Windsor Salt gives young chefs the culinary experience of a lifetime!
By Brittany Failler, sponsored by Windsor Salt and the Culinary Federation
In early July, a dozen young chefs from across Canada had the opportunity to travel to Niagara for a five-day exchange sponsored by Windsor Salt, taking in the region’s restaurants, wineries and, of course, new, exciting types of salt.
We kicked off the week with a presentation from two Windsor Salt representatives, Christina Siokas and Erica Williams, about the various ways salt is produced, Windsor Salt’s offerings, how to use each salt and the evolution of the Windsor brand. The presentation was truly eye-opening — not every salt is created equal, and for over 125 years, Windsor has been offering different types to elevate every culinary experience and add a burst of flavour to any dish!
Following the presentation, we visited Linc Farms, a small free-range operation with a variety of animals run by a wife-and-husband team. It was inspirational to see all of the work that goes into farming, and to learn the true value of being a farmer in Canada.
Over the course of two days, we toured several Niagara wineries, including Two Sisters Vineyard, Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery, the Hare Wine Co. and Inniskillin. We learned about different grape varietals, how they are harvested, the fermentation process and how to properly taste and appreciate the finished product. We also experienced two amazing winery dinners, one on the patio at Two Sisters, and another in Inniskillin’s cellar. Both menus featured Windsor Salt in various applications and showed off how different salts could be used.
We visited the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College on the third day of the exchange, spending the morning in the Pastry Lab with chef Catherine O’Donnell. We created nut tortes and salted caramel chocolate ganache tarts infused with Windsor Sea Salt, and experienced how the flavour of individual ingredients are heightened when finished with a sprinkling of the newly launched Windsor Pink Himalayan Salt.
After a quick lunch, we moved to the Culinary Lab, where chef Olaf Mertens presented the afternoon’s menu featuring Windsor Sea Salt, Kosher Salt, Pink Himalayan Salt and Fleur de Sel. After breaking into teams, we prepared our mise en place and spent the afternoon preparing extraordinary dishes, including salted compressed fruit salad, lobster with sea salt and chilies, salt-dough-wrapped salmon, kosher salt-crusted new potatoes and sweet-and-sour sous vide duck breast with a salted crumble. This was a very rewarding day. We learned not only how to incorporate Windsor Salt, but also why to incorporate it, seeing firsthand how salt tames sweetness and heightens flavour when used in desserts, and in baking, how crusting with salt insulates what’s inside, locks in heat and reduces overall cook time.
For our final, well-salted experience, we traveled to Buffalo, New York, to visit Mario Pingue, general manager of Niagara Food Specialties, at his new prosciutto manufacturing facility. Mario taught us about the salt curing process and the hard work that goes into it. We were also fortunate enough to taste some of his products, which were absolutely outstanding.
Throughout the week, we learned about the Niagara region’s local food scene, visiting the St. Catharines Farmers’ Market, indulging in gelato at Italian Ice Cream and enjoying meals at Casa Mia, Counterpoint Brewery, Tide & Vine, Bench Brewing and Copacabana Brazilian Steakhouse. The exchange gave us the chance to have fun, bond and develop lasting friendships. It was memorable and life changing.
I’m sure we will never look at salt the same way, either. We worked with so many unique Windsor Salt varieties and learned countless innovative culinary techniques, like baking an entire fish in a salt crust, and to “sprinkle from above” — about a foot above the dish, in fact — to ensure even coverage and maximum flavour enhancement. We were also able to network not only with many accomplished chefs in the Niagara area, but with each other. The endless conversations about food, salt and culinary careers on the car rides were honestly remarkable.
This trip would not have been possible without our incredible chaperones, chef Ryan Marquis, chef Carmelo Vadacchino and Sue Mercer. Also, a very sincere thank you to the Windsor Salt team for sponsoring our exchange and aiding in the learning of young chefs across Canada.