Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chef Angela Murphy at Restaurant Ninety-One at Windermere Manor

The Kitchen Brigade at Restaurant Ninety-One:
BACK ROW: Sous Chef Joshua Blackmore, Hannah Mach, Kyle Newman, Pastry Chef Jordan Walsh, Dennis Davidson
FRONT ROW: Executive Chef Angela Murphy, Sous Chef Kris Simmons

Windermere Manor

Lemon-Ginger Pickerel with new parsnip and carrot preparations, lemon dust, edible blossoms,
black sesame vinaigrette

Windermere Manor’s Restaurant Ninety One launched in the late spring. Situated on a secluded acreage, in a building that formerly housed Windermere Café, the venue has been extensively remodelled, and blends the allure of a century old manor house with contemporary style and modern amenities. A natural refuge, roaming wildlife, including deer and wild turkeys, is a common sight on the grounds. Executive chef Angela Murphy explores the concept of Modern Canadian Cuisine with the culinary brigade, and the menus reflect the significance of the appellation.

The charming and hospitable general manager, Brenda Brandt, describes the elegant Windermere Manor as somewhere between stately and quaint. The website says, “The baronial estate, built in 1925 by John E. Smallman, is an accurate architectural reflection of Tudor England and a fitting tribute to his father Thomas, a founding member of The Imperial Oil Company. Although slightly refurbished, inside the Manor retains its feeling of a by-gone era.”
Murphy and Chef Josh Blackwell and the culinary team have built on a sustainable culinary philosophy and farm-to-table sensibility which showcases a selection of innovative seasonal dishes and tasting menus. Chefs use elements from the kitchen garden and obtain additional high quality ingredients from trusted local purveyors.

Conceived the previous winter, and built in April 2010 by registered local apiarist Rick Huismann (owner of Huismann Apiaries near Union), the Windermere Manor Bee Village produced its first honey harvest that same year. The Bee Village now comprises 23 colonies. Each hive serves as home to one queen bee and approximately 70,000 worker bees. The bees feast on a diverse variety of plants and flowers so the honey produced has a flavour truly exclusive to Windermere Manor. The honey is used extensively in the kitchen and is also available for purchase. Don’t forget to order a glass or pitcher of Windermere Honey Stung Ale.

I attended the soft opening of the restaurant with one of my colleagues— truly an exceptional experience. The dishes were innovative, prepared and presented with flair and keen attention to detail. It was the perfect calibration of seasonal flavours.
Restaurant manager Colleen Murree, who has a long history of bar and service management, came to the Windermere from Fanshawe College, where she taught courses from service standards to mixology. Brandt’s and Murree’s benchmark for detailed, intelligent and enthusiastic service continues to be met through specialized, ongoing training and with the help of customer feedback surveys. Servers do not have to go to the kitchen to ask about ingredients for clients with food allergies or special dietary restrictions — they are trained and already able to answer customers’ questions about the food and how it is prepared.

Chef Murphy pursued academics out of high school and has a double major degree in Humanities and English Literature. “With that ‘lucrative’ degree I got a job as a university administrator at Carleton University and then at the University of Waterloo doing the type of administrative work that could be done in the first forty minutes of the day, and spent the rest of the day watching YouTube videos, the slow moving clock, and my life fade slowly into misery,” says Murphy.

Murphy has ambitions to be a food writer. It is why she wanted to go to culinary school in the first place. She applied and was accepted to the Stratford Chefs School. “I had always wanted to get my hands dirty and flex my creativity on a daily basis. At that time I was a vegetarian and had spent my late teens and early twenties experimenting with the world flavours and ingredients prevalent in vegetarian cuisine. I became interested in food politics and even hopped on the 100-mile diet bandwagon for six months.”

Murphy spent time working in Stratford at a few restaurants, including the short-lived, hyper-local and much touted Pan Tapas Grill with chef Jordan Lassaline. The small plates restaurant was just slightly ahead of its time. Murphy also worked at the former Church Restaurant under executive chef David Hassell who had been mentored by his predecessor, chef Amédé Lamarche.
“The Church Restaurant was large and busy and refined. The fine dining cuisine used many molecular elements. The work was grueling, the atmosphere was competitive, the hours were long, and the pay was scarce. I learned a lot about the industry and I became aware that this type of lifestyle was unsustainable. I wanted to create a better, healthier place for myself and others to work in. I love the work, I love the pressure and the intensity and the culture and the food, but it became obvious that working the way I was would lead to burn out if something didn’t change,” states Murphy.

She relocated to London and started a small catering business called Handcraft Catering, while working in administration at Western. “I catered private dinners and events large and small. It was a great time when there was business. I created custom menus for clients and got to cook dishes of my own creation. I loved working for myself and being able to co-ordinate the entire event. However catering is an unreliable business. I am not terrific at selling myself or drumming up contracts, terrible at charging clients and acting as a business woman. I am much happier cooking and putting time and effort into a beautiful product,” states Murphy.

At the former Windermere Café, Murphy worked alongside and was mentored by Chef Kristian Crossen (formerly of Braise and Langdon Hall), who created innovative menus true to his farm-to-table philosophy and whose subtleties and strengths revealed that the integrity of the ingredient is always paramount.

The menus at Restaurant Ninety One pay homage to Modern Canadian cuisine. Picture perfectly seared duck breast with potato soufflé, chamomile and fennel and black mushroom jus, or braised and roasted lamb with toasted oat purée, honeyed turnip, olive crème fraîche, pickled strawberry and wheat grass jus. There is also local rainbow trout with gin cure, puffed wild rice, sorrel, sea buckthorn berries, dill and crème fraîche. The honey lavender panna cotta with black fruits, grapefruit pearls, violets and selgris is out of this world.

Murphy says, “A dedicated focus on creating all things in-house has translated to house baked sourdough bread before every meal, a completely in-house dessert menu featuring a variety of ice creams and pastries, and house cured meats and charcuterie. Creative vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options are also available.” There is a stunning custom-made chefs’ table for dining.
Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms can be arranged upon request. There is a delicious Sunday brunch, live jazz on Friday nights and plenty of free parking.

