Last week I had the chance to attend a fantastic dinner event called Chefs For Change. Yes, there are a variety of these types of events taking place throughout the year, many of which are formal with a high ticket price. However, this very reasonably-priced event ($75, drinks extra) not only directed funds to a very worthy cause, it was one of those great occasions when guests got to see a gang of local chefs from different restaurants all working together. Food was mostly served family-style with all the chefs and a team of students from George Brown College creating the dishes.
This series of events (there are three more – Jan 30th, Feb 20th & Feb 27th – all sold out) all take place at Propeller Coffee, a spacious coffee roastery on Wade Avenue (Bloor/Lansdowne) that has both a huge prep area and event space.
Chefs on the move: Dustin Gallagher is leaving Grace (503 College Street) to travel, and will be replaced by Kevin Castonguay, formerly of Woodlot. Sous chef Misha Nestreneko takes over the stoves at Marben (488 Wellington Street West) now that Carl Heinrich has left to open his own place.
I keep hearing the voice of Tichina Arnold from the TV show Everybody Hates Chris, but L’Unita Enoteca (134 Avenue Road) can now boast “my restaurant has 7 desserts!” Mike Angeloni (who has previously done pastry for Spendido and the Hoof restaurants) has created a dessert menu of Italian favourites; doughnuts, cannoli, biscotti… yum.
Okay, not tonight. Thursday, actually. But if you can hold off until then, the folks at Grace (503 College Street) will serve you up a TV dinner like no other, paired with some kick-ass cocktails and a big screen TV showing old episodes of M*A*S*H and I Love Lucy.
As a follow-up to their incredibly successful summer BBQ series, owner Lesle Gibson and Chef Dustin Gallagher wanted a weekly winter event with the same fun and casual atmosphere. Something kitschy and communal that evoked the warm homey feel that Grace is so well-known for.
This past Thursday, Grace Upstairs was graced by a 33-pound brined and roasted turkey in order to re-create the first ever Swanson TV dinner, made available to the public in 1954. It was accompanied by authentic mashed potatoes (right down to the frozen pat of butter); mixed veg that included peas and organic carrots; stuffing made from mushrooms, apples, garlic, sage and onion; housemade cranberry sauce; turkey jus; and apple crumble made with apples from Algoma orchards.
And because it was bigger than your average TV dinner (we joked that it was one of those “Hungry Man” versions), a compartmentalized Indian thali tray worked perfectly.
Gallagher popped in and out (regular service was still taking place in the main restaurant downstairs), leaving the TV dinner service in the capable hands of cook Bryan Lavers.
Lavers explained that they spent a lot of time researching the various brands and types of TV dinners, right down to digging through the boxes in the frozen food section of the grocery store, and hoped to recreate them all, suggesting upcoming weeks will include pork chops with mushroom gravy and biscuits, fried chicken, roast beef, and ham that they plan on curing themselves. He said they’re still working on perfecting the Salisbury steak, which is apparently harder to recreate out of quality meat than they thought.
A slight wrench got thrown into the plan when a vegetarian showed up (old school TV dinners don’t come in vegetarian versions), but owner Lesle Gibson graciously found a replacement in the form of Gallagher’s famous mushroom gnocchi.
For $20, this hearty meal of a main plus dessert might be a bit more money than the plastic microwaveable tray from the supermarket frozen food aisle, but the quality and quantity of food certainly makes this a great deal no matter how you look at it. Paired with a glass of wine or one of Grace’s outstanding Manhattans, this might just be the coolest meal deal in town.
TV Dinner Thursdays take place every Thursday at Grace Upstairs, starting at 6:30pm. $20 gets you the TV dinner feature of the night. Tax, tip and beverages extra.
There’s a recession coming. Gas prices are going up, the housing market looks set to crumble and everyone is preparing to tighten their belts. Inevitably, at the table, our thoughts will turn to comfort food. Hearty, healthy fare from the family recipe books will win out over expensive, exotic ingredients or dishes we can’t pronounce. The trend toward local and seasonal produce and admonishments to not eat anything our great-grandmothers wouldn’t recognize as food has us considering the delicacies of past generations, only with a more genuine attitude. The retro kitsch of “comfort food” and thirty-dollar meatloaf has been replaced by what Grace chef Dustin Gallagher refers to as “modern farmhouse”; a more elegant, timeless way of eating that honours the past and the present, using fresh, seasonal ingredients with a nod to tradition, family and the classics.