Changing It Up

This past Thursday night, 250 lucky people trekked through the snow to attend Foodshare’s Recipe For Change fundraising event. I say lucky because the event sold out and many people found themselves on a waiting list, but also because some of Toronto’s top chefs were on hand with delicious treats for guests to enjoy.

The event raised funds for the Field to Table Schools program which brings food literacy back to students from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12.

Held in Foodshare’s warehouse at their Croatia Street offices (the same space where the weekly Good Food Boxes get packed), the room was simply but elegantly decorated, with plenty of seats (no, really, there’s usually never enough seats or tables at these things – I always threaten to come wearing a toolbelt to hold my camera, notebook, wineglass and cutlery) and plenty of good stuff to eat. Our only minor complaint was the lighting, which, while it made the room look fantastic, was not so photo-friendly. As such, I don’t have photos of everything that was offered (the full menu is available on the Foodshare website), but hopefully these will inspire readers to support both Foodshare and the great work they do as well as the many chefs and restaurants who donated their time and product to this event.

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Don’t Count Your Chicken Before You’ve Tasted Them

The phrase “tastes like chicken” is beyond cliché. We use it for any whitish meat that we can’t accurately describe any other way – frog’s legs, alligator, lizard – guaranteed someone trying any of these for the first time will compare them to chicken.

But what, exactly, does chicken taste like? The specimens we get in supermarkets or most restaurants are all the same breed (White Rock), probably fed with some mixture of GMO corn and other grain, raised in a barn for optimum growth in a minimal time frame, and likely pumped full of a saline solution during processing to make the meat look plump and full and heavy.

But chickens come in different breeds, and like beef and pork, those different breeds have different characteristics, in the kitchen and on the plate.

At a recent tasting event at Victor Restaurant, participants got to clearly see the difference between breeds, and the phrase “tastes like chicken” no longer applies.

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What’s On the Table – In Pictures

Okay, so I know you readers are divided on the topic of event recaps. Some of you hate them, preferring an event preview instead so you can actually buy a ticket and go – and for the most part, I agree. Who wants to hear about all the fun they missed? But others of you love the food pr0n, the piles of photos of gorgeously executed food and drink, particularity at events with higher ticket prices that might not be affordable to most.

Here’s our take on this – since the fancy events are usually charity fund-raisers we have no problem running a photo-essay after the fact, because it raises more awareness of the issues and the charity (even though the event is over, I’m sure The Stop would be happy to accept any donations our readers might want to make). And it also helps to promote the many wonderful restaurants that donated their time and product to such a worthy cause.

So if you hate the recaps, look away, and we’ll use the same images when we write the event preview article next year! But if you want to see the tasty treats offered to What’s on the Table guests, click on through and enjoy.

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Sunday Brunch – Mildred’s Temple Kitchen

Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
85 Hanna Avenue
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and coffee: $50

I am a student of the theory of dressing up to go out. Maybe it’s because I work from home and yoga pants and a t-shirt are my regular uniform, but I always find it appropriate, when going out into the world, to make a bit of an effort. Some make-up, a cute outfit, polished shoes. It makes me appreciate a nice place so much more, and there are some restaurants, whether because of the architecture and design, or just the food and service, where it feels that one should dress up.

Not everyone shares my philosophy on this issue, however. So while I’ve pulled together a groovy 60s inspired-outfit to have brunch in the gorgeously cool Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, the rest of the clientele is still arriving in ugly flip-flops and cargo shorts. People in Toronto really don’t dress up for brunch, do they? At the very least, most of the gentlemen wearing hats have the courtesy to remove them when they’re seated – all except for one hipster douchebag who continues to wear a brown wool toque (it’s August, buddy, come on!) throughout the meal. Even the little boy who came in wearing a baseball cap has removed his headgear at the table. Stupid hipsters, making life ugly for the rest of us.

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Toronto Taste 2009 – Good Eats in Pictures

Fabulous whitefish sandwiches from Epic at the Royal York.

We came, we saw, we ate.

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!

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Housewarming at the Temple


Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
85 Hanna Avenue, Suite 104

Moving house can be a stressful time, but ultimately one of renewal. It can be hard to leave a place where so many great memories were made, but it’s also invigorating and inspiring to start with a clean slate in a new space.

Such is the case for Donna Dooher and Kevin Gallagher with their new restaurant Mildred’s Temple Kitchen. So etched in Toronto’s culinary history was the couple’s previous restaurant Mildred Pierce that visitors to the newly opened Mildred’s Temple Kitchen seemed to be expecting the new space to be exactly the same. But after 17 years running Mildred Pierce, as well as a catering business and a cooking school, it’s understandable that something different would be desirable for the couple and their dedicated team.

templedecorWhile the old restaurant was romantic, with wall murals and swaths of gauzy fabric suspended from the ceiling, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen is an ode to 60s modern design and feels like something out of a Jacques Tati film.

