Thursday, November 9, 2017

Heartfelt Thank you to Forest City Cookbook

Dear Alieska, Brian, Amanda, Chad and Carl,

As you enter the next phase, having completed the extensive and exhausting studio work, I want to publicly thank you for contacting me and including me in this ground-breaking project. What an immense task you have undertaken to bring both the culinary and agricultural community to the attention of the larger public. Your impact as artists, innovators, communicators and community builders is more than admirable. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for the dedication, talent and skill everyone involved has brought to this initiative. I also want to acknowledge the generosity of McKaskell Haindl for providing a creative and collaborative studio space for all involved. It is this type of support and community spirit that has enhanced this project from the beginning.

People coming together with mutual understanding and expectations provide a place to build and foster a stronger food community. Passion and commitment need to be acknowledged but so does your professionalism. The manner in which you have proceeded with the Forest City Cookbook goes a long way to advancing and giving voice to the agricultural and culinary sector. As well, you have provided a fresh platform for community engagement.

Many people who are employed in kitchens feel they are working in a vacuum, in the absence of connections with their colleagues and other professionals in the industry. There has been a lack of sustained, dedicated support in giving voice to and highlighting the profiles of people in the culinary and agricultural community. I know the Forest City Cookbook will go a long way in not only elevating but providing insight into the tremendous amount of local talent and culinary innovation. 
We need to continue to talk about our farmers with different and distinctive voices. We need unique points of view to tell our "local food" stories in innovative ways while raising the profiles of our farmers, purveyors and artisans. You are setting a high benchmark with this initiative and all the other interactions and community engagement that it entails. Thank you.

Bryan Lavery November 10, 2017

In response to the Forest City Cookbook’s crowdfunding campaign, London developer Joe Carapella is pitching in to help. Carapella’s Tricar Group has pre-ordered 200 books to help fund the production and printing of London Ontario’s community cookbook. This donation pushed Forest City Cookbook past its minimum goal of 1000 books pre-ordered. If you don’t have a copy reserved yet, be sure to place your order by December! 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Chili Chowder Chow Chow: It's all Scots to Me.


Decades have passed since I worked with my best friend Bonnie at the Corkscrew Restaurant in London, Ontario, yet our friendship remains solid and enduring. The Corkscrew was one of the ubiquitous steak and lobster, salad bar chains that plagued the culinary landscape in the late-1970s and 1980s. Surprisingly, the Corkscrew with its fake castle motif and servers in festive peasant garb attracted a hot-bed of raw talent and many employees went on to illustrious careers in the culinary world. Bonnie was not among them. She set her sights elsewhere.

At nineteen, Bonnie and I were fledglings and hungry for life experience. Though newly acquainted, we decided to travel across Europe together. Yet it was on this trip that our culinary competitiveness first reared its head. Returning from Amsterdam and Brussels, we were boarding with friends, (of our mutual best friend Tara’s cousin) in Barking, just  outside London. In an ill fated attempt to thank them for weeks of self-sacrificing hospitality, I decided to prepare what I then mistakenly deemed a typical Canadian dinner.

Today this day, I recoil when I recall that my meatloaf 
 a noble staple of my childhood and a praiseworthy dish that personifies "peasant" rusticity – resulted in shameful failure. It was due to youthful bravado coupled with an unfamiliar oven. Bonnie, has since mastered the art of a wry, well-delivered anecdote (read fable), alleges our startled hosts hid the undercooked, half-eaten meatloaf behind the sofa. She further claims that while I was doing the washing up they moved it to their bedroom to be discretely disposed of at a later date.

