Friday, December 3, 2010

Garlic's, From Scratch - Upscale Rustic Cuisine with Local, Sustainable Ingredients

A Taste of Honey at Garlic's

Garlic's, From Scratch - Upscale Rustic Cuisine with Local, Sustainable Ingredients

In the sense that the smart money today is on chef's and restaurants that wear their values on the menu, Garlic's leads by example and with plenty of style and a cutting edge culinary vision. The menu exemplifies a culinary philosophy that promotes the economic, environmental and social benefits of our local food community. This is some of the most superb farm-to-table cuisine in the city. The cooking has a contemporary edge, made from scratch with inspiration from local and signature ingredients and seasonal products. And, Chef Wade Fitzgerald's cooking repertoire just keeps getting better, the presentation more sophisticated and artful. Garlic's commitment to supporting local and sustainable food and agriculture has been instrumental in helping to raise the bar for intelligent dining in London.

Five years ago, Garlic's owner, Edo Pehilj, recognized that Fitzgerald's culinary philosophy would inject a much needed dose of adrenalin into his recently purchased restaurant. However, Pehilji's leadership and collaboration with Fitzgerald and Guest Relations Manager, Emma Pratt, has been a key factor in Garlic's revitalization and current standing as one of the city's top kitchens and best restaurants.

Pehlij also understands the need for professional, hospitable and gracious service. Leading the team of professional servers is Emma Pratt. Pratt is intelligent, detail oriented, vivacious and gracious. Pehlij credits Pratt for Garlic's sophistication, which he then attributes to the female perspective. Pratt has been employed at Garlic's off and on for the better part of 15 years.

In fact, it was Pratt that originally hired Pehilj thirteen years ago. Pehilji's is the quintessential immigration story. Arriving in Canada 18 years ago from, Mostar, the biggest and the most important city of the Bosnia and Herzegovina region in the former Yugoslavia by way of Bavaria, Germany. Pehilji did not speak a word of English but within 7 days he was working at Michael's on the Thames. The rest as they say is history.

When Fitzgerald arrived on the London scene after a brief tenure at the renowned Domus restaurant in Ottawa, and via the Hunt Club in London. Fitzgerald brings his signature ideology to the table: a patriotic sensibility and an unpretentious earthiness and rusticity. Fitzgerald has become a local culinary powerhouse, known for his simple, seasonal, ethically-sourced rustic food.

Garlic's menu evolves and changes monthly to reflect high-quality seasonal availability. Pehlji, Fitzgerald and Pratt understand that provenance and direct farmer relationships have become key to the restaurant's success. Menus are a collaborative exercise. Rose White, of London's important City Farming project, cites Garlic's and Fitzgerald in particular as leaders in this area.

As an ingredient, garlic is a less dominant theme than previously in the cuisine, in Fitzgeralds hands it is purposeful. Honey has become yet another way for Garlic's customers to appreciate terroir. As a result, honey has become of Garlic's signature ingredients. You will find their roof-top harvested honey drizzled, crystallized, sprinkled and incorporated in many ways and forms throughout their menus. Naturally, honey is used to sweeten and flavour house-made desserts – like their delicious, subtly sweet bee pollen ice cream.

Garlic's roof-top apiary was the first installation of honey bees in the city. In the spring of 2009, noted local beekeeper, Chris Hiemstra, of Clovermead Apiaries just outside Aylmer, established the prolific colony of 30-40,000 honey bees. The family apiary was first established in 1975 by Hiemstra's father.

In the wider community, one of Garlic's mandate is to help educate elementary students. Garlic's has hosted dinners for high school students to introduce them to the seasonal and sustainable food philosophy. Fitzgerald has also been an early adopter and adviser of the Local Foods Farmer Food Buyer Networking event, which has successfully provided a platform for farmers, producers and food buyers to meet one-on-one and to explore opportunities to do business together. Fitzgerald is also a member of Growing Chefs!, a program that teaches kids about local, sustainable food and, through a series of workshops, helps them grow, harvest, cook and eat local produce. In combination with his responsibilities as Executive Chef, Fitzgerald is a part-time Chef Instructor at Fanshawe College's Saffron's Restaurant. Saffron's is of course, the on-campus restaurant run be the school of Tourism and Hospitality.

Garlic's also features a roof-top apiary, the first installation of a honey bee colony in the city. In the spring of 2009, noted local beekeeper, Chris Hiemstra, of Clovermead Apiaries just outside Aylmer, established the prolific colony of 30-40,000 honey bees. The family apiary was first established in 1975 by Hiemstra's father. This year Hiemstra spun honey from the comb supplying the restaurant with over fifty kilograms of honey.

