Monday, September 29, 2014

Café Bourgeois at Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair

Café Bourgeois

Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair

Please see my updated Post on May 8, 2015

Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair
Saturdays 8 -3pm.,
519 775 9917

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Look at London Ontario's Culinary History

A Look at London Ontario's Culinary History


Much of London's distinctive culinary culture can be attributed to the mosaic of ethnic cultures, and no stay in our city would be complete without a visit to some of our diverse and exciting restaurants and culinary and food retailers. We have a diverse multi-cultural food community with more than our fair share of solid talent who promote our local terroir, and other rising stars who explore the latest trends and tastes of the ever evolving world of food.

London has an exciting network of farmers, food producers, food retailers, artisans, chefs, culinary patriots and restaurants who are interdependent, passionate and community-minded, who value the opportunities to work together and to partner in making London a vibrant community and culinary destination.

Here in London the diversity of cuisine is truly a manifestation of the culture and our collective culinary sensibility. Cookery and gastronomy, lodging and hospitality have historically enriched the local cultural experience. Interestingly, London has a European culinary heritage with a palate nurtured in Europe and later informed by the first nations that we can date back as far as 1826.

The term terroir has more recently become part of the wider culinary lexicon to describe the vital connection between a given locality and the food grown , raised, made and cooked there. Terroir as a concept allows us to examine "the taste of origin" as a set of cultural values about place, community and agricultural practices.

Of course, the terroir itself - the consequence of some of the most gently rolling rich agricultural land in the world, boasts of superior crops in fertile soils that range from light sand to heavy clay. The diverse terroir in Middlesex and surrounding counties of Perth, Elgin and Huron allow for a variety of habitats uniquely indigenous to southwestern Ontario. Located between the Great Lakes, Erie and Huron the area has a a moderate micro-climate and a relatively frost free growing season.

London, (fondly referred to as the 'Forest City') is actually a separated municipality, though it still remains the official seat of Middlesex County. The city was founded around the Forks of the Thames River more than 200 years ago. Prior to European contact in the 18th century, the current site of London was occupied by Iroquoian and Odawa/Ojibwa villages. Archaeological research in the region indicate that first nation people have inhabited this area for at least 10,000 years.

Thought to be London's first settler, first inn keeper and first businessman, Peter McGregor, arrived at the Fork of the Thames in 1825 and built a tavern where the corner of King Street and Ridout Street meet today. McGregor was a tailor by profession, and records show that he was engaged in many aspects related to the construction of the new village of London. Married to Lavina Pool, from Westminster it is she whom should be credited with being the actual inn keeper in the family.

In January 1827, a frame building was erected to house the first school, jail and courthouse. It has been reported that McGregor frequently escorted prisoners across the street to his tavern for mealtimes.

In 1835, the first marketplace, a frame shed on the courthouse grounds was situated opposite the McGregors tavern at the Forks of the Thames. Covent Garden Market formerly established in 1845, is the longest established link to London's culinary history.

Today, the Covent Garden continues to be focal point for the the rural and urban exchange where local, artisanal farm-fresh and quality gourmet and international foodstuffs can be procured every day of the week - it is among the city's finest selection of gourmet, ethnic and organic foods.

Twice a week (Thursdays and Saturdays) during the season an outdoor farmers' market features fresh local produce, meats (bison), and a variety of artisanal baked goods. The arts are also a focus of the Market's mezzanine where a several local cultural organizations and artists are resident – there’s even a cooking studio/kitchen.

Virtually unchanged since the last century, Eldon House is London's oldest residence. Built in 1834 for the Harris family, this historic home remained in the family until 1960 when it was donated to the City of London. Today, surrounded by the city, the house and its heritage gardens are a place of gratifying beauty and serenity and maintain its strong links to London's earliest history.

Still on record today, the Harris family journals offer us a unique glimpse into the past and provide us with an intimate perspective of life at Eldon House and to some degree London's early culinary history. Among other tidbits, important details emerge regarding what the family purchased and ate during certain eras as well as what the gardeners planted.

Amelia Harris (1798-1882) writes: Of regular trips to the Covent Garden Market with her cook (weekly, sometimes daily), of sending some of her domestic staff on the equivalent of “professional development” courses, to learn different “cultural” styles of cooking – French being a favourite.

Harris mentions city locations as in her diary entry of Feb. 16, 1859: “Distress in the country is very great. Farmers are buying wheat in place of selling it. The first soup kitchen that has been in London has been established here within the past week and it gives relief to 70 poor families...” Amelia also mentions that cooks tended to bring their own recipes and cookbooks with them when hired, and guarded them closely!"

Today Eldon House is open to visitors year round. A welcome sign of warm weather and lazy afternoons, the tradition of outdoor summer tea at Eldon House  teas on the elegant lawn of London’s oldest residence. Reservations are recommended by calling 519.661.5169.

In this part of Ontario, there is a sound agricultural heritage and tradition of the production of wheat, barley, oats, corn, soyabeans, fieldbeans, sugar beets, turniups, potatoes, pears, plums, grapes a full range of small fruits and berries.

In fact, a must-see culinary heritage destination is located on the city's edge just north of Masonville. The Arva Flour Mills have been operating since 1819. Mike Mathews is the fourth generation of his family to be involved with the business. Purveyors of high quality whole wheat, unbleached, pastry and organic flours, the historic mill still uses water power from Medway Creek. eatdrink writer and contributor, Sue Moore tells us, "The location of the Mill itself on the banks of the Medway River is as tranquil and idyllic as a Constable painting. Geese and ducks glide silently along the millpond in rows, many of them advanced in years." The mill offers a variety of other related products such as cream of wheat, cracked wheat, grains, cereals and spelt.