Dreading a repeat performance, I soon learned the eccentricities of the British stove and not to attempt to pass off culinary failures, no matter how high the expectation, or how self-sacrificing the guest. Bonnie, however, did not immediately benefit from my disaster. Her pay off would come later and with alarming frequency in her self-satisfied retelling of this unfortunate incident.
Through the years, she has continued to multiply her litany of complaints about my culinary abilities with fresh embellishments. Chief among them is an exaggerated version of an overly sweet blackberry crumble recipe which I served on a pleasant holiday weekend in Parry Sound some years ago. She has a taste for blood and there has been no stopping her.
Shortly after my youthful calamity, she took her turn in the kitchen. In those days, blackened food had not acquired the patina of respectability it briefly enjoyed in the 1990's. The jury is still out on whether or not the smoke and the flames were intentional.

Bonnie was unaware of our host's discomfort and less-than-enthusiastic reaction to their smoke-filled living room. She asserted that this dish made with turnips and beef marinated and braised in stout was an ancestral Scottish recipe. She misidentified this invention as beer steak with pedantic insistence, despite evidence to the contrary. And, of course, this was her original claim to clan-and-tartan Highland blood, and the first of many ill-considered attempts to revise Scotland’s culinary repertoire and customs. Her lineage are Stewart`s known for several  illegitimate offspring which include King James IV. Never mind the dubious marriages. 

Imagine regional Scot's dishes with names of mysterious origins like Partan Bree (cream of crab soup), Cullen Skink (finnan haddie soup), Feather Fowlie (roasting fowl), Smoored Pullets (fried chicken), Finkadella (meat ball), Howtowdie(roast chicken with poached eggs and spinach) and ForFar Birdies (meat pies). These curious and tempting recipes are all gathered from the rugged Highlands and the loch-studded Lowlands of Scotland in a book of recipes called The Highlander's Cookbook, that belonged to Bonnie's mother Norma. There is no such listing for "beer steak".

Bonnie's true claim to culinary fame, though, is her recipe for Chili Chowder Chow Chow. The chili part of the equation has little to do with the famed bowl of red. Chili may be a generic term, embellished by traditions, mostly to do with heat, but this logic does not apply here. Nor does the mixture bear any passing resemblance to the hearty dish known as chowder. It has crossed my mind that she calls it chowder in honour of the French chaudiere, meaning cauldron. But this explanation is unlikely, since the dish is prepared in the microwave.

Hostility has simmered for generations over New England versus Manhattan clam chowder (Maine once passed a bill prohibiting the integration of tomatoes with clams). But that is a minor dispute next to the intense arguments over chili recipes. In Texas, where it is considered a crime to add beans to chili, Bonnie would be looking at life, for this concoction.

Chow chow, an assortment of pickles of various types, especially mixed vegetables in mustard, must have been added solely for alliteration, because there is none here. If memory serves, this hodgepodge consists of a can of kidney beans, another of creamed corn, some tomatoes, perhaps some canned soup and whatever else might be on hand. Chili Chowder Chow Chow has little hope of gaining a following but, then again, you never know.

Dragonfly Bistro — Intimate, Stylish and Attentive with an Indo-Dutch Flair — Celebrates 10 years

Chef/Co-Owner Donald Yuriaan 
Kari Kol
Ayam Bumbu


“Bistro,” a restaurant category that harkens back to the late 19th century in France and the early 20th century in England, is flexible in its connotations, but always refers to an establishment where one can have a meal as well as drinks. True bistros are generally small, and their menus are characteristically comprised of straightforward selections, often rustic in nature but not pricey. Dragonfly Bistro is one such place.

For me, the name Dragonfly conjures up images of beauty and exotica. The adult dragonfly can thrust itself in six directions: downward, upward, forward, backward, and side to side, so the choice of the name Dragonfly for the restaurant intrigued me.

Even though the restaurant has large and attractive windows facing the street, in some respects it remains hidden in plain sight at the north end of Richmond Row, housed in the premises once occupied by the Village Café next door to the Ground Up Organic Cafe. Seated by the window, I have on several occasions watched many inquisitive passers-by stop to peruse the menu posted in the window and then resume walking. I want to advise them to step inside to the intimate and charming 24-seat dining room, which is now in its tenth year of operation.

