OWNER, Gourmandissimo Catering & Fine Food Shop
CATERER, PASTRY CHEF, CALEDONIAN
Monte Carlo, France, Rome, Geneva… Caledon. As far as globe-trotting foodies Gilles and Adriana Roche are concerned, they saved the best place for last. And when you hear Adriana rhyme off the many simple but sublime pleasures Caledon offers, from picking apples at a wedding shower to serenading Alpaca farmers with French and Country music, or consider that they chose this hilly countryside from a world of options to raise their family in, you can’t help but agree.
You’re transplants from all over, you and Gilles.
We’ve been out here 15 years. Gilles is from France, he grew up in Monte Carlo, did his rounds as a chef around the world, and somehow ended up in Toronto, where I was apprenticing to go to Switzerland. I’m Italian from Toronto.
I’m Italian, too, but all I know are the swear words.
Well, I don’t know many! Or maybe a few, from my mother getting mad at the washing machine when it broke. With eight kids, she needed her washing machine.
Eight kids! That’s so nice. How did you meet?
We were working at Movenpick in Toronto. I was apprenticing in pastry, Gilles had just done a year with them in Geneva, and they transferred him to the fine dining room here.
That must have been a culture shock.
Actually, it’s funny: he had the choice between Singapore, Texas and Toronto, and he chose Toronto because he felt that it would improve his English before he moved on to Singapore and Texas… but I think those places would have been an even greater culture shock.
Do you get to speak French and Italian up here often?
You’d be surprised! The other night, we catered a convention of Alpaca farmers and most of them were from Quebec, so I had my son make a playlist of songs for the evening, and I told him to make them half country, half French! And they appreciated that, let me tell you. There are a lot of French-speaking people up here, as well as Italians.
You’re a caterer in a food-crazy region, where there’s all kinds of creative things being done with food…
And it definitely affects how we work. Caterers typically will follow a set menu all the time, whereas in our case we’re very seasonal. I’m meeting with a bride now (April) and I’ll tell her, you’re getting married in June and our asparagus is out then, or hopefully the weather’s good and there’ll be lots of strawberries. We design our menus to suit the seasons, instead of here you go, package a, b or c. They have to be flexible according to mother nature.
And people really appreciate food here.
It’s amazing how quickly our business grew and was appreciated so much more out here than in the city. People just get food up here. You don’t need a title for it, slow food or anything like that — it’s just the way it is, a way of life.
However, lots of people have told me me that a 100% local food supply can be tricky.
It’s still a challenge, getting food from some farmers to the local supplier, because some farmers prefer to sell to a bigger buyer, that sort of thing. We had an event for 500 people and we went to a farmer and said, we want your beans, and he said great, go pick them. He expected us to pick the beans for 500 people! He’s used to having guys who’ll come in and pick his whole crop.
So what does a Frenchman think of farm country?
Gilles loves it here. He trained in Monte Carlo, worked there and in France, Rome, Munich, Geneva, Milan. We owned a restaurant in Toronto for eight years, in Yorkville. And when we moved out here my family thought we were crazy. What are you doing? Caledon? Where’s that? I’m a city girl. But we made our way here, and Gilles said this is it. He loves Ontario, and thinks that Caledon is just amazing for raising a family, and that Canada is the best place to live in the world. He can’t believe when people complain. He also spent his summers in Tuscany, with the beautiful farms there, so he gets that here.
What’s special out here, food-wise, and what kinds of things would you like to see more of?
We’d love to see more mushrooms, more foraging, that would be fun. When the fiddleheads come out that’s also fun. We get a lot of local people who love to hunt and fish, and they’ll bring us back a whole bunch of, say, deer, and ask Gilles what can you do with these? He’ll turn them into pot pies, shepherd’s pie, pates, meat pies. Or they’ll bring him some fish, and he’ll make a gravlax or smoke it for them. They’re not afraid to call him and say, I just got this, what do I do with it?
And on the catering front?
Something new I’m doing right now is at Albion Orchards, a beautiful apple orchard. I was just there picking out a spot for someone’s shower, for 50 women. And at the end of the day, they’ll all go pick apples. And they’re coming from Hamilton, from all over to Caledon to experience this, because it’s so beautiful. When I stood where we’re going to put the tent, overlooking the orchard, I just didn’t realize all the beautiful rolling hills that were there. We’re doing another event at Deerfield Stables (in Palgrave). They actually grow grape vines, and our tent there will overlook the vineyard, and there’ll be Vanner horses in the background.
It’s really special, Caledon. We have beautiful views that go on forever. When we can connect with our farmers it’s terrific. It’s a great place to raise a family. And there are so many foodies!