Chef Milton Tanswell has cooked at some of the hippest restaurants in the country, including Toronto’s Drake Hotel and Vancouver’s former Granville Street hotspot, Sanafir. But it was the opportunity to cook at Riva, a new Italian restaurant in small-town Gananoque, Ontario, that he calls a dream come true.

“Riva is everything I’ve worked for 25 years all rolled up into one beautiful package,” says Tanswell, 39, who learned to cook from his mother in Kingston, Ont. “She never did anything fancy,” he says. “She did just straight-up good food cooked properly.” Tanswell strayed from that, however, when he began working in the Toronto and Vancouver restaurant scenes, where it was all about multiple elements, layers of spice and foams, he says.

But it was his work with renowned Canadian chef Jamie Kennedy, a pioneer of farm-to-table dining, that stuck with him. And when he was offered the Chef de Cuisine job at Riva — after he and his wife, Anne-Marie Mackenzie, 34, took a chance on the move from Vancouver to Gananoque, two hours outside Toronto and Ottawa — that he finally put that inspiration to work.

“We’re a hop, skip and a jump from being totally farm to table,” Tanswell says of Riva, which now operates a produce farm that he sees one day making the restaurant fully self-sufficient.
And it’s all at a pace that, for much of the year, would be enviable to any urban chef. “In the shoulder seasons, the spring and the fall, it’s different, and we really get a chance to recharge our batteries,” Tanswell says. “I get a chance to be a normal human being and cut back on a couple of grey hairs.”

A new condominium development on Gananoque’s St. Lawrence waterfront, Stone & South, may make Tanswell’s schedule a little busier, however. “It’s more mouths for us to feed I could not be happier about it,” he says “And it’s going to bring more people to Gan, and get more people to see how wonderful this town is. I think this is the beginning of something great.”