When you first enter the restaurant, you are immediately greeted, your coat is taken, and you are properly seated. There is a disposition of giving and taking pride and pleasure in giving hospitality and providing warm service. Co-owner Nora Yuriaan's service is attentive, personal, efficient and warm.

Smaller restaurants seem to impart an intimacy, conviviality and hospitality that can never be duplicated in larger spaces. Compact premises might bear more scrutiny, but the type of familiarity they afford often breeds mutual respect and appreciation for both the kitchen and patrons. This has been evident on the several visits I have made to the Dragonfly. There are starched red linen tablecloths and napkins here, as well as impeccably set tables with quality stemware and polished glassware that adds panache to the surroundings.

The kitchen is compact but ordered. Chef Donald Yuriaan produces classic dishes that can be executed with ease and simplicity. He emphasizes that the menus are designed to accommodate seasonal ingredients and locally procured foods.

The culinary legacy of West Java, in Indonesia, might seem like an audacious muse for this intimate and stylish restaurant. However, chef Yuriaan is Indonesian by birth and was previously employed at the Grand Hotel Preanger in Bandung, the capital of West Java, after graduating from Hotel Management. For several years, Chef was employed by both Holland America and Norwegian cruise lines. It is interesting to note that the archipelago of 17,504 islands known as Indonesia is home to over 360 ethnic groups.

On the menu, there is spice for those who seek heat. Mere heat, however, is not all that most of Dragonfly Bistro’s clients desire. We were enthused by the sambal-like hot and spicy chili sauce that bathed the Indonesian- inspired Ayam Balado (chicken breast served with a spicy red chili, tomato and spice sauce with shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, lemon grass, palm sugar, lime leaves and Indonesian Bay leaves) on the inner menu. Other entrees on the dinner menu might include chateaubriand, maple-glazed filet of salmon, lamb and wild mushroom spaghetti. There is a daily homemade soup. On several occasions, we were impressed with Chefs’ velvety Cream of Jerusalem Artichoke Soup.

Chef proffers a prix fixe  Indonesian menu in the evenings that is perfect for anyone looking for a rich and varied range of authentic favours. Sour notes of galangal, lemon grass, tamarind and lime leaves offer more subtlety and range to the cooking. Not since Mies Bervoest stopped serving a skilled repertoire of Indo-Dutch inspired dishes in a rijsttafel at the former Miestro restaurant several years back, have we had access to these flavour mixtures.

From the Indonesian menu we ordered the Ayam Bumbu (sliced chicken breast) with Indonesian peanut sauce. It was served with Kari Kol, cauliflower in a sauce of Indonesian curry; with steamed jasmine rice known as Nasi Putih. The Indonesian menu is served family-style, priced based on portion per person, not an all you can eat buffet.

For dessert there is sticky toffee pudding and vanilla crème brulee which can be ordered ala carte. The Dragonfly Bistro has a refined kitchen, a moderately priced menu, and service that is professional and hospitable.

Join them Mondays for the Indonesian prix-fixe menu only. On Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday you can order from the ala carte menu. 5.30 - 9:00 pm for dinner. Open for lunch Wednesday, Thursday and Friday .

Please call in advance to make a reservation. 519.432.2191

Monday Night Indonesian Prix-Fixe Sample Menu - Menu Changes Monthly :

Daging Rendang
Beef marinade with coconut milk, chili, coriander, galangal, tamarind, lemon- grass, turmeric, lemon leaf, white pepper, garlic & red onion

Nasi Uduk
Yellow coconut rice with lemongrass, turmeric, Indonesian bay leaf and coconut milk

Bakmi Goreng
Indonesian-style fried egg noodles with bok choy, shredded cabbage and green onion

Acar Acar
Pickled Cucumber and Carrots

$20.00 per person

Dragonfly Bistro
715 Richmond Street
519 432 2191

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Ruminations on Appetite for Words: Literary Dinner with Stratford Chefs School, Gastronomic Writer in Residence, Chef Andrew George Jr.

