Stirring the Pot with Chef Chris McDonald

Christopher McDonald is one of Canada’s most respected chefs, known for a creative, first-principles approach to cooking, and an exceptional knowledge of the intricate relationships between food and wine.

Born in Toronto and growing up in New York and later Toronto, his childhood and early interest in food was conditioned by his mother Marion Grudeff’s career as a concert pianist and Broadway musical writer in New York. After returning to New York in 1979 to work in Dodin Bouffant, one of the city’s finest French restaurants, McDonald embarked on what would become a 15-year educational odyssey of learning both the spoken and culinary languages of the world’s great cuisines, studying at the famed La Varenne Cooking School, travelling to Verona, Italy, where he worked as the chef of La Bottega del Vino, and opening the kitchens of two world-famous luxury hotels in Mexico. His international travels also took him to San Francisco, where he cooked at both Stars and Chez Panisse, and to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he worked at the renowned Coyote Café for Mark Miller, for whom he developed the menu at Coyote Café’s Las Vegas incarnation.

In Canada, McDonald has been influential in bringing his experience to several acclaimed projects, acting as chef at the VIP lounge of the Ontario pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver; as chef de cuisine at Centro, a project that introduced the emerging California cuisine to Toronto; as opening chef at Santa Fe Bar and Grill in Toronto, a highly successful project showcasing his southwestern and Mexican culinary skills; and at Massimo Rosticceria in 1990, which drew on an intensely personal vision that grew out of his experience in Italy.

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Market Mondays – Peas

I eat my peas with honey,
I’ve done it all my life,
It does taste kind of funny,
But it keeps them on my knife. – Anonymous

Most commonly found in mixed frozen vegetables, the humble pea is one of the most versatile vegetables out there. Eaten fresh, dried, frozen or canned, peas  can be used in soups, stews, pies, risotto or curries, or fried and served as a snack.

The pea is actually a fruit, but is considered a vegetable for cooking purposes. There are many varieties of peas from sweet peas to snow peas or sugar snap peas, with some growing as vines and others low-growing plants suited to field cultivation. In Ontario, peas are at their peak in June and July.

The use of peas dates back to the Middle Ages when they were part of the typical diet along with broad beans and lentils. Peas are eaten throughout the world from Asia and India to Europe and North America.

Peas are an excellent source of folacin (Vitamin B9). They are also a source of Vitamins A and C, fibre and potassium. A half cup of cooked peas is only 70 calories.

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Tastefully Tasty

Greg said it best on Twitter: “sweet merciful crap, there’s more food inside!”

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste fund raiser upped its game substantially this year, doubling the number of chefs involved (from 30 to 60) and taking over part of the Royal Ontario Museum and Queen’s Park (the street, not the park itself). With tickets going for $250 (half of which garnered a receipt for tax purposes), it wasn’t an event for everybody – a fact that won Toronto Taste the teeniest bit of flack over on Torontoist, where they pointed out the irony of having a fancy food event in order to help raise funds to feed the hungry. Especially one where some people would take a bite of something and then pitch it. Yikes! (Next year I’m going with a doggy bag to bring people’s half-eaten leftovers home to my dogs! Can I get away with that at the swankest food event of the year?)

But the fact is that every $250 ticket will buy 250 meals, and Second Harvest delivers over 15,000 meals every day (that’s 6 million pounds of food each year!), mostly from donated perishable food that would otherwise go to waste from restaurants and cafeterias.

And while the following photos are most definitely food porn, we’d like to encourage you to consider the bigger picture. Second Harvest will happily accept your donations – in any amount – even though the big event is over. The Toronto Taste online auction, which runs until June 23rd, includes cool items at every price point. As well, please consider supporting the participating restaurants if you possibly can – they all worked incredibly hard and donated their time and food to the cause.

We’d also like to offer hearty congratulations for a job well done to everyone at Second Harvest – and that amazing army of volunteers. You guys rock.

Shown above: Ontario perch with chorizo, pickled heirloom tomatoes and fava bean puree from Chef Andrea Nicholson of Great Cooks on 8.

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Chocolate Not For the Faint of Heart

One of the perks of my job is that I often get to try new products and food items before they’re generally available. Last week, I was at a local restaurant called Cava for a chocolate and spirits pairing featuring the chocolates from Michel Cluizel, a French chocolatier that I particularly enjoy. The owner of Cava also runs a chocolate shop called Xococava, located next door to the restaurant, and when we left, all in attendance received a selection of chocolates from the shop, as well as this half dozen special edition collection made with some of the single origin chocolates from Michel Cluizel.

Xococava specializes in pushing the boundaries of the typical ganache filling and offers chocolates filled with chorizo sausage, black olive, black trumpet mushroom and sumac, to name but a few of their 25 regular offerings. The selection shown above was created specifically for the tasting event I attended, but chef Christopher McDonald and chocolatier Laura White mentioned that it might also be available for the holidays.

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The Premium Chocolate Experience

cluizelbars

My first encounter with Michel Cluizel chocolates took place a few years back when I happened across the entire line of estate plantation bars in a shop in St. Lawrence Market. I ended up buying the whole line, setting me back about $50, and the experience completely changed how I think about chocolate.

Like coffee and wine, chocolate from different regions offers distinctive flavours and characteristics that denote the specific terroir in which the cacao is grown, making each chocolate unique.

This past week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a chocolate tasting event at Cava where the various chocolates from Michel Cluizel were paired with spirits.

The tasting was led by Yves Farges, CEO of Qualifirst Foods Ltd, a family-owned company that has been importing specialty foods since 1957. The line of Michel Cluizel chocolates is their most well-known product, but with a philosophy of offering the best quality products as the guiding concept of the company, Qualifirst offers everything from truffles and foie gras to tea, coffee, preserves and vinegars, and the evening began with a selection of canapés prepared by Chef Chris McDonald of Cava, and featuring products from the Qualifirst selection that ranged from smoked sea salt to a vegan caviar.

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Sweet Treats on the Street

streetfoodlinejkTo say that the City’s Street Treats Fair was a resounding success would be a huge understatement. That line-up provoked a refrain of “Holy Shit!” from any number of people who entered Nathan Phillips Square from the north-east corner and were confronted with the throngs of people as they rounded the Peace Garden.

Crowds were lining up by noon and booths were selling out shortly thereafter. And sure, some of it was definitely the attraction of getting a meal from Jamie Kennedy or Rain for $5, but I think it’s safe to say that the people of Toronto really do want more than hot dogs and sausages. Another common refrain of the day was “Where did you get THAT??” as people walked past with melon soup or empanadas.

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