A salad of local organic greens, sunflower seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, over-night grapes, is accompanied with Clovermead's bee pollen and honey vinaigrette. Other main dishes have included: pan roasted, sustainable B.C. Albacore Tuna, Brown Butter Roasted Renecker Farm's Elk Loin with a succotash of spaetzle, old cheddar, apple and squash with red onion pan jus, Metzger's free-range, dry-aged Angus Top Sirloin, braised Ontario Lamb Shank with truffled northern white bean and house-smoked bacon stew, veal stock roasted mushrooms and tomato relish. Everspring Farm's Muscovy Duck Breast. As of this writing there is a delicious appetizer of Braised Pork Belly with molasses baked beans and crisp buttermilk onion rings.

Finding steady and dependable sources for procuring local ingredients has been a strategic plan that has resulted in numerous collaborations and friendships with farmers and producers.

For a bit of nectar, Pehlji only has to look as far as the rooftop where he has a colony devoted to sweetness.

Open Sunday through Thursday 11:00 am to 9:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:00 am to 11:00pm. Serving an a la carte Sunday Brunch 11:00 am to 3:00pm.

481 RICHMOND ST, LONDON, ON N6A 3E4
519-432-4092
dine@garlicsoflondon.com
www.garlicsoflondon.com

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Raja Fine Indian Cuisine

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.

The Raja Fine Indian Cuisine
 
Indian cuisine is a vast and sophisticated subject. India’s states and territories differ, cuisine-wise, as much if not more than the regional cuisines of other countries. Caste, culture. religious doctrine, geography, and climate have all played an immense role in preventing the emergence of a truly definitive national Indian cuisine. Despite the diversity, some coalescing threads surface on closer inspection. However, most of what we consider authentic Indian cuisine is a product of the British imperial influence, which resulted in a prolific Anglo-Indian restaurant cuisine that panders to the global masses.

I initially became familiar with this style of restaurant cooking while living in England on two separate occasions. Going out for an “Indian” or a “Curry” or getting an Indian “takeaway” was a national pastime. The idea of a curry is, in fact, a definition that the British imposed on India’s cookery to describe any spiced dish under the generic term “curry.” Historically, Indians referred to their individual dishes by very specific regional names.

Living in England, I was struck by the emergence of authentic regional Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants, and the elevation of these unique cuisines to as elegant, sophisticated and refined as any other cuisine. Today, the Indian food industry in the United Kingdom accounts for two-thirds of all eating out, and is estimated to serves about 2.5 million customers every week.

I was pleased to recently sample the cuisine of London’s new Raja restaurant.

Restaurateur Zafar Quazi was born in Bangladesh (the borders of the present-day Bangladesh were established with the partition of Bengal and India in 1947, when the region became East Pakistan, part of the newly formed nation of Pakistan) and later moved to the Ukraine to study civil engineering. He spent six years in Great Britain, three of them in Scotland running a restaurant in Inverness, before coming to Canada. While in Scotland, Quazi met his Ukrainian wife, Olena. They have two daughters. The Quazi’s first Canadian endeavour was in Brantford, followed by the Tandoori Grill in Fergus, in turn followed by the highly successful and celebrated Raja Fine Indian Cuisine in Stratford. Two years ago, Quazi set his sights on downtown London, Ontario.

Zahirul Chowdury, twelve years younger than Quazi, left Bangladesh in 2001. Chowdury immigrated to Canada and studied at the University of St. John in New Brunswick before relocating to Ontario, where he was introduced to Quazi by his brother. At the time, Quazi was actively looking for someone to manage his new Stratford restaurant, and Chowdury more than fit the bill.

When the time was right to open a second Raja in London, Quazi offered Chowdury a partnership so that he could manage as well as co-own the new enterprise. The Raja Fine India Cuisine is located in the premises most recently occupied by Santorini, and before that, for decades, the legendary Mario’s (known for its late-night panzerotti) and later, the more upscale Marios and Jaggz.

The Raja serves upscale Indian cuisine in sophisticated and elegant surroundings by a knowledgeable, well-trained staff. The service is white linen, deferential and friendly. The cutlery and crystal are elegant, and the china is fine Royal Doulton Hospitality Ware. After being seated, diners are offered crisp, crunchy poppadoms served alongside a dazzling selection of vibrantly coloured condiments, ranging from sweet to sour to spicy, to get the taste buds tingling. The condiments include: gooseberry, coriander, tamarind, mango, yogurt and mint, and lime pickle. 
 
There are also a number of exotic breads (naan, roti and paratha) on offer to accompany and complement various courses, all freshly baked in Raja’s tandoor (clay oven). The delicious Peshawari naan is stuffed with almonds, dried apricots, raisins, flaked dried coconut, and whipping cream, and seems more like cake than bread.
 