Historically, pasture and hay comprised the largest areas of Middlesex which was mainly used for livestock pasturing and production. Pigs found on area farms in the 1850's and 1860's included two large breeds, Berkshires and Yorkshires (whose weights were recorded in excess of 600 pounds a piece.) heritage breeds that can be found on diners plates in any number of our restaurants that offer a  truly farm- to- table philosophy and an exceptional dining experience.

By 1877, there were six cheese factories located in the area, and dairying began to play an important role in local local farming practices. By the 1880's there was a poultry boom which led to more turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl, as well as chickens being raised on the local farms.

Canadian beer has become a growing part of the national culture especially in recent years with the addition of a number of microbreweries and craft brewers. Today, the Canadian beer industry plays an interesting role in the Canadian National Identity. London has a storied history of early brewmasters that became Canadian staples. It was Thomas Carling who first established the brewing company that bears his name in 1840. His home-brewed ale, was of such quality and popularity that he renounced farming for full-time brewing. That brewery was a humble proposition - a few kettles, a horse to turn the grinding mill and six sturdy men to work on the mash tubs. It is said that Carling started by trundling his wares through the streets of London, on a wheelbarrow.

Established in 1847, you can still experience a guided tour of the other famous hometown brewery, Labatt's. Immigrating to Canada in the 1830s, John Kinder Labatt initially established himself as a farmer near London. Eventually investing in a brewery with a partner, Samuel Eccles, they launched "Labatt and Eccles". After Eccles retired in 1854, Labatt acquired his interest, and renamed the business the "London Brewery". Labatt was aided by his sons Ephraim, Robert, and John. After his death his son John Labatt purchased the brewery, which like Carling, eventually grew to be one of the largest in Canada. Today, the tour takes place at the Simcoe Street brewery - the very location where founder John Kinder Labatt started brewing his beer here in the city more than 160 years ago.

The processing of sap from maple trees into maple sugar or syrup was another important cash crop. And in the winter and early spring that tradition continues today at the Kinsmen Fanshawe sugar bush. This annual sugar bush runs each weekend every March and during the March break. There are hayrides, guided tours, demonstrations and a sugar shack and pancake pavilion for delicious pancakes, sausages and pure maple syrup.

If you really want to get a close-up look of London's culinary history there is often something cooking at the family home of local London artist, Paul Peel's family house at London's Fanshawe Pioneer Village. In and around the Village, interpreters and volunteers can often be found bringing the taste of turn of the 19th century life, baking breads, biscuits and seasonal pies with produce and fruit from the Village's orchards and organic gardens. The heritage gardens showcase the fruits and vegetables grown in Middlesex County communities from 1820 to 1920.

The historic past of early London comes to life through daily reenactments of 19th century trades and farming methods, domestic chores and social interaction by costumed interpreters. On special event days, ride around the Village on a wagon pulled by horses or a vintage tractor. Stop by the Pioneer Village Café for a heart-warming lunch featuring homemade soups, salads and breads all made on the premises with heirloom fruits and vegetables and other seasonal and local ingredients.

Arva Flour Mill 
2042 Elgin (off Richmond), Arva 519 660 0199

Fanshawe Pioneer Village
2609 Fanshawe Park Rd.E., 519-457-1296

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Springs Restaurant on Springbank Drive - One of London, Ontario's Top Restaurants

The Springs on Springbank Drive - One of London Ontario's Top Restaurants


The smartly appointed Springs Restaurant, housed in a beautifully refurbished church consistently receives rave reviews. Chef Andrew Wolwowicz’s innovative menus, list dishes crafted from local, regional and quality seasonal ingredients. The gastronomic scope of Wolwowic's repertoire is influenced by a commitment to a steadfast philosophy that advances the economic, ecological and social values of our local culinary and agricultural communities

Local entrepreneurs and Wolwowicz's collaborators, Tim and Laura Owen wanted to integrate as much of the original church as they could into the new restaurant. Unfortunately, they learnt the church’s foundation was disintegrating. Instead they levelled the church except for the original front vestibule, and rebuilt the structure from the ground up using 6,000 of the existing yellow bricks and a slew of additional identical bricks from 2 houses that were being demolished on Riverside Drive.

During reconstruction a worker unearthed a time capsule in the northeast corner of the church almost 100 years to the day it had been buried. The windows are proportionally large, letting in light that floods the restaurant exquisitely. The dining room seats 70, the beautifully appointed patio 32 and the downstairs banquet room 40. The patio is an oasis unto itself.

A proponent of the open kitchen, Wolwowicz wanted to put a public face on the people behind the food. “You know it's a good party when you end up in the kitchen” says, Wolwowicz. In collaboration with the Owens, Wolwowicz was instrumental in helping to design every detail of the restaurant and kitchen to create a welcoming and accessible environment. There is an additional kitchen in the basement.

Wolwowicz has established himself as a prominent figure in London’s culinary community. Wolwowicz cooks at the full degree of his capability, with finely tuned instincts, skill, dedication, precision, creativity and passion. The Springs procure the finest locally grown products from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices and ethically raised livestock.

