Owner and Chef at Black River Retreat
Tweed, Ontario – Hastings County
Have you ever felt a connection to something so deeply that it changed something inside you, and possibly the course of your life, from that moment on? That is exactly what happened to Trevor Telford when he journeyed from Ancaster to Tweed, Ontario to view a property he was looking to purchase. Whether it was the scenic drive down Highway 37 or the natural beauty surrounding him; at a stage in his life where he was searching for change, Trevor found it in Hastings County.
Knowing firsthand how the busy city can often drain one’s spirit, Trevor created a luxury woodland escape for guests to relax and rejuvenate along the shores of Black River. From urban entrepreneur to rural retreat owner and chef extraordinaire, Trevor’s story of evolution is rooted in passion.
Let’s start from the beginning. Did you have experience as a chef, or have you evolved your culinary skills, since opening Black River Retreat?
Cooking has long been a passion of mine, and time spent in the kitchen has always filled me with creative delight. In what other artistic medium can you create a masterpiece, and then eat it? The Retreat has given me the opportunity to grow my culinary skills, create new flavour combinations and focus on presenting a beautiful and delicious plate. They are never the same twice, which is increasingly exciting for me.
You are presented with a unique opportunity, as Black River Retreat caters to just one couple at a time. Why is that so special to you?
Cooking for a single couple truly is an intimate affair. As I prepare and serve my guests their dinner, I feel a very personal connection to the experience. Every dish is hand-crafted with an individual in mind. In a restaurant setting, chefs do not have the opportunity to meet the people they are cooking for. It makes it very exclusive, and a direct reflection of me, so I always strive to provide the very best culinary experience.
Are you inspired by the local bounty available around you?
Yes, I am always so proud to showcase what we have here in our region. Access to fresh produce, beautiful cuts of meat, made-from-scratch baking, local wines and handmade cheeses is a gift. Half the excitement is driving the back roads, checking out the farm gates, and building my little database of local agriculture knowledge. It’s all here; it’s all local; it’s all fresh.
How would you describe the flavours of Hastings County?
Wine makers call it the terroir, which is essentially all the elements that contribute to the composition of the soil. Our high mineral content, blended with an abundance of water, and centuries of natural composting forest matter, creates a rich soil that makes everything we grow distinctly earthy and eclectic.
You spend a lot of time cooking for others. But if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
You are going to think I am boring, but I have an absolute weakness for French fries. I want and will attempt to try every single chip wagon along the side of the road. Each one is different and unique. You think, “It’s a french fry, how different could they be?” But, my goodness, each one has its own little characteristics.
Everything you create is above and beyond, but it seems you love simplicity in your personal life. What would an ideal ‘day off’ look like for you?
I would wake early for a paddle as the sun is rising and you get that mist off the river. After that, I’d have a coffee and then just head out. I love touring the little towns around here, and one that captures my imagination each time I go is Perth. There are a couple little shops I like to go to. There is also an awesome micro-brewery there (Perth Brewery) so I would stop and stock up on my favourites. My local butcher cuts, hands down, the best steaks, so I’d drop in on my way home, grab a couple to toss on the barbecue, crack open one of those new beers and enjoy the evening beside the bonfire.
Is there any experience in the region that always feels like you are doing it for the first time?
Those winding roads. Every single time you turn a bend, there is a brand new vista point that is somehow more beautiful than the last. There is nothing like it, you cannot imagine the feeling of driving down these open, twisting roads with hardly any traffic. It feels as though the world just opens up in front of you.
What is your favourite road trip song for exploring those bends?
Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea has a song that I can never get out of my head. Every time I go for a drive, I put it on and turn it up. The song is called “I’ve Seen a Little” and the chorus goes, “I’ve seen a little, but it ain’t enough”. Those simple words encapsulate my entire life, and this entire region. No matter how much you see, there is always more.
On any of your road trips, has there been one hidden gem that you’ve stumbled upon that you wish others knew about?
I ended up popping into Quinn’s of Tweed a few years back. I had driven past it so many times, and one day I finally decided to check it out. I was amazed, absolutely floored. It is the most beautiful art gallery. The first time I went in, I spent three hours browsing. The owner, Paul, he has an incredible passion for art and is unbelievably knowledgeable. Whenever I visit, it’s like walking in to a new gallery each time.
As a wanderer at heart yourself, is there one wandering tip that you would offer a visitor to Hastings County?
Not to have a firm itinerary. Have one destination or experience that you want to take in, but don’t fill your day to the point where you don’t have time for spontaneity. If you see a cheese shop, stop and spend an hour there. Or take the road to the left because there is a sign that says ‘fresh berries’. There are so many fun little experiences waiting for you, if you are willing to let the day unfold in front of you rather than follow a rigid plan. Look at my life, if I had followed the rigid plan, I wouldn’t be where I am today!