Stratford Chef School Co-founder, Eleanor Kane & Chef Andrew George Jr.


DigiWriting Book Marketing Agency (producers of the Stratford Writers Festival) launched Appetite for Words: A Literary Festival with a Culinary Twist! at Stratford Chef School at end of October 2017, with Chef Andrew George Jr. At the literary-themed dinners, food is paired with the author’s readings, so participants can taste the words they’re hearing.

Canada 150 has been a year-long celebration of the sesquicentennial of Canadian confederation. Fifty years ago the Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, Canada’s centennial celebration in Montreal, contributed to strengthening a powerful cultural unity. At the time the pavilion’s two restaurants were seen as providing a national culinary narrative. Restaurant La Toundra, operated by CN Hotels, served a Katimavik (which means “meeting place” in the Inuktitut language) Special that included chilled Okanogan apple juice and “Tourtière Chateau” with buttered peas and Saratoga chips. This was followed by Coupe Innuit [sic].This conceptualization of a Canadian cuisine was viewed as an all-encompassing initiative containing regional dishes and traditions derived from the First Nations and other clichéd multiculturalism stereotypes within the country. It seems to me the idea was to unite all recognizable cultures practising their own culture within Canada. 

Canadian cuisine really is an abstract concept, indefinable due to the contradictory nature of Canadian identity. Indeed, ours is a complex identity, and paradoxically includes vast cultural and culinary differences. For many years serious attempts to define a national cuisine have either met with derision or devolved into stereotypes.

If you were to ask most people about what is meant by Canadian cuisine, many would respond with the stereotypical dishes like cod tongues, prairie oysters, Nanaimo bars, poutine, tourtière, back bacon, Montreal-smoked meat, butter tarts, seal flipper pie or fried bannock – a bread introduced to First Nation communities by Scottish settlers. It would seem to be unjust to identify one particular dish as being emblematic of Canadian cuisine. 

Co-Founder, Stratford Chefs School, Eleanor Kane said, “It only seems right that chef Andrew George, Jr a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations people be invited to be Stratford Chef School Gastronomic Writer in Residence, during sesquicentennial year.” The program is one-of-a-kind and unique to chef training in Canada. Launched in 2007, the program is sustained by the family of the Joseph Hoare, former food editor at Toronto Life magazine, and a group of other donors. The school's previous writers in residence have had wide-ranging experiences in gastronomy, but have been mostly celebrated authors or columnists. Chef is the co-author of Modern Native Feasts: Healthy, Innovative, Sustainable Cuisine; and A Feast for all Seasons: Traditional Native Peoples’ Cuisine

At the Appetite for Words Literary Dinner at Stratford Chefs School featuring Chef George, he spoke about giving instruction to both first and second-year students ranging from cultural writing to recipe writing. Chef also talked about his journey from the Bush (Wet’suwet’en traditional territories and camps) to the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt.

The Wet’suwet’en First Nations are semi-nomadic with two semi-permanent camps villages on the Bulkley River and around Broman Lake and Francois Lake in the northwestern Central Interior of British Columbia. Chef tells us, “The Wet’suwet’en First Nations follow the cycle of the Salmon People”. Fishing for salmon is just as an essential aspect of First Nation’s culture as eating it. It’s difficult to measure the incredible bearing salmon has had on the Native people of British Columbia. Salmon has been central to the First Nations diet, economy and mythology for centuries.

Going back and looking to tradition, Chef was required to do a lot of research to write his cookbook. He spoke to us about translating personal history into a cookbook.  He said he first he looked to his ancestors and his elders for guidance. There weren’t any written recipes and cooking was based entirely on oral history. Part of the difficulty and challenge was that it might take ten English words to describe something fundamental to the Wet’suwet’en First Nations culture.
A Feast for all Seasons: Traditional Native People’s Cuisine is not only broken into seasons but into elements of water, earth, land and air. There is significance in fours, directions, seasons, elements and colours.  The book pays homage to clan gatherings and respect for the land. For everything that is taken from the land, there is always something given back. When First Nations communities think about the future, they’re not just considering the next generation, they’re thinking about the following seven generations, George explained. This long-term perspective makes them exceptionally competent to cope with climate change and other environmental issues.