Share the mixed platter with vegetable pakora, chicken tikka, sheek kabab, and onion bhajee, all served on a sizzling platter. Or pick a garden salad or soup course (the menu includes mulligatawny and lentil),  then choose from chicken, beef, lamb, vegetarian, or seafood dishes, which run the gamut from mild to very spicy. From the ubiquitous Punjab-inspired Butter Chicken, boneless, marinated in yogurt and spices, cooked in the tandoor and presented in creamy tomato gravy, to the very spicy and hottest of dishes on the menu, vindaloo, made with your choice of  lamb, beef, or chicken. Another house specialty is the unusual Bengal Duck, which is prepared with sweet chili sauce, coconut and almond, and has a decidedly complex hot and sweet taste.

At Raja, Rogan Josh is tender morsels of braised beef, slow-cooked with an aromatic spice mixture and yogurt. Yogurt is frequently used in Indian cuisine as a marinade to tenderize the meat. Rogan Josh derives its name from its rich appearance, which is generally a result of ground chilies or brightly coloured good-quality paprika combined with fresh tomatoes. Rogan Josh takes on a contemporary twist with lean lamb chunks, ghee, garam masala, garlic, ginger, and fresh cilantro.
 
The menu also features a heady selection of fish and seafood dishes, such as King Prawn Jhalfrezi (stir-fried with fresh green chilies, tomatoes, green peppers, and fresh coriander, and finished with fresh ginger and garlic), fish (salmon), Masala, and King Prawn Sag.

The perfectly prepared Pulao rice, aromatic basmati with onion, cumin and mild spices, ordered separately, is not an afterthought but an integral part of dinner. As well, vegetarian selections figure prominently here, as in all Indian cooking. There are nearly a dozen meticulously spiced vegetarian dishes on the extensive menu. Vegetable specialties include: Aloo Gobhi, Chana Masala (chick peas), Sag Paneer (spinach with homemade cottage cheese), Bharta (eggplant), and Daal Tarka (lentils in garlic). Vegan dishes are also available.
 
The Raja has plenty of personality, and the dining room has character and sophistication with its deep red painted walls and white accents. The cuisine is superior. The service rivals anything in the city.


The Raja
428 Clarence St. (North of Dundas)
519-601-7252
 
Lunch: Mon.–Sat. 11:30 am – 2:30 pm
Dinner: Mon.–Sat. 5 pm. – 10 pm
                      Sun 5 pm – 9 pm
 
Lunch $7 – $14
Dinner $14 – $25
Prix Fixe Dinner for Two – $85
 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SAVOUR STRATFORD PERTH COUNTY CULINARY FESTIVAL

Stratford Tourism Alliance

Stratford, Ontario, is not only a cultural haven for world-class theatre, but also for a world-class creative community, which includes actors, artists, playwrights, writers, musicians, and many uniquely talented professionals, all of whom contribute to the vitality of the community. Stratford has a long history of being a hotbed of culinary talent, including farmers, growers, chefs, culinary instructors and restaurateurs. Hospitality and the culinary arts are an important and integral part of Stratford’s creative and theatrical community.
Stratford is internationally known for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which runs from April to November. The festival’s primary mandate is to present repertory productions of William Shakespeare’s plays, but it also produces a diverse variety of theatre, from classic Greek tragedies to more contemporary works. The festival has contributed to the formation of a distinctively idiosyncratic dining culture and restaurant community.

Since the festival’s inception in 1953, Stratford has been a magnet for gifted theatrical luminaries — many of the greatest Canadian, British and American stage actors have played roles at Stratford. It is not unusual to see well-known celebrities walking Stratford’s streets or frequenting local haunts. In the mid-1980s, when I was working at the Church Restaurant, actress Maggie Smith (friend of former Artistic Director, Robin Phillips) was a constant late-night visitor to the Belfry. Often I would run into her on the street or in the line-up at Canada Trust. Twenty-five years later, Avon Theatre house manager Eldon Gammon remembers Justin Bieber, the “little guy with the big voice” playing his guitar and singing contemporary rock out front for the theatre crowd.
Stratford fortunately has a tremendous tourism visionary in Eugene Zakreski, who earlier this year added a downloadable guide to Stratford’s tourism website with pop sensation Justin Bieber’s history and local haunts. Zakreski, Executive Director of the Stratford Tourism Alliance, an early adopter of Culinary Tourism, is forward-thinking and recognizes and supports the uniqueness of Perth County’s terroir.

Zakreski and his colleagues, Cathy Rehberg, Danielle Brodhagen and Cathy Bieman, have successfully helped to reinforce Stratford and Perth County’s position as one of Canada’s unique and distinctive culinary destinations, by collaborating with the region’s farmers and chefs to reinforce a strong authentic food culture and promote culinary tourism in Stratford and Perth County.
In fact, the Stratford Tourism Alliance has been repeatedly invited to participate at local and regional culinary events and is presented as “best practice” by the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance. Savour Stratford Perth County is a partnership between Stratford and Perth County tourism and local economic development organizations.

