If food columnist Andrew Coppolino had to use one word to describe the food scene in Waterloo region this year, it would be “resilient.”
In some cases, local restaurants have had to slim down their menus to offset rising costs. They’ve had to adapt when faced with food and non-food shortages, some switched to reusable takeout containers that are better for the environment and many struggled through workforce woes.
Coppolino, who was named the 2022 Joseph Hoare gastronomic writer-in-residence at the Stratford Chefs School, says as he looks ahead to 2023, he hopes to see more hope.
“We saw some growth and new food operations this past year. With a wobbly economy likely ahead, I hope restaurants and food businesses can become more stable and continue to grow,” he said.
“And I hope that, whenever they can, the dining public will continue to support the food community through this period.”
Below are some of Coppolino’s top columns from this year.
Most important meal of the day
For some, breakfast means bacon and eggs. For others, it means casamiento. Or maybe it’s congee.
Whatever people eat to start their day, chances are it can be found in Waterloo region. Coppolino toured around the community to talk to various restaurants about what dishes from around the world they offer right here.
The column has so many delicious options to start the day (and a new year!) right.
Grocery shopping, from A to Z
Coppolino was joined by chef Winston Lewis on a shopping trip to A to Z Grocery in Kitchener.
Owner-operator Stan Hardayal says the store is stocked with Guyanese ingredients from a country that is culturally close to many Caribbean nations and their foods.
Lewis says when it comes to the variety of foods available, it’s just a matter of trying out what you’re not familiar with.
“A lot of African products here and primarily a lot of Caribbean products and from the island of Jamaica itself,” said Lewis, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica.
“Everyone has different flavour profiles they like, but you can find the basics you need in order to produce what you want from your country of origin.”
Coppolino connected for one-on-one conversations with a few chefs this year:
A community garden in St. Jacobs is a labour of love for many volunteers, with people in the village benefiting from their work.
Julia Swijters, a home gardener who works for Home Hardware, asked the company to let her use part of their property for a community garden. That was in 2016 and the garden has grown since then into a collective that provides fresh produce to the Woolwich Food Bank.
Coppolino also looked at micro-farms in the region – smaller operations that still back a big punch in the local food ecosystem.
Let’s be frank about local hot dog carts
More than a decade ago, hot dog carts were much more visible around Waterloo region.
In the summer, Coppolino visited a number of local hot dog carts – both veteran business owners like Les Halat who owns carts in Kitchener and Waterloo and new start-ups like Super Street Meat in Waterloo – to get a sense of what’s on the grill, including gluten free, halal and organic options.
“The carts grill simple, grab-and-go fare in which people indulge between shopping errands: you spy a cart in a retail plaza and munch down a dog before you head to your next stop. They’re quick, inexpensive and delicious,” Coppolino wrote.
Fresh and health food fill hampers
In December, Coppolino took a trip to The Food Bank of Waterloo Region to learn more about how the agency has shifted to better serve people who need food assistance in the community.
Over the years, with increased need, demographic shifts in population and improved technology, the food hampers have continued to evolve into healthy and nutritious meal ingredients – and enticing food selections.
“The food bank hampers sent out are a mixture of fresh, frozen and canned items. There’s a wide range of products like fruit and vegetables, grain products, dairy products and meat or other frozen proteins,” said Chelsea Frey, a registered dietitian and fresh approaches coordinator at the food bank.
Paramount is balanced nutrition, but variety is also important, she says, adding that they align as closely as possible with Canada’s Food Guide when creating the hampers.
Another related story, especially now as people feel the pinch of rising prices at the grocery store, is this story:
Vitality of local food scene
The food scene in Waterloo region is a dynamic one and this year was no different, with kitchen takeovers, local bakers on national television, rebranded breweries, new restaurants and another summer of bigger and better patios.
Local restaurants and food producers faced many challenges, including staffing issues, food shortages and rising costs.
But many adapted, sometimes collaborated, and persevered.
“Overall, it’s safe to say that the region’s evolving dining scene is drawing interest from larger centres: Toronto blogs, for instance, have touted Waterloo region as a food destination for its 416-area code readers,” Coppolino wrote in a column on May 7. “It’s a feather in our cap.”