Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wolfe of Wortley Makes the Longlist for Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2017

Air Canada just announced the longlist for Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2017 and Wolfe of Wortley makes the list.





Front: Jennifer Wolfe (Service Manager), Justin Wolfe (Owner/Executive Chef), Gregg Wolfe (Owner/Mixologist/Bartender)
Back: Josh Ward (Sous Chef), Kyle Rose (Chef de Cuisine)


The Big, Bad Wolfes: The Wolfe of Wortley in London

Justin and Gregg Wolfe upped the ante when they opened Wolfe of Wortley in Wortley Village last this summer. The brothers, who initially found sustenance in music careers, are also the proprietors of downtown London’s red-hot retro diner The Early Bird, and the former the piñata-themed Rock Au Taco. The Wolfe brothers plan to open their new Modern Mexican-inspired Los Lobos in the former Talbot St. Whisky House space in the next few weeks. The menu will show their love for tacos and other Mexican classics, with the focus at the bar being on tequila, mezcal and bourbon.

“The Bird,” as it is warmly referred to, has an idiosyncratic charisma. It features a menu of updated diner classics and new generation comfort foods. These are soulful dishes that include a king-sized “turducken club” made with smoked turkey breast, panko-fried chicken and duck bacon. Try the melt-in-your-mouth potato and cheddar perogies, or the Montreal smoked brisket which is brined on site and which helped cement the entrepreneurial brothers’ savvy culinary reputation.

The Wolfes brought authentic, affordable street-food-style tacos and tequila to downtown London. Rock Au Taco’s menu features cachette (beef cheek), lengua (beef tongue), carnita (pork shoulder), pescado (fish), and papas (potato) and frijoles (re-fried beans) fillings. They’re topped with freshly made salsas, pickled onions and other garnishes. There is a tequila list and a selection of ice-cold cervezas.

Many progressive chefs use research and staging as an inherent part of their culinary development. (Staging is an unremunerated internship; a cook or a chef works temporarily in another chef’s kitchen to be exposed to new methods, techniques and cuisines.) Chef Justin Wolfe staged in Chicago at Graham Elliot, where he spent nearly seven months apprenticing and studying at the Michelin-starred restaurant. Then he was off to master butchery at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats.

Justin has worked as an event chef alongside Executive Chef Liaison Jamie Simpson at The Culinary Vegetable Institute/Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. He has participated in events with chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeth of Thomas Keller’s renowned Per Se in New York, and worked with Cortney Burns of the celebrated Bar Tartine (featuring some of San Francisco’s most experimental cuisine), and with Gunnar Gislason, the chef/restaurateur behind New Nordic cuisine at DILL in Reykjavík. And then there was a stint with chef and culinary scientist Kyle Connaughton formerly of the Fat Duck and now the groundbreaking Single Thread Farms Restaurant in Healdsburg, California.

Every year Justin pitches in with other chefs, including Michael Smith, for Village Feast, a non-profit children’s charity based in Souris, Prince Edward Island, that supports initiatives to improve the lives of children.

The brothers have been the talk of the city with their compact 24-seat restaurant in Wortley Village, which is complemented by a 14-seat patio. This is casual but sophisticated noshing focusing on curing, pickling, fermenting and preserving, and featuring craft cocktails.

The menu includes oysters: raw, cold-smoked, and grilled with Creole butter and parmesan. We ordered a half dozen shucked, cold-smoked, plump, meaty Malpeques bathed in 12-year old scotch and served under a dome with juicy orange segments and house-marinated cherries. When the lid was lifted the oysters appeared under a cloud of billowing smoke for dramatic effect.

Chef du cuisine Kyle Rose excels at the craft of salting, smoking and curing primarily pork products to make salumi, which we know as charcuterie. The downstairs kitchen has a small temperature- and humidity-controlled meat chamber for the house-made salumi. There it develops the rounded savoury taste that comes from slow curing and ripening. The chamber features a “meat window” to showcase a diversity of hanging salumi. Justin gives Rose and sous chef Jason Ward lots of credit for embracing and delivering the restaurant concept that the Wolfes developed.

We ordered ordered the charcuterie board which was underpinned by technique and skill and the salumi had lots of deep flavours and good fat content. There is also culotello (the king of salumi — dry-cured ham) and very tasty coppa (salt-cured from the pig’s neck) on offer.
Snacks might include a creamy chicken liver brûlée, “pickled things”, bone marrow, clams and chicken fried oysters. We loved the “tongue in cheek” which was comprised of beef tongue wrapped in guanciale (cured pork jowl) served with “Nappakraut,” pumpernickel and shmaltznaise. (The origin of shmaltznaise is unclear. The term “schmaltz” is derived is from Yiddish, meaning «rendered animal fat», and the “naise” must stem from mayonnaise.) Nevertheless it was the perfect aioli-like accompaniment.

House-made pastas have included bucatini, served with smoked oyster, bacon, egg yolk and parmesan, and cheese gnocchi with beer mushrooms and mustard. The chicken fried oysters are served with dill, cucumber and hot sauce. Proteins have included steelhead trout, bison ribs and octopus. A colleague of mine talks up the octopus like it is the second coming. There is also whole chicken for two and sometimes a 17oz. rib eye. Menus change weekly.

“Cocktail-wise Gregg likes to riff on the classics, taking something familiar, tried and tested and elevating it,” says, Justin. The cocktail menu was masterminded by Gregg, who started making his homemade infusions of bitters and syrups months in advance of the restaurant’s opening. The cocktail list features craft cocktails that are prepared with fresh ingredients, homemade mixers and premium liquors. Gregg is a bourbon devotee. His signature drink is a potent smoked Manhattan made with Bulleit Bourbon, Antica Formula (red vermouth), Angostura bitters and cherry vanilla bitters served in a cinnamon smoke-filled glass. Besides six signature cocktails there are interesting seasonal features, quality spirits, and flights of bourbon.

