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Chef Michael Smith poses with 13 year old farmer Mathias Drake and some of the chickens that he is raising.
Chef Michael Smith poses with 13 year old farmer Mathias Drake and some of the chickens that he is raising.

In The Kitchen

Chef's recipe: Apple Roast Chicken Add to ...

Mathias Drake represents the future of farming in Canada.

The industrious farmer operates a thriving poultry business on Prince Edward Island, directly supplying free-range chickens and turkeys to islanders hungry for local food. He's an expert in the various systems needed to keep his flock growing, and an advocate for agriculture - his business card even says "Buy Farmer Direct." And he's just 13.

Four years ago, a flock of leftover chicks from an area agriculture store ended up in Mathias's lap, by route of his parents. When he got off the school bus that day his reaction was "Me, chickens? What? You mean dead or alive?"

Today he's sorted out the questions of life and death inherent to the business, and depending on that eternal cycle can be the proud parent of more than 700 chickens or turkeys. He's also become a food hero on Prince Edward Island - and the exclusive supplier of chickens and holiday turkeys to my family.

It helps that Mathias is a fifth-generation farmer. His mother and father raise hog and cattle, so he already lives on a farm. But that doesn't mean he gets a free ride on overhead. His dad insists that he pay rent for barn space. That suits Mathias just fine, because he's also studying the business side of farming.

And he's already learned some valuable lessons.

"The grocery chains charge a lot of money but they don't give the farmers much," he says. "If you buy direct from the farm, the farmer is getting a good price for what he raised, and you know where it's coming from."

With that knowledge, Mathias is on the cutting edge of a genuine food movement. Across North America consumers are actively searching for local ingredients. Earlier this month, five supermarkets in Ontario decided to trade in their Sobeys affiliation for independence and the ability to offer their customers more than a diet of Chinese organic vegetables and South American fruit.

When profitable stores change the way they do business to meet such a demand, you know the local food trend has become a full-blown revolution.

No wonder all of Mathias's chickens are spoken for!

A perfectly roasted chicken is the essence of home cooking, especially when the bird and its fixings are raised responsibly on a nearby farm. My family really enjoys this aromatic dish. As the chicken roasts, the apples "melt" and form a tasty rustic pan stew that is perfect tossed with the roast chicken. This is a very easy way to cook and serve a chicken.

Apple Roast Chicken

Ingredients

4 local apples, quartered and cored

2 onions, peeled and cut into large chunks

1 whole head of garlic cloves, peeled

1 or 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

A sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

One 4 lb (1.8 kg) roasting chicken

1/2 cup (125 mL) of apple cider

2 green onions, thinly sliced

Method

Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).

Toss the apples, onions, garlic and rosemary together in a roasting pan large enough to hold the chicken.

Season chicken well with salt and pepper and rest it on top of the apple mixture. Pour in the cider. Roast chicken until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of one of the thighs reads 180°F (82°C), about 20 minutes a pound.

As soon as the chicken is cool enough to handle, and without removing it from the pan, slice and pull the meat from the carcass and toss with the apple pan stew. Sprinkle with the sliced green onions and serve directly out of the pan.

Serves 4 to 6

Freestyle variations

Any choice of apple will work well. For an upscale presentation, you may also slice the chicken and arrange it on a serving platter with the apple pan sauce served on the side. For an easy chicken broth, the chicken carcass can be tossed into a small stockpot with an onion, celery, carrot and bay leaf, covered with water and then simmered for 1 or 2 hours.

From Michael Smith's The Best of Chef at Home

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