At lunch, The Carnivore (one of the best sandwiches ever) consists of sous-vide pork cheeks combined with perfectly braised duck leg confit, creamy soft Riviere rouge cheese, skillet baked between rye bread, then, finished with a wild boar bacon & date demi and then, garnished with a sunny side up egg.

Wolwowicz’s culinary repertoire has included: luscious panko-crusted Crab Cakes made with flaky back fin and delicate lump crab meat, and accompanied with a spicy sweet chili sauce. The Wild Mushroom Tart with chorizo and caramelized shallots is otherworldly.

Delectable Duck Pierogies & Kung Fu Cabbage with shredded duck leg confit, sheep’s milk cheese, Yukon gold potatoes served with Kung Fu Riesling braised Wakefield cabbage and a pancetta cream reduction are the talk of the city.

Other memorable menu winners include: Pan-Spanked Chicken served in a cast-iron skillet then baked with a fruity extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, pancetta and fresh aromatics and served with a saffron scented cauliflower puree; Cider-glazed Willowgrove Hills Farm’s Pork Tenderloin with an apple-mustard-maple velouté, green apple marmalade and parmesan potato dumplings; and Dijon Braised Rabbit with roasted pear arancini (panko crusted risotto balls).

The signature Teriyaki Prawn Penne is a menu staple, with jumbo prawns and forest mushrooms sautéed with a julienne of peppers and sweet onions tossed with a spicy sweet teriyaki cream sauce. Served mild, medium or yeow.

Wolwowicz regards Monforte Dairy’s artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses as “exceptional.” One of Chef’s preferences is Nica. Comparable to chèvre, it is amplified with lavender and fermented organic garlic flower tops. This delicious cheese show ups on both his Bruschetta Fajioli (white bean puree with seasoned tomatoes), and his Wildwood Greens Duck Salad (medium-rare, pan-roasted, melt- in- your mouth Magret of Duck with a medley of crisp seasonal greens, roasted beets, hemp seeds and a citrus-wolfberry vinaigrette). The Harrar Espresso and carved loin of  Crusted Venison served with a Jerusalem artichoke mash, chili & wild arugula greens finished with a dark chocolate pomegranate gastrique is to die for.

The restaurant has one of the best wine lists in the city

310 Springbank Drive; 519-657-1100

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi's Modern Vietnamese Cuisine

Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi


This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host.

From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.

The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.

The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. 

The signature Crispy Spring Roll at Tamarine is made with chicken, pork, or a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls, made with shrimp and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese use fish sauce to enhance the flavour of their foods, much the same way we use table salt, and it pretty much goes with everything.

Compared with its cousin, the egg roll, the spring roll is smaller, with much less filling. (Phan tells me that the “spring roll” is all about quality, not quantity). However, the terms “spring roll” and “egg roll,” like “spring roll” and “fresh roll,” are often used somewhat interchangeably and incorrectly. It can be quite confusing.

Fresh rolls are referred to by several different names, including “salad roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words; for example, “Vietnamese roll” or “Vietnamese spring rolls.” It has been my experience that on the North American west coast, many restaurants refer to fresh rolls as “crystal rolls,” “soft rolls,” or “salad rolls.” Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls in that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls.

“Spring rolls” take their name from the freshness of the spring season with all the seasonal ingredients, and frying would, of course take away that element. At Tamarine, they offer fresh Spring Rolls with a choice of barbecued chicken or shrimp, vermicelli, crispy pastry heart, fresh mint, lettuce, and sprouts, all rolled in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce.

Tamarine also has its own version of Pad Thai. Although it is the national dish of Thailand and has been known in various incarnations for centuries, the dish is thought to have been introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders. Tamarine’s version is a choice of wok-tossed chicken or beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts, finished with a spicy tamarind sauce and cilantro lime, and garnished with crushed peanuts.

“Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved,” says Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our heritage with our cuisine.” The cooking remains delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of both China and India.

No words can describe the atrocities that Vietnamese “boat people” suffered when they decided to flee their homeland in crudely built boats, sparking an international humanitarian crisis. When Quynh and Nhi’s father Tan Pham wanted a better future for his family the authorities caught wind of it his first attempt to escape the country landed him 20 months of hard labour in jail. Subsequent attempts yielded him no promises to get him where he wanted to go. In 1990, he escaped Vietnam literally with the shirt on his back and that was the price he was willing to pay for a better future for his family. At that time there was no possible future for his family it was either poverty or death. The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. More fortunate ones were taken in by countries like Canada. 
It has been a long journey for the family to get where it is now but adversity instilled a solid work ethic and team spirit that is evident in how they operate their restaurants. After making a name for herself at the Trail’s End Market with her hand-rolled, high quality spring rolls and stir fry’s, Du Bui (Quynh and Nhi’s mother who has always been in charge of quality) parlayed her signature spring roll eventually into what her son-in-law, Long Phan refers to as “the birth of two restaurants.”
Wrapping spring rolls in lettuce leaves and including fresh herbs in the bundles is a vestige of the original civilizations that existed before the centuries of Chinese influence in Vietnam, and is practised with delicacy at both Quynh Nhi and Tamarine.
For well over a decade the family-run, Quynh Nhi Restaurant, has developed a loyal following and prospered off the beaten path in a 40- seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family run business operated by their extended family. 