There is a respectable bubbly on offer from winemaker Moray Tawse`s Redstone Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, and a great off-dry riesling from Redstone with lots of citrus notes. There is also a cabernet franc and pinot noir blend from Tawse. These are the Ontario offerings on a compact list.
We were so enamoured by the food we finished the evening with pork belly for dessert.
The takeaway? You won’t find more up-to-the-minute culinary savviness than at the upscale Wolfe of Wortley.

Wolfe of Wortley
147 Wortley Road, London
519-854-6004
www.wolfeofwortley.com
Tuesday–Sunday from 5:00 pm

Bryan Lavery is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.





Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rise of Plant-based Cuisine in London, Ontario: Glassroots & Plant Matter Kitchen


BY BRYAN LAVERY


Pre-conceived perceptions of vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based dining are changing very quickly. Again this year we will be celebrating the popular VegFest London in November. The ground-breaking festival presents plant-based and vegan food and products, health and wellness vendors, special guest speakers, cooking demos, and a children’s activity at the Progress Building at the Western Fair. 

Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, or cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products.

In the quest for a more healthful lifestyle more people are adopting vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic and other plant-based products. Good examples of the rise in plant-based food culture are specialty food artisans and vendors like Margaret Coon’s Nuts for Cheese on the second floor of the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market Western Fair. Coon produces a line of of artisanal, handcrafted, and vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews. These healthy and delicious cheeses are billed as being “shreddable, spreadable and meltable” plant-based products that are both dairy- and gluten-free.

Another interesting vegan business is The Boombox Bakeshop at the corner of Adelaide and Princess Avenue. Alexandra Connon creates delicious (and beautiful) pies, cupcakes, popovers, mini pies and other mouth-watering seasonal treats. The bakeshop is a popular veg-friendly bakery and café specializing in vegan and gluten-free vegan goods.

Speaking of plant-based bakeries, be sure to stop in at the new Boho Bake Shop next door to Nuts for Cheese at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. The bakery is entirely gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The baking is naturally sweetened with pure local honey or maple syrup. Each product is prepared from scratch in small batches using high quality, whole organic ingredients. On offer are brownies, squares, cookies, doughnuts and granola bars.
Two new restaurants in London, Glassroots and Plant Matter Kitchen, are featuring upscale vegetable-centred cuisine and breaking new ground for innovative, healthful and quality offerings.

Plant Matter Kitchen



Home to artisans and artists, unique independently owned shops, services and restaurants, Wortley Village in London’s Old South has evolved organically to its present charming revitalized streetscape. The Village boasts a diverse group of interesting buildings with unique boutiques, restaurants, cafés and small-scale from-scratch bakeries, and two of London’s newest and most innovative restaurants, Wolfe of Wortley and Plant Matter Kitchen.

Located in the heart of Wortley Village Plant Matter Kitchen (PMK) is owned by Glenn Whitehead and partner Melanie Wendt. (Wendt is the daughter of restaurateur extraordinaire, Dagmar Wendt who operated the landmark Mexican-inspired Under the Volcano since 1988, until last year.) This wholly vegan, plant-based, organic restaurant has a distinctly back-to-the-earth vibe with an open kitchen and a modern urban sensibility. PMK has adopted a whole food, plant-based focus, crafting vegan fusion meals by mixing global flavours with an ethical ethos.

The restaurant kitchen serves organic plant-based meals, smoothies and a delicious proprietary coffee roast from Patrick’s Beans. There are also beverage pairings that include craft beers by the new Old East Village artisanal brewer, Anderson Ales, and handcrafted effervescent kombucha from Booch Organic Kombucha. The farm-to-table approach is expanded to all menu offerings. Try a power smoothie made with banana, cacao, cashews, chia and hemp seeds and coconut milk. The kitchen incorporates many whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, tofu and seed for a healthy plant-based diet. The kitchen also uses gluten-free vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews and other natural ingredients crafted by the artisans at Nuts for Cheese. Try the delectable baked mac and cheese prepared with gluten-free noodles. Both the signature Caesar and Cobb salads are enjoyable and innovative iterations of classics.

“PMK is as committed to the foundation of local organic and plant-based as possible,” Whitehead says. “We are working with a number of local, smaller and independent farmers to secure that sort of farm-to-table, as close to fresh and as close to its natural state food experience as we can for the restaurant goer.” There is an appealing street side patio for relaxing and people watching. Look for a new expanded patio this year. A second iteration of PMK is expected to open in the former Braywick Bistro premises in the summer of 2017.

Plant Matter Kitchen
162 Wortley Road, London
www.plantmatterkitchen.com
Monday to Wednesday 8:00 AM–8:00 PM
Thursday to Saturday 8:00 AM–10:00 PM
Sunday 10:30 AM–2PM


Glassroots – A Food and Wine Revolution



After seven years in London, Veg Out chef/owner Florine Morrison announced that she would be closing Veg Out in April. Culinary stalwarts Yoda Olinyk and Mike Fish — associates of Morrison — announced in January they would be opening their new restaurant, Glassroots, in the premises at 646 Richmond Street after Veg Out closed.

Olinyk and Fish  opened Glassroots and have quickly taken the concept of “local” to a new level, sourcing everything from as close to home as possible. They are savvy and know how to build an expanded clientele by casting veganism as healthful lifestyle rather than a moral crusade. Olinyk and Fish also know how to build community and have done so very effectively, partially through their crowdfunding initiative and social media channels.

With a newly renovated and intimate dining room (tables are close), Glassroots has become a high-energy hub for a dedicated healthful food culture. The dining room has lots of natural light with stained glass and heritage accents. Olinyk and her culinary team mix local and seasonal made-from-scratch food, with a warm and inviting ambiance and a friendly and authentic dining experience. Olinyk redefines the diverse repertoire of modern plant-based cuisine with a wholly inventive and idiosyncratic approach. Innovation and seasonality are paramount and some menu items change weekly.