Roasted Lamb Loin with golden beet puree, polenta, fennel, blistered cherry tomatoes
and sassafras jus

Restaurant Ninety-One
200 Collip Drive
Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road)

Monday–Thursday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Friday 7:00 AM–10:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner & Sunday brunch.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Chef Arron Carley of The Bruce is Redefining Modern Canadian Cuisine

For some years now chefs across the country have been redefining Canadian cuisine. Chef Arron Carley is one of them. At The Bruce Restaurant in Stratford, Carley celebrates the food and ingredients of Canada every day. Chef uses the moniker New Canadiana to describe his evolving cuisine. He notably served as a sous chef to Jason Bangerter at Luma before Bangerter became executive chef at Langdon Hall. For three months Carley interned with René Redzepi’s team at Denmark’s famed Noma. On his blog, The Noma Intern, Carley says, “The knowledge you gain from staging at a restaurant like Noma will last you for the rest of your life and is easily worth three months of commitment.” Returning to Ontario, he worked as a sous chef under John Horne, executive chef at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant, before accepting the executive chef position at The Bruce Hotel in June last year.

Carley is, no doubt, acutely aware that Stratford is a town that can be very critique-heavy. He boldly ventures where few chefs have the resources or support to go and his determination and curiosity is matched by his talent. He is unwavering in his journey to take the Canadian culinary landscape and inculcate it with both his personal style and a narrative that is receptive to the local terroir and changing seasons. Carley and a team that includes sous chef Sam Santandrea and pastry chef Gilead Rosenberg continue to re-evaluate Canadian cuisine by looking to First Nation’s food culture and what early settlers ate in the wilderness. Foraged wild ingredients are intrinsic to The Bruce’s culinary identity. Any foraged ingredient used at The Bruce Hotel is sustainably procured by either Carley or the dedicated in-house forager Phil Phillips. They like to define and reinterpret “Canadiana” on their own terms rather than emulate their mentors.

Chef does not use lemons, black pepper or olive oil in his kitchen. Instead he uses indigenous alternatives with complex flavour profiles. Catkins, the bitter buds of the green alder plant, are what Chef uses instead of pepper. The Bruce has its own in-house bakery run by Chef Ian Middleton, an apiary, and a culinary garden in the back of the hotel with heirloom vegetables and forgotten herbs like rue (herb of grace), angelica and bronze fennel (which is actually black). This allows Carley to make a powerful culinary statement. Chef uses birch syrup in some of his dishes for an intense sweetness and depth of flavour. Carley likes to live and breathe his ethos.

The Bruce’s most iconic dish “Spuds in Dirt” is Carley’s way of paying homage to the ubiquitous poutine. Chef uses mini marble potatoes that are compressed by beer and cedar jelly (made from the juice of young cedar tips) and slow cooked sous-vide. The potatoes are tossed in wild leek vinaigrette and then buried in a mixture of peanuts and sumac. The spuds are then topped with dehydrated smoked beef fat, cowder (a powder of dehydrated marinated beef, sea buckthorn and black garlic,) and a pudding made from Glengarry’s Celtic Blue Reserve. The dish is finished with fried rosemary and burnt herb and ale jus.

Picture wild ivory salmon from the pristine waters of the Queen Charlotte Islands with goose barnacle, snap peas, beluga lentils, wild ginger broth, sea asparagus, Ontario edamame, fennel purée and kelp oil. Another signature dish is the Quebec Cerf du Boileau, venison striploin with charred and brined carrots, golden beets, reindeer moss (it’s actually funghi), Saskatoon berries, green alder jus (reminiscentof black pepper) and beet purée. At a recent tasting the house-cured charcuterie served on a locally-procured walnut board included lardo, saucisson, coppa, confit of beef tongue, pig’s head terrine and cold fermented Mennonite summer sausage.
The modernist plating techniques at The Bruce are acutely complicated with numerous components – emulsions, foams, ferments, sauces, powders, vinegars, berries, herbs, mosses and painterly smears – layered and aesthetically presented in ways that are both balanced abstracts and edible topography.

Carley is also an aficionado of older Canadian cookbooks. He recently introduced me to The Northern Cookbook, edited by Eleanor A. Ellis and illustrated by James Simpkins. The book was initially published in 1967, as a Centennial project by the Education Division, Northern Administration Branch, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

This interesting canon on indigenous cookery offers guidance on nutrition along with recipes that are sometimes out-of-touch with the availability and seasonality of certain ingredients. “The purpose of this book is to record facts about some of the wild game, game birds, fish, fruit and vegetables available in Canada’s north (which includes not only the Arctic and sub-Arctic, but the northern lake and forest regions of all the provinces), and to suggest methods by which these foods may be prepared and served. To include recipes for all of the indigenous foods would be a mammoth task, but I have tried to include enough to be representative of a cross section of this vast land…,” states the preface by Ms. Ellis.

Interesting recipes include Arctic muktuk chowder (the traditional Inuit/Eskimo and Chukchi meal of whale skin and blubber), reindeer bourguignon, and casserole of seal served with fiddleheads or fireweed leaves. Among other dishes are sweet pickled beaver, partridge paprika, ptarmigan with orange ice, smothered muskrat and onions, moose chili con carne, elk burgers and Newfoundland seal flippers.

Each region of Canada with its own indigenous people has used their resources and traditional food preparations to develop unique versions of these dishes. Canadian chefs like Carley are acknowledging that Canadian Cuisine can be defined by its ingredients as much as by its traditions. We have come a long way since the Katimavik Special. Now the idea of the New Canadiana needs to percolate through the population in much the same way as the idea of eating locally and sustainably has done.

