By Pamela Cuthbert - Saturday, March 23, 2013 - 0 Comments
So reviled that it’s at risk of vanishing, this pungent fish deserves a second chance
Next time you order a pizza, you might want to tell your server not to hold the anchovies. The time is now to champion this little stinker, or risk losing it altogether. “We’re asked all the time for anchovies,” says Dylan McCulloch, co-owner of the Daily Catch in Vancouver. “I’ve called all my suppliers, but we can’t get them.” And that’s not because of a run on anchovies in the culinary world. Millions of tons of this oily, bony fish are caught each year, yet instead of getting served up freshly grilled on toast, or salted and cured in olive oil for making fragrant tomato sauces for pasta, they are being turned into fish meal to feed livestock and farmed fish and, given their very high omega-3 content, are being processed for fish-oil supplements.
It’s no wonder; there’s not much competition from the human market. In a world dominated by bland farmed salmon and insipid shrimp, most of us have forgotten to enjoy the anchovy, with its full-flavour impact. But now, a small group of believers is trying to resurrect the pungent anchovy. Some, like chef Lee Humphries of Vancouver’s C Restaurant, who grew up in northern England, have had to overcome a childhood hatred of the tinned fish. Each year during the brief local midsummer harvest season, Humphries exerts considerable effort to get all the anchovies he can. It means cleaning, processing, curing and packing the year’s supply as soon as the catch is in. “It’s a labour of love,” he says of the tedious task of boning the minuscule fish, “but the anchovy is the perfect seasoning.” Humphries uses it in myriad ways: as a pasta-sauce base, with salads such as the house Caesar, in a winter classic of lamb seasoned with mint and anchovy. “It’s not fishy, but clean tasting.”
By Pamela Cuthbert - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 9:40 AM - 0 Comments
One is laid-back and luxurious, the other is fast and furious
Sunday lunch versus Sunday brunch: the difference is only a few letters, but the two are opposite approaches to the midday meal. Brunch, a North American invention, was initially about time—not quite breakfast, not quite lunch—but has evolved into a loud, fast-paced antidote to a hangover in which friends down cocktails and dine on dishes like deep-fried French toast. Sunday lunch, a European tradition, is a slow and sumptuous feast that involves family, many courses of finely crafted dishes, some wine and time for dessert. And though brunch dominates in Canada, at least one Toronto restaurant is trying to make Sunday lunch an occasion.
“Brunch is about business, it’s not about joy,” says Tobey Nemeth, who runs the small bistro Edulis with her husband, chef Michael Caballo. After a few years spent cooking around the world, they took over the space earlier this year. “Sunday lunch was one of the first things we set out to do,” Caballo says.
The $40 set menu encourages lingering over dishes that range from fish mousse to braised rabbit, garlicky potatoes and rich pies. There is only one seating, so the table is yours from noon to 3 p.m. Dishes are family-style, which means shared platters of food. To slow things down, wine by the bottle is half-price. Continue…
By Anne DesBrisay - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:50 AM - 0 Comments
From the Maclean’s Power Issue: The booths and tables where the deals get done
In spite of its über-Canadian location at the corner of Rideau and Sussex, Métropolitain Brasserie’s management went for a belle époque brasserie brand, its tag line: “You’re closer to Paris than you think.” But the Met became a go-to place from the get-go for Hill dwellers and their hangers-on. A giant room seating 250 inside and a number more out, open every day till late, this brasserie has been at their service since 2006. In its first year, former prime minister Paul Martin brought his sons here for some post-election succour. But since the Conservatives secured their majority, this bit of Paris on Sussex has become their play fort. John Baird and Peter MacKay lunch here regularly. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been sighted at the Met a number of times, including at CTV Ottawa’s 50th-anniversary party last year. But the main criterion during “Hill hour”—when the Malpeques go for a buck a shuck—seems to be age before affiliation. Rookie MPs and staffers decompress at the zinc-topped counters, jostle for space at the raw bar or settle in to one of the red banquettes.
If you want to pol-watch in slightly more formal surroundings, Rick Mercer has a suggestion. “If I was attempting to take over the world, I know where I’d go. Today’s movers, shakers and foodies,” says Mercer, “follow one guy—Steve Beckta.” Mercer’s talking about the owner of the decade-old Beckta Dining & Wine. From day one it commanded attention, setting a new standard for fine dining in the capital. Along with the quality of its food and wine list, Beckta, an Ottawa native, is a consummate host. And he hires better than anyone else in the city. For political stargazing, there may be no finer place. Says one Hill veteran: “At Beckta’s place, you’ll be seeing the ‘big spenders,’ like Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and other people who can afford it.” Beckta’s private rooms are for strategy sessions. It’s believed that Martin and his advisors made the decision to call for the Gomery inquiry in Beckta’s backroom. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien is a semi-regular. So is Jim Flaherty. The current PM, one Conservative staffer reports, had a birthday dinner here. For other evidence of the high-profile clientele, just read the signatures on the “wall of wine” behind the bar. On a bottle of châteauneuf-du-pape is the late Jack Layton’s John Hancock. “It’s the finest bottle on the wall,” our server tells us. The best gastronomic strategy at Beckta Dining & Wine is to head straight for chef Katie Brown’s tasting menu. And give in to sommelier Beckta’s wine pairings. Continue…
By Jacob Richler - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 2:03 PM - 0 Comments
After 20 years, Montreal chef Normand Laprise publishes his first recipe collection
The first thing I thought of while contemplating the simple white cover of Normand Laprise’s long-awaited first cookbook was a conversation we had five or six years ago at a quiet table at the back of his Montreal restaurant, Toqué! As the scheduled interview wound down, I had asked him what he was planning next. “One thing’s for sure—it won’t be a cookbook. Everybody’s writing them these days.”