Rotating dishes that have been on offer include falafels, hearts of palm calamari, tofu scallops with spicy soba noodle salad, mac and cheese, corn dogs, wild mushroom risotto, Buffalo cauliflower (not the city, the sauce) and waffles. The vegetable charcuterie board features red pepper pepperoni, “Field Roast” sausage, eggplant and tomato pâté, mustard, pickled vegetables and toasts. Another excellent choice is the “Nuts for Cheese” plate, featuring cashew cheese, homemade jams and pickles.

Olinyk is a certified Red Seal chef and is also skilled in plant-based nutrition. She was the brains behind the very successful vegetarian catering company called Yoda’s Kitchen of St. Thomas. She brings to Glassroots her reputation, expertise and repertoire as “the healthy chef” and creates innovative, sometimes surprising, flavoursome creations.

Fish, her partner in life and work, is a certified sommelier, Canadian wine scholar and cocktail guru who bring years of professional experience and training in the wine industry to the table, with a goal of offering one of London’s best wine, craft beer and cocktail lists. The cocktails are fresh, seasonal and a spin on the classics. Try the refreshing Horse’s Neck. This is the only restaurant in town where you can get Muscedere Vineyards pinot grigio from Lake Erie’s North Shore.

Glassroots is open for full service dinners Wednesday to Sunday, and features a Sunday brunch and a healthy, vegan, and take-away lunch throughout the week. The restaurant is available for wine workshops, tasting events, fundraisers and more. There is a charming 14-seat elevated patio facing Richmond Street.

Glassroots Restaurant
646 Richmond St, London
519-850-8688
www.glassrootslondon.com
Mon and Tuesday Closed
Wednesday–Sunday 4:30 PM–CLOSE
Kitchen closes nightly at 10 PM



Friday, July 28, 2017

Another Look at Stratford’s Stellar Revival House & The Belfry






BY BRYAN LAVERY

The once-celebrated Church Restaurant, previously Mackenzie Memorial Gospel Church, is now Revival House. The inspired and ambitious revitalization of the former grand dame of Stratford’s culinary scene took restaurateurs Rob and Candice Wigan just over seven months to complete.
The location and the building’s architectural features and spacious interior inspired its original transformation. The property remains one of Ontario’s finest instances of the conversion of a historic property into a hospitality venue done with integrity and respect for the cultural heritage.

Revival House is the Wigans’ second restaurant rejuvenation in Stratford. The couple purchased Molly Bloom’s Irish Pub in 2008 and put their own unique stamp on every aspect of that business.
 The beautifully restored Revival House is decorated in a mix of wood, exposed brick, light walls, gold railings, and ecclesiastical purple accents and banquettes. Ornamenting the bright interior are original light fixtures and stained glass windows. The dark-wood organ pipes provide a striking backdrop for the stunning curved bar that is crowned with a theatrical copper chandelier that was built by former Stratford Festival prop maker Frank Holt. The main room, known as Sanctuary, has the elegance and simple beauty that comes with restrained taste. The room’s former elevated altar can easily be transformed into a stage or dining area because of the modular furnishings.

In contrast the upstairs gastro-lounge The Belfry, a 65-seat venue, delivers an ambience that has been described as “exotic modern” with peacock blues, a vaulted ceiling and a working copper fireplace that draws inspiration from the downstairs chandelier. The Belfry is welcoming and chic. Snuggled in the former organ loft overlooking the Sanctuary, Confession is the most intimate of the trio of spaces.
The backstory of the Church Restaurant involves former Stratford Festival artistic director Robin Phillips. He was hired in 1975 and spent six years directing many productions, cultivating fresh talent and reinvigorating the Festival. Phillips’ first season coincided with the opening of what would become the landmark Church Restaurant, by his partner, restaurateur Joe Mandel. Of note also is the fact that The Stratford Chefs School started in the kitchens back in 1983. The restaurant would later be sold to and operated by Mark Craft.

I worked at The Church Restaurant when it was in its prime, in the mid-1980s. During those years Maggie Smith and her husband playwright Beverly Cross, like many well-known thespians and celebrities, dined at The Church. They were among the crowd of late night habitués who frequented The Belfry, which was The Church’s upstairs room and a popular pre- and post-theatre destination. The Belfry was the bastion of hospitality and completed many a visitor’s Stratford theatre experience.
The Wigans met and befriended Joe Mandel, who provided historical context to The Church’s early days, which in turn has reinforced their vision. Candice explains that they have revived some of the traditions that made The Church such a popular hotspot in its heyday. Unlike its seasonal predecessor, The Belfry remains open for the winter months, offering a menu expressing the depth of Perth County’s food culture. Since opening, its menus have revealed a passion for using local and sustainable ingredients, showcasing nose-to-tail cuisine and the best of what Ontario has to offer.

Loreena Miller and her culinary team have brought French country cuisine back to The Belfry. Chef Miller explains that she shares a love for maple, duck fat and everything delicious and sinful that underpins French country cooking with Candice, whose maternal heritage originates in Quebec. 
Miller worked alongside previous chefs at Revival House, and her progression to head chef is the natural evolution. Joining Miller in the kitchen is Andrew McLean, known for his tenure at Rundles as sommelier and head waiter.



The restaurant is known for its antipasto and charcuterie, which I have tasted on several occasions. On one visit the charcuterie board included house-cured lamb ham, duck prosciutto, wild boar rillettes, smoked trout rillettes, speck (smoked pork leg) and lonza (cured pork loin). We sampled Miller’s potted chicken liver, a hearty mousse with pickled rhubarb and black pepper jam. There was a seminal gazpacho of tomato embellished with tomato gel, aioli and smoked paprika, and a delicate seared whitefish on warm Loco Field organic greens with grilled polenta which made a perfect repast.
The menu revives French-styled cuisine, with an added modern sensibility. Expect to find dishes such as fresh oysters, confit duck; Nicoise salad, poutine with Quebec cheese curds, gravy and rosemary fries; Croque Monsieur with sourdough, ham, gruyere cheese and béchamel; and salmon succotash with summer squash, tarragon, white wine and lemon cream; steak frites and beef ribeye. There is a well-chosen selection of VQA wines and an inspired cocktail list.