The Restaurant at The Bruce
89 Parkview Dr., Stratford,
Open Tuesday–Saturday
Lunch: 11:30 am–1:30 pm
Dinner: 5:00 pm–close
Lunch is served Sunday and Monday in The Lounge.
The Lounge is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as late night.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Where to Dine in Stratford, Ontario in 2016


When dining in Stratford, I can’t help but be drawn to restaurants that authentically support farmers, vineyards, and food purveyors by featuring quality local ingredients and products. I also like to take note of the ambience, whether the cutlery is polished, and the wine and food knowledge of the service staff. Great restaurants give a lot of thought and attention to their wine and cocktail lists and, most importantly, to genuine hospitality.


For many years the culinary opus at Bijou has been a front-runner in Stratford for inspired, locally-sourced cuisine. The bistro has built a following as a destination restaurant for providing a good local taste experience. Mark and Linda Simone purchased the legacy restaurant last year and added a new entrance on Wellington St. and a small bar in the front area. Chef Max Holbrook has moved on to Downie Street Bakehouse and Dion Lach is the new chef.
The farm-to-table inspired blackboard pre-theatre dinner menu is prix fixe, offering three courses for $58.00. Chef and his team offer a globally-inspired menu of small plates that is available after 8:00 p.m. Duck confit with gnocchi and fresh Monforte Dairy curds is a knock-out, as is the house-made lobster ravioli. There is a superior cheese plate of Monforte Dairy selections. Bijou also serves a “Global Dim Sum” Sunday brunch that is offered à la carte for easy sharing. 74 Wellington Street (front), 105 Erie Street (back), 519-273-5000, .

The Bruce Restaurant

The dining rooms are white linen, chic with comfortable square-backed upholstered chairs and settees. This is the top tier of dining; the tasting menus are loaded with the ingredients which that term evokes. Chef Arron Carley previously served as sous chef to Jason Bangerter at Luma, now executive chef at Langdon Hall. He interned with renowned chef Rene Redzepi at Denmark’s Noma, a Michelin two-star restaurant, which has been named “Best Restaurant in the World” four times. Returning to Canada, Carley worked as a sous chef under John Horne, executive chef at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant before being head-hunted by The Bruce. Carley and his team are redefining New Canadian Cuisine. Think wild Haida Gwaii ivory salmon with Wabigoon wild rice, morels, nettle puree, fennel kelp oil and wild ginger broth or Boileau venison striploin with charred and brined carrots, golden beets, reindeer moss, Saskatoon berries, green alder jus and beet puree. They have dispensed with the prix fixe menu they offered the last two seasons. At the time of this writing there is a 4-course tasting menu for $95.00 and 6-course tasting menu for $115.00. Wine pairings are an additional $49.00 and $55.00 respectively. Breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch are à la carte and The Lounge offers a separate menu. There is a stunning courtyard for al fresco dining. 89 Parkview Drive

Keystone Alley

A refurbished keystone Alley Café has re-opened under the ownership of Kim Hurley and Anthony Jordaan. Stratford Chefs School graduates, executive chef Cortney Zettler and sous chef Tina Logassi’s menus are driven by local sourcing with an offering of rotating blackboard features. There is a dish at dinner called, 'three little pigs,' which showcases the delicious heritage pork from Church Hill Farms. Herbed crumbed schnitzel with wilted kale; pork truffled pasta with sage crema; and sausage braised cabbage are an early example of this dish.  There is a vegetarian taco at lunch which is served open-faced on a grilled flat bread featuring produce from Soiled Reputation, Shallot Hill and other local producers that come to the kitchen door. A lunch feature called ‘meat and bread’ will showcase pork, beef, chicken, lamb and duck procured from McIntosh Farms and Church Hill Farms. We like the grilled “Buffalo” cauliflower with roasted radish, lentils, kale chips, pistachio puree and hot sauce. That is Buffalo meaning the sauce not the city. There is a small wine offering and a smart patio for al fresco dining. 34 Brunswick Street,

Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall Hotel

The recently relaunched Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall Hotel offers fifteen draft lines, Stratford’s only cask engine, and over 120 brands including award-winners, and hard to find one-offs that move very quickly. Over half the bottles are Ontario brews. The interior has been refurbished to project a casual more accessible ambience. They have added some communal tables to foster a sense of community and conviviality. In a conscious decision to eliminate any trappings of fine dining the service staff now wear jeans and custom t-shirts. The casual brasserie-style ambience is essentially inspired by the izakaya, the informal Japanese beer pubs that Chef Ryan O’Donnell frequented during his travels in Japan. O’Donnell’s collaborative well-thought-out menus feature items that are meant to be shared communally and are perfect for the lively, dynamic atmosphere. The all-day menu is divided into categories: fresh salads, small plates, medium plates, substantials, fried chicken & wings, sides, burgers & bowls, and desserts. The new 40 plus item menu (which includes some interesting sides and condiments) has Asian culinary influences and underpinnings. Some interesting cultural interpretations include Mercer’s tonkatsu pork schnitzel coated in panko breadcrumbs; chicken karrage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with lemon togarashi mayo; and improbably delicious steamed pork buns with spicy aioli, cilantro pickled onions, carrots ribbons and lime. There are also pig tails with chili potato salad, in homage to the Huron-Perth Germanic heritage with buttered biscuits and baked beans. Pastry chef Simon Briggs who is also an instructor alongside O’Donnell at Stratford Chefs School is also part of the high-functioning 18 member kitchen team. Comfortable guest rooms that have had a recent face-lift are located above the restaurant.

The Mill Stone Restaurant

The Mill Stone Restaurant is a new arrival in Stratford with seasonally-inspired lunch, dinner and late night menus using locally procured ingredients. The menu evokes the gastropub sensibility with rustic items like ham hock terrine house pickle, apple chutney, cheese savoury, house made bread; crispy pork jowl with arugula; salad and hot smoked salmon with horseradish mousse, peppered watercress and, toasted pumpernickel bread. Charbroiled Blanbrook Farms bison sliders with house-cured vanilla bacon, onion marmalade, brioche and triple cooked fries are extremely tasty. They make a superior Caesar salad. Chef Chris Powell received his culinary training in England and worked in the industry in the U.K. and Spain. His culinary repertoire includes pastry work and Modern European cuisine. There is a refined wine list and hand crafted cocktails. 30 Ontario Street.

