I wasn't quite sure of what to expect when we were invited to visit Hockley Valley Resort. We're not big resort people, in fact, that word scares me a bit. It conjures up images of badly named cocktails and hours-old buffets, so we were hoping for the best. If anything, the drive up to Hockley Valley Resort is worth the trip. We try to avoid highways, and take back roads as much a possible, and this was the perfect trip for that as it wound us along the Niagara Escarpment, through Caledon, to just east of Orangeville.
Hockley Valley is located at the highest point in southern Ontario, where the Niagara Escarpment meets the Oak Ridges Moraine. It's a very hilly landscape and the source of three major rivers, the Humber, Grand, and Nottawasaga, each flowing in different directions.
Nestled deep in a valley, the resort feels remote, and it's hard to believe you're just an hour from Toronto. As we pulled in, we noticed the ski hills past the main building and on the other side, a fence around the garden and its snow covered furrows.
John Paul Adamo, President and General Manager, is trying to make the resort more locally-focussed, and the garden was his first step in that direction. He told us that expectations were low when it was first planted this past spring, but throughout the summer it provided nearly 90% of the fresh produce for the kitchen.
This year's focus was to see how much they could grow fresh for the kitchen, next year's test, says John Paul, is to see how far they can stretch that into the winter, with greenhouses and preserving.
The two-acre garden (just under the size of 2 football fields or the size of Ikea) is their main experiment in seeing how locally they can source their food, but for what they don't grow within a few hundred feet of the resort they rely on local farmers. They support local farmers so much that they're now host to a seasonal farmer's market, and their commitment shows in the fact that they don't charge a fee to farmers who set up a booth.
As part of the effort do do more in-house, John Paul recently installed a "salumi cellar" where they cure their own traditional Italian-style meats. They source boar from just down the road and other meats as well as cheeses from Niagara.
The resort has a total of 3 restaurants, all of which are well-appointed and comfortable, but it's Tavola that appeals to us. Simply meaning Table in English, the idea is that, (season-permitting) you visit the garden with the chef and essentially pick out your meal. John Paul realizes that a lot of people just want to be served, and that's what the other restaurants are for. But for others, like us who are interested in where their food literally comes from and love watching it as it's prepared by the chef, Tavola is a remarkable experience.
We sat at the chef's table, a butcher-block bar right inside the kitchen, and sampled meats and cheeses and house-made bread as our chef, Daniel Mezzolo made some fresh gnocchi out of Reid's Potatoes, from just around the corner. John Paul showed off some garlic and preserves from the garden and talked about how they serve their water. Instead of importing it, they bottle their own in-house, still, or sparkling from their carbonation system.
The gnocchi was soft and tender and topped with oxtail that had been braised for over six hours. Dessert was tasty and consisted of three small bite size treats, first was a pineapple ravioli stuffed with local ricotta, peanuts, and orange zest, topped with a mandarin sauce. There was also a piece of Torrone, a classic Italian candy, and a delicious castagnon, a doughnut-like dessert made with flour, honey, eggs, lemon and rum, topped with caramelized condensed milk.
If you want to have an upscale dinner, then choose one with wholesome roots. You'll enjoy bread, pasta, capicollo and sparkling water all made in-house. You'll also get the company and conversation of chef Daniel. And if you have any comments after your meal, feel free to grab a sharpie and leave them on the kitchen wall alongside the others.
793522 Mono 3rd Line, R.R. #1
Orangeville, Ontario, Canada