Lucky Dip – Monday, March 5th, 2012

In Toronto:

The big food news this past weekend was that chefs Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth will be taking over the Niagara Street Cafe (169 Niagara Street) as of April 1st, renaming it Edulis. Caballo was the chef at Niagara Street until a few years ago when he and partner Nemeth (she was the chef de cuisine at Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar) left Toronto to travel. After working at restaurants around the world, including in Tuscany and California, they’re returning to the city to run their own place.

Ici Bistro (538 Manning Avenue)  is closed until March 21st for staff vacations.

Dark Horse Espresso Bar has taken over the old Smokeless Joe’s location at 125 John Street and opens today.

Greg Clow got the scoop about Mill Street Brewpub opening a location in Pearson Airport. Basically, there will be no beer brewed onsite, but there will be a 130-seat pub with 10 Mill Street brands on tap. Get the full story at Canadian Beer News.

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Death by Turkey

I am spending this week watching holiday specials. Not the cartoons and tired old movies of yore (Come on admit it, It’s a Wonderful Life is three hours of tedious, sentimental schlock.), but holiday food and cooking shows, specifically of the UK variety.

As it turns out, holiday cooking shows are the big thing for UK chefs, and anyone with an existing series, or a cookbook, or a well-known restaurant, is there on the screen, setting fire to booze-soaked puds and making the holiday hassle look easy. But because there are so many shows, so many chefs competing for viewers’ attention, they’ve all got to do something different, to jazz up the traditional Christmas dinner in some way to make it unique.

Stuart Heritage of the Guardian sees the mass of holiday cooking shows as a as testament to gluttony in the “so… much… foooooood” vein. Because, he claims, it’s all about the watching and not about the cooking. But isn’t that really the saddest part? By which I mean, I bet that your Christmas dinner this year will be exactly like the Christmas dinner you had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that… there will be no trying of new dishes from Jamie or Nigella or Gordon. It’s fun to watch, sure, but hey, don’t fuck with Christmas dinner.

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All That and a Bag of Chips

Somewhere, Jamie Oliver is crying.

The new conservative government of England (hey, what happened to the balancing forces of a coalition?) has caved in to demands from the junk food industry and has scrapped the Food Standards Agency (the equivalent to the FDA). Which means that junk food companies are now free to self-regulate.

It seems that the junk food industry and its lobbyists weren’t terribly impressed with a motion to put stop-light style labels on the front of food packages indicating healthy and poor choices. The industry won that battle, arguing that consumers could use the existing nutrition labelling to calculate the percentage of each nutrient that the food item provided. This is similar to what we have in Canada and the US and let’s be honest – who sits down and calculates their daily intake of every nutrient?

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Real Food For Real Kids

While the rest of the world has been avidly watching Jamie Oliver challenge the concept of school dinners, and trying to figure out how to translate his ideas to their own kids’ schools, here in Toronto a catering company dedicated to providing children with healthy, nutritious meals has been going strong – and growing rapidly – for the past five years.

Real Food For Real Kids (RFRK) is the brainchild of David Farnell and his wife Lulu Cohen-Farnell. Shocked at what daycare centres were offering as snacks to their charges, the Farnells started sending their son Max to daycare with his own snacks and lunch because they wanted him to have healthy, tasty, nutritious food. The idea grew and RFRK now cooks up thousands of meals every day that are sent out to daycares, schools and camps across the GTA.

At a recent open house for care providers, staff from schools and daycares were invited into the RFRK kitchens for a tour and to sample some of the items on the new menu.

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Buried Treasure – The Hidden Gems of the Food Network and Why You Can’t Find Them

It’s no secret that I would rather watch UK food shows than anything made in Canada or the US. Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Valentine Warner and even Gordon Ramsay do a lot of good work for Channel 4 and the BBC when it comes to promoting seasonal, local, sustainable foodways. For years, Greg and I have had no choice but to download these from online file-sharing sites (shhh!!) because they seldom get shown here and there’s few, if any, domestic equivalents.

Except, bit by bit, Food Network Canada has been picking these shows up. Heston Blumenthal’s Big Chef Takes on Little Chef series that ran last year recently got aired here. Likewise his feasts series in which he recreates (with his own twists, of course) historic meals. Jamie Oliver is a big commodity on this side of the pond, so most of his stuff eventually shows up, but sometimes up to a year after its original air date.

