That’s Entertainment: Miriam Streiman’s Country Kitchen
Miriam Streiman’s country kitchen is more than a place to eat, drink and be merry – it’s a culinary stage and she’s the leading lady.
If cooking is theatre, then Miriam Streiman’s farm kitchen is the ideal stage, and the 31-year-old professional cook has landed a leading role.
Miriam is a force: chef, local/sustainable food advocate, food stylist and recipe developer for the Food Network, CBC, CTV and TVO, as well as a member of the steering committees for Slow Food Toronto and Terroir, a Toronto-based hospitality symposium.
She has also just opened Mad Maple Country Inn and Agriturismo in Maple Valley, north of Shelburne. (Agriturismo is an Italian term for a farm guest house that serves local fare). It is here, in the newly renovated kitchen, that Miriam is putting on the performance of a lifetime.
The space does double duty as Miriam and husband Neil Epstein’s leisurely country kitchen and a hectic entertaining centre. It is both cozy enough for two and spacious enough for a cast of dozens.
A bundle of energy, Miriam whips around her kitchen in a polka-dotted shift and bare feet. The morning sun pouring through the expansive new windows softens the black slate countertops. The view from every corner of the open kitchen/dining room takes in the rolling fields and freshly dug gardens. There isn’t much wall space, which is exactly what the couple wanted. The farm landscape and this spectacular kitchen are all the artwork that’s needed.
Miriam and Neil bought the 1890s yellow brick Victorian farmhouse on County Road 124 four years ago. And with the help of local contractor Jamie Korthals, they began its transformation into a country inn last year. Now that it’s finished, Miriam can’t say enough about Korthals and his appreciation for older homes.
“You could tell Jamie cared deeply about the house and our vision,” she says.
This kitchen renovation was no small deal. To open up the space, the supporting wall between the kitchen and dining room came down and was replaced by a 26-foot steel beam.
“Most kitchens are a big job in older homes like this,” says Korthals. “Kitchens function a lot differently today, so we usually have to take out walls to incorporate the work area into the living space.”
For Miriam and Neil, the big country kitchen with its long trestle table and wood-burning fireplace, is a dream come true. Miriam knew what she wanted even before they bought the house. She always imagined her stove at centre stage, with a step down into the dining area so guests would be able to see, hear and smell the magic as it was being created. And that is what she got.
The large, welcoming Calacatta marble island, flanked by colourful mismatched vintage stools, is the hub of the action. The island wraps around a pair of Blue Star gas ranges (one 24-inch and one 36-inch), from where Miriam and Neil entertain their audience of house guests, family and friends.
“This is theatre,”
And on this particular morning, rehearsals are underway. The deep stainless steel industrial sink (from DSW Restaurant Supply in Toronto) is filled with veggies from their garden and bounty from foraging expeditions out to the surrounding countryside. The 50-cubic-foot fridge from Nella gives another nod to Miriam’s professional cooking background.
Ikea cabinets have been customized with barnboard ends and Restoration Hardware knobs to give them a country feel. Many items, from the light fixtures to the beech flooring, are reclaimed. The hardware securing the sliding barnboard doors came from Singhampton chef Michael Stadtländer. Neil constructed the range hood himself using original exterior wood siding uncovered during the renovation. The countertops and island top are seconds with quirky chips and scratches.
“They’re seconds but totally fine,” says Miriam. “We want the kitchen to look used and we want the patina. It shows it’s loved and we want people to be comfortable here.”
This is an interactive space, at its best when filled with people all cooking together. For years, Neil and Miriam have been collecting kitchen tools and gadgets. In one drawer, Miriam counts seven rolling pins. Another is filled with wooden spoons, and yet another is dedicated to cast-iron frying pans.
“Everything you want is where you need it,”
Her schmata (Yiddish for a piece of raggedy clothing or a bit of old cloth) drawer holds a collection of vintage aprons and the piles of tea towels she uses for everything from wiping counters to cleaning chickens. That’s why she put the laundry room right beside the kitchen. Sliding barnboard doors conceal the area, which doubles as a bussing station, when the laundry (particularly schmatas) is piling up. The laundry room has another large restaurant-style sink for washing up.
Once upon a time, Miriam and Neil’s house was a general store and a resting spot for weary travellers passing through. “So it’s only natural for this home to be shared with other people,” she says.
And indeed, Miriam and Neil’s kitchen has already become a hub of culinary activity, with local artists, chefs, and farmers coming together in celebration of the area’s bounty.
“We are bringing people together through food,” she says. “When people come here, they are really engaging with food and having a tactile experience. We want them to leave with delicious memories. I love serving and making them feel special.”
It’s hard not to feel special here. Miriam places a wooden cutting board loaded with her homemade Red Fife and maple scones on the island. She pours coffee and fetches Harmony Organic cream from the fridge. Grabbing a schmata, she erases the fingerprints left on the fridge door. This old house, with all its quirks and second-hand charm, is the perfect stage for her next performance.
Learn more > Mad Maple Country Inn and Agriturismo in Maple Valley, north of Shelburne.