Revival House is a sought-after venue for celebrations, conferences and weddings. Music continues to be an essential part of the programs and Revival House is home to the Stratford Summer Music’s cabaret and opera series. The staff hosted 22 weddings last year and events manager Alysha Ford has 23 weddings booked for this year.

There is a stunning 48-seat garden terrace beside the Brunswick Street entrance. High Tea and Sunday Brunch add yet another layer of temptation to the offerings.

Revival House
70 Brunswick Street, Stratford
519-273-3424
www.revival.house
OPEN Tuesday, 4 pm till close
Wednesday - Saturday, 11 am till close
Sunday Brunch 11 - 2pm 
(They like to be flexible about things like closing)
Special Events may affect these hours.


Reservations recommended







Rooted in Community: The Root Cellar Organic Cafe, in London’s Old East Village





The core of The Root Cellar’s creative, co-operative structure includes, from the left, Mariam Waliji, Ellie Cook, Melissa Harland, Aaron Lawrence, Paul Harding and Jeff Pastorius.


BY BRYAN LAVERY

Delve into the emerging food and cultural district in London’s historic Old East Village. Stop into The Root Cellar Organic Restaurant, with its fresh, from-scratch organic offerings, artistic interior and friendly workers. Since its inception in July of 2012 as a small 20-seat café, The Root Cellar has evolved into a 70-seat destination café/pub and restaurant.

On the second floor there is a new special events venue called Taproot. With a reclaimed aesthetic, carpentry by Arlen Galloway and metalwork by Wojchiech Sikorski (the craftsmen behind The Root Cellar’s artistry), the LCBO-licensed space with a 55-person capacity has been designed for special events and is also available for rent.

The restaurant’s interior is artful and functional with many comfortable seating options that add to the eclecticism of the space. Monthly local art exhibits and decorative features like the large sheet-metal flowers suspended above the bar reflect the café’s artisan sensibility.

The Root Cellar is in transition to a worker-owned co-operative business structure. Known as the Forest City Worker Co-operative and closely aligned with On the Move Organics (OTMO) and London Brewing Co-operative (LBC), members find satisfaction in the community that they live in and love, while serving up the best organic products from the local food shed (food consumed within 100 miles of where it was produced). Founding members are Jeff Pastorius (also founding partner of OTMO), Aaron Lawrence, Joel Pastorius, and restaurant manager Ellie Cook. What they advocate goes way beyond local and organic eating and drinking.

The business embraces the principles of the Slow Food movement, the non-profit educational organization dedicated to supporting and celebrating regional culinary identities, while encompassing the purity of the organic movement. The concept for The Root Cellar originated from the ambition to bring the community together with area organic farmers and producers as an outgrowth of OTMO, the progenitor, supplier and sister organization that connects people to local certified organic food producers. This is accomplished through its community-supported agriculture home delivery service and its organic green grocer at the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair on Saturdays.
There is also an organic juice and smoothie bar known as the Root Cellar Market Kitchen on the second floor of the market. Customers can choose from a menu of nutritious, energizing, detoxifying, or just plain refreshing drinks. The staff concoct fresh, healthful creations every weekend to keep things interesting. Organic cold-pressed juices and bakery products are also available.

Chef Paul Harding’s former TOOK (The Only on King), with its enthusiastic support of local farmers and producers, embodied the farm-to-table philosophy. When TOOK ceased operations Harding, who is credited with helping to revolutionize the local restaurant scene with farm-to-table ideals, became the standout choice for Executive Chef, to give The Root Cellar’s kitchen some recalibrating. Sous chef Hunter Guidon and junior sous chef Michael Schart are pivotal members of the energetic culinary team who have helped to fine-tune the already successful operation and increase the dinner offerings.

The repertoire of from-scratch menu offerings with ever-changing specials are all organic (with minor exceptions), procured from the local farming community. All of the produce and ingredients in the restaurant’s dishes are certified organic, with 80% local in season. The challenge is how to compete with less expensive, imported foods and how to compensate organic farmers with a fair price yet keep menu offerings accessible to patrons.

Harding has added more protein choices (wild-caught fish, organic grass-fed beef steak, and free-range organic poultry) while keeping lots of plant-powered dishes on the menu. Wild-caught Manitoulin whitefish and potato cake with kimchi, bacon and Gingerich Farms poached certified-organic egg is on the current dinner menu. The ploughshares board is exceptional and is designed for both vegans and carnivores — there are so many good components that it will require your undivided attention. House-made pickle coins are deep-fried in London Brewing Co-op beer batter and are served with a curried BBQ sauce. We are long-time fans of the locally-sourced Berkshire pork sausages and the free-range, pasture-raised water buffalo burger recommended by long-time worker Kim Miller. Check out the sourcing blackboard in the dining room to find out which ingredients are sourced from each farm or producer.

There is ethically-sourced and wildcrafted tea. Coffee beans are organic and either Fairtrade certified or bought directly from the growers and roasted locally by Patrick’s Beans. Milk, cream, sugar — it’s all organic. The house-made baked goods are made from the historic Arva Flour Mill’s organic grains and flours.

The wine list features VQA wines from Pelee Island Winery, Southbrook Vineyards (certified organic), and Frogpond Farms Organic Winery. Our server, Raven Brown (former TOOK manager) tells us that the list will soon be expanded to add more wine diversity from Ontario. There is a small curated cocktail menu that has just launched. Think matcha, ginger Booch, basil, and Junction 56 gin.
To be a great restaurant, you have to provide an exceptional experience. Food enthusiasts aren’t just going out to dine any more, they’re looking to have a great encounter. The Root Cellar excels as a hub for community creativity, innovation and food-focused special events. Be sure to keep an eye out for cooking classes, workshops, community dinners, and collaborative efforts. The knowledgeable workers invite you to discover what it means to be rooted in your community, a local economy and a local food system.