The mandate of the Stratford Tourism Alliance is to act as a member and industry-driven private sector not-for-profit organization that manages, develops and publicizes “Destination Stratford” as a national and international tourism destination. Stratford and Perth County’s rich physical heritage, unique terroir, innovative cuisine, superior accommodations, interesting retail sector, and many unique events strengthen the local economy and enrich the quality of life in the City of Stratford and area.

Rumour has it that the Stratford Tourism Alliance will be recognized for its contribution to culinary tourism at the 2010 Culinary Thought Leadership World Summit in Halifax this September. “This summit is designed to foster leadership in the culinary tourism industry and to exchange ideas and feedback from around the world,” says conference emcee and president of the International Culinary Tourism Association (ICTA), Erik Wolf.

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival


In 2008, with a limited programme and little promotion, the almost sold-out Savour Stratford Tasting event exceeded its modest expectations by almost 200%. A request for additional funding for $7,000 for logistics had been turned down by city council. Ironically and more significantly, key culinary policy makers and influencers, including high-profile Toronto chefs and the culinary media spread the news about the unqualified success, importance and quality of the tasting event as compared to similar events in Ontario.
In 2009, Zakreski initiated a three-year culinary tourism project development strategy, which has been wildly successful. The Stratford Perth County Culinary Tourism campaign is being implemented by Danielle Brodhagen (Programme Development, Stratford Tourism Alliance, and Savour Stratford Perth County), who was the original driving force behind the inaugural Savour Stratford Tasting event. Organizers anticipate as many as 10,000 visitors per day at this year’s event.
The Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival, now in its third year, presents nine days of food from September 18 to 26, beginning with the Garlic Festival on September 18, where you can dine out at any number of restaurants featuring
“Field to Chef” garlic-inspired menus. The Garlic Festival is followed by a week of culinary events, dinners and activities, culminating in the popular two-day festival September 25–26 along the banks of the Avon River. According to the Stratford Tourism Alliance, the third annual Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever with significantly enhanced programming.
The signature event of the popular festival is the Savour Stratford Tasting, which takes place on Sunday, September 26. The Savour Stratford Tasting pairs local chefs with Perth County producers to create delicious Perth County terroir-inspired samplings. VQA wines and local craft brews will accompany over 30 samples that are designed to delight gastronomes and foodies alike.
It is also possible to experience Perth County’s terroir at the Stratford Farmers’ Market every Saturday and Wednesdays in the Summer or the Slow Food Market at Monforte Dairy featuring everything from local eggs to elk, pork, sheep’s milk cheese and cider. The Stratford Farmers’ Market, established in 1855, is one of the longest continual links in Stratford’s culinary history.
For 2010, VIP tickets have been created for the much-sought-after Savour Stratford Tasting. This will provide an exclusive opportunity for early entry into the tasting tent and a unique chance to preview the highly anticipated culinary creations. VIP guests are invited to join the chefs and producers at noon on Sunday — before the event opens to general ticket holders at 1:00 p.m. — and will also receive a Savour Stratford gift tote, which includes a Tasting Plate handcrafted by local pottery artist, Chris Lass. Enjoy an afternoon of sipping and sampling in the heart of Stratford’s garden district.