118 Dundas Street,
519 601 8276
Quynh Nhi 
55 Wharncliffe Road North

Championing Local, Feast ON, and the Farm to Table Movement in Ontario

Championing Local, Feast ON, and the Farm to Table Movement in Ontario


I am a dedicated reader of Sarah Elton, who tracks the culinary zeitgeist for CBC Radio’s Here and Now, and has written for The Globe and MailThe New York TimesMaclean’s and Her book, Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat, was an award-winning treatise on the local food movement in Canada.

In Ontario, many cooks continue to develop imaginative takes on farm-to-table eating while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the frontline of the contemporary culinary scene by rethinking the food chain, stewarding the environment and adding their voices to the collective Canadian culinary identity.

Elton’s latest book, Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet, champions the movement away from global food production and presents an intelligent and engaging argument for the sustainable food movement and alternatives to the factory farming model. She travels to rural farming villages in India and China, to France, and to Detroit’s inner-city to document the transformative nature of food. This is an up-to-the-minute account of the politics and issues surrounding sustainable food production, food security and locavorism that offers some solutions.

When I go out to eat, I am drawn to restaurants that support local farmers and food artisans by procuring and featuring local ingredients, products and VQA wines. Patronizing farm-to-table restaurants makes sense because it supports and sustains economic activity on a local level.

Ontario has developed the Local Food Strategy to help increase the profile, access to, and demand for local food. The foundations of this strategy are the newly approved Local Food Act, and the recently launched Local Food Fund. 

The Local Food Act is part of a strategy to build Ontarios economy and agri-food sector by making more local food available in educational institutions, cafeterias, grocery stores, markets and restaurants. Its objective is to improve local food literacy, and encourage the demand for homegrown food, by requiring the Ministry to establish aspirational local food goals and targets in consultation with stakeholders that have an interest. The Act creates a non-refundable tax credit of 25 per cent for farmers who donate their surplus harvest to eligible community food programs such as food banks. The policy also proclaims a Local Food Week that will take place annually, beginning the first Monday in June.A reference point for defining local was created with the passing of the 

Local Food Act and when the Ministry of Agriculture and Food committed funding to support the development of Ontario’s new Foodservice Designation Program (OFD) in partnership with the Ontario Culinary Alliance (OCTA). 

The program entitled Feast ON has similarities to the former Savour Ontario Dining program, which brought together diners and restaurants who share an interest in choosing and serving locally grown and produced foods in Ontario.

The new OFD Program is a criteria-based designation system, designed to increase the profile and demand for local food by identifying restaurateurs and foodservice operators dedicated to procuring and serving Ontario foods and beverages and whose particular attributes qualify their commitment to local food. Feast ON has engaged Community Connecters to support the objectives of the program by working with OCTA to gather data required to implement, manage and safeguard the OFD program criteria.

Feast ON recognizes foodservice businesses committed to showcasing Ontario grown and produced food and drink. Restaurant operations in all their incarnations — from food trucks to fine dining — sourcing a minimum of 25% Ontario food products and 25% beverage products will be certified with the Feast ON seal, assuring consumers an “authentic” taste of Ontario.

In addition to the Feast ON strategy, the ministry is determining how they can differentiate, classify and market Ontario’s terroir and authentic regional products. It seems a new provincial designation system will likely include a geographic indicator certification.

This type of certification is an assurance that products possess certain qualities, are made according to traditional methods, or possess particular characteristics, due to terroir or geographical origin. Ideally, certification would be similar to the European Union-adopted systems of geographical indications and traditional specialties, and our existing VQA structure of classification for wine.

The purpose of certification is to safeguard the character and reputation of authentic foods, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain the best price for their regional products, and eliminate the misrepresentation to consumers by imitators and counterfeit products.

Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola and Munster are the five new cheese names that that Canada has recently approved to identify for its geographic indications as part of a trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. Existing producers won’t be affected but any new cheese names introduced will need to be qualified with descriptors such as “style,” “kind” or “type.”

It seems to me that several of Ontario’s premier artisanal cheese makers have successfully differentiated their distinctive products with names based on each cheese’s unique characteristics, geographic, and cultural attributes by thinking in terms of terroir.  

In Italy, certification laws require that Parmigiano-Reggiano be made according to a specific recipe and production methods, and only within specific geographical regions. The Parmigiano-Reggiano Safeguarding Consorzio pursued a company in Mexico that blatantly named its product Parmigiano- Reggiano and affixed on it identical symbols and indications to those registered as collective marks by the Consorzio.

I have witnessed first-hand the perfect example of the certification process from start to finish. I arrived early to tour one of the cheese dairy co-operatives in the countryside of the strictly designated “zona tipica” of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy, to watch the cheese being crafted.

The milk from the previous evening had been left overnight to separate and a portion of the cream had been skimmed off. The remaining milk was mixed with the morning’s whole milk, and then poured into large, temperature-regulated copper cauldrons. Fermenting whey from the previous day was added and the mixture heated and slowly stirred.

When the desired temperature was achieved, calves rennet (a natural coagulating extract) was added. The coagulated milk became cheese curd, the leftover liquid whey. (The remaining whey not used in the next production will be used to imbue local pigs with the unique flavour that has distinguished this region for its exceptional variety of protected Italian air-cured meats, most notably Prosciutto di Parma).

Next a large, ball-shaped thorn brush was employed to fracture the curd. Again the curd was heated and stirred. With the heat shut off, the curd set. This mass was maneuvered with paddles and cut into two identical pieces, each with enough curd to make a wheel of cheese.

