We sat down with Chef Colin Moïse, the founder of Renegade Harvest to discover more about what drives him, as part of our ongoing "Supplier Feature" series.
Colin, I understand that you were a chef by trade. How did you discover the idea to start Renegade Harvest?
Renegade Harvest has always been part of my brand. The concept stems from using uncommon means in sourcing ingredients for the recipes. Whether foraged, fished, hunted or grown locally, I harvest these quality ingredients and share their flavours with delicious culinary creations. When the pandemic hit Ontario with lockdown and social restrictions, Renegade Harvest had to discover a new way to share the stories behind his repertoire of ingredients. I wanted to continue sharing this food philosophy and quality ingredients. As such, Renegade Harvest began a line of retail-ready products for the home consumer, such as smoked wild mushroom sausages and wild leek pestos.
As demand increased, Renegade Harvest partnered with local culinary talent, ethical farmers and socially responsible distributors to manufacture and deliver homestead recipes to our loyal Ontario consumers. The vision is to make local food more accessible and diversify our ingredients for a more well-rounded local food diet.
You mention on your website that social responsibility is a key part of your mission. What do sustainability and social responsibility mean to the Renegade Harvest business model?
Sustainably sourced ingredients are what inspire Renegade Harvest's recipes. There is a level of excitement that's evoked when learning of an ingredient's ethical roots. An adventurous discovery that compels the inner-chef to get cooking. There are plenty of socially responsible growing practices in all food-related industries. Such as the proximity of the harvest, unique farming and growing practices and the relationship which these ingredients have with their surrounding environments. There are many admirable growing and harvesting practices in Ontario and Renegade Harvest looks to discover and share these treasures with the families and friends who support and purchase local food.
From speaking to you from the beginning, I understand that foraging for the mushrooms was a part of the Renegade Harvest model. I know this is hard to do at scale, so how do you ensure the quality of all of the ingredients you use?
Ensuring quality ingredients comes with knowing what quality truly is. I have been surrounded by ethical and quality ingredients for most of my life. Growing up, my relatives actively farmed, hunted or fished for the ingredients we ate as a family. In addition, I have had success in my career as a farm-to-table and nose-to-tail chef. Being acquainted and educated by many farmers, foragers, fishers and hunters thought those years, aided me in identifying and understanding quality ingredients.
To this day, I continue to build relationships with local growers, hiking through the woods with commercial foragers or casting fishing lines next to professional anglers. Learning that quality of life feeds into quality ingredients. The Renegade way has always been to harvest the ingredients firsthand. Placing your hands in the dirt and identifying healthy ecosystems is essential in selecting quality ingredients. It can become a very intimate experience. In a nutshell, Renegade Harvest puts in the legwork to ensure quality.
Starting a small business can be very difficult, can you share some of the hurdles and struggles you've had getting Renegade Harvest off of the ground?
Going from fine-dining chef to a special foods manufacturer required letting go of some pride. A major obstacle for most chefs. I'm sure we would all agree, there's a small part of ourselves we leave on every plate we prepare. Then, one day I was met with having to make a choice. To either grow Renegade Harvest as a company or shut it down. Without incurring a tone of business overhead. It was time to change my perspective on food manufacturing. It was time for me to put my trust in well-calibrated equipment to replicate my recipes—a nerve-racking situation. The challenges in taking on a project like this required a lot of research, phone calls, long drives and time away from the family. The silver lining to this transition was the relationships I made along the way. Receiving support where I least expect it.
Where do you see Renegade Harvest in the next 5 years?
Renegade Harvest looks to expand its specialty food offerings to diversify the ingredients we store in our freezers and our pantries at home. Renegade Harvest products will be easily accessible to Ontario consumers and become a positive force to our local food economy.
What else would you like the world to know about Renegade Harvest?
We see how increasingly difficult it is to secure locally grown groceries in Ontario. It is not easy nor financially viable at times. As a collective, we can influence change in our food system. Renegade Harvest's efforts in sharing its food philosophy have helped shine a light on our local food network gaps. We believe that together, with the help of our local food retailers and distributors, we can add security to Ontario grown food and mend our broken food system. We take a moment to say thank you to all of our Ontario food retailers and food distributors for their hard work in supporting our small Ontario farms and vendors.