 
Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival Itinerary
On Saturday, September 18, nine days of festivities will be launched with Stratford’s annual Garlic festival. The festival celebrating the “stinking rose” showcases the versatility of Ontario garlic. Elizabeth Baird, editor for Canadian Living magazine, leads an impressive list of speakers and cooking demonstrators, including cookbook author, Rose Murray. Activities take place from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Old Stratford Fairgrounds on Glastonbury Drive. Admission is $5 per person
On Sunday, September 19, visit selected farms throughout Perth County, which will be presenting a variety of products grown and raised on their farms. This Perth County Farm Tour encourages families to make the connection between what they eat and where it comes from. The bus tour includes a local Perth County picnic lunch. $25 for adults and $12 for kids (10 and under).
Sunday night City Centre Committee presents Movies in the Square – Screening of Ratatouille at the Stratford City Hall 7pm Free.
Monday, September 20 (and Wed. and Fri., all at 2 p.m.) — Edible Stratford Tour. Join your culinary connoisseur on a guided culinary walking tour of Stratford’s food shops, meet the local producers and sample delicious treats. Tours take place Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week starting at 2:00 pm at the Stratford Tourism Office. Tickets are $15 per person.
Monday September 20, Gallery Stratford presents “Shake Your Martini” – Learn to make three martinis using fresh and local ingredients – Be sure to Dress to your Nines! Schmooze, Mingle and Sip!
Wednesday, September 22 8pm — “Feast of Comedy” featuring Marc Sinodinos of NBC Today’s Show and Larry Smith of Comedy Club at 54 Join us for an evening of laughs at the Savour Stratford comedy night at the Stratford City Hall. Limited Tickets.
Thursday, September 23, 8 p.m. — Pubs, Pilsner and Spirits Tour. Let us introduce you to our spirits! Inject a little spirit into a walking tour of Stratford’s heritage pubs. You’ll visit Stratford’s first brewery, then a variety of pubs in heritage buildings. There will be tastings at each stop. Cost: $25 per person which includes tastings at each stop.
Friday, September 24, 7 p.m. — Beerology 101 with Beer Expert, Mirella Amato. Learn about basic beer ingredients and how beer is made, while tasting through a series of contrasting and delicious local artisanal brews. The workshop is at the new University of Waterloo, Stratford campus, in downtown Stratford. $15 per person.
Friday, September 24, 7 p.m. — Docfest and Savour Stratford Present Tableland at Factory163. Craig Noble’s Tableland will be screened for the first time in Stratford; guests from the film will answer questions and promote discussion around local food. Cash bar available. Admission is free.
Friday, 9 p.m. — Launch Party. After a week of activity, we’re ready to party. Meet at Foster’s Inn for a fun evening preview to the two-day festival. Complimentary cocktail and hors d’oeuvres will be provided.
Saturday, September 25 — The Festival gets into full swing with a diverse roster of events featuring the best of Perth County. Events start at 9:00 a.m., so plan to arrive early to browse the Farmers and Artisans Market set along the banks of the Avon River. You will be entertained throughout the day at the York Street Carnival, the Kids’ Tent, a Pick Your Own Salad Bar, a Not-for-profit BBQ, and other interactive activities. Outdoor concerts run all afternoon, including performances by Canadian folk sweet heart, Dayna Manning and a never been seen before acoustic set by The Salads! Ontario Wine and Craft Beer Pavilion located across from the Main Stage will entertain the adults. Opportunities to learn more about cooking and food will take place at the Chefs School Learning Centre, featuring Locavore author, Sara Elton and author of City Farmer, Lorraine Johnson and Vegetarian Chef Denis Cotter of the award winning restaurant, Café Paridiso, Ireland. As evening approaches, you can book tickets for a traditional Flavours of Perth Pork Roast at 6:00 p.m., and later, the BBQ, Blues and Brews evening with a live Blues band.
Sunday, September 26 — The Savour Stratford Tasting, the centerpiece of the festive weekend, takes place from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Set under tents along the Avon River, you will enjoy the culinary garden party and dine on over 30 local delicacies crafted by over 30 acclaimed chefs. The local cuisine will be paired with Ontario VQA vintages and craft brews, and accompanied by French Canadian Artist, Amelie Chante and Les Singes Bleus. New for 2010 is a VIP Ticket providing early entry to interact with local chefs and producers and a take-away Savour Stratford gift bag, which includes a Tasting Plate handcrafted by local pottery artist, Chris Lass. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online, by phone or in person.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Locavore: From Farmers' Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat

Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat

I am an ardent reader of Sarah Elton, food columnist for CBC Radio’s Here & Now, who writes regularly for the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and the Atlantic’s Food Channel, and is also an informative blogger and tweeter. Her new book, Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat, was officially launched at the Green Barns Market in Toronto at the end of March.
The New Oxford American Dictionary selected locavore, a person who seeks out locally produced food, as its word of the year in 2007. Since the term locavore entered the culinary lexicon, it seems to be on the tip of every culinary-minded person’s tongue. Originally, the term was coined in San Francisco by Jessica Prentice, for the 2005 World Environment Day, to describe consumers who choose locally produced foods over other high-carbon-footprint options.
As the emphasis on local food, sustainability and terroir continues to gain momentum across Canada, Elton’s book champions the movement away from global food production. Elton writes with a steady focus on Canadian farmers, producers, cheese makers, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers’ markets, and the regular “Janes and Joes” who are creating sustainable alternatives to agribusiness and the current global food system.
With the premise that food is the foundation of our culture, Elton allows the readers a behind-the-scenes journey into the local-food movement and an overview of Canadian terroir and the collective culinary sensibility of a nation. Elton travels the back roads from the Maritimes to Vancouver Island, making her the quintessential culinary agritourist, and allowing us a close-up analysis of a burgeoning new local-food order. Meticulous journalist, part culinary zeitgeist, and urban farmer, Elton resides in downtown Toronto with her husband and two daughters.
According to Elton, “Our farmers’ markets are not only hopping, we have more than 500 across Canada.” We also spend about $1 billion at them each year. Although the number of farmers has been on the decline for several decades, a more noble-minded younger generation is moving away from urban areas to the countryside to get back to the earth with sustainable and organic farming practises.
Imagine my surprise when I read that La Sauvagine, a soft cheese that won a raft of awards in 2008, and which I have touted in these pages, turns out not to be a handcrafted farmstead cheese and the very essence of Quebec’s terroir. Instead, Elton reveals that it is actually a mass-produced cheese made with cheap stand-in ingredients instead of fresh milk. The “artisan” featured on the packaging, Alexis du Pont, is nothing more than a counterfeit farmer. Elton also imparts that the unregulated term “artisan” is becoming increasingly trite and meaningless. Major corporations eagerly smack this warm and fuzzy marketing adjective on an increasingly long list of industrial products to deceive unsuspecting consumers.
Locally, Jo Sleger is a well-known farmer in Middlesex County, whose company supplies about 55,000 boxes of produce a year to upscale restaurants and grocers, mainly in Southern Ontario. Sleger specializes in organic greens, which he cultivates year-round in greenhouses, using soil plugs that are nourished by a hydroponic system. Sleger has been growing lettuce in his greenhouse since 1987, when he was only twenty-one. Elton takes her readers on a brief tour of Jo and Pauline Sleger’s organic operation. Elton poses the question, “So are greenhouses the missing piece in this puzzle? Are they the answer to getting us from October to May? Could greenhouses be a way to entice everybody — and I mean everybody, not just those committed to reducing their food miles at all cost — to buy local?” Interestingly, Locavore also tells us that nearby Essex County has the largest number of greenhouses in North America, with 87% dedicated to vegetable production.
In June, I had the opportunity to speak with Elton face-to-face at London’s Central Library. In person, Elton comes across as being neither an elitist nor a purist — her approach is even-handed and pragmatic. But she also tells her audience that she has had to rigorously defend her views and her opinions on locavorism since her book tour began. Speaking to an audience of about 100 people, many farmers and members of our local food community concerned about the global food chain, Elton revealed that an innocuous-looking cookie with a mile-long list of ingredients was the catalyst that instigated a profound change in her relationship to food. This is the same engaging story, told at the beginning of Locavore, that lead Elton on her local-food journey across Canada.
One of the many lively discussions at the Central Library centred on the decline of small rural abattoirs. Historically, there were hundreds of small abattoirs in Ontario, but due to stringent government food and safety regulations, these small abattoirs, which service the local and sustainable meat market, are being forced out of business. The abattoir operators are unable to keep up with the red tape and paper work, nor can they afford the upgrades and renovations the government now requires of their facilities. The problem is that if they go out of business, there won’t be sanctioned facilities for local farmers to have their meats slaughtered. This means that the consumer would be forced to buy exclusively from the factory farmers. The National Farmers’ Union has organized a campaign to save the abattoirs; and local farmer and Executive Secretary for the N.F.U. in Ontario, Karen Eatwell passed out postcards to the audience with a letter of protest.
Fortunately, the trend to buying and eating local is showing no signs of declining. Instead, the fruits of our local terroir are quickly becoming a patriotic trademark of Canada’s best tables. Elton offers a good case for the premise that a strong greenhouse industry might be the answer to building a sustainable food shed in Ontario. So, if you read one book this summer, do yourself a favour and read the immensely enlightening Locavore.

Bryan Lavery is a respected local chef and writer, proponent of London’s culinary tourism initiative, culinary consultant, and instructor. Lavery recently authored Taste, London’s Culinary Guide; and as eatdrink’s Contributing Editor and Food Writer at Large, Lavery shares his expertise and opinions on a wide variety of subjects.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Woodfield Community Cookbook

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.

Woodfield Community Cookbook

For the past year, Ann McColl Lindsay has been working as editor (with Hazel Desbarats and Ulla Troughton) on a collection of recipes representing the lives of those who live in the Woodfield community. There are seventy-three contributors, 337 pages and drawings by Ann's artist/husband David Lindsay. The cookbook is really a culinary/cultural snapshot of London downtown living at its best. Most of the participants have city garden plots at Carling Heights, shop at the local Markets and ride bikes etc. A public launch of the book will be at the Covent Garden Farmers Market on Sat. May 29.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Water,Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.



Water,Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

It is a special occasion, and my friends and I are looking forward to an evening out. We were conscientious,we made a reservation, and we even dressed better than we usually do. My companions are cultured, well-heeled and down-to-earth. We are former restaurant people; probably more considerate and forgiving than most diners.
We are greeted with rushed civility and not even seated in our assigned chairs
when the maître d’/water sommelier begins his inquisition, demanding to know
our poison, bottled or tap? The tone of his voice sounds more like an accusation than
an inquiry. The words “tap water” on his parched lips have an unexpected air of
derision and vulgarity. He offers no snappy tutorial on the availability, taste, clarity,brightness or viscosity of the bottled water. It is as if he is looking right through us,blatantly sizing us up, guesstimating the sales prospects of the table and whether we are potentially upsellable or not. In other words, can we be intimidated; and if so, to what dollar value. We opt for the tap water
and our sales potential is immediately underestimated. But I certainly am not
expecting what happens next. Minutes later, I get the distinct impression that we
failed the tap water test and are getting the bum’s rush.
I find that transactional and passive aggressive exchanges like this incident take all the hospitality and pleasure out of dining. I was embarrassed for the maître d’and for the restaurant. I did not want to complain about the service, but my irritation escalated when the tap water took a long and circuitous route to our table.