The space is big and bright with the entire north wall comprised of floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the train tracks that cut through this west end neighbourhood. Diners seated along the plush upholstered bench with their backs to the window can sense the change of energy in the room as the trains soundlessly whisk past and their companions look up. It’s a surreal moment that ends with the window-facing diners staring across the train tracks at the old Mildred Pierce location.

Back in the restaurant itself, the open kitchen is set three steps above the main dining area, and acts as its own form of entertainment. Chef de Cuisine Tyler Cunningham directs a team of six in a gleaming open kitchen while servers, bussers and other staff members enter the “stage” from doors to the right and left. This interactive design stems from a trend started at Mildred Pierce where regulars sat at the bar to be as close to the kitchen action as possible. At Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, Dooher and Gallagher have actually designed the open kitchen with  that idea in mind and have provided a row of stools and a bar along one end of the kitchen which acts as a chef’s table for diners who enjoy watching the cooks at work.

The remainder of the space is made up of two- and four-top tables – comprised of light cream coloured chairs and a warm wood that is carried throughout the room on tables and cabinetry. As an homage to an especially popular table at Mildred Pierce, one round banquette called “Table 12” was placed at the back of the space, and two harvest tables sit up on the level of the kitchen to accommodate larger groups or to act as a communal table when the place is busy. Gallagher says he and Dooher were inspired by communal dining restaurants in Chicago, and hopes people will use both the harvest tables and the kitchen-side bar as well as the bar at the entrance to strike up conversations with fellow diners.

templetartDooher and Gallagher’s son, Rory, who worked with them at Mildred Pierce and spent the last few years working in various restaurants in the UK, explains that the raw space provided all sorts of inspiration, and combining the practical necessities of a restaurant and a little bit of whimsy, the team came up with a design that was not only fun but responsible. The delay in the renovations occurred as they searched out clean, efficient building methods and eco-friendly materials.

This philosophy translates to the food and drink as well. In place of bottled water, Temple offers reverse osmosis filtered water in either sparkling or still versions. One of the first such systems in Canada, the onsite filtration allows the restaurant to lower its eco-footprint while still accommodating customer demand for non-tap water.

The menu is also a clear dedication to local and seasonal, with a blend of old favourites and some new dishes as well. At brunch (it’s quite possible Mildred Pierce was solely responsible for making Toronto the brunch-loving town that it is), much-loved dishes such as black currant scones, huevos Monty, Mrs. Biederhof’s pancakes, and green eggs and ham have all found a spot on the new menu.

The lunch and dinner card are the same, and old favourites such as the chicken biryani and Mildred’s classic burger are sure to make regulars happy. This is a carefully thought-out collection of dishes, with a lentil stew and a BBQ eggplant and silken tofu in black bean sauce dish on offer for vegetarians and vegans respectively, with other local and seasonal dishes such as lamb pot pie, pan-seared Ontario trout or a Berkshire pork chop sure to please the more omnivorous guests.

templetofuStarters include Georgian Bay whitefish fritters with pickled spruce tips, Italian bread soup, and a divine roast vegetable puff pastry tart. Meanwhile, dessert sees the return of Mildred’s classic profiteroles, as well as solid – and tasty – classics such as a variety of tarts (apple with tamarind ice cream, lemon or chocolate praline).

We’ve yet to try the wine or cocktails; Dooher and Gallagher spent last Friday running around to various government offices encouraging inspectors and administrators to complete th
e long-promised permits that would allow them to finally obtain their liquor license. But son Rory explains that the drinks menu will be modest, classic and seasonal, designed to complement the dishes but also continue the overall theme of sleek and classic with a touch of fun.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the washrooms, because they continue the same theme, while managing to feel like a completely separate entity. An unmarked door near the entrance in the same warm wood found throughout the restaurant leads to a row of unisex stalls. A motion sensor triggers a recorded loop that includes the Price is Right theme song, a French-accented pilot advising patrons that they can unfasten their seat belts and then Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made For Walking”. It’s another jolt of 60s-inspired surrealism that again makes me think of French director Jacques Tati and his film Playtime (well, except for the disastrous restaurant opening scenes), but no one we spoke to has actually seen the movie.

templeappletartWhile it’s taken a while to come to fruition, Mildred’s Temple Kitchen has managed to tick all the boxes and should offer something for everyone. There’s enough of the old Mildred’s to keep long-time fans happy, while acknowledging changing trends in both food and design to keep the restaurant current and forward-thinking. The food remains solid and well-presented and the room reflects Dooher and Gallagher’s love of dramatic spaces, but is fun and beguiling and not at all intimidating. Sleek, but also welcoming, the restaurant makes dinner more than just a meal, turning it into an event.

At their first official “open to the public” brunch yesterday, the energy in the room was busy but not chaotic. Old regulars returned, joy on their faces as they dug into long-missed stacks of pancakes. Just as if they were moving house for real, Dooher and Gallagher have managed to take everything people loved about their old restaurant and combine it with something fresh and new. And Toronto diners are set to offer them the best housewarming party they could ever have.