Will Write for GREAT Food…

We writers hunger for the perfect word choice. A well-crafted scene. Participles that don’t dangle.

All that hard graft needs nurturing and nourishing. They’re the main reasons we chose Deer Creek Golf & Banquet Facility to host our annual Ontario Writers’ Conference.

Always serving at the pleasure of our attendees, the OWC committee has gone beyond this year’s plethora of much-sought-after workshop facilitators, plenary session and guest luncheon speakers to whet your appetite with what’s cooking at Deer Creek.


After interviewing Deer Creek’s executive chef, Sean Ashley, I think it’s fair to say he took the long way around to come back to food.

A middle child, Ashley grew up in Northern Ontario and admits to being a bit of an unruly kid; the penance for his hijinks, cooking the family’s meals. “My mother’s very French. Her kitchen is where I learned true French-Canadian cuisine. She taught me a lot about sauce work.”

While most 13-year-old boys were managing school work and a paper route and vying for girls’ attention, Ashley moved to Saskatoon, first working a short stint in a restaurant, then switching out his bus bins and prep knives for lathes and routers to build counter tops. Says Ashley, “But after 10 years working out west, I decided I wanted to go back to college to become a chef.”

Ashley was accepted into the culinary program at Lethbridge Community College, his time there, he says, was, “Very intense, very hands-on. There were only five students per lab per two instructors.” Ashley graduated with a two-year culinary diploma and a professional cooking certificate. And he was well on his way to earning his coveted Red Seal Chef designation.

Ashley moved to Toronto and continued to hone his craft, working at some of the city’s most coveted restos (Queen Street West’s “The Rhino” and midtown’s “Le Saint Tropez” to name but a few), before landing in the kitchens of the world-renowned Royal York hotel. But after several years of long commutes and even longer hours spent in service, Ashley — now married with two small daughters — pined to work closer to home. Today, Chef is proud to call Deer Creek’s massive kitchen his second home.

Our conversation segues to Chef’s plates. I ask about his food philosophy. Ashley’s quick to respond; he knows what customers want. “I like to use locally grown ingredients as much as I can. I think visually, on the plate, you want to present as much colour as you can, keeping freshness and simplicity in mind. I fine tune my menus in a way that gives me as much leeway as possible, budget-wise, to buy local.”

With upwards of a thousand covers on any given weekend during and off-season, I cannot fathom the choreography that goes on back-of-house with regards to special dietary requests. I ask and Chef answers, “Our events and banquet office informs us through memos and our weekly meetings of any dietary requests and I review them in detail with my team. We also have an allergies reference binder that we use to ensure we’re cooking according to a person’s allergies.”

Our conversation ends at the beginning, I ask Chef what he wants most to accomplish with his food service at Deer Creek. He doesn’t miss a beat, “I want to create an on-site garden. But done right. With water conservation at the forefront. I’m putting in 50 plus hours a week at Deer Creek, so I need to carve some extra time in my schedule to plan this garden properly.”

In the meantime, Chef tells me he’s happy to call Durham home. And on the work front, he’s excited to forge new relationships with the cornucopia of farmers in the Region.

So, there you have it, Ontario Writers’ Conference attendees. Rest assured, you’re food service is in the most excellent hands of Chef Ashley and his brigade.

Although our conference menu will be a choice of salmon or chicken, to whet your appetite for what lay ahead on Saturday, May 04th, with compliments from Chef, his signature recipe for:

Deer Creek Stuffed Pork Tenderloin (serves 4)

1 pork tenderloin (about 2 pounds), trimmed of silver skin and fat
1 large leek
½ cup chopped apple wood smoked bacon
1 cup finely diced panchetta
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups grated aged cheddar cheese

• Butterfly tenderloin by making a lengthwise cut into the pork three-quarters of the way through the centre; ensure not to cut all the way through the meat. Spread tenderloin apart and, using a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy saucepan, gently pound to an even thickness, then season well with salt and pepper and set aside.
• Cut root end and dark green top from leek leaving only the white and light green part intact. Peel leek into layers, wash and rinse thoroughly, then blanch in salted boiling water for 30 seconds before placing in an ice water bath to stop cooking process and to set colour. Set aside.
• In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add bacon and panchetta and sauté until fat has rendered and bacon has started to crisp. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more.
• With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon mixture to the bowl of a food processor and let cool 10 minutes before adding cheese and processing until smooth. Leave 1 tablespoon of bacon fat in skillet and discard the rest. Set skillet aside.
• Fill blanched leek leaves with cheddar-bacon mixture and roll into long cylinders.
• Place leek cylinders end-to-end along centre of pork, then roll and tie tenderloin with butcher’s twine to enclose filling.
• Set reserved skillet over medium-high heat, add tenderloin, and sear on all sides until golden brown, then transfer to a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 400F oven until internal temperature reaches 160F on an instant read thermometer, about 25 minutes.
• Transfer tenderloin to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and serving with an apricot-brandy jus.

  • Myrna Marcelline March 13, 2013 at 7:12 am

    Thanks Deb.for this informative write-up. Your personal interview with Deer Creek’s chef certainly adds to the appeal of this year’s OWC. I look forward to Saturday’s meal. I wish you continued success in your career as a writer and producer of all things culinary.

    • Hi Myrna,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Although we are a group of volunteers, we operate the Ontario Writers’ Conference and the Festival of Authors shindig as though it were seven-figure CEOs.

      This is the OWC’s 5th year of organizing and delivering top notch workshops, blue pencil sessions and industry insider panel discussions.

      I speak on behalf of our dedicated committee when I say we have and always will serve at the pleasure of our conference goers!

      I’m elated you’ll be with us again this year. Be prepared for a big bear hug when I see you at Deer Creek!

      All my best,

      Deb Rankine

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