Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bread and Butter Haiku

Chewy baguette with crispy crust.  Monforte butter, hand-churned from creme fraiche (which was made from organic cream from Mapleton’s Organic).

LUNCH.

Calls for a Haiku.

BREAD AND BUTTER

it would not be  bad

to lose skinny human friends

for fat chewy ones

Finish with a pear.

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Musings on Toronto’s Chef legacy


Not to flog a well-ridden horse (ok, I will)  but I’ve been meaning to get back to posting about the Terroir 2012 conference  and while looking through my notes got to thinking about the dialogue surrounding the 50 Best Restaurants List.   There was outrage, insult and a lot of defensiveness felt at Canada’s chefs being excluding from the rankings.

I read a few interesting opinions as to why we are being “overlooked”  and even why we may not yet deserve to be there.  Some writers seemed to feel that cuisine in Toronto (or across Canada) is very good, excellent even, but  plays it too safe– no real risks are being taken.  Or perhaps not enough.  Maybe this is partially due to clientele.  A restaurant has to survive in an incredibly tough business.  A kitchen must cater somewhat to the palates (and wallets) of the customers as much as the chef may be dying to expand his diners’ comfort zone.

On my initial visit to Chantecler in April I asked which dishes were the “hits”.  The answer was “depends who you ask”.  The regular customers had certain faves and the industry people who ate there had others.

All of this was running through my head as I thought back to the Terroir 2012  “Culinary and Drink Trends” session.  The first half seemed to focus more on food trends in general than just drinks, and a fascinating conversation evolved about where cuisine in Toronto was headed.  Grant Van Gameren, executive chef at Enoteca Sociale (formerly of Black Hoof fame) was very outspoken and raised some interesting questions about the legacy of Toronto’s chefs as leaders.

He said that as new interests develop and old trends fade (so long charcuterie) we need more chef-leaders in the city. A lot of  small restaurants are being opened by newer, younger chefs and a lot of the “grandfathers” are doing TV.  Which wasn’t a criticism, just a question about who is out there teaching these new up and comers?  In Van Gameren’s opinion, “we’re in a 5-year block of transition” to what our food scene is going to be.  And which of these younger guys/gals is going to still be around?

He went on to say that the need to break free, expand your creativity in your own kitchen is understandable but are 27 and 28-year-old chefs ready to set the pace for the next generation?  He suggested that many chefs in Toronto need to travel more, stage more around the world.  Get a more international perspective.  Right now no one in Toronto is doing much to stand out.

He even singled himself out saying sometimes that when he is mentoring his crew, he will find himself wondering what more he can learn–so he can better lead those under him.

Van Gameren also acknowledged that in order to sustain a groundbreaking restaurant like Chicago’s Alinea in Toronto you would need investors to take on the risk and also the local support of Toronto’s diners–people need to be willing to shell out cash for more than just comfort food.

He pointed out that a lot of the smaller places opening these days take on the same formula– reclaimed wood, edison bulbs and copper accents–and some chefs do serve  avant-garde cuisine in these cozy rooms–but often the stereo is blasting so loud you can barely hear your server describing, with great care, the dish you’re about to eat.

Which brings me back to the type of restaurants that are featured on the Top 50 list; true “fine-dining” venues with a less laid-back atmosphere.  Places where the chefs are moving cuisine forward, maybe even before the diner is ready to take the leap.  Though hopefully they have enough faith to jump.

Do we have these kind of leaders (and diners)  in Toronto? In Canada?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens next year.  Or in the next five.

For some interesting perspectives on the Top 50 list (and how it’s is judged) you can check out these links:

Lesley Chesterman, The Montreal Gazette

Chris Nuttall-Smith, The Globe and Mail

Adrian Brijbassi, Vacay.ca

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You ain’t seen nothin’ yet Coleslaw

It’s a little bit coleslaw, a little bit art. Maybe it’s for dinner tonight?  This recipe is the Sweet Winter Slaw from the cookbook I am obsessed with, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi.  I made this for the first time in Omaha when visiting family and then again on Saturday to go with the Black Pepper Tofu (from the same book) which is irrationally loveable.  If I figure out where I saved the photos from that preparation I will post them soon too.