George has travelled the globe world to demonstrate and promote the traditions and techniques of First Nations cuisine. He was part of the first all-Aboriginal team at the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1992. George was head chef at the Four Host First Nations pavilion during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. George was one of 25 international chefs to participate in an event called Culinary Diplomacy: Promoting Cultural Understanding through Food, by invitation of Hillary Clinton and organized by the US State Department in 2012.

The Appetite for Words Literary Dinner with Chef George Jr.’s menu included Three Sisters Soup with Cornbread; a quartet of Smoked Fish with Bannock Crisps, Braised Buffalo Ribs, Red Pepper Pesto, Baby Root Vegetables and Wild Rice Pilaf. The dessert was Bannock and Berry Galette with Crème Fraiche Ice Cream. Each course was expertly paired with a wine from Joie Farm.

The Indomitable Restaurateur Marika Hayek Celebrates 60+ Years at The Budapest


Budapest Dining Room and Tavern is a local gem with yards of red velvet and charming unintended kitsch. Over the years the Budapest has continued to evolve while its grand interior remains virtually unchanged. The décor with plush velvet valances and curtained alcoves, brocades, red and gold wallpaper, comfortable arm chair seating evokes another other era. The Roma “Gypsy-style” aesthetic is also the restaurant's brand. It has become both an anomaly and anachronism.

Two main rooms lead back from Dundas Street and are linked by an arched passageway across the middle, an ornate banquet hall at the far end, and the kitchen at the other end. There is a musician—a piano player with a penchant for delivering uninvited political observations—playing the sentimental melodies traditionally adopted by Hungarian Romani musicians. He plays to the Budapest's patrons between brief monologues. He is part of the  idiosyncratic charm.

Before I go any further, I want to begin by saying, I have known owner Marika Hayek for several decades. We were friendly restaurant neighbour's for a decade and she was only too happy to lend me a pound of butter on a busy Saturday night. She once invited me to go on vacation with her to the city of Budapest as her companion. "All expenses paid." And by the way, Hayek alternatively refers to me as Bruce, Byron and Bryan. I answer to all three. It has become an endearing dog and pony show.

The Budapest happens to be the first fine dining restaurant I visited when my family and I moved to London in 1970. My stepfather's father's family is Hungarian. My stepfather an excellent cook has intimately acquainted me with the cuisine.  Chicken paprikash is the Hungarian National dish, its name derived from liberal use of paprika, a spice emblematic of the cuisine. Last year he brought some very fine paprika back from Budapest. I treat it like gold.

On top of that, I have been a long-time patron. My friend Kathy and I are devotees of the stuffed pork. Hungary, of course, is known for all matter of stuffed things, from cabbage rolls, dumplings, and perogies to blintzes, which are among  Hayek's specialties. Her warm hospitality, coupled with menus filled with goulash, schnitzels and meaty paprikash, can make dining at Budapest feel like stepping back in time.

Hayek has been delighting clients by serving Hungarian specialities in this traditional old-world tavern setting for over 60 years. The offering consists of a large selection of proper dishes. House-made chicken and rabbit paprikash, beef stroganoff, wiener schnitzel, combination platters or prix-fixe Hungarian dinners — spätzle and the gnocchi are delicious — save room for the palacsinta, strudels and the walnut roll. The a la carte desserts are much larger portions. The desserts that arrive as part of the prix-fixe arrangement are presented minus mounds of whipped cream.

A couple of years ago, Hungarian Consul-General Dr. Stefania Szabo celebrated Hayek’s landmark achievements as a successful business owner and pillar of the London community. Hayek is no stranger to such fanfare. She is admired and well-regarded for her hospitality, wit and risqué repartee.