The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street, London
519-719-7675
www.rootcellarorganic.ca 
Monday–Friday: 11am–10pm
Saturday: 9am–10pm
Sunday: closed
Photography by Mariam Waliji


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stratford, Ontario’s Fine Dining Stalwart: The Prune and Bar One Fifty One





BY BRYAN LAVERY


Chef Bryan Steele has trained and mentored hundreds of professional chefs. In his capacity as senior cookery instructor at the Stratford Chefs School, the originality and diversity of culinary undertakings that span his three-decade oeuvre have helped lay the underpinning for the culinary revolution that we see both locally and nationally.

In what began in 1977 as a “self-directed sabbatical from work,” Eleanor Kane and Marion Isherwood opened The Old Prune (then a tea room) in Stratford, which led to successful careers as restaurateurs. With James Morris of Rundles Restaurant, which opened the same year, Kane later co-founded the Stratford Chefs School.

The Old Prune, under the direction of Isherwood and Kane, cemented its reputation with Sue Anderson in the kitchen. In 1988, The New York Times stated, “The Old Prune serves lunch, dinner and after-theater suppers in three Edwardian dining rooms and on a patio. The creamy pastas and deft salad plates are recommended here, as well as the loin of lamb with twice-cooked pepper and sauté of spinach with sage cream sauce. Desserts include prune and Armagnac ice cream and a very rich chocolate terrine. The fixed price for a three-course dinner is $25.

Chef Steele took The Old Prune to another level. I first became aware of Steele when he was sous-chef at Stadtländer’s in Toronto in the mid-’80s. Steele has been chef de cuisine at The Prune and an educator at the Stratford Chefs School since 1989. He had acquired a degree in chemistry from Queen’s University before turning to gastronomy. The Old Prune became The Prune after it changed hands in 2011 when Bill and Shelley Windsor, who owned and operated The Parlour Inn, took possession.

Steele and sous chef Michael Fry continue to elevate the dining experience at The Prune with a sophisticated and approachable menu that is handsomely prepared and well executed. Ryan O’Donnell’s role as executive chef of the Windsor Hospitality Company (which operates The Prune, Mercer Kitchen/Hotel, and Levetto Baden) is to support his colleagues and assist in integrating Bar One Fifty One, the new adjoining bar to The Prune’s kitchen, says O’Donnell. “This integration is a team effort using the many talents of our chefs both at The Prune and Mercer Kitchen. From a culinary perspective we are excited about the synergies we can create between the three restaurants and how they will help us create better and better food across the board.”

Designer Emily Wunder, an integral part of Mercer Kitchen’s rebrand last year, collaborated with the Windsor’s on Bar One Fifty One to curate an atmosphere that feels exclusive without pretention. The goal is to echo the natural elements found in The Prune’s gardens and trees. This is achieved with the extensive use of wooden surfaces and naturalistic patterns, accented with energizing golden tones and lighting. The bar’s relaxed and elegant vibe is the perfect backdrop to the signature cocktails, varied wine list, and tailored bar menu.
The Bar One Fifty One menu concept is based on the best qualities exemplified by the many small cafés and bars Chef O’Donnell frequented during a half year in France. Customers can feel welcome for any type of experience be it lunch, dinner or late night snacks and cocktails. A short curated menu offers classic dishes chosen for their comfort factor. The goal is to execute simple and satisfying plates with the care and quality The Prune is known for, at an accessible price point.

The menu in the dining room at The Prune is an ever-changing seasonal prix fixe, offering two courses for $59.00, three courses for $75.00, or four courses for $85.00. This arrangement helps expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining. The restaurant is formal but only in the sense of being professional. The menu designed for a prix fixe experience is available à la carte upon request. Appetizer dishes might include Chicken Liver Mousse, seabuckthorn and rhubarb chutney, brioche; Hot smoked Boone Run trout, radish and cucumber salad; or Seared squid, seaweed, kale with turmeric-ginger. Mid courses are currently Risotto with cherry tomato, basil, thyme and house-made ricotta, and Tortelli with onion, bacon, fresh peas and herbs. Traditional main dishes could include “Smoked” Muscovy duck breast, white bean, frisée and caramelized cabbage, or Seared Cornish hen, spinach and mushroom salad with herb dumplings. There is a grilled 28 ounce bone-in rib steak for two, with white asparagus and sauce Choron ($10 supplement per person). For an additional charge, sides are offered, as are specialties like the house-made sourdough bread baked fresh daily and served with house made pickles, butter and labneh (a yogurt-style cheese).

Manager Shelley Buss has crafted an excellent cocktail list. Steele and Buss have paired each dish with a wine. Buss takes pride in offering new and exciting wines for guests to try, that they may have not heard of before. The Prune likes to primarily offer Canadian wines by the glass, with a few additional options from around the world. The bottle list is Buss’s pride and joy. It is extensive and has many selections that can’t be found anywhere else or are rare vintages.
Steele’s cuisine reflects a gastronomic sensibility that is global and finds inspiration in regional producers and seasonal growers. The challenge during the busy theatre season is for service to be unswerving. The restaurant generally operates at a very high skill level and the service is intelligent and responsive. There is also a charming outdoor patio.

With the announcement that Jim Morris is retiring and Rundles will close at the end of this season, The Prune will be among the last of the fine dining stalwarts left in Stratford. The Prune and Bar One Fifty One are always worth a trip for an optimal and vital dining experience, even if you’re not attending the Stratford Festival.