Monforte on Wellington

Ruth Klahsen’s down-to-earth three year-old osteria featuring a seasonally–inspired menu is larded with charcuterie and cheese boards, salads and many other in-house specialties inspired by a Monforte Dairy cheese. We love the unpretentiousness, the corn dog fritters with beer mustard, baked brin d’amour with honey and crackers; and the rich, buttery water buffalo ice cream. This is the perfect place for a grilled cheese or some comforting mac and cheese. Klahsen’s deep-rooted commitment to things sustainable, local and hand-crafted seems to continue to both fortify and nourish her creative drive and dedicated entrepreneurism. There is a charming intimate courtyard for al fresco dining where we have been feted by Frances, (the gracious manager), on several occasions. We love the friendly in-depth explanations about the provenance of each ingredient. On a recent visit her hospitality extended to trying to procure us some of the recently released Moonshine from Distillery 56. Now that is hospitality. The casual osteria is BYOW with a reasonable $15 corkage fee, or, if you order a glass of VQA wine, they will bring you a full bottle and charge you by the ounce for what you drink. 80 Wellington Street, Stratford

Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria

This street-level ristorante proffers rustic Italian-inspired cuisine in a contemporary setting overlooking the Avon River. Stratford Chefs School alumnus, Yva Santini is celebrating her ninth season at Pazzo Taverna. Chef has a reputation for crafting authentically appealing cuisine that gratifies and stimulates, and reinterprets the Italian culinary canon with an eye to seasonality and the Perth County terroir. “Hand stretched burrata and house made pastas and gnocchi, make up the heart of this season’s menu.” All the pastas are made in-house by hand using Italian “00” flour. The restaurant showcases the simple, natural flavours of locally-sourced meats and produce in the Italian tradition combined with a diverse list of Canadian and Imported wines by the glass and bottle. The Pizzeria serves the best thin crust pizza in the area. This is where the locals hang out. 70 Ontario Street

The Prune

Since 1977, The Prune has been a Stratford favourite. The menu is prix fixe, offering 2 courses for $55.00, 3 courses for $69.00, or 4 courses for $79.00. This arrangement is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously. Last year we got caught in the crush. The menu is designed for a prix fixe experience but is also available a la carte upon your request. Appetizer dishes might include chicken liver mousse, seabuckthorn and brioche; or asparagus and frisée salad, soft egg, chorizo, "piperade" vinaigrette. Traditional main dishes might include grilled skate wing with sambal, pineapple nage and cucumber; or glazed Muscovy duck, honey, star anise, currants and cinnamon caps. Grilled rib steak (for two), Swiss chard gratin, buttermilk onion rings has a supplement charge of $10 per person. Sides are an additional $8. There is a modest wine list this season. Charming outdoor dining on the patio under the tree. 151 Albert Street

The Red Rabbit
“A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community,” pretty much sums up the Red Rabbit’s ethos. Chef Sean Collins terms his cooking as “Flavour First, Ingredient Driven.” Chef says, “We cook food we like to eat.” The lunch menu is served Sunday and Monday from 12 to 2:30 and it is also available 5 to 7, and Tuesday to Saturday from 12 to 2:30. At lunch there is superb creamy fried polenta and duck egg with chermoula. A proper breakfast is served with fried eggs, local pork, beans and focaccia. The heat quotient on the spicy hot chicken sandwich with sweet pickle, tzatziki, house-made bun and hand-cut fries keeps us coming back. The falafel plate is four perfectly prepared chickpea fritters served with seasoned tabbouleh and tiny pots of harissa, tahini and garlic aioli. The prix fixe dinner menu offers roasted McIntosh farm whole duck with awesome red curry and sticky rice; hanger steak with pickled “local greens,” asparagus pancake and nitro hollandaise; sustainably-caught roasted lake pickerel and Shepherd’s pie with Churchill farms braised lamb and trappings. The prix fixe menu is available Tuesday through Saturday from 5 pm to 7 pm, offering two courses for $44.00 and three courses for $49.00. Small plates menu available Thursday to Saturday 7 to 9 pm. The Red Rabbit is known for Colonel Collins fried chicken and waffles. Its secret recipe of thirteen herbs and spices, maple syrup and carrot hot sauce, served with house-cut fries has made it a Stratford culinary staple. 64 Wellington Street 

Photo by Terry Manzo

Revival House 
Stratford’s newest home for quality live music, dining, and events continue to play host to many touring and local Canadian artists throughout the summer season. The culinary team are passionate about creating and serving food that expresses the depth of Perth County’s food. Last year we began our visits with an exquisite Ontario Gouda Tasting. This year the kitchen is offering an Ontario Cheddar tasting. There is a sublime torchon of foie with apple, puffed grains, pecans and chervil for $20. Trout tartar is served with celeriac variations, shallot, herbs and Yukon Gold chips. Charcuterie boards are underpinned by technique and skill and the salumi has plenty of flavour. Offerings have included speck (smoked pork leg), lonza (cured pork loin), coppa (salt-cured from the neck) and rillettes. On the dinner menu typical offerings might be monkfish in crispy chicken skin with salsify, tomatoes, parmesan, arugula, and capers, or lamb shoulder with fava beans, charred zucchini, patty pan, pearl onion, and radish with lamb jus. There are some interesting late night après-theatre plates. It should be noted that there were 22 VQA’s on the impressive wine list at last glance. Upstairs, The Chapel features a 60-seat gastro lounge and a VIP balcony called Confession. In season Revival House features a smart patio. 70 Brunswick Street, 519-273-3424,

