Archive for the ‘Extravaganzas’ Category

Regina Gold Medal Plates 2015

24 Oct

I have a soft spot for Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre, despite its somewhat Brutalist concrete demeanour. They built it beside a lake in a rural setting on the edge of town and yesterday evening it looked splendid amidst the trees, bathed in warm prairie sunshine. We use a most imaginative set-up there, with the chefs’ stations constructed on various levels of the theatre foyers and the lavishly decorated tables for the sit-down celebration placed on the actual stage. There we build a stage-upon-a-stage for our parades of chefs and athletes, our dignitaries and our auctioneer, our unflappable and hilarious MC, Curt Harnett, and of course our awe-inspiring musical show, last night starring Colin Cripps, Geoffrey Kelly and Matthew Harder of Spirit of the West, Devin Cuddy, Sam Polley and the incomparable Anne Lindsay whose violin solo in Five Days in May brought the entire crowd to its feet for a spontaneous standing ovation.

Before all that, we judges mingled with the VIPs during the reception then retired to a private chamber to taste and make our deep decisions led by our Senior Judge for Regina, author, photographer, broadcaster and journalist C J Katz, together with Execuitive Chef of the Regina Legislature and captain of the Saskatchewan Culinary Team at the 2000 Culinary Olympics, Trent Brears; chef and educator Thomas Rush; writer, blogger, restaurant columnist and television producer Aidan Morgan; and last year’s gold medallist, Chef Milton Rebello of Wascana Country Club.

Leo Pantel's pork belly

Leo Pantel’s pork belly

It was a fine array of dishes this year, starting with ethereal Japanese flavours paired with sake and finishing with a rich harmony of chicken liver taco and mixed sweet and savoury elements matched with a hearty oatmeal stout. The dish that won the bronze medal for Chef Leo Pantel of the Conexus Art Centre was well towards the meaty end of this spectrum. It centred upon a generous slab of juicy Berkshire pork belly, cooked sous vide and then seared with a sweet crust of panko and pomegranate molasses. Two incredibly dainty rye and gruyère crisps crowned the meat, topped with a sprinkling of red amaranth microgreens. A dark raisin sauce echoed the sweetness of the glaze, as did slivers of port-infused figs, while a piquant pickled ramp, pinked with beet juice, added crunch and sharpness. Chef Pantel’s wine match was very successful – the 2012 Norman Hardie Pinot Noir from Prince Edward County, Ontario, its minerality and acid structure in lively contrast to the richness of the pork.

David Straub's Freshly Dug Potatoes

David Straub’s Freshly Dug Potatoes

Chef David Straub of Flip Eatery and Drink won our silver medal with a dish he called “Freshly Dug Potatoes.” “It’s a play on my growing up as a farm boy,” he explained, and indeed his plating had a touch of the farm pond landscape about it. Three turned parisienne potatoes about three-quarters of an inch in diameter were placed in a pool of intensely flavourful duck demi-glace, banked around with a piped ring of goose foie gras mousse – a trio of umame-rich elements that delighted the judges. Strewn across them was a scattering of “soil” made by dehydrating roasted parsnip, celeriac and sunchoke, roasting them again to caramelize the surface and then crumbling all to powder. A broad green stripe of asparagus, dill and chive emulsion brought freshness to the party and the plate was finished with some perfect, tissue-thin salt-and-vinegar potato chips to use as scoops for the foie and the demi. Chef Straub’s wine match – the 2014 Chenin Blanc from Quail’s Gate Estate Winery in the Okanagan – was deliberately integrated into the concept of the dish, balancing the richness with a dry, grassy coolness.

Jonathan Thauberger's Trip to the Beach

Jonathan Thauberger’s Trip to the Beach

Our gold-medal winner has won it before – Chef Jonathan Thauberger of Crave Kitchen & Wine Bar. He too had a name for his dish – “A Trip to the Beach.” Elegantly plated, it began with a crescent of “sand” made with dried brioche breadcrumbs tossed with pulverized seaweed and powdered dehydrated mussels and scallops with some finely chopped chives for colour. Lying across this delicious shoreline was a piece of “driftwood” – actually a crisp tempura scallion. Beside it lay some silky-soft slices of lightly poached diver scallops, their rims stained mauve with beet juice and their sweet, rich flavour sparked by a scattering of green tobiko roe. The pièce de resistance of the dish was a dome of jellied dashi broth, set not with gelatin but with the natural collagen of fish bones in the stock. Transfixed inside was a miniature pansy blossom and various fruits de mer – morsels of king crab, langoustines, peeled Pacific shrimp – and a raw quail’s egg yolk that oozed out as a sauce when my fork pierced the dome. Beside this treasure trove were dots of “sea foam” – in fact a tasty béarnaise sauce dotted with dark green arugula purée. It was a marvellous dish, sensitively paired with a subtly aromatic, full-bodied white blend of Viognier, Marsanne and Rousanne called Ava, made by Le Vieux Pin in the South Okanagan.

So Chef Thauberger will return to Kelowna next February, a very worthy local champion bearing the hopes of Regina on his shoulders. Next week, we move on to Halifax!


Winnipeg Gold Medal Plates 2015

17 Oct

What a way to kick off the new Gold Medal Plates campaign! It was a very busy night in Winnipeg with the Jets home opener (they won!) and many eyes on Kansas City for the Jays game (we know what happened there). But our sell-out crowd gave their full attention to the awesome show we put on at the Convention Centre, emceed by the eloquent and witty Curt Harnett. Rocking the room were our musical stars Barney Bentall, Matthew Harder from Spirit of the West, Rebecca Harder, Devin Cuddy and Sam Polley.
This is GMP’s 10th anniversary and there was plenty of talk about the event here in 2006 when chef Makoto Ono won the gold medal and then went on to win the first ever Canadian Culinary Championship. And of course anticipation of the Rio Olympics was also strong among the 15 Olympic athletes – and everyone else who showed “a splash of colour” in their finery.
Our expert judges certainly looked splendid, led by Senior Judge Barbara O’Hara (a Chef of Distinction herself and owner of Dessert Sinsations Café), Jeff Gill (a chef, chef instructor and Director, Food Services at Red River College), Christine Hanlon (journalist, food writer and co-author of The Manitoba Book of Everything), Mike Green (writer, broadcaster and top-five finisher on MasterChef Canada) and last year’s Winnipeg champion, Chef Luc Jean.

A new component of our events this year is an afternoon tasting of all the wines, spirits and beers poured during the evening, hosted by David Lawrason. It was a huge success, with David and his posse of wine judges joined by whichever culinary judges wish to be present. From our point of view it was a great opportunity to get to know the chefs’ paired beverages before encountering them in the actual competition, and a merry, casual, conversational chance for Winnipeg’s wine professionals to hobnob with the food gurus, something that happens less often than one might think. Huge kudos to David for coming up with this idea! David has more details about this in his wine report below.
I have no hesitation in saying the calibre of the dishes was higher than ever in Winnipeg – plates full of imagination and finesse – and the quality of the wines (and one whisky) chosen by the chefs was seriously impressive. It was a pleasure critiquing such talent and in the end the judges were unanimous in their decision.

Melissa Makarenko's lovely lamb

Melissa Makarenko’s lovely lamb

Taking home the bronze medal was Melissa Makarenko of Resto Gare Restaurant. She presented a duality of lamb starting with a cube of confited spare rib, perfectly textured and glazed with a sticky reduction that was pure umame. Beside it posed a slice of exceptionally tender lamb loin that had been briefly smoked with maple and birch branches. A mound of prairie millet grains spiked with mustard served as a balancing carb and a whole, toothsomely firm baby carrot brought a sweet, earthy splash of colour to the plate. Chef’s primary sauce was a lamb jus infused and flavoured with Manitoba chaga mushroom (a parasitic but delectable fungus that grows on birch trees) while the subtle coniferous theme was brought into fine focus by dabs of a super-smooth green purée of spring spruce buds, wheat grass and pea. Chef Makarenko’s wine match was nicely judged – the ripe, smooth Winnipeg Blue Bomber Premium Reserve Cabernet Reserve from Pondview Estate in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Jesse Friesen's spectacular scallops

Jesse Friesen’s spectacular scallops

Our silver medallist was Jesse Friesen from 295 York. His was the most delicate and refined dish of the evening, ambitious, requiring great balance of flavours and ultimately impeccably executed. He began with plump Bay of Fundy scallops, cured ever so briefly in salt and sugar then carved into silky, sweet slices that tasted of the sea. Chef dressed them with a few precious drops of a vinegar infused with smoked red pepper and then orchestrated the natural sweetness of the scallops with other boldly sapid ingredients – drops of chili oil that tasted beautifully of pickled jalapeño, dots of a truffle aïoli and a spoonful of local whitefish caviar. Crowning the dish was a perfect oyster, still raw at its heart but rolled in powdered blue corn and fried for mere seconds to give a fleeting moment of crunch. A garnish of cilantro seedlings and pea shoots completed the taste spectrum as a green, herbal element to the dish. Chef’s wine was the always delightful Stellar’s Jay Brut bubbly from Sumac Ridge in the Okanagan.

Norm Pastorin's sensational salmon

Norm Pastorin’s sensational salmon

Taking the gold medal, by just three percentage points, was Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. He created a confit of B.C. salmon, poaching whole fillets sous-vide in shallot-infused olive oil then slicing them into portions the size of two fingers. The fish was marvelously medium-rare, soft as butter and full of the salmon’s own glorious flavour, topped with a crunchy crumble of finely chopped bacon, quinoa, salmon roe and chives. A couple of judiciously placed pickled shallot rings brought a pleasant acidity and a garnish of white pea flowers and red nasturtiums were far more than mere decoration. The salmon rested on a flat disc of tissue-thin tamagoyaki made from egg yolk sweetened with soy and mirin. A teaspoonful of soy-ginger-anise glaze and a sprinkling of powdered B.C. seaweed made their own contributions and the finishing touch was a rosette of kale lightly touched with a sesame-ginger dressing. Burrowing Owl Chardonnay from the Okanagan was a smart choice, the wine perfectly enhancing the salmon.
So we’re off and running! We have the first gold-medallist who will be going to Kelowna next February. Already the bar has been set intriguingly high.

10th Anniversary Uncorks With a Winning Night in Winnipeg

By David Lawrason, National Wine Advisor

Gold Medal Plates launched its milestone 10th season at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg on October 16, uncorking the city’s strongest yet selection of Canadian wine in the process. And it was very fitting that the Best of Show Wine Awards should go to a sparkling wine – Blue Mountain Brut, a traditional method, very complex brut that bristled with tension, minerality and excellent length.

In fact it was the clear winner with four first place votes by a panel of eight judges who assembled to taste through the line-up for two hours in advance of the culinary competition. We moved through a total of two sparklers, four whites, five reds and Forty Creek Copper Pot Whisky, each judge ranking their top five. In second spot came the richly detailed yet firm Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay, followed by the lean, sour red fruit-laden Sandhill 2012 Small Lots Sangiovese, narrowly edging Osyoos Larose 2010 Grand Vin.

The Best of Show Wine Award is designed to highlight the generous donations of Canada’s wineries. In ten years I am estimating that about 150 wineries have donated up to 2000 cases in support of our Olympic athletes. In recent years in Winnipeg, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries has stepped up to cover all the wine costs; the only liquor board in the Country to make this generous gesture.

This year the Best of Show judging is being expanded to include several wine professionals in each city – journalists, buyers for liquor boards and private stores and top sommeliers. The aim is to expose the Gold Medal Plates wines to key influencers as a way to thank the wineries, and to promote Canadian wine in each of the country’s major cities. Gold Medal Plates is the country’s largest consumer showcase for Canadian wine.

An impressive group of judges was assembled with the help of good friend and co- judge at National Wine Awards of Canada; Ben McPhee Sigurdson, wine columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press.

The roster included repeat visits by Aaron Albas, who guides purchasing and education for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, as well as Christopher Sprague , the man behind the great wine list at 529 Wellington. Christopher has joined Gold Medal Plates to help procure rare wines for our silent auction.

Sylvia Jansen, a recent WSET Diploma grad, and Gary Hewitt are key buyers and leading educators at Banville and Jones, one of Manitoba’s fine private wine stores. Sean Dolenuk, who recently joined a group of leading Canadian sommeliers in Argentina plies his talents at Boutique Del Vino. Domer Rafael who manages the wine program for the Rossmere Golf and Country Club, rounded out the roster.

Well not quite. This year the Culinary Judges are being invited to attend the pre-event wine judging. Barbara O’Hara, a leading pastry chef in Winnipeg, was delighted to sit in on the judging. “It truly allowed me to better tune into the food and wine pairings later in the evening. It also gave the culinary judges a chance to mingle with the community, which does not often happen.

“Winnipeg has a very strong and diverse wine community” said Ben McPhee-Sigurdsen, “with great people working in restaurants, private stores and the Manitoba Liquor Board. It’s very important for us to get together like this.” Many of the GMP judges are in the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Association of Sommeliers.

Out on the competition floor, Burrowing Owl 2013 Chardonnay took a gold medal paired with a fine salmon recipe by Norm Pastorin of The Cornerstone. “ I knew what dish I would prepare as soon as I was invited to compete”, said Norm, “ but not the wine. I encountered the Burrowing Owl Chardonnay two months later and I knew that was the wine I wanted”.

The Silver medal went to Sumac Ridge Stellars Jay, paired with cured Bay scallops by Chef Jesse Friesen of 295 York. And the bronze went to a robust, rich Pondview Cabernet Sauvignon from Niagara, labeled for the Manitoba as Winnipeg Blue Bomber Premum Reserve.

On this night many eyes were on smart phones checking the progress of the home opener of the Winnipeg Jets, and on the Toronto Blue Jays as they played Game One of the American League Championship. Both favourites lost, but it was a winning night for Canadian wine in Winnipeg.



Restaurants for Change

10 Oct

Go out to dinner on October 21 at one of our Restaurants for Change and you can help change Canada for the better.

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Restaurants for Change supports organizations like the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre

The Dartmouth North Community Food Centre launched last week, and is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada. It is located in a neighbourhood where 61% of the population lives on less than $20,000 per year.

“This is a place for the community to come together in so many different ways. We provide access to high-quality food and use it to connect people to other opportunities – cooking skills for adults and kids, community gardening, a low-cost veggie market, workshops on health and active living, an advocacy office,” says Manager Deborah Dickey.

Take a few minutes this holiday weekend to watch their inspiring video on how food can bring communities together. And then make a reservation at a participating restaurant on October 21 and support more good food work like this across the country!


Our Kitchen Builds Community

10 questions with Steve MittonSteve Mitton from Ottawa’s Murray Street loves a good roast chicken dinner and believes in supporting local farmers. Find out more about this chef ambassador who’s making waves in supporting a healthier and fairer food system.

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Global News is talking about Restaurants for ChangeThanks to our sponsor Global News for helping us spread the word about Restaurants for Change! Click below to watch chef ambassadors from across the country show off their cooking and advocacy chops live on air!

Frequently asked questionsHow do I join in for the year’s Restaurants for Change? Where will the event take place and who’s participating?

Have burning questions about this year’s Restaurants for Change? We’ve got you covered with these frequently asked questions and answers!

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Book your reservation now!With less than two weeks to go until Restaurants for Change on October 21, it’s time to get reserving! Restaurants are booking up fast so make sure you check out the 59 restaurants involved in this year’s event and make your reservation today!

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Thanksgiving sides shake-up!In honour of the many delicious Thanksgiving festivities happening this weekend, we’re sharing with you The National Post‘s Thanksgiving sides shakeup!

Find tasty holiday recipes from Restaurants for Change chefs and supporters like Danny Smiles, Renée Lavallée, Ted Corrado, Lynn Crawford, Justin Cournoyer, Vikram Vij, Bonnie Stern, Chris Brown and more!

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Our supporters: Garland CanadaFor two years running, Garland Canada has been supporting Restaurants for Change as a national sponsor, including a $5,000 prize for one lucky restaurant participant to outfit their kitchen with some of the industry’s best supplies.

Garland Canada is dedicated to bringing value to foodservice operators by equipping them with real-world answers and solutions that enhance menus, service, profits and efficiency. Thank you Garland Canada for your support!

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Thank you to our generous sponsors!


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Mae Martin performs her comedy tomorrow in Toronto

27 May


My brilliant daughter, Mae Martin, is back in Canada for a couple of weeks and performing her brand new one-woman stand-up comedy show TOMORROW evening!

The show is at The Ossington, 61 Ossington Ave, Toronto

Tickets are on a first come, first served basis and cost $10.

Doors are at 7:30pm, the show begins at 8:00.

It’s going to be an amaezing night! But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the British media say:


Two-time Canadian Comedy Award nominee MAE MARTIN, as seen in ‘Russell Howard’s Good News’ and heard on BBC Radio 4, comes of age in a new hour where she will consider the labels projected onto us, and those we give ourselves. 

“A natural comic talent” *****. THE SKINNY.

“She had the audience in the palm of her hand”  ****. THREEWEEKS.

“A dizzying hour” ****. FRINGE BISCUIT.

“An hour of rapier wit and cute charisma”  ****. SCOTSGAY.

“A complete gem” ****. THE GAY TIMES.



Brunch at Parts & Labour

09 Mar
Chefs Bertrand Alepee and Maty Matheson, with baked goods

Chefs Bertrand Alepee and Matty Matheson, with baked goods

To Parkdale on a sunlit Sunday morning, riding the streetcar along Queen Street West to emcee a brunch at Parts & Labour for the VISA Infinite dining series. I’m not a natural bruncher – never have been – though not because I disapprove of the conflation of breakfast and lunch, either linguistically or gastronomically. It’s just that when I was a busy restaurant critic, I tended to work on Saturday nights – and Sunday mornings were therefore more about recuperation than further feasting. But that was then, and these days I can eat when and where I choose, so the chance to taste the brunchular ideas of two of the Group of Seven – Matthew James “Matty” Matheson of P&L and Bertrand “Bert” Alépée of The Tempered Room – was not to be missed. Matty was a wild man in his youth. Now that he’s reached the ripe old age of 33, he has settled down, his businesses are doing brilliantly and he has become an amabassador for the Toronto food scene, spreading the good word across Canada and the States in person and through his excellent blogwork on He will have his own tv show next year, on the Vice channel. Bert (The Fifth, Amuse Bouche) is simply (and I use the word ironically of the confectioner’s art) one of the very best pastry chefs we have.

I arrived at Parts & Labour early and found everything poised and ready. The charming little woodstove by the front window was cosily ablaze; a cauldron of hot liquid stood on top of it, perfuming the air in a most irreststible way. P&L’s manager Chantelle Gabino is also a star mixologist and had created an amazing warm toddy for the event – Cinzano rosso spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and bayleaf, mixed with apple cider and two bottles of Woodford bourbon. Then she added rosemary and orange, roasted marshmallow syrup and some rare mas mole biters from Arizona. Gabino called the drink “Into the Wood” and indeed it was the apotheosis of a subtle winter warmer, perfectly balancing citrus, spice and the earthy flavours of bourbon and vermouth. A splendid start.

piglet and gribiche

piglet and gribiche

Propeller Coffee Co. provided the direct-trade coffee (a fruity Kenyan cup) and Krystina Roman of Rosewood Estates was there with her wines – a lively Pinot Noir and a buttery Chardonnay – and a sensational off-dry mead that came into its own in the later stages. She also provided the honey that Bert whipped into the butter he set out with some of his own treasures – a mountain of croissants (some plain, others almond or chocolate – or both), buttery brioche, and bowls of chouquettes, the bite-sized, sugar-crusted balls of moist chou pastry that used to stand on the counter of the patisseries he knew as a boy in France. In lieu of jam, he proposed a smooth compote of the year’s first forced rhubarb, all shy and tender, pink and tart and never been out of the greenhouse.

Those were for our first course. The main dishes arrived family style, the way Parts & Labour serves these days, and the list of them on the printed menu read like a rich, buttery, syrup-slathered poem. This was not one of those brunches where you get a skinny omelette and a piece of unripe melon. No indeed…

First out of the kitchen were platters of meat, the legs of achingly delicious little milk-fed Gaspord piglets from Les Laurentides in Quebec. Matty had brined the legs then set them to roast very slowly overnight – at about 200 degrees – so when he opened the oven this morning there they were, the flesh as tender as butter, the skin golden-brown, crispy and glistening, sitting in their own rich fat. He took all the meat off the bones and piled it up with shards of the crispy crackling. Under and over, he spooned a classic sauce gribiche (Matty cut his teeth working at Le Select and La Palette and knows from gribiches), a piquant slurry of chopped egg white and egg yolk with a brunoise of red onion, capers, celery, cornichons, garlic, lots of orange zest, chervil, tarragon, parsley, Dijon mustard, olive and canola oils – rich but tangy and the perfect condiment to the pork. He did not ignore the fat that was left in the roasting pan with all those scrumptious little dark sticky bits. Instead he whipped them up into a gloriously unstable emulsion and spread it on toast made with Simon Blackwell’s Blackbird Bakery sourdough baguette. Not so much gilding the lily as larding it.

Those pancakes...

Those pancakes…

Then there were pancakes. If you haven’t seen Matty’s pancake-making video on, you really should. It makes for compelling viewing. He makes a persuasive case that his are “the best fucking pancakes in the world” and I’m not going to argue. Apparently some kid was watching the video and called his Dad in to watch. His Dad was producing commercials for the Super Bowl, loved Matty’s attitude – and that’s how Matty Matheson ended up being seen by 115 million people on Super Bowl Sunday. Today, he stacked his pancakes up, put excessive amounts of butter on top and then drowned them in 70 brix maple syrup. This is an awesome maple syrup from Gaspé that gets boiled down for 20 minutes longer than ordinary humdrum maple syrup so it’s really thick and really sweet. Matty explained it to me by saying it was like the amps in Spinal Tap that go up to 11, not just 10. A fitting robe for those pancakes.




roasted foie gras with persimmon sauce

roasted foie gras with persimmon sauce

And what would any brunch be without whole lobes of foie gras? Matty roasts them in the oven, basting them with their own melting fat until they are almost liquid. Then he lets them rest a bit and recover, before slicing them up and smothering them in a compote made like a mostarda with the last of the season’s persimmons and a handful of pink peppercorns, thinned down with more maple syrup. People were spreading the foie onto whatever croissant and bread was left, and gasping with pleasure.
There was more… A classic potato gratin made with Emmenthal and shallots, thyme, cream and pepper. Hot quiche-like tarts of confited fennel and confited leeks in a royale of eggs and cream baked in a high-rimmed pastry and topped with an orange and fennel salad as the morning’s token vegetable moment.

eggs better jp

And of course there were eggs, soft-scrambled in a double-boiler so they stay loose and laid-back – jazz eggs, as ever there were – topped with toasted sunflower seeds and half a kilo of black truffles. Matty doesn’t slice the truffles; he uses a rasp so they end up as finely shaved as bonito flakes, stirring in the heat from the eggs and releasing a little cloud of earthy, truffly, funky fragrance that just hovers over the dish. The secret ingredient is a remarkable sunflower oil that he sources through Société Orignal, the brilliant Quebec company that provided many of the morning’s ingredients. Apparently, they dry out the sunflower seeds on a bed of hay on the top of the barn under a sun roof, a treatment that is the equivalent of a day at the spa. Then they cold press the oil. Why yes, it’s expensive – but it’s so good. No bitterness, just the pure taste of sunflower seeds. Matty drizzles the oil over the eggs.

One of the lovely things about having Dairy Farmers of Canada as a sponsor for these VISA events is that the cheese course is always extraordinary. DFC’s own Anne-Marie Rajabali introduced her quartet – Avonlea’s clothbound cheddar from P.E.I. (“grassy yet sweet with an aroma reminiscent of unwashed potatoes”); 5 Brothers Gun’s Hill Artisan Cheese (like a cross between gouda and appenzeller); soft, blue-veined, bloomy-rinded Borgonzola from Ontario’s Quality Cheese; and Laliberté, the ultra-rich triple-cream form from Fromagerie de Presbytère in Quebec. With these we had some fresh little biscuits and herbed cornbread from Bert and chunks of honeycomb from Rosewood’s hives.

Castel au praline

Castel au praline

And finally, by way of dessert, Bert gave his interpretation of a classic – a Castel au praliné. It’s always fun to try and track down the origin of classic confectionery. Bert didn’t know where Castel au praliné comes from but he was pretty sure it was the South of France. Maybe from Castelnaudary. But there are rival claims! Northern France also claims it, vowing it was invented in 1912, in the last gasp of Europe’s innocence, in the town of Chateau-Thierry in Picardy, by a pastry chef called Leon Hess. He took it to the great exposition in Paris and won a gold medal for it, making his own – and the cake’s – reputation. His patisserie did brilliantly and everyone who came to Chateau-Thierry to see where La Fontaine had written his amusing fables, knew they had to stop and buy a Castel au Praliné from Mr. Hess.

Alas. Sic transit gloria! It all came to an end only two or three years later. By 1916 it was impossible to get the ingredients. The French government eventually closed down all the patisseries for the duration of the Great War. I imagine Monsieur Hess muttering that the worst thing about the First World War was the shortage of butter… I suppose it all depends on your perspective. A year later, the Battle of the Marne took place – right in his town, which may have changed his mind.