The problem of running an ambitious restaurant on a limited budget is that the bottom line becomes the focus, and well-paid, professionally trained staff is not a priority. In this case, it seemed the service was not about encouraging customer loyalty or satisfaction. It was about squeezing every penny from the diner. This happens too often these days,and it makes me uncomfortable. Is it too much trouble to put a complimentary glass of cold water on the table while we peruse the menu? If we want bottled water, we will order it. It is galling when servers are disingenuous and aggressively try to push something on you in an attempt to make you feel stingy and uncultured, while they increase their cheque average. I don’t condemn all forms of suggestive selling out of hand; but we like to know our options, their sources and the specialties that might complement our choices. And considering the pedigree of the chef in this fine establishment, the décor and the prices, it seems uncouth for anyone to utter scripted words like “tapwater.” In such elegant surroundings, the term “ice water” should suffice.

Once an avid consumer of bottled water, I have now developed an aversion to it. I
had to rethink my perceptions and dining rituals. Despite the popular perception that
bottled water is tastier than municipal water, this is more theoretical than real.
Bottled water is not necessarily cleaner, safer or even healthier than our local supply. We certainly know that bottled water is not coming from the pure springs of distant mountains and glaciers, despite its designer labels. The bottled water revolution of the last decade has come with a huge environmental footprint, and drinking bottled water is something that really needs to be rethought. — B.L

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Promoting The Recognition of Cuisine as a Manifestation of Culture.

Aroma – A Pervasive Characteristic or Quality


Felipe Gomes’ Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant and Adega Wine Bar



A restaurant’s location is as crucial to its success as good food and service. Restaurants come and restaurants go, and sometimes it’s the space that helps define the experience. One location that has always managed to produce appealing restaurants is the one in an old heritage building on the southwest corner of Richmond and Piccadilly Streets. The building has a distinctive, intangible quality; an aura: the aroma of success.
In its early days as a restaurant, the site was occupied by famed London restaurateur and the original owner of the Auberge du Petit Prince, Ginette Bisaillion. After selling the Auberge du Petit Prince to the incomparable Chef Chris Squire in 1976, Bisaillion later opened the elegantly casual but upscale French-themed Café du Midi where Aroma is now. With delicious French offerings, airy ambience, ivy-clad yellow brick walls, wrought-iron furniture and Mexican tile floors, Café du Midi quickly became a mecca for the culinary community and the ladies who lunch. Those were the days of leisurely liquid lunches, and Kir was Café du Midi’s signature cocktail, made with a quantity of crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) topped with crisp, dry, redoubtable French white wine.
If memory still serves, there were several other incarnations in this space, including the Summerhouse, a short-lived but delicious Italian bistro, Woody’s and most recently, Mark Kitching’s much-venerated Waldo’s of London, which occupied this space for a remarkable eighteen years before moving to its present location in the Covent Garden Market.

