Join Me at Toronto Indie Arts Market

September web

So by now, most regular readers/followers know that I’ve spent the past few months putting together a series of mixed media markets, the first of which takes place this Saturday, September 14th, at the Gladstone Hotel.

We did a trial run back in the Spring and we’re hoping that we can create a regular place for small-scale artisans, in a variety of mediums, to sell their work to the public.

Besides running the thing, I will also be selling my book Kitchen Party. In fact, it will be available at the door, and if you buy a copy for $15, you’ll get in for free. (And don’t worry, I’ll still donate $2 of that total to our partner charity, the Annex Cat Rescue.)

We’ll have over 50 great vendors selling everything from fine art to comics, clothing to housewares, so please come out and show your support for local artisans.

As an added incentive, admission is free before 11am, and the first 100 paying customers will receive a 2-for-1 pass for our October market.

So please come out and join us. It’s supposed to be a lovely day – cool but sunny –  perfect for a stroll along Queen Street West. Hope to see you there.

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Lucky Dip – Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

In Toronto:

The paper is down at Chantecler (1320 Queen Street West) and rumour has it that they’ll be opening on Thursday.

The Queen West location of Chippy’s (893 Queen Street West) re-opens March 1st. Owner John Lee tells Steven Davey of NOW about some new items on the menu.

There are no details available yet, but Mill Street Brewpub (55 Mill Street) announced yesterday that they’re opening a 3rd location – at Pearson Airport.

The Monk’s Kettle (3073 Bloor Street West) has a new menu, with items such as paella, flat bread and trout making an appearance.

The Four Seasons Hotel (21 Avenue Road) prepares for its big move across the Yorkville neighbourhood. The last day to dine at the Studio Cafe will be March 25th.

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Recipe For Change Recap

Foodshare‘s fabulous Recipe For Change event migrated to the North St. Lawrence Market this year, allowing for more space, which in turn allowed for more chefs and more guests. I love that organizers make a point of not overselling the event, so it’s never packed; line-ups at food stations are short or non-existent and there is no sense of frenzy involved.

Recipe For Change is FoodShare’s annual fundraiser in which they raise monies directed toward their Field to Table Schools program which teaches school children about where their food comes from. Everyone I talked to on Thursday night considered the event a great success; hats off to Adrienne De Francesco and everyone at FoodShare for a fantastic time.

Below, check out some of the offerings from participating chefs. We didn’t try everything (and I somehow missed most of the desserts, which has got to be a first), but everything we did have was wonderful.

Above: Chickpea polenta topped with ratatouille and fresh mozzarella from Chef Marc Breton of the Gladstone Hotel.

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The Savvy Shopper – The Real Meaning of Local

When someone refers to a pub as their “local”, no doubt we all imagine the same thing; a place where the atmosphere is homey, where the staff greet them by name, and where they probably know at least one other person in the room. Imagine the set from Cheers and that would be just about right.

We call these establishments our Local because it’s probably within walking distance from home – geographically it’s nearby.

When it comes to food, however, local is about more than geography. We are comfortable in our local pub because we’ve formed relationships – with the staff and owners, and with the other patrons, who are more than likely our neighbours. But even when we make an effort to buy local food, to support local producers, we don’t often get that same connection.

It’s hard – farmers are out in their fields, bakers manning their ovens, fishers on their boats. Building relationships with the people who make our food isn’t as easy as it’s made out to be. And I say that as someone who works in the industry and gets to spend time a lot more time with local food producers than the average consumer.

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Missing You

Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel started a couple of weeks ago. They did the first tasting event (similar to a cocktail party where all the growers and partners were present so guests could meet the people who grew their food) and the first prix fixe dinner ran this past week.

Normally during the tasting event and during each of the two seatings for the prix fixe dinners, Gladstone Hotel president and owner Christina Zeidler stands up and says a few words about how Harvest Wednesdays came about, how the partnership between the CSA farm and the hotel works every week to get the food from field to table, and about the general principles they try to follow.

Christina was away last week and I was incredibly honoured to be asked to take her place and do the presentation for the two prix fixe dinner seatings. As TasteTO is a media partner for the event, is was a logical choice, but they still could have gone with a Gladstone staff member. There’s an ongoing joke that because Greg and I are there so often and that we know so many people on the staff, and because we’ve been involved with Harvest Wednesdays for a few years now, that we are considered honorary staff members.

