But in recent years, it’s the region’s burgeoning food scene that’s taken center-stage. Supported by a strong commitment to local sourcing and sustainable products, visiting Peterborough is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.  

Locally farmed, locally consumed

“The idea of shop local, eat local, support local has really developed naturally and organically in Peterborough and the Kawarthas,” says Jay Nutt, the chef and owner of Nuttshell Next Door Cafe, a local restaurant nestled in the Kawartha Lakes region of Ontario. “Chefs here develop strong relationships with farmers and farmers’ markets.”

This emphasis on using high-quality, locally-sourced products is a unique characteristic of Peterborough’s food scene, but it’s hardly a new development. The region has a long history of supporting the consumption of local produce, perhaps best exemplified by its many farmers’ markets. The Peterborough Farmers’ Market in particular is celebrating its 190th year this year.

Attracting new talent

According to Minister Jeff Leal, Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the wide availability of local food products has been integral to attracting new talent to the region.

“Today, chefs from all over the country are moving into Peterborough because they know they can get a quality food supply—whether it’s beef, pork, lamb or vegetables,” says Minister Leal. “When you’re a talented chef, you can take these ingredients and put together a very fine meal.”

“I think that one of the things that is very unique about Peterborough and the Kawarthas is that chefs and restaurant owners are very supportive of each other and work towards a common goal of building a local food culture.”

Chef Nutt is a testament to this trend. Originally from Alberta, he worked in restaurants across the country before settling in Peterborough in 2000. His reasons for staying? The people, the restaurant culture, and the access to local food products. 

“I’ve worked in Toronto, Jasper, Edmonton and elsewhere, and in those places, competition often takes precedence over cooperation,” Nutt says. “I think that one of the things that is very unique about Peterborough and the Kawarthas is that chefs and restaurant owners are very supportive of each other and work towards a common goal of building a local food culture.”

Continued growth

This spirit of community and support has contributed to the rapid growth of Peterborough’s food scene in recent years. Despite its smaller size, the region is home to more restaurants per capita, including bars, pubs and cafes, than Toronto or Montreal. 

“Just take a walk down Hunter Street West in downtown Peterborough and you’ll find many, many restaurants. On any given day, the local chefs are all producing great meals with locally grown products,” says Minister Leal.

Equally impressive is the fact that more than half of the restaurants in Peterborough and the Kawarthas are locally-owned, small businesses. 

“I’ve been here for 12 years in business and 10 years at this location. In that time, I’ve had lots of my employees go out and open their own restaurants,” says Nutt.

“When I visit their restaurants, I’ll find items on their menu that are influenced by me—and those items were, of course, influenced by chefs I worked for in the past. This idea of passing on information, styles and techniques is very strong in the area, and it’s a testament to the vibrant food culture of the region.”