It was a fair point. Even then, close to 3,000 new cookbooks were being published annually in the U.S. alone, far too many by celebrity TV chefs equipped with teams of writers and researchers who spared them the trouble of writing—not to mention reading—the many recipes published under their names.
Amidst all that noise, the rare chef now and then releases a cookbook that is greeted as a genuine publishing event. Like Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli 1998-2002, say, and more recently Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck Cookbook and René Redzepi’s Noma. And that is precisely the way the original French edition of Toqué! Les artisans d’une gastronomie québécoise was greeted upon its release in Quebec last month. Continue…
By Amy Rosen - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:15 PM - 0 Comments
The combi oven can bake pizza, sear salmon and grill steak at the same time
There’s a revolution simmering in the kitchens of the nation’s restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, hotels and even prisons. Electric stoves, gas ranges and convection ovens are being ripped out to make way for the Rational, a German-made beast that can bake, roast, broil, steam, grill, fry, dehydrate, poach and perfectly reheat food.
It’s called a combi oven, and it uses both dry heat and moist heat to cook large quantities of food precisely the same way. It can also bake a pizza, sear salmon and grill a steak at the same time. The programmable Rational is popular in Europe, where more than 85 per cent of commercial kitchens use combi ovens, but the company is just beginning to make inroads in Canada. Most of the units, which cost from $15,000 to $55,000, are sold to high-volume kitchens, although they do have a few well-heeled clients who have a smaller version at home (the most famous is the White House).
At the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver this summer, executive chef Darren Brown took a visitor on a tour of his vast cooking empire, passing staff making chocolates, pickling cucumbers and checking on charcuterie before stopping in front of the Rational oven and declaring that it had revolutionized his kitchen, especially on catering jobs. They can compose and chill up to 120 meals on mobile racks, then roll them into a Rational and “reheat them to the perfect temperature in exactly eight minutes.” Continue…
By Jacob Richler - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 1:01 PM - 0 Comments
Jacob Richler on a business that started as a homemade Christmas present
The charcuterie board draped with thin, ruffled slices of mortadella at Charcut Roast House in Calgary is easily one of the best bar snacks available a mari usque ad mare. And while this distinction hinges on the quality of the house-made sausage, there is something else: the mustard always served with it.
The company that makes it is called Brassica Mustard. The style is what the English call whole-grain, grainy, grained or granary mustard, and the French know as moutarde de Meaux or moutarde à l’ancienne. But this one is different—most notably in its mouth feel, where each of its yellow and brown mustard seeds seems to pack a lively little pop.
“Almost like tobiko!” company co-founder Desmond Johnston concurred from his home in Calgary, referencing the flying-fish roe sushi chefs deploy for crunch. Continue…
By Jacob Richler - Sunday, October 28, 2012 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
In most provinces it’s illegal to sell the most local of meats. Jacob Richler says it’s time to rewrite the rules
One night this summer, while tirelessly eating my way across the country in search of restaurants for a Maclean’s special issue, I found myself at Raymonds in St. John’s, where I came across a menu item that had me beckoning wildly for the maitre d’. At issue was the daily pasta: hand-cut pappardelle with moose ragù. Yes, moose. How could this be?
“We have a licence to serve game,” restaurant manager Jeremy Bonia explained matter-of-factly.
This was exciting and unexpected news. A licence to sell prepared game: I had never heard of such a thing.
Sure, up North hunting is sometimes a geographic necessity. In Inuvik, in 2002, I saw a supermarket freezer full of hunks of muskox and caribou that looked to have been randomly carved from a frozen carcass with a chainsaw, if not hacked off with an axe.
Now, in every province of the Dominion outside of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the game meat you buy in a restaurant is sourced from an animal that never enjoyed a glimpse of unfettered nature, except over a fence, or through the ventilation slats in the truck that carried it to the slaughterhouse.
By Pamela Cuthbert - Friday, October 26, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Nicholas Lander
The world has gone mad for celebrity chefs, but one man is campaigning against the tide. “Chefs, in my opinion,” says long-time Financial Times restaurant critic Lander, “have been elevated to an overly lofty position.” It’s not that he’s against great cooks—quite the contrary—but he believes greatness can be attained only through “the partnership of a visionary restaurateur alongside a talented chef.” To set the record straight, Lander travels the world to speak with 20 industry leaders who run the front-of-house of top restaurants, from public figures Danny Meyer (Union Square in New York), Joe Bastianich (Mario Batali’s partner) and Trevor Gulliver (St. John in London) to equally accomplished but lesser-known individuals like Juli Soler—Ferran Adria’s partner in elBulli—and Wagamama founder Alan Yau.
Each portrait incorporates business analysis, personal anecdotes and insights such as the role that restaurants, as vibrant gathering places, can play in urban regeneration. Design, architecture, service and other elements are considered. In the process of unfolding often dramatic tales—bankruptcies, health problems and failed marriages are common—Lander also offers a globe-trotting tour of gastronomic proportions. The culinary writing is restrained—no gastro-porn here, which is unsurprising given his three decades of solid restaurant criticism. Lander recognizes the stress that comes with creating a successful restaurant. After all, he has been a restaurateur himself and begins the book with his own tale of opening the pioneering L’Escargot in London in the ’80s, then having to sell the restaurant due to poor health. (Soon after, his career took a turn when his column was born.)
Lander writes without a hint of snobbery, and an absence of interest in all things trendy. Don’t expect to learn about hyped restaurants like Noma or Faviken. Instead, look for valuable lessons and sound advice—such as these bons mots from a man once called the world’s greatest restaurateur, the late Jean-Claude Vrinat of Taillevant in Paris. What he says might also apply to what we all need: “A love of food, a love of wine and a love of one’s fellow human beings.”