But this salad is not only easy (the chopping takes a bit of time but you can do it in advance) but the combo of papaya, mango, mint, cilantro and red cabbage (plus the candied macadamia nuts) is pretty stellar.  Your guest’s taste buds will be at your mercy–you can serve charred, dried out chicken breast right after and people will still walk away thinking you are a genius.

When we made this in Omaha we forgot to get macadamia nuts so we used pecans. The nuts are candied and then roughly chopped before being tossed in with the other ingredients.  You can use peanuts as well.

The smell of cilantro as you chop it will energize your work as you rush towards dinner hour ( especially if you’re like me and are always one side dish behind in prep because you’ve  decided to take extra time arranging the glasses on the dining room table “just so”.)

If you make this in advance, I think you can cut everything a few hours ahead except for the mint and cilantro.  If you add the herbs  an hour before serving (don’t toss yet, just add on top of the salad and put a damp paper towel on top of the ingredients) I think everything will still be fresh and fine.  Realistically, chopping the herbs does not take a lot of time–but you may be space crunched as I am though so anything done if advance helps.

The dressing can be made the day before.  You may want to steal this dressing and us it on other greens or salads.  Its addictive flavour comes from maple syrup, lime juice, lemon grass, sesame oil and chile flakes in it.

Finally just before serving, toss everything together, pour on the dressing and serve.  This will actually still taste pretty good the next day (if you have leftovers) though the herbs and nuts will be a bit moist by that time.  When I made it this weekend I reserved some of the salad without dressing for the next day, figuring I could always toss some more if we ran out.

And here it is going on the plate:

This image is from our Omaha dinner, we served it with this tomato and onion Socca.   In the book there’s  recommendation to serve this with roast chicken.  Perfection I think!

Sweet Winter Slaw  (adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)

Serves 6

Dressing

6 1/2 tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice (3-4 limes)

1 lemongrass stalk, chopped into small pieces  (you can substitute with zest of lemon)

3 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1/4 tsp chile flakes

4 tbsp light olive oil/sunflower oil

Candied Nuts

1 1/4 cup macadamia nuts

2 tsp butter

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp chile flakes

Slaw

7 inner leaves of Savoy Cabbage, finely shredded ( I used 1 quarter of a green cabbage, could not get savoy)

1/2 small red cabbage, finely shredded

1 ripe mango, cut into thin strips  (How to peel and slice a mango)

1 papaya, cut into strips

1 fresh red chile, seeded and finely sliced

1/4 cup mint, leaves roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups cilantro, leaves roughly chopped (How to Chop herbs)

Method

For the dressing: Place all the ingredients except the oil into a small saucepan and reduce over high heat for 5-10 minutes until syrupy and thick. Remove from heat and once cooled strain into a bowl and add the oil.  Set aside.

(* ok, I am laughing at how I did not read this instruction and just mixed this all as if making a regular vinaigrette (no heating in pan).  I think it will be better reduced but it still worked great!  So one more time–ALWAYS READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH)

For the candied nuts:

Place the nuts in a medium pan over medium heat  and roast until lightly browned.  Watch these and shake the pan occasionally so they don’t burn.

Add the butter and when melted add the sugar, salt and chile flakes.  Stir constantly so the sugar doesn’t burn and when caramelized (the sugar will be melted and gooey) remove from the heat and pour onto parchment to cool.  Chop roughly once solid.  Set aside.

Assembly:

Put the cabbage and the rest of the salad ingredients into a bowl (including the nuts).  Add your dressing and toss.  Give it a taste to see if it needs anymore seasoning and serve it up!