The curd was then wrapped in hemp cloth and suspended above the cauldrons to dry. Later the curd was lowered into a circular wooden form, where it was pressed into a wheel.  With the cloth removed, a stamp with teeth was inserted between the cheese and the mould. The teeth form a series of impressions, denoting authenticity with date and the designation Parmigiano-Reggiano.

After resting, the cheese is immersed in vats of brine and left to float. It is rotated daily for 25 days and briefly exposed to the sun before being stored. The cheese is warehoused on vast wooden shelves in climate-sensitive aging rooms, and turned over mechanically while it matures for a minimum of 18 months.

Watching this process convinced me that there is a need for geographic indicators and certification to help protect, differentiate and authenticate our distinctly unique and traditional products now and in the future.

Read more about Feast ON

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Homage to Toronto's Yorkville Landmarks the Coffee Mill and Le Trou Normand

Homage to Toronto's Yorkville Landmarks the Coffee Mill 


Le Trou Normand

Up until just a few months ago, Le Trou Normand remained the oldest operating fine dining restaurant in Yorkville. Coincidentally, The Coffee Mill a venerated European-style cafe which recently celebrated 51 years in business closed earlier this month.

Martha von Heczey’s Coffee Mill opened in May, 1963, in the now-demolished Lothian Mews, on Bloor Street. In 1973, von Herczey  moved two blocks north to a mini-mall with Yorkville Avenue on one side, Cumberland Street on the other. There was a secluded terrace with an expandable awning in the event of rain. The Coffee Mill was practically right across the street from Le Trou Normand and it was one of my Yorkville haunts for over 30 years.

Ms. von Heczey’s late husband Laci, a well-known wrestling champion, liked to wander around Yorkville with a tame cheetah on a leash.
Interestingly, in 1984, von Herczey even managed to regain the UNICEF fountain — the centrepiece at Lothian Mews, which had been placed in storage and relocated it to her new location. 

Among those luminaries whose autographed photographs hung on the restaurant walls like they do at Sardi’s in New York were: Al Waxman, Barbara Amiel, Gordon Pinsent, Tom Kneebone, Edward Greenspan, Anne Mirvish, Dusty Cohl (who co-founded TIFF), Pierre Berton and Anna Porter The cafe was frequented by such Canadians luminaries as Norman Jewison, Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen, who loved the cafe's secluded patio and plates of Hungarian goulash, liverwurst and schnitzel.

Original Location of the Coffee Mill in the Lothian Mews

Coffee Mill Terrace August 2014 

Both businesses were tucked away from the beaten path, anomalies with retro-charm but relics of a former era. In their heyday, Yorkville was a bustling place to be. It has been years since the restaurants lost their cachet but both businesses have long been celebrated as a throwback to gentler times when the world was a simpler, kinder place. 

In recent years, the 41-year-old Le Trou Normand attracted prospective diners – and tourists – with a weather battered sign hanging on the right side of the street entrance and a framed menu box listing the specialties of the house. You had to climb a few short steps under a decorative wrought iron archway decorated with the restaurant’s name and coat of arms and follow a cobblestone terrace to the front door. In recent years, the entrance to my mind was like a portal in time leading to a style of restaurant that is all but obsolete in Toronto. The restaurant also attracted its fair share of celebrities in its day. 

 The restaurant which had been operating since 1973, had always reminded me of the rustic French country bistros or the small working class restaurants situated on the Left Bank and Latin Quarter of Paris when I was in my twenties. The name Le Trou Normand referred to the traditional Norman palate cleansing shot of Calvados between courses which is supposed to restore the appetite.
Le Trou Normand is the restaurant where I first became acquainted with a young Susur Lee in 1984, who has gone on to inhabit the top echelon of world chefs. My path crossed Susur’s again at Lela restaurant, where he began to pioneer his ground-breaking fusion of traditional French and Asian cuisine.

On my last visit to Le Trou Normand a few months before it closed the dining rooms with their stuccoed walls, washed-out upholstery, antique porcelain in farmhouse hutches, and worn Persian rugs over the tiled floors had all but faded into to obscurity.

 Le Trou Normand Terrace

A Memory of Le Trou Normand

There was always a look of disbelief in the eyes of new waiters after working their first shift at Le Trou Normand. As quick as Babette (not the real name of my esteemed former colleague) hired them, Chef would fire them. Sometimes waiters would go out to sweep the terrace and never return. Babette, who for all intents and purposes ran the front of the house, realized it was foolhardy to form attachments with the staff.  When she hired someone capable and compatible with Chef, she held on to them for dear life, knowing they could soon tire of the histrionics. Or worse, she might spend weeks training someone, and Chef might fire them for some minor infraction or simply because the weather was bad. It was a revolving door of staff. And that’s pretty much what happened over a period of many years that I was acquainted with the restaurant.

On my first day of work at Le Trou Normand, there were two other waiters besides myself starting that day. Both were affable and experienced and had been culled from a cattle call of prospective employees. At the end of a very busy lunch shift, Chef came out of the kitchen and into the dining room to survey his kingdom. With fists on hips, Chef gave a cursory glance at the dessert table and his benevolent countenance melted into a spitting-mad fit when his eye landed on the tarte aux pommes.The names he called us were nothing I hadn't heard in restaurant kitchens before, but Chef leveled an allegation and demanded an immediate explanation; the accusation being that there was a slice of apple tart unaccounted for and therefore must have been eaten or not recorded on a guest check by one of the three “bimbos” standing before him. When a confession was not immediately forthcoming and the litany of malevolence had run its course, he shouted, “The three of you are all fired!” Bewildered and outraged by the unfairness of the Chef, I was at the same time miserable. I had been depending on the job, having just returned from a summer in France. Knowing myself to be a conscientious employee, I guess I had expected Babette to speak up and come to my defense. During the job interview Babette had warned me, “Chef is difficult, tightly-wound, a master and true scholar of the French kitchen.”