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The Flavours of Summer Are Set to Shine at Harvest Wednesdays

harvestjulyravioli

It has spawned countless copycats, and has earned Chef Marc Breton a local food hero award from the Toronto Food Policy Council. It brings together farmers and local food producers with the people who eat their food. It has created friendships and communities, and has taught urbanites how easy (and delicious) it is to eat with the seasons.

Harvest Wednesdays is back for its fourth year, offering up dishes made from locally grown produce, as well as locally-produced meats, cheeses, wines, beer and more.

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Gather Round the Table

I haven’t met anyone who isn’t just a little bit sceptical of the communal dining trend, except perhaps restaurateurs who have added a communal table in the hopes of using it for either large groups or stragglers. For most of us, our inclination when going out to eat is to dine and talk with the people we came with. Strangers can be, well… strange, and dining with people we don’t know – people who might have odd table manners, or smell funny, or natter on and on about some topic we have no interest in – can make an otherwise lovely evening turn out to be a bust.

Communal dining isn’t a new idea, though, it’s as old as the discovery of fire when prehistoric man gathered round a single heat source to cook  food. Even without the restaurant trend, it exists today in the form of dinner parties, bed and breakfasts,wedding banquets and office lunches. We eat together to celebrate an occasion, to get to know one another, to strengthen bonds. And often we find ourselves eating with people who start out as strangers but who are friends, or at least acquaintances, by the time dessert is cleared.

Despite being a curmudgeon and a bit of a misanthrope, I find myself at a communal table at least once a month, often more. Most of the time, the dinners I attend are comprised of other food writers; colleagues who have been invited to cover the event or a specific product. But I’ve also been to plenty of dinners that are purely social, because I am interested in the food, or the experience.

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Eating at the Kids’ Table

 

Getting kids interested in food seems to be a growing trend, with articles about parents taking their kids to fine dining restaurants or enrolling them in kids’ cooking classes popping up in publications right across North America, with opinion split on whether it’s a positive development.

But once kids hit their teenage years, dining out at restaurants is something that can not only be an enjoyable way to socialize, but a great way to learn about new foods and new cultures.

For the past few weeks, and continuing into early May, kids in grades 7 and 8 from Parkdale Public School have joined members of the arts collective Mammalian Diving Reflex for a series of dinners in restaurants in Parkdale and along Queen Street West called Eat the Street. Part performance art happening and part a lesson in food, culture and etiquette, the kids have the opportunity to act as restaurant reviewers, critiquing the food, service, and atmosphere of a space that is more than likely foreign to them. The idea is to watch how the kids interact with the restaurant and how the restaurant, including staff and other patrons, interact with them.

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The Charms of the Farm – Why a CSA is the Best Way to Enjoy the Harvest

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It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.

For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.

Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.

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Where Can I Find – Red Fife Flour?

multipleflourThe “Where Can I Find?” column is a new bi-weekly feature here at TasteTO starting this week. We’ll research and track down hard to find items and let you know where they’re available. Got a question for the “Where Can I Find” lady? Drop us a line.

I see red fife flour showing up on restaurant menus that have a local food theme, but where can I get this product to bake with at home?

The hot ingredient this summer is most definitely red fife flour. Restaurateurs and bakers from Jamie Kennedy and Marc Thuet to St. John’s Bakery are using this wholly Canadian product, and articles about the history and near extinction of the grain are popping up in a variety of publications from MacLean’s and Toronto Life to Edible Toronto.

The short version – red fife wheat was first planted near Peterborough in 1842 by David and Jane Fife, and it became the backbone of the Canadian wheat industry, giving Canada the nickname “granary of the world”. Immigrants were given free seeds to encourage them to settle on the prairies and become farmers. Over the years, red fife fell out of favour as other varieties derived from the red fife strain became more popular because of shorter growing times and higher yields. The original strain was on the verge of extinction by 1988 when a seed-saver activist named Sharon Rempel got her hands on a pound of seed and planted it in Keremeos, British Columbia.

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Harvest Wednesday Dinner – July 23rd, 2008

I never manage to take decent photos of the food at the Harvest Wednesdays tasting nights, but at the actual prix fixe dinners, where the food isn’t rushing past with a hundred hands grabbing at it, the photos are a little easier to snap.

As a recap, Harvest Wednesdays is a weekly event at the Gladstone Hotel throughout the summer where Chef Marc Breton creates a four course dinner based on products from CSA farm Chick-A-Biddy Acres as well as a number of other local suppliers. The fun part is that he often doesn’t know until the day before as to what ingredients and in what quantities he’ll be working with, so the project keeps the kitchen staff on their toes.