This is high-end contemporary French cuisine, artfully plated, with a world influence. Neil Baxter has been chef de cuisine at Rundles since 1981. Rundles has always been synonymous with classicism and a rarified level of oenophile sophistication.
There is a small and interesting table d’hôte featuring six appetizers, six main courses, and desserts. Appetizers might include smoked trout and pickled asparagus with coddled quail’s eggs, and dill cream; or rabbit and foie gras rillettes garnished with pickled cherries, pistachio yogurt, and violet mustard. Main dishes might include pan fried halibut cheeks, roast curried celery root, fingerling potatoes, capicola, and dashi (Japanese-style, clear sauce); or barbecued pork belly pickled cockles, steamed bok choy and sea asparagus. The table d’hôte menu features a selection from the appetizer section, a main dish, dessert, and coffee or tea for $114.50 per person. Wine, taxes and service are extra. An extensive wine list features vintages that range from small, local, boutique winery selections to those of the exceptional Grand Crus of Bordeaux. The Garden Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, offers a relaxing ambience and the perfect lounge to enjoy cocktails before or after dinner. Open for the season to September 24, 2016. 9 Cobourg Street, 519-271-6442

Friday, July 22, 2016

London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide Edition 5

Here is the digital version of London's Local Flavour Culinary Guide:

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Food Day Canada: Celebrating Canadian Food and Drink

Anita Stewart

Food Day Canada (FDC) is an annual mid-summer celebration, always held on the Saturday of the August long weekend, when we share Canada’s rich culinary heritage and our delicious northern bounty. FDC will be held this year on Saturday, July 30th. “It is a chance for all Canadians to join hands in one massive celebration in praise of our farmers and fishers; our chefs and researchers…and, above all, our home cooks,” says, founder Anita Stewart.

TOOK (The Only on King) celebrates its favourite area farmers and producers with a “Food Day Canada” menu. It runs Tuesday July 14th–Saturday August 1st and is $35.00 for a delicious three-course menu. 

Abruzzi is partnering up with Growing Chefs! for Food Day Canada. Chef Dave Lamers is offering a three-course menu from July 18 to 30th, which will feature all the local suppliers and farmers’ he collaborates with every day. For each guest that orders the Food Day Canada menu, Abruzzi will donate $5.00 to Growing Chefs! Chef Lamers believes in engagement between, farmers, chefs and the general public. He thinks it’s a great way to give back to the community. Growing Chefs! educates children, families, and community members about nutrition, sustainability and healthy food systems by providing programs, seminars, and workshops to promote local and healthy eating. “It’s a great way for us to come together and celebrate all things Canadian, we get to showcase the farmers, artisans and suppliers that work so hard to supply us with the best ingredients possible, says chef Lamers, “and I think Food Day Canada brings awareness to people about what amazing local/Canadian ingredients we all have available to us, and it will remind people to look at labels, ask questions and source out local/Canadian ingredients as much as possible.”

Chef Arron Carley

Chef Arron Carley at The Bruce will be preparing a six-course tasting menu that weekend that will feature wild Canadian Flavours.

The Bruce: Food Day Canada Menu

Tomato: Fuzzy Peach Tomato, Nasturtium, Wild Garlic & Colt’s Foot Vinaigrette, Charred Tomato Puree

2014 Adamo Riesling, ‘Wismer Vineyard, Foxcroft Block’, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Squash: Summer Squash, Smoked Patty Pan, Hemp, Heirloom Basil, Wild Mustard

2012 Nyarai Cellars Viognier, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Perch On Spadina: Ontario Lake Perch, Smoked Sagamite, Fermented Pigweed, Sea Buckthorn Crème

2012 Flat Rock Cellars Chardonnay, ‘The Rusty Shed’, Twenty Mile Bench, Ontario

Spuds In Dirt: Cedar & Ale Compressed Marble Potatoes, Peanut & Sumac Soil, Celtic Blue Reserve, Cowder, Ramp Powder, Beef Fat Sponge, Torched Herb Jus

2012 13th Street Gamay Noir, ‘Sandstone’, Four Mile Creek, Ontario

Gin & Juice: Cucumber & Ungava Gin

Boileau Venison: Charcoal Yellow Beets, Smoked Carrot Puree, Reindeer Moss, Chantrelle Mushrooms in Spruce Butter, Wild Licorice Root Jus

2012 Rennie Estate Merlot, ‘Scarpata’ Beamsville Bench, Ontario

The Road To Gunn’s Hill: Milk, Curd’s, Whey, Young & Old 5 Brothers Cheese

2011 Rosewood Estates Dry Mead ‘Harvest Gold’, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario

Woodruff Split:  Sweet Woodruff Mousse, Sassafras Savarin, Roasted Cocoa, Chantilly, Candied Heartnuts, Ontario Cherries

NV Southbrook Framboise, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Last year Ontario had the richest showing on Food Day Canada  with great menus from London’s Abruzzi and Stratford’s The Red Rabbit, which both received Food Day Canada Good Food Innovation Awards. Other restaurants participating include Eric Boyar's sixthirtynine in Woodstock, Mercer Hall Kitchen Hotel in Stratford, Langdon Hall in Cambridge and Jonathon Gushue's The Berlin in Kitchener.   

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Relaunch of Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel in Stratford


Photos by Terry Manzo Used by Permission 

The relaunched Mercer Hall has changed its name to Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall, Hotel. Mercer bills itself as a one-stop location to explore the world of craft beer and one of the best beer bars in Ontario. They offer fifteen draft lines, Stratford’s only cask engine, and have crafted a rotating list of over 120 brands including international award-winners, and hard to find one-offs that rotate very quickly. Over half the bottles are Ontario brews. 

Alex Kastner, Director of Food and Beverage, at both Mercer Hall and The Prune Restaurant,  started his career in 2005, as a runner at the former Church Restaurant. He has his finger firmly placed on the Stratford culinary pulse. “There are so many Stratford restaurants that have excellent wine lists,” says Kastner, “Yet there was no one in Stratford who really tapped into the pulse of the craft beer movement in Ontario. There really is something for everyone when it comes to drinking beer.” 

The interior of the restaurant has been refurbished to project a casual more accessible ambiance. Katner has added some communal tables that they hope will help foster a sense of community and conviviality. In a conscious decision to eliminate any trappings of fine dining the service staff now wear jeans and custom t-shirts. The service is casual, upbeat and friendly.

