Originally published by Watershed Magazine in the Fall 2019 Issue.
Words by Signe Langford. Photos by Johnny C.Y. Lam
Watershed Country Chef, Douglas George Hope, has cooked his way around the world, yet his greatest journey was travelled right here, in our backyard.
Chef Douglas George Hope spent his childhood on the move, staying on farms and military bases around the world. It was a way of life that stuck.“I was part of the team that opened Canoe in Toronto in the mid-nineties, then I was off to Australia where I stayed for the next 12 years running my own restaurant. “But,” he explains, “in 2000, the recession hit Australia hard, so I decided to return to Canada.”
Over the next two decades, he cooked in British Columbia, Kawartha cottage country, and with Silversea Cruises, and throughout all of it, Warkworth was a place he was drawn to and it was where he would eventually settle. “My family, my ancestors are from around here: Hope Mill, Crosswinds, Gore’s Landing, Keene. I love this area.”
He was impressed by the concentration of artists, artisans – he’s a fan of Frantic Farms – public art, boutiques, gourmet foods and he loves that farmers still drive tractors into town. So, in 2016 he took over the tiny space on Main Street. It was a total gut job, and he did it himself: updating the electrical system, building the tables, even turning wooden dishes, and crafting the serving trenchers from lumber harvested and milled on his farm, a short drive from the restaurant he named ’Sper, which is Latin for hope.
’Sper Farm sits on 12 acres, ten of which are forested and two that have been cleared for gardens and buildings, even a lumber mill. There are 110 sugar maples for tapping, there’s a sugar shack, and plans for an orchard. He and partner, Tina Bastas, forage the fields and forest for the wild produce used at ’Sper. Their modest but charming farmhouse overlooks an abundant kitchen garden where they grow all the herbs for the kitchen, and the coops and barns where heirloom turkeys, ducks, goats and one alpaca thrive.
Hope’s ethos is ‘local and from scratch, nose to tail, leaf to root’. The couple make or grow much of what is served at ’Sper, from the bread to the vinegar to the live-edge serving boards. But ’Sper is about more than fine food, it’s a place that runs on community, sharing, and indeed, hope.
New Year’s Day, 2019, while visiting family in Belleville, Hope went into cardiac arrest. It took six minutes for the EMS to arrive. At the hospital, he was put into a medically induced coma, allowing him to stabilize before undergoing a triple bypass. He was hospitalized for 21 days, and couldn’t work for three months. A nightmare scenario for anyone, a deathblow for a self-employed farmer and restaurateur. But that’s when Hope and Bastas witnessed just how mighty a small rural town can be.
“It’s because of this community that we are where we are now.” says Hope, “The community really rallied around us. Everyone helped in any way they could. Neighbours left notes in the mailbox offering help; some dropped off gas and gift cards; a Go Fund Me campaign was initiated. Many folks didn’t even ask what we needed, they just showed up to plow the snow, or care for the animals. They knew what needed doing and did it.”
‘Sper reopened the last week of March 2019, and Chef Hope recalls, “It was slower than I would have liked at first.”
The compassion shown by the community had proven to be something of a double-edged sword. “Some folks said they didn’t want to stress us out by making us too busy at the restaurant, but being busy is just what we need!” For Chef Hope, growing real food and feeding his community is the best medicine of all.
Watershed Magazine celebrates life in Northumberland, Quinte and Prince Edward County with page after page of award-winning editorial and design. Find out more at watershedmagazine.com
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