The Prune
151 Albert Street, Stratford
519-271-5052
www.theprune.com

Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday: 4:30 pm–10 pm

Bar One Fifty One
Lunch: Tuesday to Saturday: 11:30 am–2 pm
Dinner: Tuesday to Wednesday: 4:30 pm–10 pm
Thursday to Saturday: 4:30 pm–12 am

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Culinary News Summer 2017

BY BRYAN LAVERY

The Ontario Liberal government’s recent announcement of a plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour — a 32% hike — in the next 18 months has created grave concerns for many small business owners, particularly in the labour-intensive hospitality industry. A government-commissioned report made 173 recommendations aimed at creating better workplaces with decent working conditions. But the average Ontario restaurant operator exists on a pre-tax profit margin of 3.4% of sales, which according to Statscan is the lowest in Canada.
The restaurant business is a challenging way of life, and even the most dedicated and talented professionals are often ill-equipped to withstand dramatic turns in the economy. It takes more than tenacious determination and open-minded optimism to succeed in this field, one known for its high turnover and burn-out rate. The new laws will affect how restaurants are staffed and shifts are scheduled. Some pundits suggest the wage hike will require menu prices to increase by 20%.

London Training Centre’s Culinary Pre-Apprentice­ship students start 8-week placements with restaurants and event venues the first week of July. The Local Food Skills Program is growing food ecologically again this year on a new property west of London. The program continues throughout the summer and fall with a 3-week program every month. LTC is currently working on a September schedule for cooking classes and culinary fundamentals such as bread baking, charcuterie, curing/smoking etc. There will be evening and weekend class options. londontraining.on.ca

The Growing Chefs! Ontario team is excited to welcome you into their new Growing Chefs Headquarters. They have worked hard to transform the former Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant into an innovative Food Education Centre. It is a venue where Londoners, young and old, can get excited about growing, cooking, sharing, and celebrating delicious healthy food together. growingchefsontario.ca

David’s Bistro, elegantly tucked into a fine Richmond Street heritage building and one of downtown London’s culinary landmarks, is closing from July 1 to August 15 to upgrade the building after a fire caused smoke and water damage in the adjacent premises. davidsbistro.ca

Chef Angela Murphy of Restaurant Ninety One at Windermere Manor will launch new summer menus on July 12. The staff at Windermere Manor will be marching in the Pride parade on July 30th and handing out flyers for a “Pride On” event. In order to extend Pride London Festival celebrations there will be a semi-formal gala event at Windermere Manor on August 4, open to the public. Tickets are $20 until July 1, increasing to $25, then $30 at the door. restaurantninetyone.ca

North Moore Catering/River Room owner/proprietor Jess Jazey-Spoelstra and chef Andrew Wolwowicz’s new venture, Craft Farmacy, is now slated to open in early September at 449 Wharncliffe Road South. It will feature local craft beer, an oyster bar, rustic-style food, sharing plates, great wines and fabulous house cocktails. Tyler Weatherall is the new sous chef at the River Room. northmoore.ca/theriverroom/

The Wolfe brothers of Wolfe of Wortley and The Early Bird plan to open Mexican-inspired Los Lobos in the former Talbot St. Whisky House space in early August. The menu will show their love for tacos and other Mexican classics, with the focus at the bar being on tequila, mezcal and bourbon.

Garlic’s of London owner Edo Pehilj and manager Emma Pratt are supporters of farm-to-table cuisine, and ensure their carefully chosen team offers intelligent and ethically-informed menu selections. Chef Carla Cooper features top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using quality seasonal ingredients. garlicsoflondon.com

The Squire Pub and Grill, located in the Art Deco former bank building at Dundas and Talbot, is a welcoming, American-style pub and grill. It features good food and great deals through the week. It’s in close proximity to Covent Garden Market and perfect for before and after events at Budweiser Gardens — or to grab a pint and a snack. Pub Stumpers Trivia League begins in September. Open for lunch, dinner and late nights daily. www.squirepubandgrill.ca

The Root Cellar offers from-scratch seasonal menus, a funky reclaimed interior, and a friendly, knowledgeable staff in Old East Village. They possess a strong commitment to sourcing ingredients from the local organic farming community through their partners at On The Move Organics. Recently opened is a second-floor, 55-seat, renovated special events space, Taproot. Hosting everything from concerts and workshops to board meetings and private dinners, Taproot might just be the fresh event space you’re looking for. rootcellarorganic.ca

SO INVITING is the new Chinese bakery across from the Farmers’ Market at Western Fair, offering a variety of savoury hand-made dumplings (pot stickers) and a selection of not-too-sweet baking. The savoury bean paste cookies are a big hit. There are plenty of fresh and delicious goodness on the shelves and in the freezer for take away.

The London Food Truck Association has turned blocks of downtown into a food truck pod. Bifana Boys (Portuguese food), COCOville (Caribbean & Cuban), Goodah Gastrotruck (gourmet grilled cheese), Donut Diva (mini-doughnuts), Smokestacks (smoked brisket & pulled pork), MegaCone Creamery (ice cream) and Roli Poli (hand-rolled ice cream) park in specific blocks on different days: Tuesdays at Talbot & Queens, Wednesdays at Richmond & Queens, Thursdays at King & Wellington, and Fridays at Queens & Wellington. On Sundays, look for food trucks at Springbank Park from noon–5pm across from the splash pad.

The McVegan’s food truck, owned by Globally Local, focusses on vegan options at festivals. Try the McInnes Burger — a take on the Big Mac — or their BBQ sandwich made from jackfruit and served with creamy coleslaw. One of our favourite food trailers is the organic, Mexican-inspired ivanopoblano on Oxford St. east of Quebec St.