This delay is annoying enough, but makes sense – Channel 4 wants to rerun these shows before selling the rights to anyone else. My frustration is that when Food Network Canada finally gets them, they do very little to promote them.

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Where Are the Chefs?

foodfight

Today marks the beginning of two weeks of fantastic food-oriented television programming. Gordon Ramsay expands his Kitchen Nightmares series to try and get people to eat at local restaurants; Jamie Oliver takes on the pork industry in an effort to get producers to improve their husbandry standards; Heston Blumenthal has a 3-part series on his reinvention of the UK Little Chef chain of roadside diners; and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall revisits last year’s Chicken Out campaign to see if his efforts really did encourage people to choose free-range chicken and think about where their food comes from.

Too bad you don’t get to see any of it.

The Great British Food Fight series is an annual event on Channel 4 in Britain, and generally deals with politically-charged issues having to do with food production – this year’s series also includes a show called The True Cost of Cheap Food hosted by Jay Rayner of the Guardian.

Enterprising Canadians who want to see these shows will likely have no trouble finding them available for download online, but everyone else will have to miss out. Which is too bad because many of these shows are dealing with important issues that should be at the forefront of any conversation about where our food comes from, yet those discussions still aren’t really happening here in North America.

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I’ll See Your Organic Free-Range Chicken and Raise You a Tin of Lamb Mince

While the name Delia Smith is familiar to me, I’ll have to admit that I’m not especially familiar with her cookbooks. Given the recent fuss about her newest cookbook How To Cheat at Cooking, I sort of assumed she was one of those slack-assed Rachel Ray types with the canned goods and bagged greens, teaching fans how to spread salmonella in three easy steps.

But it turns out that Smith is more well-known for being the UK’s answer to Martha Stewart. She spent years teaching Britons how to cook real food, teaching them basic cookery techniques and classical dishes. How to Cheat at Cooking is apparently a rewrite of her first book published in 1971, but from there, her work was all about cooking with real, fresh ingredients.

Any new book sells better with a wave of press, and there is some speculation that Smith’s recent public comments about Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s campaign against battery chickens might simply be desperate publicity spin. Smith claims that her recipes are designed to feed the poor, especially the chyllldrunnn (who will think of them?), but even poor kids are likely to turn up their noses at some of the stuff in her new book.

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Playing Chicken – The Chicken Out Campaign

As a huge fan of British TV, and an openly honest stealer of television shows on the Internets, I was likely one of a small number of North Americans to view the series on Britain’s Channel 4 called Hugh’s Chicken Run in which food journalist and farmer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tries to get his entire town of Axminster to switch from intensively-farmed (and cheap) chicken to slightly more spendy free-range chicken.

In a three-part series, HFW sets up a chicken farm in which he raises half a barn of chickens as they would be in an intensive farming operation (no poultry operation would give him permission to film on their premises, so he was forced to create his own), and the other half as free-range, with more space, access to the outdoors, toys and activities, etc. He also trolls the aisles of his local supermarket to try and convince customers to purchase the free-range birds.

This is the point where Greg and I looked at each other and went “Waitaminute!!! Whaaaa???”

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Channel Surfing

Somewhere in the transfer of cable services from home A to home B, we ended up with a bunch of cable channels we didn’t have before. Besides the fact that we are cheapasses and refuse to pay for a bunch of channels that we mostly don’t watch, we made the well-thought-out decision to cancel all but basic cable a few years back for one specific reason.

I yell at the Food Network.

Honestly, I am flabberghasted that there are unsuspecting housewives out there, tuning in to the Food Network, thinking that they’re going to get decent advice on anything to do with cooking.

(NOTE – with the possible exception of Alton Brown. He’s an alright guy.)

Of course, the extra channels that we are now burdened with include the Food Network, and I have quickly gotten sucked in again. It’s been a few years, so many of the faces are new (although I see that BAM! guy is still there, mucking things up), but it’s reassuring to see that one can get a job hosting a cooking show without any damn idea of how to cook. Note that many of the people I mention below appear on the Canadian Food Network so you US folks might not recognize everyone. [1]

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