My mistake was that I assumed that because I had impeccable references and had developed a good rapport with her, that I was above suspicion. I was stunned when she seemed to ignore the situation altogether. Putting my jacket on, I started to head for the subway in a huff. No sooner had my shoes hit the pavement when I heard my name being called. I turned my head and saw Babette running down the cobblestone terrace after me. She asked me to return to the restaurant at 5 o’clock for the dinner shift. It was a gentle but practiced request she had learned to pose as a statement. She did not make any apologies for Chef’s behaviour, nor did she acknowledge it.

For the remainder of the afternoon, my pragmatism and principles collided. I found myself stewing and vacillating about returning to the restaurant. Chef greeted me with smug indifference when I returned to the restaurant that evening. After a couple of weeks Chef’s outbursts became old hat, as I learned to take them in stride. Chef soon began to acknowledge me. The gratuities were excellent. We all fell into a routine. Babette who was a force to be reckoned with in her own right never confessed to giving the apple tart to one of the restaurant’s regulars.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kingston’s Culinary Culture and the Rosemount Inn an Spa

 Kingston’s Culinary Culture and the Rosemount Inn an Spa


With a diversity of annual festivals and events year-round, Kingston is known to celebrate its renowned culinary culture. In downtown Kingston, history comes alive in the architecture and distinguished limestone buildings that have been preserved and enhanced and now house numerous stylish cafes and unique restaurants. The downtown has over 100 restaurants in a 9 block area. In fact, I have been told that there are more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Canada.
Rosemount Inn and Spa

 A get-away to Kingston is made all the more appealing and relaxing when you stay at Innkeeper, Holly Doughty’s welcoming Rosemount Inn and Spa, an 1850’s Tuscan-style villa located in the heart of the downtown. The Rosemount is the personification of hospitality and comfort. Flare magazine once referenced the Rosemount Inn the “best B&B experience in Canada.” The inn’s 11 rooms and chalet-style coach house, all with ensuite baths and comfortable beds —are well- appointed with period antiques, decorative castings and arched, leaded windows. The recently restored ornate cast iron fence on limestone base, frames the villa and the extensive gardens. Interlocking paths and driveway are in tumbled stone.

A good gourmet breakfast at the Inn might comprise a selection of fresh fruit, seasonal salad and perfectly-done omelettes or a seasonal quiche served in the dining room. The signature house speciality of Welsh toast with fresh berries, warmed local maple syrup and crème fraîche will help fortify you to discover the nearby 1000 Islands and Kingston’s many cultural venues. Doughty and her team also serve an afternoon tea in the dazzling front parlour.

Kingston's Farmers' Market

In the summer, Kingston by Fork offers two culinary walking tours or they will customize one for 12 participants or more. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, to coincide with the days the Market Square open-air market is open, (established in 1801 it is the oldest continuous market in Canada) it guides guests on a tour of the market and a few other local venues.

 Le Chien Noir Bistro

What draws us to Le Chien Noir (besides a knowledgeable recommendation from Holly Doughty and front of house manager, Gary Rowsell) is its idiosyncratic take on farm- to-table cuisine, accompanied by a sturdy list of VQA wines, many from nearby Prince Edward County. Located steps from the Kingston's historic Market Square (established in 1801) just a few blocks from the waterfront, the Le Chein Noir is located on the Brock Street Common. Lower Brock Street has been an established commercial area since the 1820's. Le Chien Noir is situated in stylishly refurbished and renovated Victorian premises. A diverse clientele frequents the vibrant, engaging, comfortable restaurant with faux tin ceiling, retro art deco lighting fixtures, exposed brick walls, wood surfaces and mirrored accents. The long and spacious zinc bar at the entrance is a focal point with its large crystal chandeliers.
 Chef Derek MacGregor has a reputation for referencing both the local terroir and the quintessence of French county fare for inspiration. MacGregor is a proponent of Kingston's Local Food - Local Chefs initiative which raises awareness of regional food products, producers and farm-to-table chefs in the area.

Read my review here:

Chez Piggy's Courtyard 
Rose Richardson and Zal Yanovsky (formerly of the rock band, “The Lovin’ Spoonful”) restored an abandoned limestone livery stable, tucked away behind old brick buildings off a quaint courtyard and launched the iconic Chez Piggy, a dining experience that helped make Kingston a  culinary destination. "the pig," as it is known locally, plus its nearby bakery: Pan Chancho, with its hospitable staff attracts an enduring, faithful clientele. We love al fresco dining on the private courtyard.
Cooke’s Fine Foods and Coffee
No visit to downtown Kingston would be complete without a visit to Cooke’s Fine Foods and Coffee a local culinary landmark. This gourmet food specialty shop and coffee roastery, founded in 1865, retains its old world ambience with its original wooden counters, pressed metal ceiling and intelligent staff.

Close by, Prince Edward County with its proximity to Kingston makes for a perfect day trip. Travellers from Kingston can access Prince Edward County by way of Glenora Ferry on picturesque Highway 33 East. A stunning island adventure, Prince Edward County is a mecca for artists, nature enthusiasts, wine lovers and culinary tourists.

