We try to display a wide panorama of restaurant types in our Go Cooking sessions and our best candidate for refined and traditional “fine dining” in this summer’s lineup definitely must be “Bella of Ancaster.”
Bella has only been open for a year now, but the local reviews have been exemplary and the setting looks — well — beautiful. The restaurant is housed in a perfectly proportioned, brick, Georgian heritage home, built in 1835, a building that proclaims an atmosphere of tranquil, rural gentility that has long ago disappeared from our busy urban lives. Known locally as the Philip Shaver House, the residence was one of a group of homes owned by the Shaver family. The Shavers were United Empire Loyalists and were prominent early settlers in the town of Ancaster and it’s interesting to note that the British colonial tradition is continued in the restaurant’s menu which features a Royal High Tea and a Royal Low Tea. According to Elaine Scharringa, who now owns the house, the setting is still “on the edge of the country” and retains its harmonious, pastoral quality with farmer’s fields around it, despite having a Walmart in front of it.
Scharringa describes herself and her husband Ed as “farmers, really” who used to own the Dutch Mill Country Market, a country store that served lunches and had a tea room and salad bar. They sold the Country Market and her son and husband went into farming; she stayed on for five more years as the store’s buyer getting lots of experience in running a restaurant along with a good knowledge of health department regulations, and so on. When they bought the Shaver House, it was in a sad state, “really rundown”, as Scharringa describes it and it required a major cleanup and renovation. But when it finally was done, she paused, took a deep breath, looked around and pronounced it “beautiful” — and they decided, then and there, to call it “Bella.”
Scharringa says that she knew it was important to hire good people to help her, people like Sara Guinan, for instance, who has previously worked in three and four diamond-rated CAA/AAA establishments, as Food and Beverage Manager.
And one of the most recent additions is the Chef Roddy Fenner. Fenner is a very experienced chef (three decades), who came to Canada from Scotland in 1993, “looking for excitement and adventure.” (He says that he is still looking.) Growing up in Scotland, he cites his earliest inspiration as being “Fanny Cradock’s Cooking Show.” (Cradock was known for her 1950’s cooking show where she demonstrated recipes dressed in evening gowns.) I believe that this comment was tongue-in-cheek, but for a giggle, check out Fanny at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF8svGbKeI8/
Fenner apprenticed in a kitchen at the age of 15 and did his Chef’s training at the Clydebank College of Professional Cookery, near Glasgow. His most recent employment in Canada, before Bella, was as Executive Chef at Buchanan’s Steakhouse Restaurant in the Double Tree Resort and Spa at Niagara Falls, where he worked for ten years and became renowned for his innovative ways with savoury jams.
The chef has been at Bella for only two months and is just beginning to develop the menus. He tends to favour braised, stewed and roasted meats such as oxtails or a good brisket over “little bits of grilled meats.” What he really loves, however, is a good curry. The curry flavour will be found in a sauce for the fish in our upcoming Go Cooking session. For this evening, he says, he concentrated on things that he really loves such as seafood (fettucine of monkfish and mussels) and simple food that would be easy to cook at home. He would never, ever suggest that home cooks might make mistakes, he declares, because then, ”his wife would be likely to give him a good clip on the ear.”
Fenner will be in the Go Cooking kitchen on August the 25th and I’ve got a feeling that this is going to be an evening of good fun, as well as good food. I’ll leave you with a recipe for bruschetta cribbed from a 2011 article by Lynn Ogryzlo in Niagara Life Magazine.
Rod’s Bruschetta with Spiced Onion Marmalade and Toasted Goat’s Cheese
from Chef Roddy Fenner, in a Dec. 2011 article by Lynn Ogyzlo in Niagara Life Magazine
60 ml (2 fl oz) olive oil
3 red onions, thinly sliced
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp cinnamon)
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground allspice
pinch of chili powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper
45 ml (3 tbsp) red wine vinegar
75 g (3 oz) brown sugar
4 slices ciabatta, focaccia or French bread
1 clove garlic
4 slices goat’s cheese
4 sage leaves
1) Heat half the olive oil in a skillet over low heat, add the sliced onions and cook for 1 hour.
2) Add the cinnamon, allspice, chili, salt, pepper, wine vinegar and sugar, remove from heat.
3) Toast the bread on one side.
4) Rub the untoasted side with garlic and drizzle with a little of the olive oil. Spread the untoasted side with the red onion marmalade and top with a slice of goat’s cheese.
5) Dip a sage leaf into olive oil and cook until crisp. Place on top.
6) Grill until the cheese has slightly melted. Serve with a green salad.