Michael Stadtländer, CM, chef, restaurateur, environmental activist, artist (born 1947 in Lubeck, West Germany). A Member of the Order of Canada, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Leadership and named the 2011 Restaurateur of the Year by the Canadian Association of Food Service Professionals, Michael Stadtländer is a pioneer and leader of Canada’s influential farm-to-table culinary movement.
Early Life & Education
Michael Stadtländer grew up working on his family’s farm outside of Lubeck, West Germany. The oldest of three brothers, he learned about cooking and eating with local ingredients from his mother and grandmother, both of whom cooked for the German border police.
At 15, he began an apprenticeship at a Lubeck restaurant and worked in the kitchens of several restaurants in Stuttgart. For his mandatory military service, Stadtländer served as chef and baker on a German Navy destroyer.
The German chef dreamed of moving to Canada at an early age, after falling in love with the country’s landscape and wilderness through National Film Board documentaries and a CBC series set on Manitoulin Island. In the late 1970s, he became friends with Canadian chef Jamie Kennedy when they cooked together at the Grand Hotel National in Switzerland. When Kennedy received an offer to head up a new restaurant, Scaramouche, in Toronto, the pair decided to act as co-chefs, and Stadtländer emigrated to Canada in 1980.
A Celebrity Chef is Born
At Scaramouche, Stadtländer and Kennedy’s simple but elegant “nouvelle cuisine,” a style of French cooking stripped to the basics, garnered rave reviews and turned the chef into a Canadian sensation.
After a couple of years at Scaramouche, Stadtländer left to open his own venture. Stadtländer’s, a French restaurant opened in downtown Toronto in 1984, made critics swoon, but the economics didn’t add up, and it shut in 1986. The chef then headed up the kitchen at "locavore" pioneer, Sooke Harbour House, in British Columbia, where the idea of buying a farm and running a small restaurant with dishes featuring the farm’s products was seeded.
In 1988, returned to Toronto to open Nekah. The downtown establishment celebrated Canadian cuisine, serving everything from B.C. rockfish to northern caribou, with diners choosing from one of two tasting menus. Once again, the restaurant received gushing reviews, but was a financial failure, closing in 1990.
Back to the land
In 1989, Stadtländer was inspired by a visit to a friend’s farm on the Niagara escarpment to hold a culinary festival. He and Kennedy then founded “Feast of Fields,” a festival where they, and fellow high-profile chefs, prepared dishes using local ingredients at different food stations.
In July 1993, when the farm next door to his friend’s went up for sale, Stadtländer and his wife, Nobuyo, got financing to buy the land. The couple named the 100-acre plot, near Collingwood, Ontario, Eigensinn Farm (borrowed from a title of an essay by Hermann Hesse meaning ''single-mindedness'' or ''obstinacy''). The operation exemplifies Stadtländer’s farm-to-table philosophy: for a few weeknights throughout the year, Stadtländer and a handful of apprentices prepare a five-course meal with ingredients from the farm, and nearby growers, for just 12 guests. From the beginning, the chef’s thoughtful and imaginative dinners have drawn foodies from around the world. In 2002, Restaurant Magazine named Eigensinn one of the top ten restaurants in the world. With Nobuyo running the operational side of the business, the venture is on firm financial footing.
In 2009, the couple opened Haisai Restaurant and Bakery in Singhampton, ON. With Stadtländer at the helm for the first year, Haisai was named the top new restaurant in Canada by enRoute, and top new restaurant in the city area by Toronto Life. After that, Stadtländer moved to a hands-off supervisor position with various chefs cooking at the restaurant, which has been open off-and-on since the start. In the summer of 2013, Haisai reopened with a casual menu featuring pizza, dim sum and salads using ingredients from Eigensinn Farm. One of Stadtländer’s protegee’s, Min Young Lee, serves as chef, and Stadtländer’s son, Herman, as manager.
Arts and Environmental Activism
Stadtländer is an outspoken activist for sustainable, organic agriculture and fishing in Canada. An amateur sculptor who designs quirky installations and pieces on his farm and at Haisai, his eco-projects usually mix art, cooking and sustainable food production.
In the summer of 2005, he closed the restaurant to build whimsical and working sculptures (for example, a reclining lady is also a bread oven); the sculptures were the basis for a series of dinners that August. In the summer of 2006, he spearheaded The Islands Project, which culminated in seven dinners on four British Columbia islands. Stadtländer made documentary films of both projects. In 2012, the Singhampton Project, which he also spearheaded, saw guests touring seven edible gardens and eating dishes prepared from each, with proceeds going to Earth Day Canada.
In 2008, he founded the Canadian Chefs’ Congress with a vision to “connect chefs to our land in solidarity with farmers, fishers, gardeners, foragers and all artisanal food producers.” In October 2011, the Congress (of which Stadtländer is president) put on Foodstock, a “culinary protest” featuring top chefs and musicians against the proposed Mega Quarry in Ontario’s Melancthon Township.
Restaurateur of the year, Canadian Association of Food Service Professionals (2011)
Governor General’s Award for Leadership (2010)
Organic Food Hero Award, Canadian Organic Growers (2007)
Environmental Achievement Award, Earth Day Canada (2007)