Loose Ends

I seem to be starting my new year at somewhat loose ends. While 2011 was a very good and productive year in terms of work, and certainly beat 2010 in terms of emotional issues (yay for nobody close to us dying), I was left feeling that I didn’t accomplish very much.

This whole food writing thing, you see, well it was/is somewhat of a diversion. My original goal in “becoming a writer” was to write novels, or lovely descriptive essays. Since 2005 I’ve had a 90,000 word novel sitting in a drawer, waiting for me to get up the nerve to send it off to an agent or publisher. I also have about half a book’s worth of food-related memoirs and essays and a list of other pieces to write…

The food writing thing happened a bit by accident. A friend who had once worked as Margaret Atwood’s assistant told me that to help get publishers interested in my fiction, it would help to have “a name”. A series of events led to job offers at a couple of publications and then Greg and I started TasteTO, and suddenly I had “a name”. (At least it seems so, based on the number of people who Google my name and hit this website.)

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From Away

You’ve gotta give Marco Pierre White credit – his whole career has been about stirring things up and being in the spotlight, even if it hasn’t been all positive. He was in town last month to promote Knorr stock cubes, a product that he’s shilled in the UK for a few years. When challenged on their use, he gets defensive, insisting that he uses the product in all of his restaurants. Okay, whatever.

The fuss this time around comes from a piece in The Atlantic that basically skewers a couple of Toronto food writers for gushing about White and his stock cubes when he was in town, making the writers (newspaper writers, mostly) out to be bumbling hicks. My opinion of newspaper food columns is not what I’m on about today, though. In defense of the individuals – it *was* Marco Pierre White. And whether you like stock cubes or not, there’s no arguing that he’s the original rock star chef. It would be like a bunch of music writers being invited to a private jam session with the Rolling Stones. Even if you hated their last album, you’re not going to pass up the experience to meet them. You might have less respect for them because of that last album, but you overlook it compared to their lifelong body of work.

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SalivAte – Toronto Beer Week Edition

By all accounts Toronto Beer Week was a resounding success. Many beers were consumed, and there were some outstanding beer dinners and other food pairing events that took place at restaurants across the city. Greg made it out to more of them than I did (stupid allergies), so many of the photos here are his (which explains why they might get a touch out of focus as we go through each course, as pretty much every one of these dishes came with an accompanying beer pairing.)

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Joshna Maharaj

Joshna Maharaj is a chef and writer and who is passionately committed to good food and ideas of sustainability. A dedicated food activist, she works to promote the awareness of the power of food to nurture, build and strengthen communities. Joshna is a regular guest chef on CBC’s Steven & Chris, maintains a blog, and speaks to anyone who will listen about the importance of good food.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I lived in an ashram in India for a year after I graduated from university, and was put to work in their very humble village kitchen. I learned so much about the power food has to transmit love and nourishment to people in this kitchen, and had the time of my life! I came home from India, and enrolled in the George Brown Chefs’ School.

What is your favourite dish to cook and why?

I don’t work in a restaurant, but one of my favourite things that I make at home a lot is a mighty BLT. The other day I made one on olive bread with avocado and chipotle mayo, and it was outrageously delicious.

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Market Mondays – Apples

Is there any fruit that typifies September and the Fall harvest better than the apple? Boy Scouts apple day, an apple for the first day of school, a roadside produce stand groaning with different varieties… we love us some apples. And despite what your supermarket might have you think, they come in more types than red, green and yellow. 7500 varieties, to be specific, with the fruit originating in Western Asia and showing up throughout history in Norse, Greek and Pagan mythology. One theory about the apple being the unnamed “forbidden fruit” in the Bible is based on the fact that the Book of Genesis was written by Romans at a time when the Christian church was trying to convert pagans. Since the pagans revered the apple, making it evil or forbidden contributed to the number of new converts.

Apples now grow in almost every part of the world. Here in Ontario, growers have focused on about a dozen common varieties, but there are over 100 heritage varieties that can be found at local orchards and pick-your-own farms. Apples are typically harvested from late July until October. Growers’ associations like the one in Norfolk County provide storage facilities for area apple growers in a climate-controlled, low-oxygen warehouse that allows Ontarians to have local apples year-round. There’s no reason to be eating apples from China (where 35% of the world’s apples are grown), when we have a great year-round variety right here.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Brian Morin

Brian Morin grew up in Toronto, where he studied at George Brown College, and then moved on to working in small restaurants like Napoleon and Truffles. In the 1980s, he moved on to work in hotel kitchens such as The Four Seasons, Sutton Place, and the Intercontinental. He then became the executive chef of Prime restaurants, and in 2003 opened his own restaurant, beerbistro(18 King Street East).