Kastner said, "They decided to get away from the prix fixe menu that they felt ticked the locals off. The prix fixe menu is a Stratford tradition." It is an arrangement that is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where dining theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously and later, there is a lull and the menu offerings become less restrictive. The new vision is a focused effort to make the restaurant more accessible in terms of food and drink. They want the locals to feel welcome year round.

The casual brasserie-style ambiance is essentially inspired by the izakaya, the informal Japanese beer pubs that Chef Ryan O’Donnell encountered during his travels in Japan.
Chef’s collaborative well thought out menus feature items that are meant to be shared communally and are perfect for the lively, dynamic atmosphere. “We wanted to create an experience that can be tailored to a variety of experiences,” says O’Donnell. The all-day menu is divided into categories: fresh salads, small plates, medium plates, substantials, fried chicken & wings, sides, burgers & bowls and desserts.

O’Donnell’s cuisine finds its roots in Stratford foraged cuisine and fine dining and he is known for incorporating Ontario ingredients into cultural dishes. The new 40 plus item menu (which includes some interesting sides and condiments) has Asian culinary influences and underpinnings. Featured items change often to reflect local and seasonal ingredients.

Some interesting cultural interpretations include Mercer’s Tonkatsu pork schnitzel coated in panko breadcrumbs; chicken karrage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with lemon togarashi mayo; improbably delicious steamed pork buns with spicy aioli, cilantro pickled onions, carrots ribbons and lime; and spätzle ramen with braised pork belly and soy egg. Barbecued pulled pork rice bowl with kimchi sauerkraut; and grilled whole sardine with scallions and wasabi mustard.

There are also pig tails with chili potato salad, in homage to the Huron-Perth Germanic heritage with buttered biscuits and baked beans.

Pastry chef Simon Briggs who is an instructor alongside O’Donnell at Stratford Chefs School is also part of the high functioning 18 member kitchen team. Chocolate ice cream with dehydrated chocolate cake, chocolate sauce, salted coco nibs and seabuckthorn berries is a current dessert offering.

Comfortable, cosmopolitan guest rooms that have had a recent face-lift are located above the restaurant.The restaurant is a member of the Feast ON program that has helped to identify culinary champions committed to showcasing Ontario grown and produced food and drink.

"From local heritage pork to boasting ethically-farmed or sustainable line-caught West coast seafood they support farmers, fishermen and artisans in Perth County and across Canada."

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Solo on Main is Port Stanley's New Hot Spot


Solo on Main is a family run business with chef Lauren Van Dixhoorn at the helm, twin brother Paul on the bar and working the floor, and their sister Lyndsay, handling the restaurant’s business affairs. Port Stanley's new culinary hot spot is located in the heritage home previously occupied by the former Mickey’s Boathouse. 

In seasonable weather there is a beautifully appointed patio and front porch that offers alfresco seating and great harbour views. Inside, there is a smart walnut bar in the lounge which is topped with quartz and has comfortable seats. The tasteful white linen dining room with its original hardwood floors is decorated in warm gray tones.

The cooking at Solo on Main is refined and the presentation modern and accessible. Van Dixhoorn and sous chef Brooke Cowitz are both alumnus of Niagara College's Canadian Food and Wine Institute in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The pair worked together later at Queen’s Landing.

The steelhead smoked trout frites are inspired with scallions, crème fraiche, crispy shallots and Guinness hollandaise - a fresh take on poutine. The classic bones and toast is roasted marrow bone with salt chimichurri and garlic rubbed bread.

Grilled calamari with pickled chili, fried garlic, chopped peanuts and soy caramel was delicious but the kitchen had challenges keeping the dish warm so they changed it. In its latest incarnation the calamari is being served puttanesca-style made up of anchovies, garlic, capers, tomatoes and chili peppers with preserved lemon and black olives.

There is a modern Italian flavour to the "Solo and Share Plates" menu, which is available all day, offering items like Nduja (spreadable pork sausage) crostini, ricotta and wild leek agnolotti (now out of season and replaced with a house-made pappardelle dish), mozzarella arancini and a daily risotto. At lunch there is also a breaded and deep fried provolone sandwich.

The evening menu  features roast chicken, flank steak with chimichurri, and pan roasted tenderloin with shallot anchovy compound butter. There is battered or pan-fried pickerel and perch available at lunch and dinner.

The white wine list has 5 Ontario offerings but the red wine list is bereft of VQA’s or local wineries, but with several good American choices on hand. There are 4 craft beers, a cider, 2 drafts and several bottled beers to choose from.

These are very early days. The fledgling restaurant opened in mid-May and is showing tremendous potential as a culinary destination. 

187 Main St. Port Stanley, 226 658 0999

Tues-Sun  11-11pm  

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What's New with Culinary Innovator and Food Entrepreneur Dave Cook

Culinary innovator and food entrepreneur Dave Cook continues to renovate the former Merv’s Variety at 874 Dundas Street. The revamped premises will be home to a restaurant, patio, craft beer pub and Fire Roasted Coffee offering. Cook is also establishing a food incubator in the 14,000-square-foot Somerville Building at 630 Dundas St. He is developing a shared space where culinary entrepreneurs can set up and grow, in much the same way vendors can get their start at his Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair.

In the first stage of this project Cook is creating space for small businesses incubation and food start-ups, a Fire Roasted Coffee café and roastery, and a grocery store. The grocery store is a joint initiative with ATN Access. This project was prompted by the need for a new roastery for Fire Roasted Coffee, which has outgrown its home at the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair. The Somerville Building will have a large patio facing Dundas Street with food and drink offerings available.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

On the Road to Jonathan Gushue's The Berlin in Kitchener


A recent road trip consisting of a meandering but scenic drive through Oxford County, Punkeydoodles Corners, Kitchener-Waterloo and the towns and hamlets in and around the Grand River, would eventually bring us to Paris, Ontario, for a two day reunion with long-time friends from London, Toronto and Parkhill.