Hayek arrived in Canada in March of 1957, then 25, she and her husband were part of a wave of immigration to Canada that occurred after the 1956 Hungarian revolution against communist rule. Between 1956 and 1958, an estimated 200,000 fled to the west to avoid Soviet reprisals, leaving their possessions behind. Around 38,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in Canada. About 6,000 of these refugees arrived in Ontario. Hayek was among them. All were admitted and accepted into Canadian society within a two-year period. The impact of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the mass of emigration of Hungarians who consequently arrived in Canada forms a watershed moment in Canadian History. 
Knowing this, helps to put Hayek’s formidable achievements into perspective.

A trained cook in Budapest, Hayek was drawn to the hospitality business when she arrived in London. Initially, she was employed by Moskie Delicatessen on Dundas Street at Waterloo.  Always thinking ahead, Hayek bought the building that housed Moskie even before she purchased the delicatessen from its owners. That transaction included the Giant ice cream shop next door. In 1968 she and her husband merged the two storefronts into a single premise. Ripping out the interior they refurbished the basement and main floor areas to build the present-day restaurant.

A formidable restaurateur with a keen aptitude for the business and exacting standards, the fledgling businesswomen embodied the height of Mittel European elegance and sophistication in the 1970's. There are plenty of framed glamour photos of the striking Hayek in her prime.  

Until recently, Hayek’s routine has been to rise before dawn, have breakfast, exercise, and until recently, swim laps in her indoor pool. She arrives at the restaurant early in the morning to begin the workday. Hayek insists, “Everything on the menu is made in-house.” She oversees and helps to prepare the large variety of Hungarian staples for which she has built her reputation.

Hayek greets her guests with a gracious "please come in, my lovely peoples" or "my lovely ladies and gentlemen" and has penchant for referring to guests as "dah-ling" in her Gabor-like Hungarian accent. She is known to be a harmless flirt, it is part of the schtick. She likes to engage men in bawdy repartee and often refers to what she calls as “make the sexy-sexy." Hayek is on hand to pepper a conversation with a compliment or relationship advice for women patrons. A classic Hyak phrase that is often repeated: "If a man has money in the pockets he has nothing in the pants. If he has something in the pants he has nothing in the pockets".

Now 85, requiring a cane for added mobility, Hayek is celebrating a mind-numbing 60 years in business. A long list of local luminaries and a loyal clientele of long-time regulars, whom she mostly knows by name or a derivation of their name, still frequent the restaurant. The Budapest attracts bus tours and plenty of patrons from the nearby hotels.

The Budapest Restaurant will delight Hungarian food fans who prefer the old-fashioned dishes. Even those food enthusiasts who are inclined to moan and dismiss the restaurant as an anachronism, might want to take a closer look at the Budapest Restaurant's unique charms before it becomes a thing of the past.

Budapest Dining Room & Tavern
348 Dundas Street.

(519) 439-3431

Friday, October 27, 2017

A Brief Overview of My Culinary Life in 1200 Words or Less

Making Pasta in Emilia- Romagna, Italy 1999


When I was a young teenager, our friends and family reacted like we were moving to Mars when we left Toronto to move to our cottage on Rice Lake. Our parents fulfilled a long-held dream when they purchased the cottage with a hilltop location and an acre of cedar forest backing on to the Ouse River. The site had previously been part of much larger farm acreage.

The cottage was a prefabricated shell with no amenities, in my unformed mind a zeitgeist in the back-to-the-earth spirit of the times, a handyman’s special that we idealized and had the potential to be transformed into our dream home.

At first, I thought we had landed in paradise, taking a cue from my parents who behaved like we had inherited heaven on earth. It was a convincing gambit that betrayed no hint of the hardships and sacrifices ahead. We briefly emulated the type of television family that enjoyed the solidarity of breaking bread together and took deep satisfaction from cooking meals over an open-fire in the moonlight.

