Peterborough This Week Column: Plenty to like about the food coming out of Peterborough EATS

Chef Miguel Hernandez serves up a cup of fair trade coffee at the Peterborough EATS Cafe. Photo by Elizabeth Thipphawong.

We all know how important food is to the heath of individuals.

Nutritious food helps with growth and development. It ensures energy and vitality. It promotes well-being and increases quality of life. It even fuels recovery from illness and injury.

What many of us may not be aware of is the beneficial effect that food can have on society as a whole. And yet, nutritious, locally grown and prepared food is just as essential to community health as it is to that of individuals. It helps with economic growth and development, ensures community vitality, promotes social well-being through employment, and can even help with the recovery from financial hardship.

The staff and volunteers of Peterborough EATS are working hard to get this message out. They’re also working hard to get as much local food onto Peterborough tables as possible.

With the launch of a rebranded café, an overhauled catering menu, and new line of artisan local food products, Peterborough EATS is quickly becoming a go-to organization for people who want access to quality seasonal products.

Operated by the Community Opportunity and Innovation Network (COIN), Peterborough EATS works with area farmers, chefs, food producers, and retailers – fostering relationships in order to benefit everyone involved.

Their line of canned and baked goods, for instance, sees them brokering arrangements between local growers and food producers in order to help facilitate the creation of jams, jellies, salad dressings, hot sauces, and confectionaries such as fudge. It’s a win-win situation. The growers gain a new revenue stream for their harvest while local craftspeople get a market for their creations. You can currently find their entire line at Basket Plus, The Green-Up Store, and at the Peterborough EATS Café in the Peterborough Public Library.

Photo By: Elizabeth Thipphawong

Speaking of the Café, the hiring of a new chef, Miguel Hernandez, is one of many changes that the library eatery has undertaken. Gone is the old menu and cafeteria-style snack – they’ve been replaced by fresh-baked goods, fair trade coffee, wonderful soups, and great sandwiches. There’s also a new kids’ menu that makes a trip to the library a particular treat for families.

And it isn’t just library patrons that are flocking to the café. Hernandez, who cut his teeth cooking for the Nutshell Next Door in Lakefield and the prestigious Rideau Club in Ottawa, is now preparing made-to-order lunches for people working in the downtown core. Having recently sampled a Lentil and Lemon Soup (with scone), I can tell you that there is plenty to like about the food coming out of Peterborough EATS.

Most importantly, this is food you can feel good about ordering. While the use of local ingredients helps support local farmers and craft food producers, the café itself prides itself on the promotion of social and economic sustainability. The restaurant acts as a hands-on training ground for people who face employment barriers. Trainees working there gain valuable skills in safe food handling and preparation, cash flow, inventory management, health and safety, and customer service. At the same time, they gain valuable life skills that will help them make smart nutritional choices. Peterborough EATS has been working with the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works in order to reach people needing employment assistance.

In short, the money that they make in serving healthy food gets channeled into helping support a healthy community.

Photo By: Elizabeth Thipphawong

If this were not enough, Peterborough EATS has also re-launched the former World 2 Go Foods – a catering service that had been around for the past decade. Under Hernandez’ guidance, they’ve done a complete makeover.

You can find more information on the new Peterborough EATS Catering at my Farm to Table blog on the website.

While you’re there, check out some of the other features and recipes that I’ve been working on. You’re sure to find something that will pique your taste buds.

This month’s recipe comes from Miguel. It makes for a sumptuous cold-weather warm-me-up.

Maple Roasted Sweet Potato Soup with Cinnamon Cream

– 2 large cooking onions (peeled and largely diced)
– 1 head of celery (peeled and largely diced)
– 3 carrots (peeled and largely diced)
– 6 to 8 large sweet potatoes (peeled and largely diced)
– 1 bunch of cilantro (remove stems and set stems aside)
– Juice of 2 limes and 1 lemon
– Half cup of Ontario Maple Syrup
– 1 tbsp. of ground cinnamon
– Olive oil
– Salt and pepper to taste
– 2 tbsp. of butter
– Cream
– 1 cup of heavy cream (35%, we use Kawartha Dairy cream)
– Juice of 1 Lime
– 1 tbsp. of ground cinnamon

1. In preheated stock pot add 2 tbsp. of Kawartha Dairy butter. Add carrots, celery, onions and cilantro stems. Sweat out until translucent and soft (approximately 15 minutes at a medium to low heat).

2. Toss sweet potatoes in a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and 1 tbsp. of cinnamon. Place on baking sheet and into a preheated (375 degree) oven. Roast until fork tender and golden (approximately 20 minutes), add to stock pot.

3. Add water (or chicken stock) in stock pot with just enough water to cover vegetables. Simmer for 1 hour.

4. While soup is simmering combine cream, lime juice and cinnamon and whisk in stainless steel bowl, and let sit at room temperature until thickened.

5. Add remaining ingredients to soup (remaining cilantro, juice of lemon and limes, maple syrup, cinnamon). Puree soup (add more water if necessary) and serve. Garnish with cream mixture.