We were looking for a new and top-notch culinary experience, and had been anticipating chef Jonathan Gushue`s return to the culinary scene. Our host/organizer made reservations at The Berlin in Kitchener, well in advance. The Berlin was already making a name for itself as a culinary destination. It was a given that we would be dining there. Jonathan Gushue is the Newfoundland-born chef who was instrumental in Cambridge`s Langdon Hall receiving a coveted Five Diamond Award, and also being named the 77th best restaurant in the world on the S. Pellegrino list several years ago.
The Berlin, which opened in December 2015, is named in homage to Kitchener-Waterloo’s German heritage (although the original settlers were not directly German but Mennonites from Pennsylvania). It is a partnership between Gushue and restaurateur Ryan Lloyd-Craig.

The restaurant is positioned to benefit from Kitchener-Waterloo`s thriving tech community, new condo developments and the revitalized downtown`s pedestrian-friendly urban vibe. Beginning in 2004, the City of Kitchener launched several initiatives to galvanize the downtown core. New lighting was added to the streets, sidewalks were enlarged, and curbs were lowered. The landmark Walper Hotel, two doors down from The Berlin, is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar rejuvenation and is being heralded as a unique, resolutely modern boutique experience combining the finest in contemporary building technology with the best of the hotel's historic features.

At The Berlin, we were greeted by a friendly server and seated at a large round table near the back of the restaurant and at the foot of the stairs leading to the elevated kitchen. I had an unobstructed view of the open-kitchen with its counter-side seating, the wood-fired grill and a denuded living herb wall.

We ordered a round of Kir de Crème with Nicholas Pearce Brut, Cassis and Earl Grey punch. The drinks were served in elegant long-stemmed champagne coupes and garnished with candied basil leaves.

The tables are unencumbered except for a vase of fresh flowers. The tables are well-spaced and comfy banquettes run along the wall. The interior appears to have been stripped down to emphasize the frame and raw personality of the building. The space is sizeable and has a décor of exposed bricks and concrete with reclaimed maple slats and soaring 20-foot ceilings that give it a modern rural sensibility.

Gushue and Lloyd-Craig spent eight months refurbishing and reclaiming the Renaissance-Revival architectural character of the building to create an 85-seat street-level dining room (120 guests for cocktails) with a central bar and an elevated open-kitchen that is the focal point of the room. The staircase in the middle of the restaurant leads to the second floor, where there are two rooms for private dining and receptions. Such work is not for shallow pockets.

The service is casual and unobtrusive and not in the least fussy or over-polished, the vibe is laid back and hipster-centric bordering on perfunctory. There is a mix of well-dressed and casually attired patrons.

This is not fine dining in its truest form. This is modern dining. Newer restaurant models are dispensing with everything that is unessential and entrenched about patrons’ dining perceptions. The guiding ideals are millennially-aligned — minimalist, accessible, self-assured and propelled forward with culinary skill, craftsmanship and authenticity. Millennials and the millennially-aligned are an adventurous group, characterized as trendsetters, thrill seekers, experientialists and restaurant explorers.

The Berlin’s concept is self-evident. Less selection heightened quality, kitchen proficiency, faster service, and hotter food. Not to mention accessible prices, lower over-head and a larger profit centre.
We have high expectations and are looking to be wowed. We are aware that The Berlin will be a real departure from Gushue’s oeuvre at Langdon Hall. The food is both simple and adventurous in its inspirations and contemporary in its sensibility and implementation. The ingredient-driven menus are compact and change twice daily. There are five appetizers and five entrées on offer. Our questions are answered in detail and intelligently by our server. A few of my fellow diners find the menu a tad too restrictive for their tastes.

The menu is built around the day’s harvests and driven by whatever the region`s many farmers and purveyors have on offer on any given day. Gushue has termed The Berlin’s cuisine as “modern European, with a nod to the classics.” Kempton Munshaw, formerly of Toronto`s Chase, and listed by Zagat as one of the ``9 secret weapons behind Toronto`s top restaurants`` last year, is The Berlin’s sous chef. The sommelier is Wes Klassen.

There is simplicity to the cooking of the nine-member culinary brigade. At the heart of the kitchen is the cult-favourite five-foot wood-burning grill by Grillworks Inc., which is taking the restaurant industry by storm. At its most rudimentary, a Grillworks grill is a self-supporting stainless steel wood-fired grill with a surface made of V-shaped slates that are slanted downward to guide run-off fat and juices into a basting pan rather than onto the coals. A crank wheel regulates the height of the grill surface over the coals, while a fire cage holds most of the heat behind the surface. Speaking about the wood-burning grill, Dan Barber, owner and executive chef of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, says, “We’re constantly challenged to use it to its full advantage, which makes it less like a tool than a source of inspiration.” It’s up to the griller to decide when and how to rake the hot coals underneath the meat.

The grass-fed “pasture” burger has the taste of both fat and fire and is served on a shiny milk bun with sharp vintage Cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, aioli and excellent hand-cut fries. Picture an endive and caramelized onion salad with a soft boiled duck egg and grilled smoky pork belly that has great crackle and flavour. More revealing yet is a thin slab of smoked pickerel terrine with baby greens tossed in red onion vinaigrette. Grilled and tender skin-on rainbow trout with mushrooms and leek stew is both delicate and hearty. Grilled marinated duck fillets, white cabbage and apple slaw, goat cheese and watercress are a contrast in texture and flavours.

They churn their own butter, bake the restaurant`s breads as well as curing their own meat. There is a meat locker in the basement where Gushue butchers whole animals. Dessert offerings include burnt lemon curd with goat yogurt ice cream and salted chocolate crumble, caramelized barley and vanilla pudding with poached kumquat, blood orange and lemon tea custard, and granny smith apple sorbet with ginger beer.

Gushue, Munshaw and Lloyd-Craig share an ethical and sustainable culinary philosophy, attentively caring about the provenance of their food and how it is grown or raised. Gushue shapes a formative, season-based and from scratch, farm-to-table dining experience that is both accessible and fresh.

