Some of Niagara Parks Commission’s top restaurants offer spectacular views of the American and Canadian falls converging in a powerful display of rushing water. It is from these locations along the busy stretch of the Niagara Parkway that tourists enjoy the spectacular views of the Niagara Falls in all their natural glory.
The locales are also the sites for a culinary convergence of the most extraordinary kind.
For more than 10 years, Paul Pennock, executive corporate chef for The Niagara Parks Commission, an Ontario government agency, has overseen the menu planning, catering and kitchen activities and staff for a collection of restaurants including the Table Rock Restaurant complex, Victoria Park Restaurant complex, Queenston Heights Restaurant, two golf courses and seven fast food establishments. In total, he estimates 12,000 to 14,000 meals are prepared by his staff every day.
Although Pennock admits to some inspiration from the natural wonders at his doorstep, he claims a much bigger, national force is behind his impressive collection of culinary delights. The chef, who was born and raised in Toronto, credits Canada’s multi-culturalism and diversity as the inspiration behind his dishes.
“Canada is a multi-cultural country. What Canada represents is almost a taste of the world in its own country, because we respect all of the peoples’ cultures,” he says. “I like to think of myself as a true Canadian chef that really embellishes the multi-cultural things that we have in this country and obviously the beautiful first-rate products that we have.”
To that end it is not uncommon for Pennock to introduce a fusion of international tastes in every dish including hints of classical French, Indian and Asian.
While an international flavor is found in every dish that Pennock offers, the ingredients are very much home-grown. Not only does he have a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables within his reach which are harvested in the Niagara Region, he also taps into Canada’s plentiful seafood, game, beef and diary products. And for the finale, the dish is complemented with a glass of Niagara’s world-famous wine. “The wine and the produce is probably the biggest influence.”
This propensity for the home-grown products is at the core of Pennock’s culinary philosophy — to offer the best quality products to all his clients, whether it is a single plate or a banquet for hundreds of guests.
“The best quality product is what we always start with. We don’t short-change ourselves or our guests by buying a cheaper product,” he says.
With Niagara’s popularity as a convention destination growing, Pennock has seen the larger-scale conference element taking up more and more of this time. And the Commission’s diverse choice of venues offers something for every group from the lavish grounds of the Queenston Heights Restaurant to the stunning setting at Table Rock overlooking the falls.
In fact, Table Rock is seeing a major overhaul which will serve as the centerpiece for Pennock’s collection of dining and meeting venues. The site at the brink of the falls is undergoing a $32-million facelift and development. Scheduled to open in June 2008, this venue will feature a new Grand Hall with a spectacular view of the falls in a climate-controlled environment and restaurant for receptions or dinners in an open concept where the guests will be able to see the food prepared fresh in front of them.
But whether it is an intimate dinner or a large function, Pennock’s passion for his job will not change.
“It’s a stressful job, but I love it! I have a passion to make people happy. The gratification that I get out of my job is when the guests are satisfied and you go home feeling great.”