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Sometimes in life, you find a little gem of a place that you are almost too scared to tell anyone about in case that gem is spoiled. Sometimes it is a secluded beach on a tropical island, sometimes it is a shop. I found my personal little gem on the week leading up to Canada Day weekend whilst spending a week at a friend’s cottage on Lake Simcoe. Neighbours at the cottage had told us “if you want great steaks, and sausages go to Leska’s”. I should say at the outset, I am a career chef/hotelier with 35 years experience and I have heard the ‘great steaks’ story many times and been disappointed. I seek out good sausages like a pig after truffles! They are a favourite of mine used on their own in a bun, but also, as an ingredient in many other dishes.

I was given directions, and set out to find this magical emporium of fine steaks, deli meats, home cured ham and great sausages. I wasn’t disappointed! I was struck by how clean and well lit the shop was, and how wonderfully cool it was compared to the heat outside.  The first thing I noticed was the magnificent chilled display of ham, bacon, cured salami, ready prepared meats like Schnitzel, Frikadelle and prime AAA steaks perfectly cut.

I introduced myself to Erich and asked if I could order seven nice ribeye steaks for Friday? “No problem” Erich said, “would you like them marinated”? Wow, I spent 10 years trying to persuade my catering butcher to marinate my steaks! Erich sprinkled some of his homemade Garlic Pepper onto a napkin so I could see the spice, and do a lick-test. It was good! Erich brought out a piece of prime rib so I could see the quality of the meat. It was good too and you can tell that Erich is proud of his products. He told me my steaks would be in ‘that chill cabinet’ to the left of him with my name on it. Therefore, with the steaks ordered, I set off to check out the rest of the shop. I came out with two types of sausage, Hot Italian and Smoked German sausage, home-cured peameal bacon, bread milk, and cream. Erich’s girlfriend, Heather, cooked me one of Erich’s sausages on a bun using a BBQ set up outside the shop and this was to become a little ritual, shopping and a sausage!

Friday came along, and as promised my steaks were in ‘that chill cabinet’ and marked ‘Andrew the Chef’. The steaks were vacuum-packed and that is great as it guarantees your steaks remain fresh for up to 7 - 14 days if kept in a cold fridge at 2 – 4◦C. The steaks were cooked that evening on the BBQ for about 5 minutes a side. The result was, without doubt, the best steaks I have ever tried in my entire career! Everyone raved about them.

Over the next few days, we tried all the other meats we purchased and found them to be of equal quality, especially the sausages that Erich makes fresh every week. We visited Leska’s before we went back to Mississauga and filled a cool-box with all we could carry.

We had the opportunity to return to Orillia a couple of weeks later and wondered if Erich could make me some Cumberland Sausages, which are an English favourite and something I miss from the ‘old homeland’. I have the recipe, so I made a quick phone call to Erich. “Sure no problem, how many pounds would you like”? How about that for service! We settled on 10 pounds and these were vac-packed in four and five to a pack. A pack was eagerly cooked on the night we arrived. They were superb, but I knew they would be. The next project is Lincolnshire sausages and to try some of Erich’s special Blueberry sausages. Spending a day in Orillia and a trip to Leska’s is worth the drive!

Erich’s mother Christa is a gem in her own right, a diminutive Germanic lady with an accent you would never tire of hearing, “and anything else” is the oft repeated line when ordering at the deli. I paid my bill and just hung around the shop to listen to Mrs Leska.

Leska’s is a gem for sure; try it and you will not be disappointed. Don’t tell too many people though, finding this gem is our little secret.

(Andrew Taylor is a chef/hotelier from England now living in Mississauga).