The Berlin

45 King Street West, Kitchener

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Red Rabbit In Stratford: Down The Rabbit Hole

Down The Rabbit Hole at The Red Rabbit In Stratford



            “A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community,” pretty much sums up the Red Rabbit’s ethos. Chef Sean Collins is a Stratford Chefs School graduate, instructor and previously head chef at Mercer Hall before its sale last year. Collins terms his cooking as “Flavour First, Ingredient Driven.” He also says, “We cook food we like to eat.”

One of Stratford’s most anticipated openings last summer was The Red Rabbit, which opened in mid-July. Stratford born Jessie Votary and Collins left Mercer Hall to build the community-shared restaurant on Wellington Street with partners/workers Johnathon Naiman (sous chef), Adam Robinson (front of house), Tyson Everitt (Doctor and resident soda jerk and fermenting specialist), Steve Walters (front of house) and Gen Zinger (front of house).

Votary, who has been fittingly labelled the restaurant’s fearless leader and the mastermind behind the business, recently said, “The notion for the restaurant was born out of necessity and inevitability. We all sat down and agreed that we didn`t really want to do this for someone else anymore. If we were going to work 80 hours a week and throw our whole heart and soul into something, we should do it for ourselves. It didn’t make sense to have a money man at the top taking all the profits. Nor were we interested in trying to squeeze an additional dime out of every plate that comes out of the kitchen.”

With 100 shares at $1,000 each, the Red Rabbit’s ownership group raised a percentage of the capital they needed to finance their project. They then turned to an innovative financing model akin to community supported agriculture (CSA), but in this case adapted for the restaurant business. They modelled it primarily after colleague Anne Campion`s business model at Revel Caffé which itself is a spin on a CSA model that Ruth Klassen at Monforte Dairy pioneered in the Stratford area. Campion and Votary both believe in the importance of supporting new models of community-centred businesses that strengthen and help build communities.

Interested subscribers were invited to purchase restaurant futures in the business. This raised an additional $57,000 in funds, which helped them get the doors open by paying for opening wages and putting inventory in the bar and the kitchen. The futures will be reimbursed in prepaid meals over a period of time. Votary says, “We were looking for investors, but we were also looking to build community around our vision.” The bank put up the rest of the capital through a business loan. At the time, Collins called it “a somewhat radical concept.”

Votary and Collins and the passionate and focused team poured their blood, sweat and tears to get the venture open. Located in a former bridal shop on Wellington Street (off Market Place) Votary refers to the premises as initially being a blank white box. The Red Rabbit seats 45 comfortably with an additional 10 seats at the bar.

Collins leads the talented kitchen team, along with sous chef Jon Naiman. Other members include partner Everitt and newer members Lee Avigdor and Greg Him, formerly of Susan Dunfield’s former Down the Street.

The instantly successful, down-to-earth, farm-oriented restaurant is built on years of deep symbiotic relationships that are at the heart of The Red Rabbit experience. There is a dedicated focus on Perth County ingredients from area farmers like Church Hill Farm, Perth County Pork Products, McIntosh Farms, and Soiled Reputation.

The team has crafted an evolving menu of Southern-style comfort foods. Divided into omnivore, carnivore and herbivore sections, the dinner menu offers Colonel Collins’ fried chicken, duck poutine, Perth County “hammed” pork shoulder, rabbit and leek pie, BBQ celery root, creamy fried polenta and duck egg with chermoula. The menus have also included addictive house-made salumi (beef heart pastrami) and delicious rillettes of rabbit. During the day we like the breakfast with fried eggs, local pork, beans and focaccia.

We have driven to Stratford several times for a delicious repast of Colonel Collins fried chicken and waffles. Its secret recipe of thirteen herbs and spices, maple syrup and carrot hot sauce, served with house-cut fries has made it a Stratford culinary staple.

The heat quotient on the spicy hot chicken sandwich with sweet pickle, tzatziki, house-made bun and hand-cut fries is just what the doctor ordered. A newer addition to the lunch menu are four perfectly prepared falafel on a bed of lettuce, (for wrapping), which is served with perfectly seasoned tabbouleh and tiny pots of harissa, tahini, garlic aioli and the traditional pickled turnip. Sensational.

An important difference between the Red Rabbit and other restaurants is the amount of creative input that the staff members bring to the table. Close-knit relationships are central to the core of the restaurant. The service is welcoming, heartfelt and friendly. Most of the front-of-the-house service professionals were previously restaurant managers or owners. Long-time Stratford restaurant professional extraordinaire, Cassandre Frost, is the new restaurant and bar manager.

This past winter the team surpassed all of their expectations as well as crushing every target they had set for the restaurant. The team consistently seated more than 100 covers every Friday and Saturday night throughout the winter. The success of the “small plates” tradition called Nosh Mondays was unparalleled with a waiting list each week.

 This summer they are planning to knock things out of the park. The team will be reintroducing the prix fixe menu, an arrangement that is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously. After 7:30 the focus will be on a local á la carte menu.

Chef Kris Schlotzhauer recently joined the team. Votary says, “He is putting his chef whites away and joining the front of house crew, transitioning into the general manager role as he learns the ropes.” Schlotzhauer was born and raised in Stratford, and has spent the last four years in Toronto where burnish his name and reputation at the much lauded Enoteca Sociale. Attracting plenty of media attention, he has been working to balance work and life roles for his staff. As a vocal champion for fair working hours and pay, his philosophy is closely aligned with the Red Rabbit’s, making him a natural fit.

There is plenty of growth potential for both staff and partners to transition into a new venture in the future. In the meantime, are you in search of a watering spot that serves great craft and house-infused cocktails and flavourful food? Going “down the rabbit hole” is the almost perfect metaphor for embarking on a down-to-earth culinary adventure at the Red Rabbit.


The Red Rabbit

64 Wellington Street 519 305 6464


SUNDAY 11:00 AM – 7:00 PM


THURSDAY 12:00 PM – 9:00 AM

FRIDAY – SATURDAY 12:00 PM –12:00 AM


BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.


Open 7 days a week.