Macleans, Restaurants and Whiny Temper Tantrums

For anyone in the restaurant industry, this week the buzz is all about Maclean’s Magazine and their Canada’s Best Restaurants edition, in which a team of food critics led by Jacob Richler picked the Top 50 restaurants in the country.

Richler knew what he was getting into – the first line of his introduction makes it clear:

However much work goes into such things, they are seldom praised and always attacked – and gleefully.

What has been surprising is just how vehement those attacks are. I’ve seen no glee, just a level of childish pettiness that is embarrassing for the entire restaurant industry.

It would be idealistic to hope that food writers and the chefs and restaurateurs they write about would aspire to a level of maturity and professionalism in their interactions. That they would approach the work of the other with a realization that the “enemy” is just trying to do their job to the best of their ability with fairness and integrity, and that other factors (editors and readers in the case of writers; business partners and staff in the case of the restaurant owners) sometimes come into play. A restaurant review should never be personal, and should never be taken that way. At its best, a review is the perfect example of a symbiotic relationship where food writer and chef help and promote each other’s businesses (a review – good or bad – gives a restaurant publicity, and a popular review helps to sell copies or push traffic to a website).

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Lucky Dip – Thursday, March 1st, 2012

In Toronto:

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, Fionn MacCool’s (70 The Esplanade, plus others) will be offering an Irish-themed menu starting Monday, March 5th, running until April 29th. Look for colcannon pie, lamb stew, corned beef and cabbage and a prime rib burger with corned beef.

You should go:

Jamie Kennedy and Gilead Cafe (4 Gilead Place) host an “Order of Good Cheer” dinner on Monday, March 12th featuring Prince Edward County wines from By Chadsey’s Cairns. Hors d’oeuvres plus a 4-course dinner costs $75, with wine pairings an additional $25. Call 647-288-0680 to reserve a spot.

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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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Shut Yo’ Mouth – Stuff I Wrote This Week – September 10th, 2011

In an effort to have this site be a place for all of my writing, I’m starting a new column that links to any other stuff I’ve written that has been published during the preceding week. I may try and go back and add older stuff, but much of it is time-sensitive, and thus not really relevant. At present, this will mostly be pieces I’ve written for Word of Mouth on Toronto.com as that is my main gig right now.

Go grazing with the master of food and wine at the Park Hyatt

Trump hotel to open high-end resto

The Melody Bar – not just for karaoke anymore

Hit the road, Matt

Eaton Centre unveils its Urban Eatery

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Scott Vivian

Born in Montreal to an Italian father and an Indian mother, Chef Scott Vivian has always loved food. Chef Vivian has earned praise from Georgia to Colorado to Oregon before coming back to Canada. In 2006, he took on Toronto via Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar. A year later he was promoted to Chef de Cuisine of Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner (111 Queen’s Park). In October of 2009, he had the amazing opportunity of becoming co-owner and executive chef of Wine Bar (9 Church Street). Chef Vivian will continue his support of local food procurement as he and his wife Rachelle open their first restaurant Beast(96 Tecumseth Street) in June 2010.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My deep passion and understanding of food and culture. I knew it the moment I stepped foot in my first professional kitchen.

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Cooking With Love at the Wine Bar

 

Wine Bar
9 Church Street
416-504-WINE

It seems clichéd to start a piece about a new restaurant and roll out the “food = love” metaphors. But in the case of the Wine Bar, it seems apt, given that the principals involved are two couples who have saved what has become known as a landmark dining spot from what might have potentially been a corporate overhaul.

When word came out in the summer of ’09 that Jamie Kennedy was selling his Church Street Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar restaurant due to financial troubles, nobody knew for sure what might happen to the place. Kennedy offered the place to staff members first, and Chef Scott Vivian (who had run Kennedy’s Gardiner museum restaurant) along with his wife, pastry chef Rachelle Cadwell (who had been head of pastry for all of Kennedy’s operations) decided to take over the place and make it their own. Along with Vivian and Cadwell, Ted and Mary Koutsogiannopoulos (who had previously run Joy Bistro) came on board to remake the restaurant, now simply called the Wine Bar.

