Chef Insider: Ryan Crawford

Meet the man behind Niagara-on-the-Lake’s cool climate cuisine 

Photo by Terry Manzo Photography

Take one part chef, one part sommelier, a dash of winemaker and some farmer, and mix together. What you get is Ryan Crawford.

Crawford heads up the kitchen at Backhouse, the popular Niagara-on-the-Lake restaurant he owns with his wife, Beverley Hotchkiss. Passionate about using fresh, locally grown ingredients in his cooking, this creative chef has long been inspired by the Niagara region’s fertile farms—including the three acres he and Hotchkiss rent to supply Backhouse’s produce. 

A graduate of Stratford Chefs School in Ontario, Crawford worked alongside many storied chefs, including Toronto's Michael Stadtländer and Jamie Kennedy, before making a name for himself at Stone Road Grille, the acclaimed Niagara-on-the-Lake bistro. He and Hotchkiss eventually moved into Stone Road Grille’s former space and, following a renovation, opened Backhouse in 2015.

Crawford calls his food cool climate cuisine, a nod to farming and cooking north of the 49th parallel. 

What made you want to become a chef?

I grew up in a bed and breakfast with my mother [she owned the business] and brother in Thornbury, Ont. My uncle was also a chef, and he was a role model for me. I started cooking as a part-time job and then fell in love with the creativity and the atmosphere, the camaraderie of the kitchen.

What drew you to Niagara?

I wanted to become a sommelier as well as a chef. I had a teacher, Jacques Marie, whose class at culinary school made me fall in love with wine. I wanted to keep pursuing that. I came to Niagara to be in food and wine country. 

In your eyes, what defines Niagara cuisine?

The wineries, the food, the farmers, the fruit—it’s the whole package. 

Describe your approach to the menu at Backhouse.

It’s about showcasing the ingredients in the most natural way possible. We’re wood-fired, [and we believe in] letting the flavours speak for themselves. Adding little twists on things, but keeping it all authentic to the place and Ontario. 

What inspires you most as a chef?

In the summer, it’s going to our farm and tasting something and being inspired to cook with it. We change our menu every day based on what’s coming from the farm. In the wintertime, it’s the root cellar and using the preserves we have.

Collaboration is a big part of what you do as a chef. How does collaborating with other chefs and producers in the region affect your work?

We all know and respect each other, and we all have different skill sets and backgrounds. So, when we come together as a team, it’s exciting. 

Crawford's Other Local Dining Picks: 

Tide and Vine Restaurant

“Try Kat’s clam chowder.”

Ravine Vineyards

“Chef/owner Paul Harber has a great selection of fresh vegetarian options alongside the proteins.”  

The Garrison House

“It’s a great pub atmosphere, and the Garrison Korean Fried Chicken is amazing.”

Treadwell

“It has an outstanding local and international wine list.”