Over the last five years clusters of chefs, both homegrown and traveled, have brought their creative spirits and intuitive palates to the streets of downtown Hamilton. Along with the already thriving art scene, these chefs, artists in their own right, have helped reinvigorate our city. This week, we celebrate them.

It’s October 17, 2016, the first morning of NOSH Hamilton. This is the inaugural weeklong event that revels in Hamilton’s rapidly evolving foodie culture. I arrive a bit early to Liuna Station, the setting for the kick-off event “Chef Wars”, with two espressos. I am here to talk to Michael Marini, the man behind the NOSH. I grab a seat by the grand entrance and watch flashes of him as he darts back and forth between the food delivery truck and main stage. 

Chef Matt Kershaw doing his thing during the final dessert round at NOSH Chef Wars
Chef Matt Kershaw doing his thing during the final dessert round at NOSH Chef Wars.

After a few more trips, he makes his way over to me, a bit out of breath. He apologizes profusely for the slight delay and kindly passes on the espresso, but instead offers it to Chef Patrick Wiese who’s commanding the prep for that night’s challenge.

In what felt like seconds, he unloaded a laundry list of tasks that needed to be done. Understandably, today was going to be a busy day, so I dove right in:

Q.

I guess the first question I have is, who is Michael Marini?

A.

I am a lifelong Hamiltonian; I grew up here, went to school at McMaster and am lucky enough to now work as the Co-ordinator of Marketing at the City of Hamilton.

Q.

In 2001, you started working for the City of Hamilton. Since that time, how have you seen the culture at City Hall change?

A.

A lot has changed from when I first started at the City. This sort of excitement was only starting to take shape. After almost a decade, we can now see these changes in our neighbourhoods and streets. For the most part, this is a reflection of the collaborative, goal-oriented community of private and public interests that believe in this city. This belief and focus has only grown with the strong support of Hamilton City Council towards our economic development efforts.

Q.

Aside from working for the City of Hamilton, you’ve been involved with community initiatives like Hamilton Hive, CIPBA, The Charity of Hope and now NOSH. Why are these types of projects important to you?

A.

I believe that it is important to give back. I also feel that this is a sentiment shared by a lot of people in Hamilton. I mean, we’ve got the one of the highest rates of volunteerism in Canada, it’s just part of our DNA. Really, that’s what is so great about living here, a lot of people are willing to generously give back, whether it’s time, money or talent.

Q.

When and how did the idea of NOSH come about?

A.

It was actually Councillor Sam Merulla, in February of this year, who brought it to the table. Prior to that, we had been doing food tours with Toronto media, bloggers, and industry leaders, and he wanted to take it one step further by turning these mini-events into a week long celebration. When it came time to decide on a date, it was only natural that we would do it during National Small Business Week. Considering most of Hamilton’s best food is coming from entrepreneurs, I don’t think we could have asked for a more perfect merging.

Q.

How big of an impact has Hamilton’s food scene been for its image, not just locally but also regionally?

A.

It’s been massive. In terms of changing perceptions and misconceptions of Hamilton, it has made my job a lot easier. A lot of the chefs and restaurateurs that are coming from Toronto are doing so because they have heard of what is happening here. They come wanting to be a part of a welcoming, collaborative and creative food scene, something that you just can’t easily do in Toronto anymore.

Q.

What do you hope to accomplish with NOSH? Do you consider this the first step in sustaining the food scene here?

A.

With NOSH, the hope is that we can piggyback on that growing awareness that I was just talking about. Our goal is to garner more attention from the cities around the GTA with the belief that people will want to start a business, dine and explore our city. This year is all about creating awareness. We need to initiate and engage a conversation with people around the province that we can foster in the coming years. The hope is that we can expand our reach by getting bigger and better, eventually convincing people to stay here the entire week. It’s important to keep in mind that there is food everywhere, in every city and town. But what is happening in Hamilton is a renaissance that has a communal feel to it. If we can tap into that, and show people this spirit, NOSH can be a strong brand builder for this city.

Q.

What are some of the things that you think Hamilton needs to do in order to achieve those goals?

A.

Well, one thing we want to work on in the future is rural representation. A lot of the farms and agribusinesses in Hamilton are the backbone of this food scene. We want to tell that story. I mean, 2/3rds of Hamilton’s land mass is agricultural, and a big part of our history. The farm to table story is very important.

Q.

Where do you see NOSH, and to a greater degree, Hamilton, in five to ten years?

A.

I hope to see exponential growth in both. NOSH could very well become a premier event in Ontario each and every year. For the city itself, Hamilton has one of the highest ranked economies in Canada, which is great, but also means there is still a lot of room for growth and improvement.

Chef's Shayne Madadi (left) and Matt Kershaw enjoy the spoils of a hard fought Chef War
Chefs Shayne Madadi (left) and Matt Kershaw enjoy the spoils of a hard fought Chef Wars.

Q.

Considering your impressive track record, what can we expect from you in the near future?

A.

(Laughing) I’ve been really lucky. This job has given me the opportunity to meet so many new people who are invested in Hamilton. These opportunities have given me the chance to take part in a whole bunch of new projects, and every day there are more. In the immediate future, I am really looking forward to working on Pier 8 at the West Harbour. We have a serious opportunity there to really transform our waterfront and in the coming months we will be picking a developer to do just that.

Q.

So, I have one last question for you… and it’s more about getting an inside scoop on the things happening this week. As someone so intimately involved in the NOSH movement, what are the events and destinations you are most excited for?

A.

All of them, it is the first day and I feel like it is already an overwhelming success. And to be totally honest, 100% of this is because of the chefs and restaurateurs who have gotten behind this event, supported it and actively took part in it. Without them, and all their efforts, I don’t think NOSH could have happened. This year we had nearly 60 participants; I want to double that next year!

The best part is that a great number of chefs and restaurants are doing something unique and special for the week.

NOSH runs from October 17th to the 23rd. Like NOSH on Facebook, and follow along with #NOSHHamOnt. Be sure to share all your culinary adventures this week by tagging #NOSHHAmOnt!

Check out the NOSH Interactive Map below to find all the NOSH restaurants and events: