Archive for the ‘Life in General’ Category

Highland Fling

25 Jun
All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

All dressed up and off to a grand dinner

I am almost at a loss for words. Wendy and I just got back from two weeks in the very far north of Scotland where we had the spectacular time of our lives, helping to host the latest Gold Medal Plates trip. If you’ve ever been to a GMP event you’ll know that we auction trips to fascinating parts of the world at our gala events in 11 Canadian cities – the proceeds go to programs that support Canada’s Olympic athletes – which means a guest list of couples drawn from across Canada. This time, we took over the entirety of Ackergill Tower, a 15th-century castle about 10 feet from the North Sea, a gaunt and defensible property that is as luxe as Downton Abbey behind it’s massive stone walls. It is staffed by the friendliest, wisest, most professional group of people you will ever meet, who seemed delighted to drive us about the countryside in Land Rovers, to stay up with us til two o’clock in the morning in the Tower’s private pub, to transform the Great Hall at the drop of a hat from the perfect venue for an educational gin tasting (led by me) to a glittering, candlelit whisky dinner (led by Malcolm Waring of the local Old Pulteney distillery) and still have it ready for breakfast the following morning.

I have no space here to describe the full events of our week. Those who wished to learn were taught clay pigeon shooting or fly fishing on Ackergill’s private loch. We had our own GMP Highland Games featuring archery and toss-the-welly. We took to the sea in superfast rubber rib boats, getting up close and personal with tens of thousands of fulmars, guillemots, cormorants, puffins, oyster catchers, terns and gulls and watching seals in their deep cliff caves. We hiked along cliff tops to ruined castles and visited one that was most decidedly not a ruin – the Queen Mother’s former retreat, the Castle of Mey. We walked from Thurso to Scrabster and had a spectacular lunch at Chef Jim Cowie’s extraordinary little restaurant, the Captain’s Galley, recently rated the best seafood restaurant in the U.K. Four enterprising members of our group took a private helicopter across the breadth of Scotland to Skye for lunch at Three Chimneys; the rest of us took ship to the Orkneys for a private VIP tour of Highland Park distillery. And wherever we went we had music. Staying with us were Spirit of the West’s frontmen Geoffrey Kelly and John Mann, B.C. troubadour Dustin Bentall, the brilliant fiddler Kendel Carson and guitarist Matthew Harder. They played for us most evenings and some afternoons and never failed to enchant. Our resident Olympian was none other than Steve Podborski, who regaled us with tales of the ski slopes and his more recent experiences as chef de mission of the Canadian team at Sochi.

Did I mention the food? Ackergill Tower’s chefs and kitchen are masters of Scottish country house cooking. For the whisky dinner, they prepared the best lamb I’ve eaten in years (sourced from the flock of the Castle of Mey). Lunch might be a perfectly dressed local crab or lobster and chips and a mug of cullen skink (smoked haddock chowder). For the grand dinner on the last night, where the men all wore kilts and full highland regalia and the women wore sashes over their gowns, we were served venison and a mighty haggis piped in by Wick’s local bagpipe and drum marching band. Another night, we all went down to the bothy by the loch and found a great barbecue had been prepared: when we had eaten our fill we went back to the beach and toasted marshmallows over a massive bonfire. No one got burned and there was music and whisky and a northern twilight that lasted almost till dawn.

And we were blessed by the weather. Yes it was windy, and we often awoke to mornings of fog and moist air that curled our hair and made complexions look ten years younger. But the sun came out within an hour. Changeable might be the best way to describe it, but it only added to the challenges of the golfers in our midst who played the local links courses or drove down the coast to try Royal Dornoch. In my heart, I hoped for a mighty storm, such as one often gets up here where the North sea meets the North Atlantic, but it wasn’t to be. Maybe next year… Because we will be doing this again next June, gathering a new clan of guests at the GMP gala events across Canada this fall – people who want to live like lairds and ladies for a week of luxury and aristocratic country activities, wonderful music and delicious food, Champagne teas and rare whisky tastings, highland dancing and fling-the-welly.

Ackergill in the distance

Ackergill in the distance


Alberta Ate

18 May
Rodeo Royalty! The Calgary Stampede queen and princesses welcomed us to Richmond Station

Rodeo Royalty! The Calgary Stampede queen and princesses welcomed us to Richmond Station

I bought a wonderful picture last week – a print of a painting by the young Japanese artist Sae Kimura of a dog barking at the moon. The dog (really a dog-cat cross) is called Joni (pronounced Johnny) and is a frequent hero of Sae’s extraordinary, whimsical, profound pictures. She currently has an exhibition at Harvest Kitchen on Harbord Street. I’ve never eaten there, but I will do so very soon because the restaurant’s Managing Director is Jill McAbe, one of the principals of JOV Bistro, back in the day, and a woman who would not be associated with anywhere that was less than stellar. She spoke at Terroir on Monday, educating us all about collaborative systems in the hospitality industry. It was there, in-between speakers, sitting in the Arcadian Court, that my monkey mind made its way back to Sae and Joni.

Terroir was very interesting. I’m not going to offer a precis – just a quick thank you to Scott Vivian, chef-patron of Beast, who made me blush deeply by mentioning me from the stage. There were many fascinating speakers and a general spirit of earnest bonhommie that I found encouraging. Strong contingents from Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Belize, Tuscany, Quebec, the USA, England and Alberta reminded the 700-or-so onlookers that the symposium now has an inclusive relevance far beyond the friendly confines of the GTA.

I’m delighted to say that those Albertans who came to Terroir stayed a few extra days and met up with other chefs and dignitaries who flew in from Calgary, Banff and Edmonton to put on a tremendous show of their own at Richmond Station on Wednesday night. The emcee was my friend the gastronome and food writer extraordinaire John Gilchrist (he shared the platform with Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson) and nine guest chefs did the cooking. They are all part of the Alberta Ate collective, a group of chefs inspired by Toronto’s own Group of Seven, who come together in different permutations to create events like this. I don’t know if there was an actual mandate to do so, but the eight-course meal seemed designed to show Toronto that there was more to Alberta cuisine than steak. The opening act in particular, featuring Connie de Sousa (8½ months pregnant but wouldn’t miss the event) and John Jackson of Charcut, a restaurant known for its nose-to-tail meat, was splendidly unepected. The two chefs offered an elegant, delicate salad of smoked pickerel cheeks, gorgeous potatoes cut into thick coins, a dill-dressed hard-boiled quail egg and crunchy snowpeas. Little flecks of crunchy batter, threads of pickled onion and some awesome Brassica grain mustard completed the dish, along with a dressing of mustard-spiked sour cream. Lots of sturdy flavours on the plate but the salt-cured pickerel cheeks had enough personality of their own to stand out. Big Rock Warthog ale was a clever accompaniment.

Charcut's sensational salad

Charcut’s sensational salad

The idea of the evening was to showcase Albertan ingredients as well as chefs and I think it was an eye-opener for some of the Toronto crowd. There wasn’t a dish that didn’t excite. Most of the chefs had competed several times at Gold Medal Plates in either Calgary or Edmonton but a couple of them were new to me. JW Foster is the new executive chef at The Fairmont Banff Springs: he presented a braised pork and caramelized onion terrine, a firm slice dressed with mâche and tiny pickled chanterelles that had the colour and almost the texture of uni.

Duncan Ly, chef of Hotel Arts Calgary and Yellow Door Bistro, won silver in this year’s Canadian Culinary Championship. His dish on Wednesday was brilliant – a piece of almost raw, citrus-cured rainbow trout over a hot-sour consommé made from the trout’s bones and spiked with a funky hint of fish sauce. Fresh sugar snap peas, wilted baby spinach, fondant potato and a few trout eggs were part of the fun, as was a bowl of crispy trout skin chips. A creamy cocktail like a Sour made with Alberta premium rye worked really well with it.

Duncan Ly's amazing trout and trout-bone hot-sour consomme

Duncan Ly’s amazing trout and trout-bone hot-sour consomme

And so we progressed… Justin Leboe of the highly esteemed Model Milk in Calgary gave us elk tartar with an insanely delicious sauce made by puréeing raw oysters, ramps and sour cheese until it had the colour and texture of lobster tomalley. Chef and visual artist Pierre Lamielle of Food on your Shirt had fun with a Beet Wellington. Blair Lebsack of RGE RD in Edmonton cooked pheasant breast with a supple crepe filled with the leg meat, Sylvan Star gruyere and roasted onion. Chef jan Hansen of Heritage Park brought the savoury procession to a close with sous vide lamb loin, pickled beets and roasted carrot purée.

Karine Moulin of hotel Arts provided dessert -  a dense chocolate and Saskatoon berry cake with wild blueberry chantilly and crispy green flax praline.

Amazingly, we finished on time and a fine time was had by all. I now have a smart white Stetson which I wear around the house.








Mr. Kawamura’s spatula

28 Apr


Here’s a pretty thing, an Easter gift from my daughter-in-law. It looks like the paddle for a glove puppet’s canoe; in fact, it is a cooking spatula made in Japan by Mr. Tsuneo Kawamura out of hinoki wood. This particular hinoki tree (also known as the Japanese cypress) grows on the slopes of Mt. Fuji. The spatula has a marvelous fragrance, sweeter and not quite as resinous as cedar. I imagine, if I use it to stir rice simmering in the pan, it might impart a subtle sense of that coniferous aroma to the rice. But that would presumably diminish the spatula’s own rare scent. An old dilemma: there is always a price to pay for transient pleasures.


Terroir and MC2 – coming attractions

11 Apr

Terroir Symposium 2014 jpeg

Looks like Arlene Stein and the Terroir team have done it   again – another extraordinary line-up for this year’s Hospitality Symposium   with major gastronomical celebrities, both local and international.

Terroir takes place a month from now on May 12th   at Oliver & Bonacini’s regal Arcadian Court.

Definitely not to be missed!

Check out the line-up:

Chef Demos by Visit Sweden
Magnus Ek, Chef Ozxen Krog & Slip at Djurården
Daniel Berlin, Restaurant Daniel Berlin
Fia Gulliksson, Food in Action
Frida Ronge, vRÅ

Potluck Lunch: A collaboration between American and Canadian Chefs
Lauren Resler, Empellón Cocina & Empellón Taqueria, New York City
Kristen Kish, Menton, Boston
Jamie Malone, Sea Change, Minneapolis
Sarah Simmons, City Grit, New York City
Sonja Finn, Dinette, Pittsburg
Heather Mordue, L’unita, Toronto
Alex Feswick, The Drake Hotel, Toronto
Charlotte Langley, Story’s
Amanda Ray, Biff’s Bistro, Toronto
Michelle Edgar, The Sweet Escape, Toronto
Lora Kirk, Ruby Watchco, Toronto
Tobey Nemeth, Edulis Restaurant, Toronto
Léonie Lila, The Libertine, Toronto

Main Stage Presentations
David Chang, Chef, Momofuku NYC and Toronto
Daniel Boulud, Chef, Boulud, NYC and Café Boulud, Toronto
Norman Laprise, Chef, Toqué, Montréal  in conversation with Jim   Poris, Food Arts
Shaun Majumder, Actor/writer, Majumder Manor, Burlington Community   Business Initiative
Krystina Roman, Rosewood Wines, Niagara
Albert Adrià, Chef, Tickets & 41?, Barcelona
Margot Henderson & Melanie Arnold, Arnold & Henderson,   Rochelle Canteen, UK
Amanda Cohen, Chef/Owner, Dirt Candy, NYC

Lucky BEEF – Peter Meehan from Lucky Peach in conversation with
David MacMillan & Frédéric Morin, Joe Beef, Liverpool House &   Vin Papillon, Montréal

Jill McAbe, Restaurant Management Consulting
Brandon Baltzley, Chef & creative director, Crux & TMIP,   Michigan City IN

How we collaborate with The Group of Seven Chefs, Toronto &
Alessandro Porcelli, Founder & Director, Cook it Raw

Live from Hartwood – Eric Werner, Chef, Hartwood, Tulum Mexico
Mara Jernigan, Director, Belcampo Belize
Grant Soto, Comedian aka screenwriter Taylor Clarke
Fia Gulliksson, Food In Action
Thomas Bachelder, Winemaker, The Bachelder Project
Charlotte Horton - Winemaker, Castello di Potentino

Creative Culinary Communities
Panel moderated by Rebecca LeHeup, Executive Director of the Ontario   Culinary Tourism Alliance, featuring Dimitrios Zarikos, Regional   Vice President & General Manager, The Four Seasons Hotel; Anne-Marie   (Ami) Hovstadius, VisitSweden and Helen McDaid, Fáilte Ireland

For ticket purchase and more information, visit
Join the conversation on Twitter: @TerroirTalk  #Terroir8  Instagram: TerroirTalk


Meanwhile, this just in from Cava:

On Monday April 28th, Cava is delighted to welcome Murray McDonald, chef of Newfoundland’s award winning Fogo Island Inn for “MC²”, in a collaboration with Chris McDonald exploring the historical intersection of Iberia and Newfoundland.

Originally from Newfoundland, Chef Murray has returned to his home province after developing his culinary skills in China, New Zealand, Mexico and Bermuda.

Now residing and working at the remote outport of Fogo Island, Chef Murray is dedicated to supporting local talent and showcasing local ingredients, foraged, fished and farmed on Fogo Island.

Join the two McDonalds for this unique six course collaborative dinner including innovative beverage pairings. It will be an evening to remember.

$150 plus taxes and gratuities.

Monday April 28. 6:30pm

Cava Restaurant, 1560 Yonge Street

Please reserve at 416-979-9918

Seating is extremely limited



Bar Senator

22 Mar

senator bar

If you hanker to be the anti-hero of your very own film noir, I know the place where your adventure can begin. Head over to The Senator after 9:00 p.m., when the last of the dinner crowd has melted into the night. That’s when they turn down the lights and set out candles on the tables in those vintage booths. Ease onto a stool at the bar and ask bartender Tim Morse to make you a house Derby – a tart, boozy mix of Maker’s Mark bourbon, Earl Grey-infused Dillon’s gin, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and fresh mint. Look around you while you nurse the first of many. Sure, it’s still The Senator – still rocking 1948, when the place was last redecorated – and it’ll be serving breakfast as usual in a few short hours. But Bobby Sniderman, his son Zachary and manager Peter Moscone have a new plan for their beloved sanctum. From 9 to midnight it becomes Bar Senator and a very cool spot it is.

I was there last Thursday night when they launched the concept. I had expected Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks but the mood was far more merry. DJ Matt Cully of “Goin’ Steady” was playing anything from Motown girl bands to Dolly Parton to Sinatra. Chef Andrew Taylor was sending out miniaturized versions of his wicked, panko-crusted crab cakes, Cumbrae beef sliders, tangy guacamole with crunchy crudités, and tiny grilled cheese sandwiches as if afternoon tea at Downton Abbey had found its way to Pittsburgh. They are all parts of the new bar menu at Bar Senator and the crowd was loving them.

The crowd… Who will they be on nights to come, I wonder? There aren’t many places this close to Dundas Square where a person can relax with a cocktail and a crab cake. The after-theatre crowd will congregate, I imagine. Hipsters will totally get it, sliding into the booth under the retro Coca Cola billboard (there are many homages to the Dark Master at the Senator). Ryerson sophisticates who crave style, not just empty calories, may also contribute to the clientele. As will any citizens of our unique metropolis who have a sense of history. And also, of course, the aforementioned wannabe-film-noir-anti-heroes in their trench coats and homburgs. I have a special pair of spectacles that turn this garish technicolor world to black-and-white and I wore them all through the party that Thursday night. It was the right thing to do.

Bar Senator (The Senator Restaurant) 249 Victoria Street, (416) 364-7517

senator coca small





Time to vote?

17 Mar

Loutses flowers sm

My koubaros, Philip Parginos, sends me this photograph to remind me that spring has already arrived in the mountains of Corfu. The implicit question, of course, is why am I here, chipping ice from my little patch of Toronto’s sooty tundra when I could be there, watching plants grow in the sunshine. Meanwhile, I read that voting has begun in the Veneto to find out whether the local population favours secession from Italy and the return of an independent Venetian Republic. Corfu was part of that Republic for 400 years, until the coming of the Corsican monster. Is it time to put the pieces back together?


The history of Harry Rosen video

14 Mar

Harry Rosen has created rather a good video about the company’s first 60 years. You can find it here:


St. Patrick McMurray – at it again

06 Mar

shucker contest


essential reading

26 Feb





J-P Challet is moving on

25 Feb


I dropped into Ici Bistro this morning, invited by chef-patron Jean-Pierre Challet, who had some news he wanted to share. J-P and I have been in conversation, off and on, since about 1988, when he was chef of the Inn at Manitou and I was just starting out at Toronto Life, and I am always interested in what he has to say. On the quiet north-west corner of Harbord and Manning, Ici has been his domain for the last five years – intimate, charming, casual, 25-seats which have to be reserved weeks – even months – in advance. Everyone loves Ici, including J-P himself. But, come the end of April, he is moving on.

“Sit down while I make us some breakfast,” he suggested, “and I’ll tell you about the plans.”

Here is the gist of it. In May, J-P is returning to The Windsor Arms, the boutique hotel rebuilt and reopened by developer George Friedmann in 1999, with J-P as the original chef. But this time, J-P is going in with a different concept, basically moving his successful Ici into the recently redecorated restaurant space beside the Courtyard. Instead of 25 seats, he will have 40, but Ici’s brigade travels with him and so does his philosophy of “bistronomy” – together with the reasonable prices that have always made Ici such good value. He’ll be cooking there four nights a week, in person, and taking occasional weeks off to carry on with the renovations of his farm near Lyon in France.

And another thing – Friedmann is backing him with a retail bakery in the old market space opposite CityTV on Queen Street West. J-P’s famous croissants will be for sale there along with a glorious selection of quiches and fruit tarts and pies – a huge treat for a part of the city that is so poorly served with top-quality bakers and patissiers.

And Ici…? J-P isn’t sure. He intends to retain control of the space, maybe install a protégé behind the stoves… We must wait and see.