A trip to Italy creates a new business venture and learning experience for an upscale country inn.
The Waring House is a small upscale inn located between Bloomfield and Picton in the picturesque and emerging tourist area locally referred to as “The County”. Known for years by its historical heritage and linkage to the United Empire Loyalists, Prince Edward County is evolving into a major tourist destination. Lovers of antiques, history, nature trails and exquisite rural Canadian scenery are joining the ever increasing numbers of families and campers drawn to The County for its wonderful beaches and laid back attitude to summer vacations.
As this new industry is developing, the Waring House has emerged as a multi-purpose destination centrally located on the major crossroads of The County, thereby assuring its place in the middle of all the action. Reputed for its fine dining, the Waring House has added upscale inn rooms and accommodations, conference facilities, a banquet hall, as well as hosting the liveliest pub in the area.
However, its most recent accomplishment came out of a trip to Italy by Waring House founders Christopher and Norah Rogers. They came back from the trip refreshed and with a lot of ideas on how a cooking school could be integrated into the Waring House offering. Cookery School Director, Chef Michael Hoy capsulized the strategy for us; “The vision for the school from the beginning, the vision for the future of the school and what it could be was from Chris and Norah Rogers. They visited Villa Delia in Tuscany Northern Italy, the home of Chef Umberto Menghis's cooking school. Once they experienced what this could be and what it could be for the Waring House, they came back and put their thoughts into action and the cookery school was born.”
As with most new business ventures, the cookery school has evolved from where it started to where it is today. Chef Hoy confirmed the success and growth of the concept. “This is our third brochure and course offering and the popularity is growing in the community and with our repeat guests who are not from The County. We are regularly getting 12 – 15 people per class, which is a perfect size to work with. Some of the more popular courses are being offered several times to accommodate the number of people who want to sign up and participate.”
The target market for the cookery school is an interesting study on an evolving tourism market and a clue to the expanding interest in people who want to know more about what is happening in the “back of the house”. Chef Hoy sees it as a new travel and hospitality category – culinary tourism. “People are travelling more off the beaten track to find destinations and experiences that dovetail with their personal lifestyle – a better quality of life that is more in touch with an enhanced sensory appreciation of what we eat and how we eat it. This trend has led to increased awareness and demand for a “behind the scenes” familiarity with cooking and restaurants. Guests are going beyond simple questions about the restaurant or the menu; they want to understand the whole process in the most intimate detail.” Chef Michael and the proprietors at the Waring House share the belief that people are getting back to cooking as a social, fun exercise. Cooking can be good for the soul: it helps relieve the daily stress and takes people to a comfort zone that is becoming more important in today's hectic world.
One of the key goals within the school curriculum for Chef Michael is to expand people's familiarity with the entire food chain that makes a wonderful meal in the inn dining room possible. From the grower's or producer's fields and farms, transforming it in the kitchen using tried and true techniques, infusing it with respect and passion and serving it in a simple but elegant presentation to the table. Chef Michael defined the school's positioning and role in this appreciation of cooking that is taught in the cookery school. “At the school, we're an experience. People really begin to understand food and inspired cooking if they have a recipe, they have the practicality of doing it and they test it at the end. Rather than read a book and simply assemble the dish, you bring the recipe to life. You bring out the personality of the recipe and the ingredients and you gain an appreciation of how much of cooking is creating just the right balance between ingredients, techniques and personal taste and flair.”
As a classically trained chef in the European traditional techniques, Chef Michael has seen a renaissance in his own cooking styles. A change driven by differing tastes, health concerns and a propensity to lighter more flavorful menus and dishes. “ I patterned a great deal of my base skills in the style of Jean Georges Vogenrichten, with a splash of Charlie Trotter and Jacques Shantz for good measure. That gave me a solid base, but my style and focus has changed over the past few years. I keep changing styles, but the common denominators are the European based techniques, but now it is lighter and fresher. I'm much more aware of taste and natural flavors than I've ever been before.” It is definitely not fusion, but Chef Hoy is taking differing elements and working them into a style and taste profile that meets today's needs, ingredients and trends.
As the school expands and becomes better seated in the community and amongst culinary circles, Chef Michael wants to extend the integration of his appreciation for regional cooking and the passion that is required to be truly successful as one who appreciates the finer nuances of cooking. “ I want to integrate, combine and partner with a lot of the producers in the county. Bring them into the school; showcase what they're passionate about. I'm passionate about some of their products and how they work in my cooking and dishes.” A practical goal for Chef Michael and Waring House Executive Chef Luis Sousa is to develop a purchasing program whereby 80% of the ingredients used in the school and the Inn come from local producers. The County is blessed with a number of unique producers that lend themselves to more exotic dishes and menus. Ostrich, wild boar and spring lambs are raised on local farms and provide a steady source of high quality organic products for the table. Combined with an active dairy industry, a broad selection of locally produced award winning cheeses provide a further wealth of opportunities for high quality ingredients and entrees. To fully extend this program and ensure that it will become an integral part of the culinary development of the school and inn has meant a great deal of additional work for Chefs Michael and Luis. Field and farm visits, personalized Waring House specifications and mutual agreement on expectations for quality and delivery has resulted in a program that provides a win-win situation for everyone, producer, chef, student and dining guest.
A burgeoning local wine industry that is gradually gaining momentum is also going to lead to a new element in the curriculum. Local wine and cheeses will be developed into an ingredient based cooking class and a wine and cheese appreciation class taught by a local certified sommelier, brought in specially to create an awareness of how wine and cheese should be matched and integrated into the meal experience. Proprietor Christopher Rogers who is a passionate vinophile in his own right, is working on developing vineyards at the Inn and working with local emerging wineries to showcase their products as they develop and come to market.
Visits to local potteries will help the culinary students to understand alternate cooking and serving techniques will be incorporated into the curriculum to expand the student's horizons and appreciation of the art of cooking. As Mother Nature's four seasons evolve, the Waring House Cookery School evolves with them, moving through hearty soups and stews cooked and presented in the ceramic cookware. As the seasons change, the curriculum changes to match availability and eating styles and preferences – salads in summers, fresh game fish, steaks, chops and roasts and the harvesting, growing season evolves. Special interest courses are also catered to within the school – Thai, Vietnamese and dim sum are some of the more eclectic courses that have been offered. In time for special seasonal holidays, Chef Michael creates unique course offerings such as chocolate for Valentine's Day, sweet meats and pastries for Thanksgiving and Christmas and a gingerbread house course for the younger budding culinary stars of the future. Experts are brought in for some of the specialized courses, with Chef Michael teaching the balance. “We're flexible, if there's a demand for the course, an interest in a style or food, we'll find a way to work it into the curriculum. We're here to teach people how to cook and how to expand their horizons.”
All these elements will be drawn together into a culinary experience that will share and nurture Chef Michael's love of the natural qualities of the food and balance in the process. “I want to help my students and our guests to understand the simplicity of cooking, the ability to highlight and accent natural flavors and the need to create balance in the whole process. But most of all, I want to teach them to have fun with cooking!”
For more information visit: www.waringhouse.com