Rosemount Inn & Spa, 46 Sydenham Street South, Kingston, Ontario
Celebrating 25 years in business with the best guests in town!
Founding member of the Historic Inns of Kingston 2003
1- 613-531-8844  /   1-888-871-8844

Chez Piggy, 68R Princess St, Kingston ON 613-549-7673

Cooke’s Fine Foods and Coffee, 61 Brock Street, Kingston, ON 613-548-7721


Five Fortune Culture Restaurant’s “Pure Chinese” Cuisine

Five Fortune Culture Restaurant’s “Pure Chinese” Cuisine


Although the ethnic cuisines of Yunnan province may not be particularly well known in the West, they are touted as being among the best regional eating experiences in China. There are 26 ethnic groups in this southwestern Chinese province, all contributing within their cultural cuisine subgroups. Agrarian by nature, Yunnan is the birthplace of tea. Yunnan’s northwest corner is said to be the inspiration for Shangri-La, as described in James Hilton’s utopian classic, Lost Horizon.

A recent surge of interest in ethnic and regional Chinese cuisine is reflected in the growth and popularity of Yunnan restaurants in both Beijing and Shanghai. Encouraged by an explosion in cultural tourism the boom is a result of China’s modernization strategy which has put Yunnan on the gastronomical map.

In downtown London Five Fortune Culture Restaurant proprietors Wenbei and Jie Liang Yin (Jeff) are part of the groundswell of restaurateurs offering a true ethnic dining experience. This is not the formulaic Chinese restaurant serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Taishanese and rural Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients. The cuisine, as prepared by Jie Liang and interpreted by Wenbei is, “Pure Chinese," Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences.

Many Yunnan dishes are typified by bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of chili peppers and garlic of bordering Sichuan province. Southern Yunnan takes its influences from Vietnam, Laos and Burma and many dishes have a similarity to Thai cuisine. Meat commonly plays a supporting role as a mere seasoning to the vegetables.

Aromatic steamed pineapple rice is popular among Dai people and the perfect side dish to soothe the heat of spicy offerings. In Jie Liang’s hands the fragrant rice has a stunningly delicate balance of sour and sweetness. A ripe pineapple is scooped out and the flesh is cut in small cubes and mixed with the scented rice and other aromatics. It is served in the hollowed pineapple shell with the leaf crown acting as a lid to keep the rice hot.

Yunnan is the home to a vast range of fresh rice noodle soups and stir fries. Mixian or fresh rice noodles are gluten-free with a silky texture which absorbs flavours efficiently. Yunnan's best known dish, Crossing Bridge Noodles is a bowl of extremely hot broth served with a range of ingredients supplied raw to the table, including rice noodles, thinly sliced pork, poultry and fish, leaf vegetables, bean curd, aromatics and cilantro to balance out strong flavours, much like a hot pot. If you’re not familiar with these flavours, it’s an assertive dish. If you are, it’s simply enjoyably comforting.

A trio of fish are offered whole, with head and tail intact. The choices were salmon, tilapia and a deep- sea fish with an untranslatable name. We chose the untranslatable-named fish. Jie Liang’s grandmother provided the recipe which is a thirty-six hour process from start to finish. The fish is wrapped in foil and steamed on the grill which keeps the firm interior moist and intact, the outer skin of the fish was candy-sweet and caramelized with green onion, soya, ginger and garlic.

Spicy Tom Yum seafood pot has a sharp freshness and briny meatiness, deriving its pungency from lemongrass and pepper. Other specialities include thick, soft and chewy Udon noodles made from wheat. The green onion pie is flavoursome and reminds me of the Japanese savoury pancake, okonomiyaki. Try the jiggly iced congee and glutinous dia bao (steamed buns). You will never need Sriracha again, once you’ve tasted Wenbei’s homemade, hot and spicy, red pepper dipping oil. She jars it and sells it in the restaurant.

Chinoiserie and other decorative arts and imagery decorate the dining room, giving personal expression to Wenbei and Jie Liang’s former lives in China. The purpose of a “culture restaurant” is to be an emissary and to facilitate the exchange of Eastern and Western cultural values. On selected evenings there is traditional song and dancing on a small stage that flanks the dining room. Wenbei, a former fashion designer, has an excellent singing voice.

Wealth, health, longevity, love, and virtue are the five good fortunes. Five also happens to be the name of their former business portfolio in China which they wanted to extend to include this restaurant. The investment projects included Five Fortune Herbal Cuisine (herbal cuisine restaurant), Five Fortune Very Ethnic (traditional embroideries and clothing), Five Fortune Arts (Chinese art and paintings), and Five Fortune Clothing (clothing design and production of ramie cotton produced from the nettle plant).

Hoping to live a more peaceful life, the couple travelled nearly eight thousand miles to start a new life in a strange land. Wenbei, who comes from a lineage of doctors, cites Norman Bethune, who is enshrined as a national hero in China, as an influence on their decision to immigrate to Canada. Famously, Bethune’s accidental death from septicemia evoked Chairman Mao Zedong's essay "In Memory of Norman Bethune," which urged all Chinese to match his spirit of responsibility and humanitarianism and  became required reading for the entire population.

Jie Liang, who studied to be an art designer belongs to "Dai" a Tai cultural group from Yunnan that traditionally adheres to Buddhist principles.