Culinary entrepreneur Dave Cook has opened The Pickle Social Club — a performance and event venue — at 874 Dundas St., directly across from the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair. The space is for rent on a short-term basis, from a few hours to a few days in a row, for purposes such as a baby shower, a photo shoot, a work retreat, a pop-up retail shop, or more. picklesocialclub.com

Ian Kennard’s Willie’s Catering & Take-out recently joined businesses like Dave Cook’s Fire Roasted Coffee, Heather Pirsky’s Naturally Vegan, Kim Banma’s gluten-free bakery Urban Oven, David Glen’s Glen Farms Herbs & Preserves and The Village Table (non-profit Meals on Wheels) at the London Food Incubator. Joining these start-ups is Yam Gurung of Momo’s at the Market, who is opening a satellite location soon. Anchoring the space is the Old East Village Grocer, an independent grocery store offering healthy and affordable food products while doubling as a retail training space for people with disabilities.

The Bicycle Café opened at 355 Clarence St. near King. Owner Ben Cowie is serving Rosso Coffee, a small coffee roaster in Calgary that works directly with growers to create new and exciting taste profiles. The café part of the business is upfront of the shop and an espresso machine is slated to arrive from Italy soon. Out back a bicycle shop focusses on sales and service for urban cycling. londonbicyclecafe.com

In downtown London, Five Fortune Culture Restaurant at the corner of Dundas and Richmond is part of the groundswell of restaurants offering an authentic dining experience. This is not the typical Chinese-Canadian restaurant serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients. The cuisine as prepared by owner Jie Liang and Wenbei is “Pure Chinese” Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences.

Che Restobar is taking a summer siesta and is closed for regular dining. It will be available for private events and catering. Check out Facebook and Twitter for updates. Visit Che Restobar at Sunfest in Victoria Park from July 6–9.
Tea sommelier and nutritionist Michelle Pierce Hamilton and her business partner Yixing Tang opened The Tea Lounge in a small charming house on Piccadilly Street east of Richmond. They recently launched a menu of cold drinks, iced teas and vegan-friendly lattes. Matcha, London Fog and cinnamon-orange spiced tea lattes are available hot or iced. There is afternoon tea service one Sunday per month. Book a sitting at the monthly Tea Flight Nights to experience a comparative tasting. A small in-house scratch menu and baked goods and healthful snacks from Petit Paris Crêperie & PâtisserieBoombox Bakeshop and Bliss Specialty Foods add to the experience. tealoungelondon.com

Idlewyld Inn & Spa’s features a locally-inspired menu of contemporary and traditional favourites and decadent desserts, complemented by a selection of award-winning wines, and draughts and ales on tap. Enjoy some al fresco dining on the gracious front porch, or escape to Idlewyld’s hidden garden courtyard. Back by popular demand, Chef Trevor Stephens is master of the grill. Summer BBQ nights are held Wednesdays & Thursdays. idlewyld.com

The Church Key Bistro-Pub follows in the British-inspired tradition of contemporary food executed with panache and attention to detail. Chef Michael Anglestad’s from-scratch kitchen features seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. Owners Peter and Vanessa Willis recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of this downtown landmark that features one of London’s top patio dining experiences. thechurchkey.ca

Stratford
Wanting to sharpen your kitchen skills, or just your knives? For the first time in its 34-year history Stratford Chefs School is offering spring and summer cooking classes and learning experiences for the dedicated home cook. There is something for all skill levels, whether you want to cook the perfect burger or ferment vegetables. www.smore.com/v8qr5-open-kitchen-classes?ref=email

The Mill Stone Restaurant & Bar features a seasonal menu with small plates of globally-inspired flavours and locally-sourced ingredients that focus on light and healthy fare. Be sure to try the signature back ribs from Perth Pork Products Ltd. The restaurant features cocktails on tap and in bottles, homemade bitters, locally-brewed beer on tap, and a varied bottle list. There is a focus on Canadian wines. There is also a small but charming street-side patio. themillstone.ca

SAV Eatery + Smokehouse is a “proper Southern diner smokehouse” with 70 seats on the main floor and additional seating for events and private dining on the lower level. It is authentic Lowcountry cuisine, associated with South Carolina and the Georgia coast. The menu features smoked foods and traditional Savannah and Charleston fare, like Shrimp & Grits. Everything from the ribs and BBQ sauces to the breads and buns is made in-house. Pork is sourced from local Tamworth herds and the butchery is done by chef/owner Angie Mohr. The custom-built smoker is completely wood-fired and can hold 350 pounds of meat at a time. Expected opening in July.

An era comes to an end! Stratford will lose one of its iconic dining landmarks at the close of this year’s Stratford Festival. Owner Jim Morris is retiring and Rundles will be closing for good in September. Rundles made its name with high-end contemporary French cuisine, artfully plated, with a worldly influence. The restaurant is synonymous with classicism and a refined level of wine sophistication. Neil Baxter has been chef de cuisine at Rundles since 1981. The restaurant will have its last dinner service on September 23. rundlesrestaurant.com

Chef Loreena Miller has unveiled a rustic-French summer menu at Revival House. The menu is divided into Petits PlatsFromageSalades Repas (meal size salads), SandwichesPour Partager (dishes for sharing), and Grand Plats (mains). Highlights include Sarde in Saor sweet and sour marinated sardines, a classic French Onion Soup, a new vegetarian Eggplant Involtini, Potato Gnocchi, Chicken Supreme and Salmon Succotash (with summer squash, tarragon, white wine and lemon cream). revival.house

Mercer Kitchen/Beer Hall/Hotel is expanding by rebranding the Baden location as Mercer Mercato, bringing the quality and value that it has come to stand for to a whole new market, and featuring an exciting restaurant menu as well as an extensive list of prepared meals to take home.

Windsor Hospitality, parent company to both Mercer and The Prune, is adding Stratford’s iconic York Street Kitchen to its family of restaurants. Everyone’s favourite boutique restaurant, York Street Kitchen, on Erie Street, is known for creative sandwiches, innovative salads and sides, and homemade desserts. Owner/founder Susie Palach, who celebrates nearly three decades in business, is staying on to ensure the magic shines brighter than ever with the support of Windsor Hospitality’s dynamic team.