Our parents purchased an old cast iron, wood-burning stove at a farm sale auction that had to be moved on a flat- bed pulled by a tractor. The stove was connected by a stove pipe to a temperamental flue that vented the smoke outside. The stove was both a heat source and cooker and would rarely burn unattended for more than a couple of hours. Gathering and chopping wood became a necessity that seemed to dominate our lives. If the embers were allowed to extinguish no amount of stoking, bellows work or fanning with a newspaper would resuscitate the fire.  It was on this volatile stove that I became a fledgling cook. I was most in my element in the kitchen or hunting and pecking on an ancient typewriter in my bedroom with a thesaurus by my side.

The experience of moving to our cottage was like going camping for an extended period of time. Like any make-believe, reality often crushes expectations. When the honeymoon was over, practicality took over, and after several months the “everything is awful” phase replaced our pioneering spirit. For a teenager accustomed to the independence of urban life and navigating a large city on transit the realization that we were isolated came as a culture shock, the effects delayed but inevitable.

At fourteen, I proved myself equal to stand a full days work. My first job was pumping gas and clerking at Heffernan’s, which was the only general store and one of few gas stations along a stretch of Highway 7 between Peterborough and the village of Norwood. Heffernan’s served a captive audience of hard-working farmers who purchased their weekly food stuffs and farming supplies as well as other passersby on route to small towns or the near north. 
It was here I perfected my distinctive hand writing style by using a ruler to keep the grocery receipts legible.  It was as a side-kick in the kitchen at the back of the store that I was indoctrinated into the art and science of baking and in retrospect this contributed to my life-long interest in cooking. 

My formative years were spent managing the kitchens of the Keg and the Corkscrew chains, learning the business side of the industry when salad bars and steak and lobster were the very definition of middlebrow cuisine. Despite the lack of innovation in these kitchens I became an avid reader of cookbooks, the recipes were precise and I attempted to follow them to the letter.

In my early twenties, I was fortunate to have several mentors with a dedicated interest in gastronomy and was given the opportunity to work with talented chefs and restaurateurs all with difficult temperaments and strong skill sets that helped me develop a culinary backbone. My real education and passion for the culinary arts began while working at a series of French restaurants in Toronto that were bastions of haute cuisine.  The way I saw it, French seemed to be the only serious way to dine. Initially, I was an ardent student of regional French cuisine but after trips to Italy, I had to acknowledge that I was more inspired by regional Italian cooking and eventually I moved beyond France as my primary focus of interest.

As far as I can remember, travels in Europe and my introduction to food writers MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David were how my passion for food writing was incubated. In any case, it was Italy where I first encountered giant turtles fated for soup pots, wild game, a variety of unusual feathered birds and truffle hunting dogs. I enjoyed scouting the open-air food markets in Pisa and Florence and the Rialto market on Venice’s Canal Grande. The Italian market was my nirvana, with its abundant varieties of fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish, the night markets piled high with seasonal produce, fresh fungi and obscure local cheeses.

I was cooking at at a dinner club in Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire, England, just as mad cow disease was evolving from a cryptic veterinary conundrum into an epidemic affecting 120,000 cattle. Speculation about mad cow’s relationship to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans had created a state of panic.  I realized that I had been naive to put my confidence in the perceived safety of our food chain. It was about this time that I became politicized about food security and began questioning our food and farming policies.

A decade later I was chosen as part of a contingent to partake in a culinary journey with seven Canadian chefs to the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. This was my first introduction to “Slow Food” and the movement to safeguard traditional regional specialties, time- honoured techniques and farm-to-table cuisine. It was on this trip that I had an epiphany about food boasting of regional authenticity and became a dedicated proponent of  the local food movement, culinary tourism and Ontario's homegrown terroir.

