

The showcase concept will foreground the variety of menus in the area and that will benefit the entire industry, she said. “Last year, under the circumstances which everyone knows, to get 12 businesses on board and excited was awesome.”

In addition, the townships of North Dumfries, Wilmot and Wellesley are partners this year. “The larger vision is to offer a food tour in the countryside,” according to Morris.

Taste the Countryside is defining its own personality as the businesses offer accessible menus for multiple courses. While some of the other, more established “-licious” events might focus on finer dining, Taste the Countryside strives for inclusiveness, said Morris.

“Because this was a recovery initiative, we want everyone to be included, so there are two menu price-points at $15 and $35,” said Morris. “With that, you’re going to have everything from a specialty coffee and a baked good to a three-course meal from Stone Crock.”

Generally, consumers and diners want the diversity of many menus to choose from, and many look for local ingredients too. As well, Taste the Countryside is a project that is designed, conceptually, to have a long life that moves past a dozen venues which draw on three local ingredients, Morris says.

“Next year and for the years to come, the vision is for this event to grow. We imagine farm tours and tourism opportunities to meet farmers and producers and as well breweries. There’s also possible networking events between producers, food businesses and chefs.”

For Lichti at Rural Roots, the idea of that larger vision for the event is just what he thinks is needed for food businesses to continue to grow and extend their reach.

“I think it’s a great way to bring people from the city to some of the smaller communities that are surrounding K-W. We had a good time with the event last year and had some good feedback from people who had never heard of us but did because of this.”

That forward view notwithstanding, the focus right now is on September 23 to October 3 and the chance for a delicious taste of the townships and the countryside’s bounty. To find a list of participating food establishments and their menus, visit the website.


Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


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