We went last week with some friends, and here’s what we had…

Red Fife biscuits, Raisin-Walnut Bun, Epi, and Rosemary Foccacia with herb butter rosettes – didn’t get a photo of these, but they were great; I’m really digging the red fife flour that’s coming available.

Amuse Bouche (above)
Broccoli and Black River cheddar-filled ravioli with basil and toasted walnut pesto.

We all loved this, and wished there was more!

Garden Antipasto
Marinated white and orange carrots, red and candy striped beets, cauliflower and fingerling potatoes tossed with cold pressed canola oil, mixed tender herbs, heirloom radishes and cracked black pepper.

A few complaints at our table that the vinaigrette on this was too strong, but the vegetables were a really nice combination, and were all crisp and bright and tasty.

Honey-Lavender Fresh Ham Roast
Red Tamworth-Large Black Cross brined overnight, slow roasted and sliced thin

This was one of the pigs I met when I went to Chick-A-Biddy with the Gladstone staff, although Chef Marc said it wasn’t the mama pig pictured in the photos for my TasteTO post.

Broiled Leek and Tofu stuffed portobello mushroom
with a honey-sherry glaze

Our guests each had the vegetarian option, but I didn’t try this.

Mains were served with stir-fried three colour beans, shredded baby cabbage and a wedge of chickpea ‘Socca’. We all loved the socca, which was a chickpea flatbread that sort of resembled naan.

Raspberry Whip n Chill

Fresh raspberry jelly topped with raspberry streaked whipped cream served with fresh berries and a ChocoSol chocolate dipped Tuille.

Dessert was perfect – fresh, bright, not too sweet. My only complaint was that the tuiles must have been set out with the dessert early on because they had lost their sharp crispness, but I was overruled when everyone else at our table said they liked the cookie chewy.

Greg and I also had the wine pairing for the meal, although it was a bit much for me in terms of alcohol, particularly because we headed down the street to a pub for another drink afterwards.

We’ll be attending the remaining three tasting events and at least two or three more weekly dinners before the Harvest Wednesday series ends in late October. If you’re in Toronto, the tasting events are $15, and the 4-course dinners are $35 – a great deal all around.

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Back to the Farm with Harvest Wednesdays

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Pulling up the driveway into Chick-A-Biddy Acres, I almost want to break into a rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, for Sherry Patterson has created something that seems almost too good to be true. I am tagging along (“embedded” in journalism-lingo) with some of the kitchen and catering staff from the Gladstone Hotel as they join Patterson and her three employees for a day of weeding and a tour of the 75 acre community supported agriculture (CSA) farm.

From the second we arrive, I am enchanted, opening the car door to find half a dozen of Patterson’s colourful laying hens rushing toward me with curiosity. We’re not here to play with chickens, however, and Patterson quickly directs us to a nearby field where we’re put to work weeding rows of peas.

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The Brewer’s Plate – Delicious Local Food – Plus Beer!

brewersbeer

What does local food look like in April? When the larders are getting bare and the first bright shoots of asparagus and lettuce are still just a twinkle in the farmer’s eye? Would it even be possible to put on an event and feed 300+ people on local food at this time of the year?

Turns out it’s not just possible, but really quite fabulous. The result was a delicious evening of not just local food but local beer, as the first annual Brewer’s Plate event paired some of Toronto’s top chefs with local craft breweries to come up with a dish that paired with and incorporated the selected beers.

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Building the Green Link

The folks at Slow Food Toronto have issues.

This past Monday, February 26th, they met at Hart House, along with a variety of local farmers, food purveyors, chefs and media to discuss how to best deal with them.

The issues being, of course, how to set up links between small local farms and the restaurants and consumers (aka. co-producers) who want their products.

A panel consisting of farmers, farmer’s market organizers and restaurateurs discussed the hurdles faced by everyone in ensuring local produce made it to local plates. Speakers included Stephen Alexander of Cumbrae’s; Susan Benson of the Culinary Tourism Initiative; Pamela Cuthbert, food writer and Slow Food Toronto founder; Anne Freeman of the Dufferin Grove Market; Jamie Kennedy of Jamie Kennedy Kitchens; and Mark Trealout of Kawartha Ecological Growers, as well as panel moderator Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council.

With a goal of forging partnerships between local growers and both restaurants and farmer’s market customers, the panel took turns speaking on various initiatives to increase awareness and dialogue.

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