Want to see Niagara in a new light? Act like a tourist.

Do you ever drive by an exceedingly beautiful house, and wonder if the people who own it and live in it are aware of how beautiful it is? Does walking up the same path, and opening the front door day after day somehow make one blind to what they have?

When you travel, do you ever wonder as you wander the streets of a given place,  if the people living in New York or Paris or the Napa Valley actually see what they are greeted with day after day.  Stunning architecture, rolling hills dotted with Cypress trees, or Central Park?

Enjoying an al fresco lunch at Good EarthI feel that way about Canada in general, and Ontario in particular, that perhaps we take for granted the beauty and bounty that is right on our back porch.
Our final local food trip with the MTCC team was out to Niagara. Anyone who knows me can testify to my love of this area, and not just because it affords ample opportunities to taste wine and eat cheese.  Stand up anywhere along the Beamsville Bench and look North toward Lake Ontario, across the grape fields rolling down the Escarpment (a provincial treasure). Stand in any orchard in Vineland in the spring, when the branches are laden with robust pink pompoms, and inhale the scent of the peach and apple and cherry blossoms.

In the summer, farm stands are overflowing with blushing fruit and tender, sweet vegetables most likely harvested hours before. In arbour-covered outdoor spaces, those chefs who live and breathe the riches of this area perform their alchemy and transform the raw ingredients into prime examples of the whole being greater than the sum of it’s parts. This is a truly magical space, a mere hour from Toronto, yet almost unbelievable that it exists in Ontario, in Canada, in The North.

Romance aside, our trip to Niagara was a practical excursion, meant to educate us a little bit further about crop testing and development (at Vineland Research Centre) winemaking (atForeign Affair andMalivoire,) taste how the pros use the insane variety of local produce (at Good Earth) and take home a few ingredients ourselves (from Hildreth Farms) Little by little, the region unfurled it’s secrets.

Okra not only grows, but thrives in the sandy soils when helped along by sheets of earth-warming plastic. The best of Italian winemaking can be easily projected onto our Canadian grape crops. Frosts can be thwarted by a well-timed rental of a helicopter to stir up warmer air and push it down to field level. What was once an area dedicated solely to fruit growing and canning is now a globally recognized wine region.

We welcome so many out-of-town guests to the MTCC each year. Every now and then, it’s good to act like a tourist in your own province, and find new foods, drinks, and experiences to recommend to our visitors. By listening, learning, eating, drinking, and really taking the time to explore Niagara,  we rediscovered that often-traveled path and welcoming front door all over again.

For more information about the great local programmes at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, check out their blog here.

- Kelly Hughes, Local Food Procurement Officer at Metro Toronto Convention Centre