Bert’s version was stunning – layers of chewy pecan macaron – somewhere between a meringue and a macaron – a very thin layer of raspberry jam to give a hint of tartness and bring everything to life, a thick band of light hazelnut buttercream, candied hazelnuts and a white chocolate butterfly as garnish, like one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s fascinators.

We ate well. We drank well. We went home to sleep until bedtime. It’s what Sundays are for.

Thank you very much to Ksenija Hotic who took the photos (except the ones of the pork and the Castel). Find out more about her work at


The Ontario Hostelry Institute Gold Awards 2015

31 Jan

OHI 25th

For 25 years, The Ontario Hostelry Institute has gone about it business under the watchful eye of its revered Chair and President, J. Charles Grieco. The OHI provides recognition, scholarships and bursaries to talented young people in the hospitality industry who might not otherwise be able to afford professional training, and we all benefit from that. One of its tools is the glittering, black-tie fundraising Gala held every April (this year it’s April 23) where the year’s new Gold Award recipients are honoured. It really is the hospitality industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. A list of past winners can be found at Meanwhile, Mr. Grieco has graciously allowed me to name the 2015 winners, chosen by a record number of past gold honorees at a breakfast meeting last Monday.


MITCH KOSTUCH – Chair, Kostuch Media (posthumously)

JOHN ROTHSCHILD – Vice-Chair, Cara Operations

GREY SISSONS – Chairman, Sir Corp.



Foodservice Chain/Group Operator: Pearle Hospitality Group – Aaron Ciancone, Jeff Crump

Independent Restaurateur: Rob Gentile and the King Street Group

Hotelier: Robert Housez – GM, Delta Meadowvale & Conference Centre

Educator: Chef John Higgins – Director & Corporate Chef, The Chef’s School

Media: Claudia Bianchi – Culinary Producer and Food Stylist

Chef: Keith Froggett – Executive Chef, Scaramouche

Supplier: Gordon Food Service – Dean Noble, President

Artisan: Ruth Klahsen – Cheese Maker and Owner, Monforte Dairy

Huge congratulations to one and all!


St. Patrick McMurray – at it again

06 Mar

shucker contest


The Ontario Hostelry Gold Awards 2014

02 Mar


And the nominees are…

It seems fitting on Oscars night to mention the Ontario Hostelry Institute’s annual gala where gold awards are handed out to the chosen luminaries of Ontario’s hospitality industry. These are our own Oscars, really, and the winners are selected by past awardees under the aegis of the OHI’s chair and president (for lo these 24 years), J. Charles Grieco. It’s good and proper to honour the industry’s stars but the OHI serves another purpose, providing scholarships and bursaries to talented young people who might not otherwise be able to afford professional training. It also supports the up-and-coming young idea with its 30 under 30 program. Funds raised at the gala provide the wherewithal to do this important work and it’s also a lovely evening out. This year’s gala and awards dinner takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto on April 24. Buy a ticket or a table at

Mr. Grieco has given me permission to name this year’s honorees in advance of the great event.

Educator: Deborah Pratt, Winery public Relations, Great Estates of Niagara.

Media/publishing: Jennifer Bain, author and Food Editor at the Toronto Star.

Chef: the great Arpi Magyar, Executive Chef and Proprietor of Couture Cuisine.

Supplier: Lynn Siegal of Hilite Fine Foods Inc.

Foodservice-Chain Operator: Annie Young-Scrivner, President, Starbucks Canada.

Independent Restaurateur: Tony and Mario Amaro, Co-owners, Opus Restaurant.

Hotelier: Heather McCrory, SVP Operations, Americas, Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Hotels & Resorts.

Artisan: Jonathan Forbes, Founder, Forbes Wild Foods.

A powerful list indeed, and sincere congratulations to them all.


The Dinner Party – second time around

13 Nov
Judy Chicago's Dinner Party,

Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party,

Last year, Chef Alexandra Feswick organized an extraordinary event created by and for Toronto’s female chefs. It was so successful, she’s doing it again on December 3rd. Here is her press release about this exciting evening.



A Fundraising Dinner Inspired By The Famed Artwork Installation by Judy Chicago

 Alexandra Feswick and Kristina Chau of Not Your Average Party are delighted to announce that The Dinner Party will be hosted at The Great Hall for the second year in a row.  After the overwhelming success The Dinner Party collected last year, it is anticipated that December 3rd, 2013 will mark yet another wonderful, and playful celebration of female culinary talent in the city of Toronto – one not to be missed.

These noted chefs will be challenged to co-create a tasting menu for this sensational interpretation of Judy Chicago’s artwork installation, The Dinner Party in commemoration of women who have inspired them.  The Great Hall, home of Samuel J Moore – represented by Feswick – will host some of Toronto’s best female chefs:  Tara Lee (Skin & Bones), Trish Gill (The Dock Ellis), Tiffany Wong (Pizzeria Libretto), Charlotte Langley (Catch) and Leonie Lilla (The Libertine).  2013’s Toronto’s Hottest Chef Leah Wildman (Fit Squad) will be heading up dinner pairings while the lovely Miriam Streiman (Mad Maple) will MC for the evening.

