Adventures in Taste
April 29, 2009
By Karen J. Audet
Lynn Ogryzlo’s culinary passion has led her on a bountiful journey as
Niagara’s homegrown champion of food and wine. For the past two decades
this petite culinary activist has transformed her love affair with food
into a career as a much-sought-after speaker, writer and key player in
the food and tourism industry, and she takes pride in advocating,
educating and promoting culinary traditions and innovation.
|Lynn Ogryzlo, award-winning Niagara author and speaker
Lynn Ogryzlo’s culinary passion has led her on a bountiful journey as Niagara’s homegrown champion of food and wine. For the past two decades this petite culinary activist has transformed her love affair with food into a career as a much-sought-after speaker, writer and key player in the food and tourism industry, and she takes pride in advocating, educating and promoting culinary traditions and innovation.
Her cookbook, Niagara Cooks, celebrates the flavour of Niagara’s local foods along with profiles of the people who grow it. With full-colour photographs of each of its 89 seasonal recipes, farmer profiles, harvest schedules and appropriate wine pairings, mainstream publishers balked at a book that touted a community message of “celebrating each season’s bounty by concentrating on eating local.”
Ogryzlo moved production along by seeking out independent investors committed to publishing and printing the book in Canada. Within six weeks of distribution it became a Canadian bestseller, winning the Gourmand World Cookbook Award (Madrid, Spain) in the Best Local Food Cookbook category for Canada, thus qualifying to compete for the Best Local Food Cookbook in the World, to be judged this month.
| Lynn Ogryzlo predicts lemon grass, top, and other Asian ingredients will rise in popularity, while single-serving desserts such as cheesecakes, above, and cupcakes will satisfy Canadians’ desires for smaller, healthier indulgences.
Growing up in an Italian household that cultivated and cooked its own food, Ogryzlo believes that, as in her childhood home, food is a celebration that brings people together. Bemused by those who say they can’t cook, when in fact, they manage to feed themselves on a daily basis, she thinks “the whole thing – cooking and baking – is a way of life and shouldn’t be difficult. If it’s a hobby, then it’s a lot of fun. But if you cook just to feed yourself, then it should be easy to prepare and enjoy.”
Admittedly, her own baking regime adheres to a mantra of practicality and convenience, leaving the elaborate decadence to her favourite Niagara specialty shops such as Criveller and Willow Cakes & Pastries. But the agriculturally rich banana belt in which she lives offers many variations of simple and delicious desserts that she prepares in her own kitchen and shares in regular newspaper and magazine columns.
Be it cookies, raisin buns, zucchini bread or delicate meringues filled with variations of whipped cream, rose petals or wine-infused fruit, Ogryzlo believes baking is therapeutic.
“You mix the ingredients and give a part of yourself,” she says.
Animated as she describes the process of transforming a “jiggly liquid” into a food offering shared with family and friends, she likens the art of baking to “putting a piece of love on a plate” to share with others.
Seasonality is fundamental to Ogryzlo’s gastronomic attitude.
“Baking changes; our bodies are in tune with the seasons,” she said, excited that spring’s resurgence means it’s time again to use Niagara’s fresh berries to make such delicacies as her homemade custard-based ice cream and grape pie.
An advocate of local sustainability, she says the vital importance of supporting local growers is as important as the health benefits consumers receive by buying locally.
“Seasonal fruit is fresher and better for you. It ripens on the vine and is picked at the height of its nutritional value,” she says, explaining that imported produce that is harvested and shipped prior to optimum ripeness diminishes in taste and nutrition.
As trends go, Ogryzlo intentionally avoids the road of low-fat, low-sugar diets, believing instead that by “eating local, eating pure and eating in moderation” we are responsible for our own health.
“At the end of the day it’s about making better choices toward purity, moderation and better quality,” she says.
As Canadians become more health conscious they are “looking for smaller, lighter, healthier desserts, finger-food type pastries and single-serving-size indulgences, like cheesecake and cupcakes.”
She believes the old traditions of hand mixing and handcrafting baked goods and decorations are coming back to mainstream bakeries. She expounds the virtues of vanilla as “never out of season,” chocolate as continually holding “its number one status as a pallet pleaser,” and lavender as having “the ability to make anything taste decadent – especially crème brûlée or coffee cake.”
Regarding new ingredients, Ogryzlo believes that it’s a matter of making the old new again.
“Old varieties are being rediscovered,” she says, and used in sensational recipes calling for lesser-known fruits indigenous of the Niagara region, including tayberry (a natural hybrid of a raspberry and blackberry, similar to a blueberry with seeds), saskatoon berry (likened to a raspberry) and Niagara kiwi (a smooth grape-like fruit the size of a large green olive that’s sweeter than the more conventional fuzzy kiwi).
“There is also an Asian influence gaining popularity in baking, such as lemon grass, which is now being grown in the area. And tea – you can expect a lot more influence of teas in baking, such as tea-infused coffee cakes.”
Living in a region that possesses some of the most distinguished vineyards in the world, Ogryzlo makes use of the local offerings in her classic wine-poached pear recipe, as a fruit and meat marinate, and in a wine reduction sauce – one of her signature dishes – prepared with garlic, olive oil, pepper flakes and tomato flesh and poured over freshly steamed shrimp and pasta.
Ogryzlo’s talents go beyond hosting a variety of television segments or penning hundreds of original recipes as published in her cookbook and articles, and on her website. The spark of enthusiasm has allowed her to develop educational elementary and college food programs, teach seminars, create the Niagara Culinary Trail and the Niagara Industry Tasting Guild for winemakers, as well as work tirelessly with industry and government agencies to expand the impact and value for agriculture, tourism and culinary traditions in the Niagara region.
Ogryzlo’s travel experiences abroad have provided a fertile stomping ground to experience delectable menus and nurture new ideas, but her summer plans will keep her closer to home: zigzagging Ontario to uncover its distinctive flavours and bringing home what she calls a “delicious way to communicate that special sense of place that exists in each destination.”
For more information, visit www.LynnOgryzlo.com .
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