A new take
Mark Currier, head chef and owner of Farm and Forest Food Experience is bringing a new approach to the traditional food truck that highlights local agriculture, sustainable cooking and the natural gifts from the environment.       Sawyer Helmer photo

by Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
AgriNews Staff Writer
CORNWALL – On Wed., May 30, professional chef Mark Currier unveiled a new take on an old favourite in Cornwall. Currier held the grand opening of his Farm and Forest Food Experience, a food truck that values and celebrates an “honest, responsible and sustainable approach to food,” says Currier.

Currier began working in kitchens when he was 13 years old. His mom, being a professional chef, spurred an interest from an early age. When he was 18 he started his apprenticeship under what he said were very serious people in the industry. He worked in Toronto but did most of his career in Ottawa and had spent the last 13 years there until mental health issues caused Currier to take a beat. “I took a year off to step back and re-evaluate and this is what blossomed out of it,” he said.

The ball got rolling with Currier at the helm along with his business partners Gilles Gagner and wife, Nancy Kelly. “We wanted to give customers a new experience. We felt that Cornwall was right for this,” said Currier. The team had originally aimed to create a business in a traditional brick and mortar location but with rising costs and road blocks they revisited the food truck idea.

The location, at Legion Park near the baseball diamonds, is an ideal spot along the St. Lawrence River. Currier credits the find to being in the right place at the right time and getting full support from the city. “It was really an empowering thing to see our city councillors backing what we wanted to do,” he said.

Currier’s approach to food has been cultivated over years in the industry and having experiences working with local producers. “I believe in developing relationships with your farmers as much as with your butchers, so you know exactly where your food comes from,” he explained. Not to mention his approach helps better the local economy. “We are trying to do our best to keep our money contained within the area. It’s also to help our local farmers to get them more press and business.”

Currently Currier is working with O’Brien Farms in Winchester for beef, Mariposa Farm for chicken, pork, agriculture and they also act as a food distribution hub for western Ontario and eastern Quebec farms so he can get specialty game and specialty cheese, Wild Rose Organic Farm in Moose Creek, Horizon Hog Farm in Martintown and the Kinsmen Farmers Market for a lot of greens and some produce. Currier hopes to expand his relationships and add more local farmers to that list but recognized that a brand new business requires baby steps. “I’m happy to say we don’t get any meat from any major food distributors. That makes me proud.”

These relationships that Currier cultivates with farmers not only is beneficial to the local economy, but gives Currier a chance to show customers where their food is coming from, how it was grown, what breed of livestock it is, who it was slaughtered by and how Currier prepares it all himself. “There’s a whole story behind it. I think that’s important. People love to hear stories of where their food comes from,” Currier explained. “A lot of people are ingesting food that they have no idea what’s in it and that terrifies me. So it’s nice to be able to say things like our condiments aren’t full of nitrates and preservatives or hidden sugars. I can tell you exactly what we put into it. We make our condiments from scratch, do our buns, source all our meat from local farmers and we do our best to use as much as we can from local farms.”

While almost all of Currier’s products have been sourced locally through local producers, he is one of the few who are using foraged products on the menu as well. Currier explained that when he worked in Ottawa, he was introduced to foraging. He would search for unique mushrooms, wild garlic and cattail hearts. “You want to talk sustainable, well there is a whole forest out there with neat, delicious, medicinal herbs, fruits and vegetables. There are even unique barks to cook with and when I tried my first cattail heart I couldn’t believe it, it blew my mind how delicious it was,” Currier said. If Currier doesn’t have the time to forage himself, he’ll use foragers to bring in the products.

Also a concern for Currier is managing the amount of waste the food truck produces. One initiative to help mitigate the issue is a pig food collaboration with Mariposa Farm. “What happens is we take a lot of our vegetable trims, our spent eggs, our leftover scraps of food and put them in pig food buckets. Once every couple weeks the farmer will come take them back to feed the pigs which in turn will fertilize the soil for the following year or following crop rotation which brings it full circle,” said Currier.

This is just the beginning for Currier and his sous chef Tyler Jones, a new adventure that will help shine a light on the positives of the local agricultural community. “You have to make compromises as a business but we’re trying to do the best we can with what we have. I think this is a good step. I think educating people through food, through product, through any venue is a very important thing especially in the daily living,” he said. “The fact that I can bring my favourite things in life, like gardening, foraging and cooking, together in one stop is great. We need two things in life, water and food to sustain life and I think people should celebrate them a little more.”

Farm and Forest Food Experience is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.