The icing on the cake:  some of Ontario’s most talented male chefs will be serving things up: Dustin Gallagher (Acadia), Alex Molitz (The Farmhouse Tavern), Jeff Crump (Earth To Table), Rocco Agoistino (Pizzeria Libretto), Scott Bailey (Compass Restaurant) and Basilio Pesce (Porzia).  The event is a celebration of female Chef’s with the support of some of the city’s most notable, talented and spirited male Chef’s.  “They all support and believe in what we’re doing and having them work with us tonight is my hope that the community will see us working together: while changing these typical expectations about the inherent rolls of men and women in a restaurant.” (Feswick, The Dinner Party, 2012).

The dinner will be held at 7pm at The Great Hall, 1087 Queen St. West at Dovercourt on Tuesday December 3rd, 2013.  Prices are $120 and include alcohol pairings and tax.  All proceeds will be donated to I Walk for Water.

To purchase tickets please visit:


Langdon Hall’s VISA Infinite extravaganza

16 Jun


Chef Jonathan Gushue

Chef Jonathan Gushue

Executive Chef Jonathan Gushue was on superb form last weekend for the annual VISA Infinite Dining Series gala at Langdon Hall. The two-day affair, brilliantly organized by the IDMG team, was blessed with perfect weather and guests made merry throughout the great hotel and its splendid gardens. Several people remarked to me that they felt we were living out an episode of Downton Abbey, but without any of the show’s attendant melodrama.

We began on Saturday evening with cocktails, bubbly and delectable canapés on the croquet lawn then moved indoors to the dining room for the first five courses. Gushue’s food has always been extraordinarily refined and delicate but these days it seems even more ethereal, inspired by the fresh produce of Langdon Hall’s garden and grounds and the early harvest of farmers and growers in the vicinity. “It hasn’t really been a conscious decision towards lighter and fresher food,” the chef explained to me, “so much as a natural process based on my own tastes. I’m more interested in working with vegetables and fish and I find I just can’t look at another piece of chicken-fried bacon or something foolish like that. I was part of an event at Norm Hardie’s place in Prince Edward County earlier this year. There were 23 chefs there and 21 of them cooked a meat dish. Some of them were amazing, but I’ve been on a bit of mission ever since.”

This light touch has always suited Langdon Hall where so many of the guests are planning a romantic stay. Gushue has received dozens of hand-written letters over the years from guests who appreciated being able to enjoy a six- or seven-course dinner without feeling exhausted at the end of the meal. Too much rich, heavy food can sometimes snuff out the pilot light of passion.

peas and ricotta

peas and ricotta

The amuse offered a perfect illustration of Gushue’s philosophy – perfect peas, freshly picked and popped from their pods, served raw, as Nature intended, with some of their dear little tendrilly leaves and a trace of fresh mint. He posed them beside a spoonful of pea purée to give another viewpoint onto the vegetable and paired them with a dab of ricotta. Not just any ricotta. This was the 2013 Grand Champion from the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix, voted the best cheese in Canada. It’s made from sweet whole milk by Quality Cheese in Vaughan and it’s wonderful. The other element of the dish was a lemon verbena water. The herb grows all over the property and Gushue uses it frequently. This time he made it into an infusion that he chilled and thickened until it reached a point somewhere between a liquid and a jelly – a subtle suggestion of flavour to complement the ricotta. The 2010 sparkling brut rosé from Hinterland in Prince Edward County was a perfect accompaniment, introduced, as were all the wines, by Langdon Hall’s assistant sommelier, Melissa Marynissen.

Gushue’s second dish was another masterful understatement. He started with beautiful little gem lettuces sourced from Deerfield Nurseries in Hagersville, briefly brining the leaves to give them a slightly marinated feel but leaving them still, essentially, raw. On top of them he perched a plump Digby scallop that he had warmed in the oven, not really cooking it, just basically bringing it up to room temperature, barely seizing its sweet, sticky juices. To this he brought the lightest sauce imaginable, made by thickening milk with a dash of puréed scallop, adding a thinner second sauce of lettuce juice. So light and fine! But the finishing touch was like sprinkling gold dust on the bedsheets. He brined and then dry-cured egg yolks for 12 weeks until they ended up looking like golden, semi-translucent glass but with a strange pliant texture that Gushue described as “like cutting into a gummy bear.” He grated the yolks and scattered them over the lettuce like pollen gilding a lilly. The yolky flavour was as rich, in its way, as the scallop, and a fine contrast for the pristine lettuces. A 2011 Loimer Grüner Veltliner was wine enough to match the scallop and egg but fine enough not to bully the leaves.