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The Works Danforth: Some call it a Burger Fix, I call it a Shake Stop

The Works, 888 Danforth, corner of Danforth and Dewhurst, across from Square Boy

For those of us needed a burger fix in the east end (with table service) by Friday we’ll have somewhere new to go.  The Works, a Canadian chain which originated in Ottawa and has been winning burger titles in its hometown as well as Kingston and London and is expanding to Toronto.  My burger cravings are usually satisfied on one end of the spectrum by Harveys (yep, yumm) or the burger at Allan’s (and of course Burger’s Priest, all hail) but I looked forward to checking out the competition yesterday at their pre-grand opening.

Which is when I got addicted to a mocha-oreo shake.

I ordered the shake first to give me some time to go through the massive list of burger toppings.  Even the shake selection was vast–but pretty awesome.

I have a thing with ice cream–I never crave it, never buy it, but when presented with it, can’t get enough.  So sipping my 2-CUPS of childhood nostalgia and with help from my server (if the service is as friendly and fun all the time, it may be the main reason to go) made a burger decision–decisions actually.

1. Pick a patty–ground beef, chicken breast, ground turkey, veggie burger, Portebello Mushroom Cap or Domestic Elk Meat (add $3.39 for the upgrade).  The meat is  sourced locally, hand-pressed and contains no additives.   (I choose the Elk, tender and moist it was)

2. Pick a bun–White, Whole Wheat, Gluten Free (white bun always seems logical)

3. Choose your topping:  you’ve got 70 options.  Some samples:

Leaside Burger– mushrooms, smokey BBQ, cheddar and dbl smoked bacon

Pony Express (my “next time” choice) cream cheese, horseradish, Franks’s Red Hot Sauce, cheddar cheese and ripe tomato

Royal Runner-tomatoes and crinkle-cut pickles with royal supreme sauce

Stanley Cup Burgerapparently has not been available for the last 45 years…sorry

So, the above is my Grid Burger with chipotle ketchup, Havarti cheese, 4 double smoked bacon slices (they had me at FOUR) and caramelized onion.

Other guests were having the La Ultimate FLAMME-grilled burger (below) with gouda, crispy bacon and fresh Avocado…

And here is the Teriyaki burger with the sweet potato strings…

What’s that you say?  It’s not burger night without a tower of Onion Rings and a zillion sauce options?

Breaded not battered is apparently the secret to their crunchiness.  And though I am not usually an onion ring fan, OK, I admit, they were pretty tasty.

Sauce options that I tried were the Hot as Hell, Dijon-haze, Beechhouse (a creamy veggie dip), Chipotle Mayo, Tzatziki Chill.

The Works franchises work with local charities to raise money and help the less privileged (eating a tower of onion rings means you are privileged) and in honour of their Grand Opening they are serving complimentary food tomorrow THURSDAY, MAY 3, 11am-2pm and 5pm-8pm with a “donate-what-you-want” policy, proceeds going to the Pape Food Bank.

If you head over, make sure you give a salute to Square Boy across the street.  I asked CEO Andy O’Brien if he thought they’d pull business away from this Danforth fave (open since the 60s) but he said they talked to the Square Boy folks and they feel they have different food and a different crowd.

All I can say is I woke up thinking about the damn milkshake—though FYI The Works, you need straws with the little scoop at the end of them.  Just a little customer feedback.

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Terroir 2012: Making mouths water like crazy

Terroir 2012, proving you can never have too many cooks...

Slushy wet snow, smokey, wood-burning smells in the air and a warm packed room accented with aromas of cooking, scattered  beer cans and people unravelling themselves layer by layer from their outdoor gear.  Could have been an afternoon anywhere in Canadian cottage (or cabin) country.  Aside from the iPhones filling up with photos of just-foraged plants being sliced, fresh sausages being filled and local trout being smoked.

Connie DeSousa making sausages (yes, Top Chef Canada lovers, celebrity sighting!)

Plus the fact that the whole feast was being prepared by some of the most talented chefs in Canada (and some outside of Canada). It was a fantasy Thanksgiving-doppelganger afternoon at Mad Maple Inn in Bruce County this past Tuesday, April 24.

The dining room at Mad Maple, this is the view from the open kitchen.