Classical Food with a Modern Twist: Spruce on Wellington



Photographer Steve Grimes


Classical Food with a Modern Twist: Spruce on Wellington

BY BRYAN LAVERY

Spruce on Wellington opened in January 2017 in a small house. Its minimalist design has charm and is compact with 32 seats in the dining room and 22 on a nicely appointed seasonal patio. The premises were formerly those of Willie’s Café, a landmark catering company and lunch hot-spot for over three decades. (Incidentally, a new iteration, Willie’s Catering and Takeout recently opened at the London Food Incubator in Old East Village.) The intimacy of the operation allows executive chef/owner Thomas Waite and chef de cuisine Evan Futcher (formerly of The Springs and Black Trumpet) to not only prepare meals à la minute, but be hands-on in the dining room to converse with the diners.

There is a good-hearted bravado about Waite that is disarming. During a lengthy conversation we talked operational challenges, acoustics, social media and chef colleagues who share their talent and passion for the profession. Since he was able to talk, Waite wanted to be a chef and has worked towards that dream. As a child he transformed the family basement into a restaurant, naming it after hockey legend Mario Lemieux. Waite’s aim for the Spruce on Wellington to become a jewel in the city’s dining scene is an understandable ambition.
He was 15 when he began to adopt restaurant lingo and kitchen jargon, while working at Joe Kool’s. At the RiverBend Golf Community Waite worked for five years under the guidance of executive chef Kirk Weiss, whom he credits as an important mentor. After enrolling in the Culinary Skills and Culinary Management programs at Fanshawe College Waite received his Red Seal certification, which he refers to as “a high point in my life.”

Before turning 30, Waite had eight surgical procedures which resulted in an ostomy. Having to mitigate and combat his health concerns while pursuing his career has been worrisome. Another surgery to reverse the procedure is slated for the near future. “This is all part of who I am and my personal story,” says Waite cheerfully, revealing a certain mettle when I ask whether disclosing this in print is an unreasonable intrusion and invasion of his privacy. Waite, by his own account, draws inspiration from molecular gastronomy proponent, Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea and Next in Chicago. Achatz famously surmounted his own well-publicized health issues.

In our conversation, Chef expresses gratitude for his parents, Greg and Evelyn, for having supported his career, and for being hands-on during the construction and now with day-to-day operations. In fact, his father crafted all the dining room tabletops out of spruce wood.

Waite started The In Home Chef catering business in 2010, as an outlet to express contemporary takes on cuisine. Delivering a professional restaurant experience directly, Waite is known for classic, seasonal food preparation, with a twist. Custom menus allow him to express his culinary point of view, and this freedom is the driving force to which he attributes his success as a caterer.
“To me, being a chef isn’t a job. When I am in a kitchen working with my hands, I feel complete. Being a chef isn’t just a part of me, it’s who I am,” says Waite brimming with conviction.

Last year The In Home Chef catered 160 events, and Waite is looking to surpass that record. In addition, Waite has taught cooking classes at Loblaws Superstores, as well as the Peppertree Spice Company in Port Stanley. Intimate, immersive cooking classes are also offered at The Spruce. There is a line of popular dressings and marinades retailed in-house and at Remark Fresh Markets. But first and foremost is the issue of how to run a successful catering operation and a demanding restaurant simultaneously, while balancing all of his culinary interests.

Chef is among a group of young entrepreneurs living their dream and driving the city’s expanding foodie circuit. He collaborates with chefs like Ashton Gillespie (profiled last year in an article on the now defunct Le-Rendezvous, he is now a chef specialist for Diply Delicious videos) who he hires for special catering events.

Waite takes his sleeve of tattoos as seriously as he takes his knives. His culinary fervour is expressed with intricate, multi-coloured graphics on his forearm, which also sports the moniker, Chef. The other arm features a series of overlapping roses and the quote, “Live long and prosper” — which he emphatically states is by no means a tribute to Star Trek, but homage to his grandfather. His mother’s middle name is Rose.

Waite’s creativity is strong. I recall the standout “Little Tommy’s Meat Loaf,” when he was sous chef at Byron Freehouse. Comprised of pork infused with Asian aromatics and caramelized onions, it was finished with a ponzu-like citrus soy glaze. Another strong memory is of his layered butternut squash parfait with whipped yogurt, honey, granola, quinoa, spiced nuts and dried apricots when he was chef at Icarus Restobar. A blast of flavour with the crunch and texture of spiced nuts combined with the sweetness of honey against the yogurt and dried apricots. It was pure alchemy.

Artfully arranged beef tartare, pork belly and charcuterie are on trend and as appetizers here at the Spruce they generate good word of mouth. Picture a plate of impeccably house-cured and smoked Manitoulin Trout with toasted rye bread, green goddess dressing, sprouts, marinated cucumber, shallot pearls and grated horseradish that has become a house signature. An earthy coq au vin is made with succulent breast and thighs, cabernet sauvignon, pearl onions, wild boar bacon, mushrooms and cream. At lunch perfectly al dente fettuccine carbonara with Parmigiano and boar bacon crowned with a raw egg that is essentially cooked by tossing the hot pasta is a hit. There is also a good Bolognese and delicious potato gnocchi. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays.

The wine list, while not terribly extensive, is reasonable and has good selections with some VQA. There is a short but interesting cocktail list.

Waite is a chef for whom work is everything — his consuming passion is for cooking and jobs he can really sink his teeth in. His cuisine is beautifully handcrafted, classic in its influences, innovative in sensibility and plating. Known for combining flavours and textures in outstanding ways, he talks about incorporating foams, powders and dry ice on future menus. “But nothing too crazy,” says Waite with a smile.

The Spruce on Wellington
731 Wellington Street, London
519-434-9797
www.spruceonwellington.com