asparagus with chive blossom

asparagus with chive blossom

By now, our palates were becoming calibrated to the vegetable-seafood-dairy world of Gushue’s imagination. The third course pursued the theme further – a dish of Deerfield Nurseries asparagus tips moistened with cold-pressed canola oil and roasted for a moment in the oven. “That asparagus is so good I like to leave it to its own devices,” said Gushue, but of course he added some subtle enhancements. The base of his sauce was tomato water – the pale, sweet but tangy juice that drips all night from a muslin bag filled with chopped raw tomatoes. Gushue  infused it with marigolds from the garden then finished it by adding a little of the sheep’s milk yoghurt they make in the kitchen. Nothing shows off the taste of asparagus like nutty ingredients and Chef brought in three elements from that section of the gastronomic orchestra: a drop or two more of the cold-pressed canola oil with its unique, faintly nutty taste; some powdered hazelnuts; and some red quinoa, a particular type of quinoa that holds its crunch even when cooked and has an unusual walnut-like flavour. To finish, a little squeeze of lemon juice over the asparagus and a final garnish of chive tops. Gushue told me once that if he could only have one garnish on Earth it would be chive tops – not just because of the gorgeous mauve colour but because they have real flavour and a honey-sweet finish behind the oniony allium aroma. I would have reached for a Sauvignon Blanc with this dish but Marynissen chose a red, the 2008 Mercurey 1er Cru Les Champ Martins from Domaine Michel Juillot, and it worked admirably, picking out the nutty flavours perfectly.

Atlantic halibut

Atlantic halibut

It was time for something more substantial and now Gushue turned to his Halifax fish suppliers, Fisherfolk, for some superb Atlantic halibut. Fisherfolk is a family firm and most of its members are fishermen themselves so there’s no need for a middle man. Seafood comes from the cold Atlantic to Langdon Hall’s dining room within hours not days – something Gushue hadn’t experienced since he was at The Wedgwood hotel in Vancouver. He roasted the halibut very simply, just gilding its surface with a white wine glaze. Alongside it he served black salsify – the last of last year’s crop from Anthony John at Soiled Reputation – slowly braised in a warm bath of Chardonnay, fish stock and shallots. As a second vegetable he heated the same braising liquid to boiling point and used it to blanch chunks of peeled cucumber. It ended up with the texture of vegetable marrow and nearly stole the show. Sprinkled over the vegetables was crumbled, very crunchy chicken skin that had been roasted until it gave up all its fat, quickly seasoned with salt and pepper and then crushed to dust. He used the rendered schmaltz to make a mayonnaise, a very tiny amount of which went into the sauce that finished the dish – a light stock spiked with wild herbs from Langdon Hall’s woods. The Chardonnay was an assertive, perfectly balanced beauty – Bachelder’s 2010 Wismer Vineyard from Niagara.

There had been no starch whatsoever in the meal to date – and no meat, either. But now the carnivores were rewarded for their patience. Grandview Farms wagyu beef sirloin is grass-fed so that famous wagyu marbling isn’t nearly as pronounced. It’s leaner and lighter than corn-fed beef and it doesn’t exhaust your palate the way a big slab of USDA Prime does (awesome for the first three bites, then a burdensome duty after that). Gushue has a bone to pick with modern beef-lovers who measure the quality of their meat by how soft it is. “There’s a difference between tender and soft,” he says. “I like a little toothsome crunch to my beef – I don’t want it to cut like liver.” It didn’t. And it tasted divine. Beside it, Gushue set scallions, simply grilled and brushed with Langdon Hall butter, and a medley of pink and golden beets. The sauce was a shallot broth made by roasting shallots at 450 degrees for an hour until one side of them is almost charred black then moving them into a new pan and cooking them down at 225 degrees for 16 hours. They give up all their sweet, golden juices but there’s also an intriguingly sour, bitter note from the preliminary blackening that brings the broth to life. A 2010 Springfield Estate Cabernet Sauvignon did its vinous duty by the beef.

And then it was time to move on to the conservatory for a spectacular array of Canadian cheeses, all of them prize winners at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and introduced by Debbie Levy of Dairy Farmers of Canada. Behind the cheeses were desserts created by Langdon hall’s brilliant pastry chef, Sarah Villamere. There was pansy and rhubarb mousse, intense bite-sized chocolate and lovage tartlets and scrumptious white-chocolate-strawberry-hazelnut cake.

The firepit...

The firepit…

But the evening didn’t end there. Out in the candlelit darkness by the reflecting pool, Gushue had set up a firepit and was melting raclette cheese, to be eaten with marinated onion and prosciutto. Or for those who needed something sweeter, Villamere had made cheesecakes in little glass jars. Someone played guitar and the starlit sky promised a clear sunrise.

Sunday morning on these weekends means a spectacular brunch and this time Gushue and his tireless staff set up the party around the swimming pool. There were dozens of dishes to taste and Sarah Villamere was front and centre with a bakery’s worth of cookies and scones, praline brioche with honey butter, Danish cheese tarts, croissants and pain au chocolat, cookies and miniature pots of blueberry-basil crème brûlée topped with crème fraiche.

I can’t list everything but I can’t forget the pizza-like dandelion tart flecked with pancetta, cheddar and marinated raisins. Or the eggs en cocotte cooked with cream and Bleu d’Elizabeth cheese and walnuts. Or the salads – one of tart sea buckthorn berries, green grapes and pear, another tumbling strawberries, feta and celery, still another of melon, grilled apricots and marmalade.

It was a perfect day and Wendy and I lingered deep into the afternoon, long after brunch had been cleared and the guests had driven away.

My sincere thanks to Ksenija Hotic who took these beautiful photographs.