Last night my son and I went to c5 at the top of the ROM for a terrific sold-out dinner to celebrate Ontario fresh water fish. It was chef Ted Corrado’s idea, inspired by his connections with Ocean Wise, the initiative I keep going on about that is attempting to bring rhyme and reason to Canada’s reckless consumption of unsustainable fish species. Corrado brought in guest chef Jamie Kennedy, guest winemaker Charles Baker and guest fisherman Andrew Akiwenzie, who catches whitefish in Georgian Bay, 257 kilometres northwest of the Musuem. It’s very much an artisanal family business – Akiwenzie, his wife and their five sons – with a single 23-foot open boat and less than 200 yards of nets. He was taught the ways of the water by his two uncles but when Andrew was a boy they were not allowed to sell their fish – not until 1991 in fact when a court finally agreed to uphold their right to fish commercially. The family chooses to sell directly to the public, pointing out that involving a middleman can lead to issues of freshness. Instead, they drive down to farmers’ markets in Toronto (I buy from them at Dufferin Market) and deliver to chefs who are invariably blown away by the quality and freshness of their fish.
Whitefish was the star of last night’s menu. Ted Corrado opened proceedings with scrumptious rillettes of lightly smoked whitefish mashed up with finely chopped pickled ramps. He set this on a puck of weighty brown toast, topped it with some seedlings and a strip of crispy pancetta then finished the dish with a wild ramp vinaigrette that perfectly cut the richness. To drink, Charles Baker poured his two Rieslings… Two? I know! I was astonished, too. I thought he only made the one Riesling, using grapes from Mark Picone’s property on the Bench. This year he is introducing a second wine, made in a similar way from a different 1.1-acre vineyard in Twenty Valley. He’s calling it Ivan Vineyard, though sommeliers are going to have to look very carefully to tell the difference between the label of the two brethren. Identical twins they are not. The Ivan has a slightly less austere acidity, more lime and less mineral. Both are delicious but Ivan is going to win many fans when it comes to wine-matching time.
Jamie Kennedy prepared the second course using a folded, brittly crisp potato rösti like a taco shell to hold a brunoise of carrots, radish and other earthily sweet vegetables, some lightly dressed baby red sorrel leaves, a dollop of creme fraiche and a generous spoonful of the golden-coloured whitefish roe that Mrs. Akiwenzie processes by hand. The scrunch of the potato and the soft, mildly flavoured roe was a spectacular combination. With it, Baker poured Stratus 2008 Semillon, the first single varietal Semillon Stratus has ever bottled from their seven-acre vineyard. Limpid, rich and weighty it had the gravitas to balance the roe.
Our main course was an unplanned improvisation of Kennedy’s. Let me explain. Akiwenzie and his one tiny boat are very much at the mercy of the weather and the winds had been too violent all week for him to go fishing – until yesterday. He set his nets and to his immense surprise pulled in a catch of chinook salmon! Is there some waterway connecting Georgian Bay with the Pacific ocean? Have these burly fish leapt the Rockies to join us in Ontario? Why no. They are the result of old attempts to introduce Pacific salmon into the Great Lakes as sport fish. Akiwenzie told an interesting story of how the fishermen on his reserve were instructed to throw any salmon they ever caught into a landfill since they were supposed to be the exclusive catch of sportsmen. The late chief of his band took the government to court, arguing that it was against his First Nations culture to waste food in such a way. He won.
So last night Kennedy found himself with gorgeous pink chinook to cook. He chose to grill the fish, skin on, topping the fillet with a chive sauce and a gremolata of chopped wild leek and reduced cider vinegar. He set the salmon on wilted spinach and a purée of sweet potato. With it we drank Stratus 2007 Tollgate Red, a tasty blend of Bordeaux varieties with a splash of Syrah and Gamay – “Chef’s choice,” said Charles Baker.
Dessert was a thrill. C5 sous chef Jonathan Pong was given the opportunity to create it and he began by setting a half-inch of panna cotta enriched with St. Maure goat cheese at the bottom of the bowl. Then he flooded the dish with a scarlet rhubarb consommé in which he placed little agar-formed beads of strawberry and rhubarb. Yes, they looked a touch amphibian – a tad tadpoly – but they tasted heavenly. Cookstown nasturtium leaves became tiny lily pads and across the rim of the bowl he placed a flat wand of strawberry meringue topped with a ribbon of rhubarb. Applause was long and loud for the dessert and it worked brilliantly with the pudding wine – Stratus 2008 Red Icewine made from Cabernets Sauvignon and Franc and Syrah.
A very good time was had by all and awareness raised of the work being done by the Akiwenzies and by Ocean Wise. A second dinner, celebrating Canada’s West Coast fishery with Robert Clark of C restaurant as guest chef will take place at c5 on June 23. Hope to see you there.