What inspired you to become a chef?

I loved cooking from an early age, probably about 10 years old.

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

Hard to say because it would depend on my mood. I think our mussels are some of the best things we do and are the best in the city.

Three ingredients you couldn’t live without and why?

Beer, butter and cheese.

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Stirring the Pot with Chef Tawfik Shehata

Tawfik Shehata was born in Cairo, Egypt, and grew up in Scarborough. He did his apprenticeship at Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place), and attended George Brown College and The Cordon Bleu cooking school in Ottawa. He has worked in a variety of Toronto restaurants including Auberge du Pommier (4150 Yonge Street), The Rosewater Supperclub (19 Toronto Street), Winston’s, Truffles at the Four Seasons, and Boba. He also lived in Bermuda for two years and worked as Sous Chef at Cambridge Beaches, which was voted one of the top 5 spa hotels in the world during his time there, and later (after a return to Toronto) went to Jamaica where he worked at award-winning restaurants including Grand Lido Negril. In late 2005 he took over as Chef at Vertical Restaurant (100 King Street West) where he has been cooking food that is inspired by Italy and the Mediterranean, using local and sustainable ingredients.

What inspired you to become a chef?

I have always loved food. When I was quite young I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom and she was always very in tune with the seasons. When it was time for Seville oranges she would make marmalade and chocolate dipped orange peels for two weeks straight. Same for when other fruits and berries were in season. She made the best strawberry jam in the world!

What is your favourite dish at the restaurant where you cook and why?

I love the grilled or braised whole fish. For two reasons, first, the fish itself is fantastic, but more importantly, the accompaniments change nightly so it is always paired with the most seasonal vegetables. When I go to the farmers market and can only find a small quantity of something it will invariably find its way on one of those dishes.

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SalivAte – September 2010

 

Oh we ate some tasty things this month, my friends. Despite being sick for the past month, I’ve managed to drag myself out to a few places for a bite to eat (I know, the sacrifices I go to for this website), and have documented them all for you lovers of the food porn.

The above dish is not a pizza, or a tart. Rather it’s the very intriguing presentation of the duck and foie gras ravioli at Scarpetta (550 Wellington Street West). Drizzled with a marsala reduction, it was earthy, homey and sweet all at the same time. Possibly my new most favouritest thing.

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Market Mondays – Spinach

I’m a little late to the game with spinach – it probably should have made my list earlier in the year, seeing as it’s considered a spring vegetable. But it’s definitely still going strong at the markets, so better late than never.

Like our friend Popeye will tell you, spinach is a nutritional powerhouse, providing more nutrition, calorie for calorie, than any other food. 1 cup of cooked spinach offers over 1000% of our daily required intake of Vitamin K and 377% of our required Vitamin A. It’s also high in manganese, folate, magnesium, iron and Vitamin C. Spinach may contribute to heart health, better eyesight, better brain function from the high levels of Vitamin E, and better gastrointestinal function. It’s also got anti-inflammatory properties. Cooked spinach also provides energy, mostly in the form of iron.

Thought to have originated in Persia, spinach made its way to China via traders (roughly around 650 AD) where it came to be known as the “Persian vegetable”. Spinach was introduced to Italy and the Mediterranean in the 800s and from Spain made its way to Northern Europe. Catherine de’Medici was so enamoured of spinach that during her reign as Queen of France, she insisted it be served at every meal. Named after her hometown of Florence, to this day, dishes that feature spinach are typically called Florentine.

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Market Mondays – Corn

Poor old much maligned corn. It gets a bit of a bad rap these days, seeing as how it ends up in so many processed foods, and how it’s been genetically modified up the yin yang. And then there’s the whole ethanol issue. It’s too bad, because there’s nothing that says summer more than ears of sweet corn with the silks still wet, shucked, kissed with some boiling water and then slathered in butter. Made better only by the accompaniment of a lobster or two… but I digress.

Maize, as corn is properly known (the term “corn” is an English word for any cereal crop), is native to the Americas where it has been used for some 12,000 years. Maize made its way to the eastern seaboard and Canada somewhere around 1000 AD. Native Americans planted corn alongside beans and squash, a system known as the Three Sisters, as the plants were all complimentary, providing shade, nutrients and support in a system that provided optimum growth potential.

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