Tag Archives: Enoteca Sociale

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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Busting (out) Some Sicilian Balls

Can I be this good? We shall see.

It wasn’t until I had the addictive arancine at Enoteca Sociale that I decided to try and make them myself. They were so delicious that I could not bear to be without immediate access in my own home.  When I say immediate I mean after you’ve made the rice and the ragu for the filling and dredged them and deep fried them.  But after that–they’re ready in a jiff!  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The arancine would be my first foray into deep-frying (in my own kitchen). My bible would be The Saveur ‘Sicily” issue (March 2011), currently sitting on the back-burner of my desk taunting me with amazing recipes for local Sicilian dishes (recipe here).

I made the ragu in advance.  Not so much an indication of proper planning and forethought–more a result of “Oh crap– that beef has been sitting in the fridge forever”  Which is why the pictures below, taken at 11pm at night under tungsten lights are a bit….yellow.   I started out with a finely chopped mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot) which I sautéed until soft.

You then add in ground beef and ground pork and cook until browned.  Finally you add fresh, strained tomato sauce and some tomato paste and simmer until it thickens (30 minutes-ish).

Finally, let the sauce cool and put it in the fridge.  Meanwhile you make your rice.  In my case, you make the sauce and put it in the fridge and make the rice 2 days later. (as you can see, it might just be faster to cross town and go to Enoteca Sociale for my arancine fix).  But less an adventure.

Love this machine. Less incidence of runny mascara. (and mascara is KEY to a good arancine.)

For the rice you begin with a minced, small red onion and sautéed over medium til softened. The you add 1 1/2 cup Arborio rice.

Arborio Rice- pearly white, short-grained rice used for risotto

Once you stir in the rice and coat with the oil and onion, you add the key ingredient “1/4 tsp crushed saffron“.  Well, it did not even occur to me I did not have saffron.  Until I could not find it–did I hastily purge it one day in with “clean out the pantry” conviction?  Or was it just stuck somewhere in a large crack in the back of my very deep, 1960s cupboards which would require removing about 15 bottle of various oils and vinegars to even begin a search.  What to do!?  So much for mise-en-place.

I had no choice, I just added some turmeric for colour at least.  (Shhh, don’t tell anyone in Sicily).  Then I added 1 1/2 cups water, brought it up to a boil and removed it from the heat.  You need to let it sit for 20 minutes.

In case your imagination can't handle a covered pot with arborio rice inside.

I grated 2 tbsp of parmesan while I waited and stirred that into the rice with some salt and pepper.

Once everything is combined you spread the rice on a tray and let it cool.

Don’t you (kind of) want to press your face into this?

Meanwhile you can make your batter by whisking together 1/4 cup flour, 2 eggs and 1/2 cup water. Set up a separate bowl for the bread crumbs.

At this point, I am thinking, this is so much fun.

Assembly:  You take a hearty tbsp of the rice in your hand a flatten it into a disc. Then make a bit of a well in the centre and then put in about 1 tbsp of your cooled ragu.

Using your fingers you bring the edges of the rice around the filling to gently enclose the ragu.  Finally you roll the ball around in your hand to seal it and to slightly compact the mixture. The recipe makes 2 dozen arancine.

It works. Now to make 23 more.

It took a bit of practise to figure out how much ragu was too much, and to seal it without the ragu showing through.  Donna, our babysitter, had actually stayed to watch me finish and I think after one ragu ball and 23 more to go she was regretting her enthusiasm.  “I’d just buy them frozen” she said.  (Have I mentioned how much more efficient Donna is than me?)

Finally, they were done.  I actually made 22, so I think I sized them fairly well.

Now to dredge in the batter and coat in the bread crumbs.


I started heating up the Canola oil in my Dutch Oven bringing it up to 360 F.

Battered and ready for service. Enoteca here I come!

I fried the arancine in batches of four.

Frying arancine feels rustic, unlike frying mozzarella which feels like a hangover.

Recipe says to pop them into the hot oil for about 3 minutes until the exterior is golden.  I timed it and 3 minutes seemed about right.  Finally my 22 balls of arancine are down and cooling on paper towels.

Oh boy--I wish there was more than two adults and a toddler to eat 22 of these.

And voila! (wait, that’s French) ummm, Tah-Dah!  Is that universal?  My Sicilian balls were a success.  I will make these again.  Maybe in advance and then just deep fry them at the last minute for an appetizer or a patio snack if you were entertaining.

Suck it Enoteca Sociale.

Anything I would do differently?  Well, not eat five in a row.  Remember the saffron.  Also, the rice seemed like it could have been cooked a little more though I followed the recipe and it had absorbed all the water.   (Ok, fine, don’t suck it Enoteca Sociale–you’re still better than me.  For now.)   Maybe I need to be better aquainted with the brand of arborio rice I had.  Overall though–I love Sicily!  Especially if a Sicilian nona wants to make these for me.  Maybe an ad for Craigslist.


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