I’ll be posting my top ten new restaurants of the last year sometime in the next couple of days. It’s always a pleasure to look back on the recent past and calibrate the similarities between apples and oranges.
Meanwhile, congratulations to Jean-François Daigle, a student at The George Brown Chef’s School, who won the Canadian heat of the San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition on Monday. He beat out seven other students from chef’s schools in Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City to take the prize. I was lucky enough to be one of the judges and watched him prepare his deceptively simple dish before tasting it – a gorgeously tender bison tenderloin cooked sous-vide then pan-seared, served with asparagus hearts, an apple-parsnip purée with mustard essence and a silken sauce sweetened with honey, red wine and beef stock. The contest was also about communication skills and behaviour under pressure, both areas in which the young man shone. He goes on to represent Canada in the finals in Napa.
One of the very few regrets I have about not owning a car is that visiting Cheese Boutique has become something of an ordeal – taking the subway out to the West End then walking the long walk from Bloor Street downhill to 45 Ripley Avenue. It has taken on the weight of a pilgrimage – though for any half-decent pilgrim ardour and arduousness go hand in hand. And the Boutique is the nonpareil of gourmet stores in the GTA. I speak with rare authority on this matter for I have visited them all. May will see the 7th annual Festival of Chefs at the Cheese Boutique – wonderful weekends where Fatos Pristine and his remarkable family invite top Toronto chefs to their store to cook for the customers, using products from the Boutique. Every Saturday and every Sunday turns into a merry party that completes the circle between retail store, wholesale supplier, restaurant, chef, restaurant-goer and customer, to the benefit of all. This year, the Boutique’s line-up of chefs is a very cool and contemporary roster – not at all your usual old-school suspects. You should really check www.cheeseboutique.com for dates and details but here is the card: Rob Gentile, Buca; Albert Ponzo, Le Sélect; Lora Kirk, Ruby Watchco; Tomas Bellec, The Four Seasons; Tom Brodi, Toca; Rocco Agostino, Enoteca; Basil Pesce, Biffs; Kevin McKenna, Globe Bistro; Tony Glitz, ACC Realsports bar; and Grant Van Gameren, The Black Hoof. See what I mean? A very cool gastronomic gathering.
In other news, chef Chris Haworth of Spencer’s at the Waterfront in Burlington (www.spencers.ca) is putting together a unique event on Sunday February 27, building a menu around the best Ontario hard ciders. It should be a delicious opportunity for scrumpy lovers. Tickets are $95.