The on-camera duties of TV series Market to Table have been handed over to Chef Dan Frenette, and I have stepped back behind the camera, where I belong.
I never really wanted to be an on-camera TV host, but my old friend Mark Sikstrom prevailed on me when he was starting up his new Fibe TV1 video-on-demand channel for Bell Media. We made two seasons of day-trip oriented travel series, Escapes with Nigel, as TV1 wanted a show that focussed out of town. I quite enjoyed my new role on-camera, but it was a lot of extra work. Over time, some of it became harder and harder – learning my lines, hiding the wrinkles and grey hair and always dressing my best. Then their mandate changed and they wanted shows that were only about Toronto. So I came up with the concept of Market to Table and with no replacement in mind, hosted the first season.
Last month we taped the “market” segments of the first three episodes of the second season at the St. Lawrence Market, the St. Lawrence Farmers’ Market and The Stop Farmers’ Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns. As we’d filmed at all three locations before, and got on well with the vendors and managers, we were welcomed back with enthusiasm. This time we picked different vendors to supply our produce and meats for the first three recipes.
We’ve met amazing and interesting people, many of them farmers, some of them folks who help out at their stalls in the markets. Several stand out, including the Bizjak family who have an apple and peach farm, and cover several markets. Mimi’s enthusiasm for her fresh apples at the Saturday Brickworks market is barely matched by her brother Milan’s pride in delicious bottled peaches, still for sale in March across town at the Saturday Wychwood market. Also at Wychwood, we meet Liz Foers, who gets up in the middle of the night to harvest fresh micro-greens and sprouts and who custom planted all the pots of herbs for our second season. The table next to hers is occupied by Andrew and Natasha Akiwenzie. He’s a fisherman on a reserve on Georgian Bay, who goes out in his tin boat in all weathers until the ice forces him ashore. They also come down to the Thursday Dufferin market.
Weny Elrick of Green Gate Farms gave us a lovely interview on the first series, especially about her happy pigs, but somehow her sound track got lost. As we needed some really good bacon, both sliced and chunks, for the second season, she patiently submitted to a second interview. We made an extra effort to ensure the sound track survived this time. John Crowther of Clover Roads Organic Farm supplied us with huge duck eggs and a splendid butternut squash. John has a lovely long beard, harking back I’m sure to his hippy days.
Back to the St. Lawrence Market for another visit, we chat with many merchants we’ve come to know and appreciate over the years. Arnel Asube is an old friend at Upper Cut Meats and provided us with a fine capon. Anthony Pronesti of Urban Fresh Produce is a new friend, where we stocked up on organic veggies, including some spectacular pink oyster mushrooms and sea asparagus (or samphire as us Brits call it).
Bie Engelen cycled over from Toronto Island to tell us all about Arborio rice at Rube’s Rice, before we moved on to the next door Saturday farmer’s market. We picked up an amazing bison spare rib from Arden Vaughan at Lake Land Meats and Jennifer Matthews filled in for Murray Colwell at Colwell Farms, as he was having some dental issues. With all our fresh produce and meats in hand we headed for our specially constructed studio at W.D. College’s test kitchen in Mississauga. Owner Chris Jeens represents many lines of kitchen equipment and several brands of tableware, so he had everything we needed to ut together a kitchen set.
A few days before we began taping the first season of the series, we lost one of our guest chefs. My panicked call to Chef Matt Blondin of Omaw restaurant and The Food Dudes catering organization, turned up a quick replacement, Chef Dan Frenette, who had worked at The Food Dudes for nearly a decade and had now started his own business, Northern Touch Catering. We all liked Dan immediately, and I thought his boyish charm worked well on-camera, not to mention the appealing millennial tats and fashionable facial hair.
Dan had an interesting background, having been a tour chef for the Rolling Stones, and head chef for the Pemberton Music Festival, before settling in Toronto in 2008.
So, when it came time to pitch Bell Media for a renewal, I decided to push for Dan to host the show and allow myself to return behind the camera, where I properly belonged. Network producer John Buffone liked the idea and so now I have passed on the hosting role. Dan will be all alone on the screen, just himself talking to his audience, full circle back to the likes of Julia Child, the original television chef.
Dan and I had some very long and interesting conversations about what to feature on the new series, along with a couple of fascinating scouts to the markets to see what was in season and what would work best with what. The results of Dan’s skills, you will have to judge for yourselves, but I can tell you that the crew all ate up every morsel of the foods he prepared. Those details and the mouth water recipes will be along in my next few stories.
The first season of Market to Table is on YouTube and Bell Fibe TV1’s video-on-demand service. The first three episodes of the second season are coming soon.
Categories: Market to Table