The latest manifestation at this location is Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant and Adega Wine Bar, which has been owned and operated by Felipe Gomes for almost five years. Felipe Gomes was born in Lisbon, Portugal and immigrated to Canada almost a quarter of a century ago. Gomes, a dynamic community leader, has served on the board of directors for Tourism London, the Rotary Club of London, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Through these associations, he has been involved in many charitable initiatives and community fundraising events. Gomes is a former hotel man (assistant general manager at the downtown Hilton, director of food and beverage for the Sheraton Hotel, and director of operations for the Meridien Hotel in Lisbon, Portugal), and among other abilities, was trained to handle the vagaries of budgeting, advertising and marketing of special events. He is also the founder and owner of F.G. International, a dedicated and experienced group of London professionals who have provided conference management and event planning services since 2000. The company has been instrumental in facilitating several local festivals and special events that have included the Chef’s Club, Greek, Chinese and Italian festivals, London Idol and a “Tribute to Elvis.”
In 2004, Gomes was a co- executive producer of the inspirational historical documentary Strong Hearts, Steady Hands, chronicling the story of the Portuguese community in Canada, from the historic day in 1953 when the first Portuguese pioneers set foot on Canada’s shore to fifty years later. In recent times, Gomes’ efforts have been focused on Aroma and his successful culinary corporate team-building workshops classes, as well as a variety of on-going charitable initiatives and Portuguese cultural awareness.
Promotional material for the culinary team-building workshops for corporate training and leadership development states, “Our experts offer the ultimate culinary experience, while enhancing the skills of the participants in communication, cooperation, cohesiveness, encouragement, and team spirit through team effort.” Aroma offers these cooking experiences for both private and corporate groups. The classes are tailored to meet the needs of each unique group, whether the purpose is team building or pure entertainment. The team-building programs take the participants out of their corporate atmosphere and place them into a fun, non-stress social situation where the accent can be refocused onto the team, without the pressures of the workplace. Cooking a meal brings out the creativity and ingenuity of the individuals and enhances their skills, while putting the emphasis on cooperation, achievement and morale.
The premises are an expansive, well-appointed subterranean courtyard and atrium, with additional private rooms and facilities for the popular team-building cooking classes for 60 people, and video conferencing facilities. This incarnation of the premises has an additional room known as the Adega Lounge Wine bar. (The Portuguese word “adega” is derived from the Greek word meaning storehouse or repository.)
The Adega Lounge Wine bar is modeled on a traditional eighteenth-century Portuguese wine cellar and a throwback (in a good way) to a style of décor and an experience that typify Old-World charm. The room has become a cozy haven for wine enthusiasts. (We recently sipped Mateus there - not the medium-sweet frizzante rosé in its distinctive narrow-necked, flask-shaped bottle designed to appeal to the rapidly developing North American and northern European markets in the 1950s and 1960s, but instead a delicious contemporary dry white version in a straight-sided and high-shouldered bordeaux-shaped bottle.)
The feeling of the Adega Lounge and Wine Bar is that one has come upon an excavation where the restaurateur has been quarrying through layers of time to unearth vintage ports, wines, and gustatory delights of a bygone era. In renovating the restaurant, Gomes discovered a 600-square-foot space that had not been utilized for over fifty years behind the plaster and drywall at the front of the building. On one visit to the restaurant, our server Brooke told us that the room was filled from floor to ceiling with accounting records and papers from a prior business in this location. Solid walnut beams and the exposed interior yellow brick face helped inspire Gomes to faithfully replicate the ambience and dining experience typical of a Mediterranean countries, one not commonly found in contemporary restaurants.
The wine bar houses a vast array of ubiquitous international wines and port, some of which are featured in a built-in, reinforced and recessed vault in the floor. This precious repository sits on a sandy base that is also strewn with ancient pottery and bronze medallions. This display, covered by a solid transparent lid of heavy tempered glass, resembles a preserved excavation that patrons can walk across or stand on to peer into its contents. The room is decorated with wine barrels, tapestries, paintings, crystal decanters and cruets, antique Middle Eastern accents, and other relevant cultural paraphernalia.
Aroma’s Mediterranean-inspired menu features cross- ethnic specialties from the countries of the Mediterranean basin, including southern France, Italy, Greece and Spain, and showcases the predominantly rich, filling and full-flavoured dishes characteristic of Gomes’ Portuguese heritage. The menu is a unique combination of cuisines, very approachable for the average diner, with many selections that will be familiar to patrons. In homage to the cuisine of this region, the menu features a delicious and fresh daily fish special, think fresh red snapper, stone bass and dorada (a.k.a gilthead bream) as well as tilapia (quelle horreur) and salmon as regular selections.
Try the healthful Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese soup featuring kale. Lobster bisque from this kitchen is a delicate, silky, creamy, meaty, highly seasoned soup of French origin.
The grilled piri piri (sauce of small, fiery chili peppers) chicken with sea salt, garlic and olive oil is a traditional version of the Portuguese specialty that is gaining mainstream popularity at restaurants like King of the Pigs and Tiagos at the Covent Garden Market. The Chorizo Pizza, described on the menu as a Mediterranean thin crust topped with homemade chorizo sausage, roasted red peppers and wild mushrooms, may not have had a particularly thin crust but it was delicious and appeared to be house-made, with toppings that were flavourful and well-balanced. Chorizo is a delicious smoky pork and chili pepper sausage originating from the Iberian Peninsula – in this case, house-made – and is itself a standout ingredient on the menus. Gomes, I am told, has his imprint all over the menu, including the delectable signature calamari tubes stuffed with well-seasoned bread crumbs, mushrooms and chorizo and topped with a fragrant Andalusian sauce.
The dessert selection was presented on a large tray in the European style. The desserts were displayed fully garnished, and our dessert choices were served right off the platter that came to our table. The crème brûlée, resembling traditional Portuguese custard more than typical crème brûlée custard, was returned to the kitchen to prepare the contrasting layer of hard crystallized sugar topping. It was delicious, as was the coffee. On another occasion we were served a traditional Portuguese custard tart and a 4- berry cobbler.
On weekends, Aroma often features Mediterranean-style entertainment that includes opera, Fado (a Portuguese music genre that typically includes a singer and guitar), Spanish guitarists, Flamenco (the traditional music of the Andalusian gypsies), and jazz.
Distinctive, pervasive and usually a pleasant or savoury scent, or the odour of wine imparted by the grapes from which it is made, the term “aroma,” like the name of Felipe Gomes’ restaurant, embodies an agreeable odor or pleasing fragrance, especially of food, drink and spices.


Hours of Operation
Sunday - Thursday 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 12:00 p.m. -11:00 p.m.

717 Richmond Street, London, ON N6A 1S2
TELEPHONE: (519) 435-0616
EMAIL: fg_international@bellnet.ca
WEBSITE: www.aromarestaurant.ca