Ask chef Martin Kouprie the secret of his culinary success and he’ll tell you that it’s a love of fresh food. This passion for freshness and an understanding of the science of cooking allow him to create menus and recipes that celebrate the magnificence of each season’s harvest. Although local ingredients hold centre stage in Kouprie’s cooking, he also views his pantry through the lens of the latest food trends. As a result, Kouprie’s fans come to Pangaea (1221 Bay Street), the restaurant he co-owns with business partner Peter Geary, to enjoy his ingredient-driven cooking which is simultaneously regional, modern and sophisticated.
Kouprie and his staff participate in numerous charitable events each year including large fundraisers such as Toronto Taste and Empty Bowls as well as smaller grass roots events. He has also been an active participant in programs such as Oceanwise, an initiative spear headed by the Vancouver Aquarium, which works with fish and seafood suppliers to ensure that chefs can access products that not only taste delicious but have a negligible impact on ocean ecosystems.
In his personal life Martin Kouprie is an accomplished carpenter and a speciality scuba diver. He is the father of a son, Oliver, and is married to cookbook author and food concept architect Dana McCauley. His first book, Pangaea. Why it Tastes So Good will be published this November.
I was just about haggised out after putting together last week’s round up of Robert Burns activities and dinners. Then Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangaea (1221 Bay Street) sent me a message on Twitter. He was holding a haggis competition for his kitchen staff; the winning dish would be served in the restaurant on Robert Burns Day. Would I like to come and be a judge?
I was of two minds; my experience with offal – all organs and all animals (I’ve only recently learned to like foie gras) – hasn’t been good. But then I remembered the advice of Vogue food writer Jeffrey Steingarten, that you must try a food at least ten times before you can determine that you truly don’t like it. I’d had haggis once before and found it repulsive, but here was an opportunity to try seven additional versions of the dish, created by seven different professional cooks who would be pulling out all the stops to make the lowly stuffed sheep’s stomach into gourmet fare.
Second Harvest’s Toronto Taste fundraising event was, by our observation, a resounding success. Spread out over Cumberland Street and the Village of Yorkville Park, over 30 of Toronto’s top restaurants, as well as a number of wineries and breweries, offered samples of their finest fare. While tickets were $225 a pop, attendees were offered unlimited food and drink, plus the opportunity to rub shoulders with some celebrity chefs including Michael Smith and Mark McEwan (anyone who lingered too long at the One booth could also have earned themselves a cameo in an upcoming episode of McEwan’s TV show The Heat), not to mention event host and TV personality Carlo Rota. It was wonderful to see attendees dressing up (I was tempted to start snapping photos of cute outfits as well as the luscious food) and even a little bit of rain didn’t put chefs or guests off their game.
Here is a collection of pics taken by Greg and I throughout the evening. There wasn’t a lot of signage or a list of who was serving what, so some of the food porn doesn’t have a chef or restaurant attached to it. Apologies in advance to the chefs who I haven’t been able to match to their food. If you were there and can identify the chef/restaurant of the mystery dishes, please let me know.
Finally, thanks to the organizers for such a fabulous event, to all the chefs and restaurants who made it a true feast for the senses and to the many, many volunteers who went out of their way to ensure that guests had forks and napkins and clean plates. Congratulations to you all – truly a job well done!
Last Wednesday evening, the line-up outside the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art stretched as far north as Bloor Street. People had come prepared; many had snacks, drinks and umbrellas to shield them from the warm May sunshine, because to be first in line meant having the dedication to wait for hours to get in. But being first in line also meant having first choice when selecting a bowl, as well as getting to the variety of soups from the participating local chefs before they all ran out. And they would run out.
We hear more and more news stories about how fish stocks are dwindling world-wide. Consumers are told to search out sustainable fish, but most of us don’t really know what that means. Even if we are conscious of the problem and make an effort – carrying one of those wallet cards, for instance, or grilling our fishmongers as to the origins of their wares – it’s still tough to know exactly where our fish dinner is coming from. And when it comes to restaurants, it’s even tougher.
Restaurants have small profit margins, and the temptation for a chef to serve something cheap and cheerful is often high. The fish we love to eat the most are the ones that are most at risk, and restaurants play an important role in teaching and encouraging customers about choosing sustainable options.
Ocean Wise is a programme created by the Vancouver Aquarium to do just that. Working directly with restaurants and markets, Ocean Wise is a non-profit association dedicated to the education of consumers which allows them to make sustainable choices. The Ocean Wise logo next to a menu item or in a shop is an assurance that the item is a good choice for keeping ocean life healthy and abundant for generations to come.