In the Kitchen
Good ingredients matter
Exploring Jeff Crump’s love of good food from earth to table
As an executive chef at an upscale restaurant, Jeff Crump had seen his
share of fine dining. But Crump couldn’t deny his love for simple,
soul-pleasing cuisine, and when the time came for a new challenge, he
took his cooking back to basics.
As an executive chef at an upscale restaurant, Jeff Crump had seen his share of fine dining. But Crump couldn’t deny his love for simple, soul-pleasing cuisine, and when the time came for a new challenge, he took his cooking back to basics. Crump, along with Bettina Schormann and Aaron Ciancone, own the Landmark Group of restaurants, including the Ancaster Mill, the Whistle Bear Golf Club and the Cambridge Mill in Cambridge, Ont., Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington, Ont., the Elora Mill, and Earth to Table Bread Bar in Hamilton, Ont. A bakery by day, supplying all of the restaurants in the Landmark Group with fresh baked goods, Bread Bar transforms into an artisan pizzeria at night, providing Hamilton’s trendy Locke Street neighbourhood with fresh, palate-pleasing pizzas.
|The Bread Bar’s motto of “good ingredients matter” is all about eating within the seasons and serving freshly made food. |
Canadian Pizza spoke with Crump about his cooking philosophy, his passion for good food, and why good ingredients matter.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your start in culinary arts.
I’m a trained chef, from London, Ont., and I went to the University of Western Ontario. I have a degree in political science and I applied to McGill [for accounting] and Stratford chef school at the same time. Stratford came back first. My parents wanted me to go into business and become a professional and at that time being a chef was not a profession. But I just followed my love of food and cooking and luckily I made the right decision. As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t worked a day in my life since because I love my job so much.
|Crump, the chef at Bread Bar and co-owner of the Landmark Group of restaurants, has a passion for simple, soul-pleasing dishes. |
How did you come to find your love of pizza?
I think as a young chef I thought I had to like the fussiness of fine dining; cooking a burger or a pizza wasn’t a chef’s job, but I knew in my heart that’s what I like to eat, and I knew that the same kind of skill and care that went into filet mignon can also, and does also, go into a pizza. In Italy, pizza is very much an art form as much as any fine dining. I apply that to what we do. It’s all about doing stuff that I really enjoy.
How did you come up with the concept of the Bread Bar?
The Bread Bar was originally going to be a commissary bakery for the restaurants. At the time we owned the Ancaster Mill and Spencer’s. I spent six or so years at the Ancaster Mill and ultimately my pastry chef, Bettina Schormann, wanted to open a bakery. It was time for me to try something new too. As we started developing, a big building came up on Locke Street and we realized we were going to have to seat, so we went from a bakery to a restaurant. The ovens that Bettina bought for baking were amazing for pizza and Bettina’s focaccia makes an incredible pizza dough. That’s when I realized, hey, I want to do this too and we developed the restaurant. So it’s bakery by day; pizzeria by night. The three partners – the chef, the baker and the businessman [Aaron Ciancone] – we all know our role. And the place has been packed since it opened [August 2010].
Explain your earth-to-table philosophy, and motto of “good ingredients matter.”
Bettina and I wrote a cookbook called Earth to Table and it’s all about buying local food, celebrating the seasons and supporting local agriculture. Bettina likes it because she is very excited about saving the environment and keeping money within the community. I like it because tomatoes are best in August, and bread is better when its handmade and freshly baked. We should be eating within the seasons and we should be eating fresh-made food. The whole ‘good ingredients matter’ thing came up because I was nervous about ‘eat local’ being a trend. When we started talking about pizza, we were talking about the price point at the market that we’re entering, against chains. But people love the pizza and that’s just because it’s fresh dough, and we’re using real mozzarella cheese. It’s very simple stuff and it’s all about making it here from scratch and buying good food.
So, Bread Bar supplies bread and pizza dough to the Landmark Group, and you purchased land to provide produce for the restaurants as well. Where does that project stand?
We realized we’re not farmers, so we’re leasing [the land] to an organization called FarmStart, which is in the business of supporting a new generation of farmers. They are going to subdivide our farm into plots and rent it to people who want to become farmers. There will be an onsite farm manager who will help them.These new farmers will grow whatever they want; they have to present a business plan and a five-year plan to apply for the program. We’ll have the pick of the crop of who’s doing what.
What does the future hold for Bread Bar?
We’re in the process of rolling out Bread Bars, but I’m not sure our business model is designed for franchisers; the word connotes fast food. I have people who are interested in opening them in Toronto and Vancouver at this moment and they are chefs and friends of mine. The beauty of our pizza dough and our method is that it’s scalable, it’s shippable, the pizza dough balls freeze with no loss of quality. It takes three days to make it the way it is. It’s made from bread flour to be chewier and it’s thin but with a big crust. But Bread Bar on Locke St. is going to be the template. I really enjoy the place and I think we’re on to something.