In retrospect, I have a rewarding career in the culinary arts and am gratified to be associated with establishing, owning or in partnership with many great restaurants that became a way of life but more importantly an ideology. My involvement with the Western Fair Farmers` and Artisans` Market gave me a platform to lead and support important initiatives in the community during a transformational time. I have always felt that my true calling has been as a communicator. It took me many years to find my authentic voice. As as food writer and editor I bring my years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurateur, mentor and consultant. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thaifoon - London’s Premiere Upscale Go-To Thai Restaurant

Manisay Visouvath and Fouzan (Rafael) Beg are the proprietors of Thaifoon, downtown London’s upmarket Thai restaurant. The restaurant remains a family affair. Visouvath is the youngest sister of Eddy and Alex Phimprhrachanh’s mother, Arounvaty, who is the head chef at Thaifoon and the matriarch of a Thai food dynasty in the city. Several of Arounvaty’s sisters have opened successful Thai restaurants in the city after being mentored in the kitchen by her. 
 Visouvath was born in the Southeast Asian country and came to Canada with her parents in 1980. Rafael is from Hyderabad India. (Hyderabadi cuisine comprises a broad repertoire of rice, grains and meat dishes and the skilled use of various spices – Indian cuisine has a longer, slower burn, rather than the sharper, built-up spiciness of Thai cuisine.) 

Thaifoon’s with-it and tasteful take on the ancient Thai culture, with a décor that honours the past while embracing modernity, has earned both raves and admiration. The restaurant continues to set itself apart with bang-on exuberant flavours and an eye for detail and presentation.

The 38-seat restaurant is a tasteful and refined take on the ancient Siamese culture, with a soothing décor and a rich palette of browns and blacks with golden accents and pleasing Thai iconography. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, Buddha Lounge style soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes with cushions. The kitchen’s oeuvre is a consistent showcase of Thailand’s regional flavours of hot, sweet, sour and salty, honouring tradition while embracing modernity. Thaifoon is careful to give you just the level of spicing you want. The restaurant is popular with vegetarian and gluten-free clients. 

Won-ton bundles are flawless — well-executed crispy and crunchy parcels of chili-infused minced chicken accompanied by a ginger and plum sauce. The Avo Moon Shine dumplings with fragrant minced chicken, tamarind and cashews are served with fresh sour cream and avocado dipping sauces. Savoury curries surpass expectations with richness and variations on spiciness that are tempered with velvety coconut milk and fragrant aromatics The pad Thai continues to be properly prepared with perfectly cooked noodles, firm tofu with a silky interior, egg, crisp bean sprouts, scallions, fragrant cilantro, minced peanuts, lime juice and the crucial sweet and sour tanginess.

The secret to their success is sticking to the basics of authentic Thai cooking and offering a mixture of spicy, sweet and salty but also rich coconut flavours mixed with fresh herbs like kaffir, lime leaves and lemongrass. Coconut milk is the foundation of the Thai curry. Rafael tells me that they use pure coconut milk and do not dilute their coconut milk like many other restaurants in the city. 

Arounvaty has kept her recipe grounded in how she was used to making and eating pad Thai back home — rice noodles cooked with fish sauce, sugar, tamarind, a few other spices and a touch of soy for the caramel colour. This summer they subtly tweaked signature dishes like their pad Thai and pad gra paw to offer more of a street style version of these dishes.
Thaifoon continues to receive raves and praise for their consistently well-prepared cuisine and responsive, knowledgeable service. Coconut and green tea ice creams are made in-house. 

This is London's premiere upscale go-to Thai restaurant. There is a top-shelf cocktail list, mangotinis, lycheetinis and Mai Thais, and an above average selection of imported beers and complementary wines. Singha beer, a pale lager, pairs nicely with the spicy flavours of Thai cuisine. There are plans for an exotic, secluded patio that will front on Carling Street. Thaifoon offers an extensive menu for dine-in, take-away and delivery. 

120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot)

Lunch:  Mon to Fri 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner: Sun to Thu 4:30pm – 9:00pm
Dinner: Fri to Sat 4:30pm – 10:00pm