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Out Standing in a Field

Yeah, I know, but I’m coming up empty in the witty subject line department today. And for those of us who attended yesterday’s Feast of Fields event at the Kortright Centre in Vaughan, we not only stood around – in a field (badum bum), but the event lived up to the outstanding part as well.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the event that was created to bring together chefs and promote local organic food has become a must on the calendar of every Toronto-area chef and food lover. With over 40 chefs taking part, guests had the opportunity to try everything from local wine and beer to ice cream, spit-roasted pork, fresh bread and even pizza, most made from local and organic ingredients.

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The School’s Too Cool

When I toured the George Brown Centre for Hospitality and Tourism back in January to write about their Yes, Chef! fundraising program, there was only an inkling of what the renovated building would look like. There was still hoarding up outside the two street-front eco-labs; the railing that looked down onto the centre atrium was blocked; and the dust and dirt from the construction was being tracked throughout the building as students hurried off to class.

What a difference a few months make.

This past Tuesday’s open house event at the 300 Adelaide Street East facility revealed a bright, inspiring space in which students could learn and grow, a starting point in which they would develop the roots of the career knowledge that will take them to jobs in some of Toronto’s best restaurants and beyond.

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Sunday Brunch – Peartree Restaurant

peartreecake

Peartree Restaurant
507 Parliament Street
416-962-8190
brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $30

Neighbourhood street festivals are generally not a good time to visit a restaurant for a review. Like other dining events, such as the seasonal ‘Licious series, the kitchen often isn’t at its best, forced to serve even more covers than usual as the hordes of people demand to be fed. So when we walked past Peartree on Parliament Street during last weekend’s Cabbagetown Festival and saw the make-shift patio that extended into the curb lane of the street, we were a bit concerned. Inside, the place was only about a third full, however, and we figured we’d give it a go.

The brunch menu we were offered was an abridged version of what is regularly served, but still included a variety of choices from variations on eggs benedict ($8.99 – $11.99) to classics like French toast ($8.99) and omelettes or quiche ($8.99 each). Wisely including a selection of burgers and sandwiches, as well as a pasta and a fish dish, Peartree covered all the bases and didn’t exclude the folks more in the mood for lunch.

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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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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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Where Curly Fries Come From

crfagelato

At first, I was sure I must be dreaming. Pretty ladies stepped out of nowhere to hand me free samples of cheesecake, gelato, or cashews. There was beer, wine, and grilled kangaroo. Everywhere I turned there were displays of gorgeously decorated cakes. Chefs stood over hotplates cooking up dishes of pasta or rosti potatoes, free for the taking. I couldn’t be sure, but there might have been angels singing. I never wanted to leave this blissful place.

Then the ethereal music came to a screeching halt as I came upon a display of salad dressings from a cigarette company. I shook myself out of my sugar-induced coma and noticed displays of chicken wings, available in bags of 500, or frozen burger patties, and all varieties of personal pizzas, sausages and nacho cheese mix.

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Taking a Walk on the Green Carpet

greencarpetcarrots

Normally, the north building of St. Lawrence Market is the focus of local food only on Saturday mornings as farmers and food producers fill tables with all things edible and Torontonians descend upon the place in search of tasty treats. This past Tuesday evening, the market building was a bastion of local food again as a number of chefs and wineries offered samples of their wares as part of An Evening of Local Cuisine, one of the many events put on by The Green Carpet Series.

Attendees had the opportunity to wander the space sampling food from local restaurants that had been paired with wines from Ontario wineries. Participating chefs and restaurants included Chef Ben Heaton from Globe Bistro, Chef Marc Breton from the Gladstone Hotel, Chef Nathan Isberg from Coca, and Chef Anthony Rose from the Drake Hotel. Participating wineries were Henry of Pelham, Frogpond Farm, Flatrock Cellars and Vineland Estates Winery.

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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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