In the future, Wenbei plans to establish a restaurant franchise that focuses on cultural cuisine and create a culinary school dedicated to Yunnan cuisine. At Five Fortune the Chinese servers are intelligent and hospitable students that understand her vision and speak English fluently. The service is welcoming and helpful with the kinds of detail about the dishes that can be hard to find in some ethnic restaurants.

There is a saying in Yunnan, “We will eat anything with four legs except for a table,” says Wenbei. Jie Liang’s translation of Yunnan cooking both pays respectful homage to the culture and, in the hope of making it more accessible, takes the most minor liberties with it. An epigram on the menu states, "The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose..." 

Five Fortune Culture Restaurant
368 Richmond Street
Wednesday–Sunday 11:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Friday, September 12, 2014

Edgar and Joe’s Café Helps Lead the way in SoHo’s Burgeoning Restaurant District

Edgar and Joe’s Café Helps Lead the way in SoHo’s Burgeoning Restaurant District


 Since London’s beginning in 1840, the district of SoHo has existed within the same confines. Originally named St. David’s Ward, this community is flanked on the north by the CN railroad tracks, on the east by Adelaide Street, and on the south and west by the Thames River. The SoHo acronym is geographic in origin as most of it is situated south of Horton Street but I imagine it is also meant to evoke the vitality of the cultural and restaurant neighbourhoods in Lower Manhattan and London, England’s West End.
SoHo is in fact a burgeoning restaurant district and home to many interesting dining options and bakeries including: Organics Works Café, Razzle Dazzle Cupcakes, Kambie Chinese Restaurant, Enat Ethiopian Restaurant, Hong Ping, El Ranchito, Walker’s Fish and Chips, Family Circle, The Soho Diner and Edgar and Joe’s Café.
Striving to foster an economically vibrant neighbourhood renewal, projects like the 1872 Red Antiquities Building and The Roundhouse, a 19th-century railway roundhouse are virtuous examples of the power of revitalization of the area.  ATMOS Marketing and rTraction (a full service digital agency) will share the refurbished Roundhouse a few blocks east of the Goodwill Social Enterprise Abilities Centre on Horton Street. Incidentally, The Roundhouse has sat empty since November 2007, when the Great West Beef, once a popular landmark London steakhouse, closed its doors after 31 years in business. Peter Cuddy and Kate Gielen’s Organic Works Bakery in the former Ming’s Restaurant on Wellington epitomizes just how outmoded buildings can be retained and brilliantly repurposed with design savvy and intelligence.

Having a long-time presence in the district, Goodwill wanted to invest in delivering more urban character in the evolving SoHo neighbourhood and built the Goodwill Social Enterprise Abilities Centre in 2011. The stylish and minimalist 70- seat Edgar and Joe’s Cafe opened last July in the $12-million centre. The Centre features a 50 seat town hall, 160 seat community hall and various other gathering spaces. With an excess of 100,000 shoppers visiting the Goodwill Centre annually and a staff of 120, the café quickly garnered great word-of-mouth, becoming a favourite daytime destination with a diverse clientele from all over the city.

Edgar and Joe’s Café offers an affordably-priced menu featuring nutritious food made from scratch with locally sourced high quality ingredients from purveyors like Las Chicas Del Café and Metzger Meats. Hand-crafted bread and baked goods are freshly-baked daily; condiments, preserves, soups and daily features are made from quality raw ingredients. The in-house baking, eclectic salads, breakfast features and a variety of exceptional sandwiches have become particular standouts. The all-day breakfast is elevated by homemade jams and breads, and the particularly tasty addition of sweet potato to the homefries and with the addition of house-made ketchup is bliss. A recent lunch special was charbroiled Ontario lamb with balsamic roasted cipollini onion, tomato and spicy mayo on fresh baked bread with soup and salad for $6.50.

On one occasion, speaking with Le Cordon Bleu trained Chef Danny Galinou he made it clear that the café is about focusing on collaborative principles and goals and did not want to be singled out in an article about the café. So I will resist commenting on his exceptional abilities in the kitchen.

Galinou and Neil Burnett, manager of hospitality and food services, lead the staff by overseeing food production and service, culinary and hospitality training, nutrition and food security programs, community and catering and community cooking initiatives. The Café’s now up-and-running Hands on Hospitality program is eight weeks in length and provides participants with the skill set required to work in a restaurant, including a two-week co-op with a partner of the program and a closing segment devoted to resume building and interview techniques.

Edgar and Joe’s Cafe offers training and mentorship by giving program participants the skills they need to secure meaningful employment in the hospitality industry. By fostering collaboration and community initiatives that embrace diversity and inclusion, with an emphasis on health and wellbeing, the program allows participants to build confidence and have a vision of their successful future. The organization aims to educate the larger community about, and help break down the stigma surrounding, mental illness and social disadvantage.

The name Edgar honours social innovator Dr. Edgar J. Helms a Methodist minister, who founded the Goodwill movement in 1902, with the philosophy of "a hand up, not a hand out." The Goodwill became a registered charity in 1935. The name Joe is a reference to the "average Joe", who faces barriers such as mental health issues, homelessness, developmental disabilities, or LGBTQ status, when working towards education and employment. Edgar and Joe's brings leadership, social innovation and community collaboration to the forefront in a neighbourhood that prides itself on a vibrant arts and culture scene, heritage and urban renewal.


255 Horton St East,