Take a group of top chefs from across Canada, including headliners Mark Picone and Michael Olson; add state of the art cooking facilities, including a 200 seat multi-media culinary theatre; combine with the more than 30 years of education excellence provided by Niagara College, and you’ve got the Niagara Culinary Institute. The NCI is an amazing resource for the Niagara Region’s food and tourism industries, and yet it’s barely on the map for most of the people who live here.
The NCI is based at the Niagara on the Lake campus of Niagara College, just off the QEW beside White Oaks Hotel and Spa. It features several food preparation labs where students, under the direction of superb chef professors learn everything culinary from bread making to béchamel, from Black Forest Torte to Bouillabaisse. The showpiece of the NCI is the circular dining room with a wall of windows that looks out over the college’s own vineyards to the Niagara Escarpment. It’s here that diners from across Niagara and around the world can discover the amazing quality and artistry of the food produced by senior students, guided by their professional chef instructors. The dining room is open to the public for lunch Tuesday to Sunday, and dinner Wednesday to Saturday, and features a menu that emphasizes local products and innovative preparation.
Combined with the NCI is Niagara College’s Teaching Winery, the only one of its kind in Canada. Here, the winemakers of the future are trained in a fully operational facility that annually turns out award-winning wines. Graduates of the Oenology and Viticulture program are the winemakers, assistant winemakers, and vineyard managers at many of Niagara’s wineries, and, in fact, of wineries around the world. Every aspect of the winemaking process can be covered on site, since the college has a 20 hectare vineyard where the students learn their art literally from the ground up. The college is currently building a new facility for the winery that will provide not only a modern wine making plant, but a wine education centre. A small brewery is in the plans to begin training students in the art of beer making.
The Niagara Culinary Institute and Niagara College Teaching Winery are two of the many resources we in Niagara can be proud of and use to our advantage. Even if we will never take a full program of study to become chefs or vineyard managers, restaurant administrators or winemakers, we can enjoy the Continuing Education courses offered by the college, using the same facilities and some of the same chef professors as the day programs; offerings this summer range from sushi to baking to Indian cuisine, most of them 3 or 4 hour courses that emphasize hands-on learning. Or we can dine in style at the NCI dining room, an outing that never fails to impress visitors from outside the region. Or, we can enjoy the first class wines produced by the Teaching Winery; there’s a wine boutique featuring all their products just inside the doors to the dining room.
With resources like these at our doorstep, we in Niagara can effortlessly embrace the Slow Food principles of high quality locally produced food enjoyed in a convivial atmosphere.
Here’s a recipe supplied by Niagara College Chef-Professor and Fonthill resident, Bob Demers. Bob says that most of the ingredients can be found at “our cool local market.”
Yield: enough for 8
1 10 inch round of focaccia bread (we make our own at the College, but you can buy it from one of our local bakeries)
3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
2 sweet red peppers, roasted, skinned and cut into strips (also can be bought)
2 yellow zucchini
2 green zucchini
2 large cooking onions, sliced thick
1 ½ pounds (680 grams) sliced Black Forest ham
8 ounce (225 grams) grated Swiss cheese
2 ounce (60 ml) olive or vegetable oil
1 jar black olive tapenade spread (store-bought)
Salt and pepper to taste
• Slice the zucchini lengthwise, ¼ inch (6 mm) and brush with the oil, Sprinkle on salt and pepper; grill them until soft, cool
• Pan fry the onions until golden and then cool
• Slice the bread horizontally into three rounds
• Assemble the sandwich by spreading olive paste on bottom piece of bread then layer with half of the ham and vegetables. Add a second round of bread, spread with olive paste and repeat layering. Top with the third round of bread.
• Press the sandwich for 20 minutes with a baking sheet or a platter topped with soup cans. Wrap up in tight in plastic wrap for travelling (picnic).
• Cut into 8 wedges and serve with salad or chips.