Here and there

Last night I went to Lee on King West to have dinner with my daughter and her delightful girlfriend and who should pop out of the kitchen to say hello but Susur Lee himself, looking as cool and dapper as ever in his chefly whites. “I thought you were in New York,” sez I. “I’m back and forth,” sez he. Right now he’s in the kitchen next door at Madeline’s, the new restaurant he has devised to take the place of Susur. It’s named for his mother. Back in Hong Kong, when she was in her 20s, she worked at the British army headquarters. The officers couldn’t say her real name so, with the easy arrogance of the colonial English, they called her Madeline. The restaurant has been operating for a couple of weeks without any official opening. It was packed last night, the room transformed from the pristine white-on-white elegance of Susur into a look that borrows from the opulent, filigreed decorative styles of Turkey and Morocco with black and scarlet flock wallpaper moodily lit, small booths and a menu borrowed from the Mediterranean. And from Britain. The first appetizer is Welsh rarebit, a dish, says Lee, that he first made at Peter Pan, back in the 1980s. Dominic Amaral, who has cooked alongside Lee for eight years, eventually rising to sit upon his right hand as sous chef at Susur, will be Madeline’s Executive Chef when the master opens his place in Manhattan this fall.

Everyone knows that Alison Fryer of The Cookbook Store knows everything about everything. She is the city’s single most valuable culinary resource and now she has scored a major coup, bringing Ferran Adrià of elBulli, the world’s most famous restaurant, to Toronto. It took her two months of negotiations and is part of his grand intercontinental progress, publicizing his new book, A Day at elBulli: An Insight into the Ideas, Methods and Creativity of Ferran Adrià (on sale October 2008). Time magazine has declared that Adrià is one of the 100 most influential people of our time. Now we can all hear him speak, on Wednesday, October 8 at 4:30 pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre, at Victoria University in The University of Toronto, 93 Charles Street West, Toronto. Tickets are $95, to be paid in advance, and can only be purchased at The Cookbook Store (416-920-2665 or 1-800-268-6018). That price includes a copy of the book.

I mentioned it in an earlier post, but I just wanted to add an extra reminder about Anita Stewart’s extraordinary, patriotic project, the World’s Longest Barbecue (click on Coming Attractions on the right of this page) this coming Saturday. I was going to be doing my best Parker-Posey-in-Waiting-for-Guffman impersonation (all alone with a single, pale and sickly, goosebump-skinned raw chicken wing cooked over a firelighter) but the merciful deities have wangled an invitation for me to the home of a friendly chef with a brand new Weber. I think she has more elaborate plans. The point is that Anita’s project is a rather wonderful idea, with Canadians all round the world from Afghanistan to the Arctic simultaneously gathering around the flame. It started out a few years ago as a way to support our beef farmers; it has grown into a global party.

Last Friday, if you recall, was a day of magical beauty, if only because we were spared thunder and rain. I rented a swish car and drove up to Eigensinn Farm, arriving early and finding Michael Stadtländer picking herbs in the lush gardens outside the kitchen. He and his family had just harvested the first-ever crop of sour cherries from their five-year-old tree and the fruit formed the basis of a trio of desserts that night. Before we went inside, however, the great chef showed me his new greenhouse which will buy him an extra month of produce at both ends of the growing season. Then we inspected his straw-bale-insulated carpentry barn, where he and his son Jonas are busy making the furniture for their new venture, a 30-seat restaurant called Haisai that will open in the nearby village of Singhampton in October. The chairs are massive, crafted out of rugged wooden boughs from the farm’s forested acres. With his tongue certainly in his cheek, Stadtländer has made himself a throne from the trunks of Christmas trees. No one who lives in Ontario will be surprised to learn that Haisai’s progress has been hobbled by bureaucratic red tape – but now the green light is shining. Jonas Stadtländer will be the chef of the new venture. Haisai means hello in the dialect of Okinawa, and I dare say the welcome will be as warm as it always is at Eigensinn Farm. I must save the gastronomic details of that visit for a review in Toronto Life, but it was the best meal I have had there in years. Michael Stadtländer is an artist at the height of his powers and though the price of dinner has gone up again, to $275 a head, it includes a healthy portion of spiritual renewal for those of a sympathetic bent.

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