The event was part of The Terroir Symposium 2012.  The day before had been a full house at the newly renovated Acadian Court, now run by Oliver and Bonacini (more on the symposium in another post).   I was fortunate enough to be invited on the following day’s tour of Grey Bruce Simcoe county–complete with bus ride, April flurries and a more moments of awesome than even the Book of Awesome could come up with (lunch featured wood-fired pizzas and was hosted by Michael Stadtländer at his Haisai Bakery and Restaurant.)

Check out Renée Suen’s photos for Toronto Life where she gives a preview of The Singhampton Project, Michael Stadtländer’s upcoming visual and edible feast at Eigensinn Farm.

We were hosted by Miriam Streiman who is opening Mad Maple Country Inn in this summer.  Above is the side table which served as the appetizer hang-out (if you weren’t stealing nibbles from the main kitchen.)   The yellow wax encased cheese is from Best Baa Dairy and the two cream cheeses came from newish producers Steacy and Scott den Haan of Primeridge Pure Dairy Products.

But let me get to the heart of it–the meal.  The formidable menu was posted on the wall after dinner was served and I had to take it in three pictures to get it all, as it reached down to the floor.  For more of the chefs and the food, check out Jessica Allen’s piece for Maclean’s.

THE CHEFS, THE FOOD AND THE LOCAL PRODUCERS

Beer Bread and birch plates

BRENT LEITCH, Two Kinds of Beer Bread, Creemore Springs and K2 Milling

CARL HEINRICH, RYAN DONOVAN, JULIA AYEARST, Trout on Kale with Mustard Vinaigrette, Kolapore Springs and The New Farm

So tender, so beautiful, so trouty

CARL HEINRICH, RYAN DONOVAN, JULIA AYEARST, BBQ Pork belly and trotters on baked beans, Blue Haven and The New Farm

CONNIE DESOUSA, Lamb organ Kielbasa with Brassica mustard, Twin Creeks Organic Farm and Forbes Wild Food

CRAIG FLINN, Black chicken soup with Jerusalem artichokes and wild mushrooms, Blue Haven, Creemore Springs and Wylie Mycologicals

JEREMY CHARLES, Wild Newfoundland Rabbit with Red Tail Flour pappardelle, wild mushrooms, speck, wild mustard and fresh herbs, K2 Milling, Forbes Wild Foods, Michael Stadtlander

JEFF CRUMP, Spit-Roasted Lamb with sauce gribiche, Twin Peaks Organic farm

BEN SHEWRY, Grated Potatoes , The New Farm, Tama Mutsuoka Wong

The grated potato salad with foraged greens and poached egg

Ben Shewry of Melbourne, Australia's much accoladed Attica restaurant, working on potato salad

Forager for Daniel NYC, Tama Mutsuoka Wong, talks about her finds which are going into the salad

JAMES ROBERTS, Potatoes gratin with wild garlic and shallot confit, The New Farm, Frobes Wild Food, Harmony Organic

PETER BURT, Fire-roasted beers and carrots and (and I can’t read the rest of the list, damn), The New Farm

CONNIE DESOUSA, Fresh Cheese Cheesecake with Rhubarb and almond Crumb, Harmony Organic

And finally my Cinderella…I never find out who she was, but man, was she a beauty!

And if you’re thinking–where was the bar?  It was there, in a cozy back room, the wine provided by Georgian Hills Vineyards.

And if you’ve been waiting to see a picture of Ivy Knight, woman-of-all-trades (and a back of the bus fun person–I am a front of the bus read a book person, it makes me sad sometimes) here she is.  Check out her awesome new website all about foodstuffs at swallowfood.com  and ask for an I SWALLOW sticker for your iPhone.

See the glee, the fun that was had?  She’s laughing because she just swore at me.  But then, I did cut off most of her face in this picture.  Even?

Fun was had, food was had, Tuesday’s will never be the same.   Though I might start eating off  birch plates (even sturdier than paper and disposable in the wood pile).

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