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TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Sixteen years after leaving Toronto to open one of Canada's most celebrated dining spots on his farm north of the city, chef Michael Stadtlander is launching a new restaurant in a tiny nearby town.
The renowned German-born chef, farmer, artist and local food activist says rather than a "bistro" version of his iconic Eigensinn Farm, diners at Haisai, which he expects to open in late May, can look forward to the same quality and complexity of ingredients -- the majority of which he grows and raises himself.
Stadtlander, his Japanese wife Nobuyo, and seven live-in apprentices will oversee both Haisai and Eigensinn Farm, which only seats 12 guests in the dining room of the 19th-century brick house and has been named by Restaurant Magazine as one of the world's top 10 places to eat.
Stadtlander, 52, spoke to Reuters from his farm in Singhampton, Ontario, about living from the land, creative expression and his latest obsession.
Q: Can you describe the new restaurant?
A: "Eigensinn is not really a restaurant, it's a farm in the open, it's our house. Haisai will be like a real restaurant in a way. The way I look at it, it's more like a performance always. For me, the way I built the place, it's like a sculpture and you're actually sitting right inside the sculpture."
Q: What about the menu?
A: "It's going to change daily ... We grow and graze ourselves, we connect with the farmers and gardeners. Everything is organic and local. It's not a 100-mile diet, it's 50-mile. I can tell you where my chicken comes from, where my butter comes from, everything. It's really about transparency."
Q: What is the inspiration behind the name?
A: "Haisai means sincere greetings in Okinawa, where my wife comes from. Okinawa food culture is very complex, Okinawa culture in general (is complex) because (Okinawans) are the longest-living people in the world ... I really believe what makes people live long, the big plus they have in Okinawa is the advantage of the beautiful weather. With this beautiful weather and sun, people are much lighter, easier, and life comes easier. But then the food, what they grow, what they pick from the wild, it's so complex and diverse. It's all about sociology, food and approach to life."
Q: What ingredients are you most anticipating coming into season now?
A: "I'm definitely looking forward to seeing green asparagus again, and dandelions. I make dandelion salad, dandelion blossom gelee and all that stuff ... For one week you have winter and the next suddenly all these things are popping up. You have burdock root, you know burrs, they grow all over here, they're the worst enemy for people, but they have beautiful roots, what's actually burdock. You cut them up in spring and stir-fry them and so on."
Q: How did your upbringing influence your philosophy about living from the land?
A: "I was born on a farm. My mother had a kitchen garden and part of our upbringing was to go with her picking and foraging, picking elderberries in the fall for making juice for the winter, picking wild raspberries for making jams and so on. My father also, besides farming, had his milk business, drove out to the outskirts of Lubeck, selling the milk and milk products and eggs and stuff from our farm. That was all part of it, the other part was my father was a hunter. He had hunting rights for our region."
Q: I read that you see yourself more as an artist than a chef.
A: "Cooking has really the ability of combining things. Over the last 16 years, I have started cooking outside in the open fields and in the forest and everywhere to try to create these little dining rooms and situations and so on and building things and making things. This is where the art comes in."
Recipe: Soup made from Jerusalem artichoke with white fish rapped in Eigensinn farm speck and wild leek shoots (Serves 4)
250 g Jerusalem artichokes
½ liter chicken stock
1 bay leaf
5 juniper berries
1 thyme sprig
100 ml 35% whipping cream
2 tbs butter
50 ml Riesling
Little Jerusalem artichoke for garnish
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp apple cider
30 wild leek shoots
4 thin slices smoked bacon
200 g white fish fillets
1 tbs olive oil
Slice onion and sautee in butter. Do not brown. Add cut up of Jerusalem artichokes, sautee a little more and add Riesling, chicken stock, juniper berries, thyme, bay leaf, and simmer until Jerusalem artichokes are soft.
Add cream and blend. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Finish with pepper, salt, and nutmeg to taste.
For garnish, roast Jerusalem artichokes in the oven with a little olive oil until golden brown at 350F. Season white fish with salt and pepper and wrap with thin slices of smoked bacon. Fry white fish wrapped in bacon with little butter. Sautee wild leek shoots and deglaze with apple cider and maple syrup. Pour soup into bowls. Place pan-fried fish in the center, add sauteed wild leek on top and roasted Jerusalem artichokes.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Patricia Reaney