Eleven of Ontario's esteemed chefs gathered together on September 25, 2014 at The Food Court Social
, in support of The Augmented Education Program. Chef Tom Riley
(O&B Café Grill, Yonge & Front
) and his team were honoured to participate in the inaugural charity event, a collaboration between George Brown College and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Hundreds of guests arrived at Wychwood Barns to support the event, hopping from one food station to the next before the speeches and auctions began. By night's end, over $150,000 had been raised.
Here are a few highlights from the special evening. You can see more photos in our Flickr gallery
Chef Tom's Salt Spring Mussel Fritter with Caviar Crème Fraiche, Pickled Walnut and Crab Salad
Chef Michael Stadtländer's smoked fish (Eignesinn Farm)
Chef Rob Gentile's Live Sea Scallop, Herring Caviar, Senape Spiked Buffalo Yogurt, Smoked Ginger (Buca)
Chef Donna Dooher's ode to the humble pancake (Mildred's Temple Kitchen)
Chef Lynn Crawford hamming it up for our cameras (Ruby WatchCo)
Chef Stuart Cameron's Paella Del Patria (Patria)
Chef Mark McEwan's Rabbit Ravioli with foie mousse, corn pudding and plum compote (North 44)
Chef David Wolfman's Cedar Laced Elk with Wild Rice Red Fife Bannock and Black Walnut Tuile (George Brown College)
Chef Hiro Yoshida's sushi offering (Hiro Sushi)
Fidel Gastro's Bacon Explosion Cheeseburger and Pad Thai Fries (Food Truck & Lisa Marie)
The sweets table from Glory Hole Doughnuts
We're all familiar with all the local, craft beers and wines Ontario has to offer. But what about local spirits?
Georgian Bay Gin
is among a handful of local craft distillers trying to break into an industry typically dominated by giant international brands. Following in the footsteps of the established Dillon's
, Georgian Bay Gin has made its strides this past June with a couple of major milestones: landing on the shelves of the LCBO
, and on the pages of Canoe's bar menu
is just one of an exclusive group of restaurants to feature the brand new spirit.
I caught up with Denzil Wadds, one of the company's founding partners, at the Canoe bar one afternoon. He had just dropped off a fresh bottle of gin - batch #1, bottle #808. At that moment, there were only six bottles of the gin left in all of Ontario, with plans to cook a second batch in two weeks. We got to chat at length about the brief yet exciting history of Georgian Bay Gin.
Wadds and his partners Timothy Keenleyside and Trace Hanlon established the company less than two years ago. Having always appreciated good food and wine, they decided to set their sights on gin. The partners had also always had a strong connection with Georgian Bay in general. Keenleyside had an island in Georgian Bay, while Wadds' father and grandfather spent their lives in the area. One day, while standing on the top of the hill at Osler Bluff Ski Club overlooking the bay, they realized that the area just seemed to fit with the feeling that they were trying to create.
While not all of the ingredients that go into the gin are local, they collect as much juniper as possible from Georgian Bay - much of which is hand-picked by Keenleyside's kids on their island - while the remainder comes from Tuscany. The water comes from Elmvale, a little town just south of Georgian Bay, which has some of the cleanest water in the world. According to Canadian Geographic,
this town's water is technically cleaner than five-thousand-year-old glacial water. When I met with Wadds, he had just come from pumping 400 litres of water for their second batch.
The gin recipe is rounded out by coriander from Egypt, lemon peel from California, orange peel from Spain, grains of paradise that offer a spicy note, and angelica root that provides an earthy flavour to help bind all of the botanicals together.
"If you drink mass-produced gin you get a very strong alcohol taste," says Wadds. "I've never liked that so I wanted botanicals to be front and centre."
After experimenting with 48 different recipes over six months, the first official batch of Georgian Bay Gin was born in Still Waters Distillery
, just north of Toronto. Calling on friends to help produce 1,500 bottles, the first batch was the product of a labour of love, or "sweat equity", as Wadds calls it.
"We tasted it and it was a knockout," recounts Wadds. "I love it. It's a little bit floral, it's soft and it doesn't have a strong alcohol flavour."
"The hallmark of the gin is obviously juniper, which has to come through, but the junipers aren't too overpowering. It's got a nice citrus note to it, and just makes really nice gin and tonics."
We can all agree that there's nothing quite like an ice cold gin and tonic. But our team at Canoe had other plans for this gin. When Wadds' father-in-law, a long-time regular at the restaurant, mentioned the gin in passing to Jeff Sansone, Canoe's Head Bartender, he suggested bringing it in when finished so he could give it a try.
"When it was finished I brought Jeff a bottle with no expectations," says Wadds. "And then I heard nothing about it until my father-in-law came up to me and dropped a piece of paper on my lap. It was the recipe for The Muskokan."
The Muskokan - Georgian Bay Gin, Blueberries, Lemonade & Nutmeg (Photo: Cindy La)
The cocktail's name perfectly describes where this summery blueberry lemonade will take you. It sums up everything us Ontarians love about going up to the cottage: purity, balance and relaxation.
"It offers a little bit of balance, nothing too harsh in terms of bitter levels or alcohol level," says Michael Bracegirdle, Canoe's Bar Manager. "The botanicals that they used went well together, and it's not too over the top in terms of any of the other notes."
When Wadds saw his gin on Canoe's menu, he was thrilled.
"Canoe is one of my favourite restaurants, so to be on the bar is really exciting," he says.
Wadds and his partners continue to face challenges with expanding their business, as Canadian laws are relatively restrictive towards crafts distillers, especially as compared to those in the U.S. Since they cannot sell their product directly to a restaurant without the markup of the LCBO, changes are needed in order for craft distillers to really take off.
"Craft spirits in Ontario right now are what craft beers were about 10 to 15 years ago," says Wadds. "We're starting to grow, starting to build and I think the laws will change soon."
Osprey Bluffs pure natural Ontario honey (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
Hugh Simpson always knew that he wanted to work on a farm one day. He owned a piece of property up in Grey County, but lived in Toronto and worked in the financial services industry. After spending 25 years toiling away in corporate marketing strategy and business development, he finally decided to take the plunge.
“In 2008 the financial services environment changed pretty significantly,” Simpson recounts. “I figured it was a good time to pull the trigger and move up to my farm full-time.”
“I always knew I wanted to do something agricultural at its roots ... I’ve had a strong affinity towards farm and agriculture for a long time.”
Although he considered using his farm to become a cash cropper or beef livestock farmer, he was particularly drawn
to the idea of beekeeping. After a year-long internship for another commercial beekeeper in Grey County, 50-year-old Simpson had learned enough to set out on his own.
Honeybee heaven (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
The honey farmhouse (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
Today Simpson is the beekeeper and proprietor of Osprey Bluffs
honey farm, which includes 300 bee hives on 20 different bee yards across three counties, including Grey County, Simcoe County and Dufferin County. And he runs the entire operation all by himself.
“We could be bigger than 300 hives and I could hire three or four people,” says Simpson. “But I choose
to do it small so I can do it primarily on my own and tell the story with absolute confidence because
it is my own.”
Simpson also understands that many restaurant guests appreciate and enjoy the story around the provenance of their food. And if a chef can tell that story because he or she personally knows the beekeeper, the experience is all the more memorable.
“I think the alternative is pretty bland,” says Simpson. “If you’re buying the product that’s been processed from who-knows-where, then what is really special about what you’re bringing to your guests?”
Several years ago at Michael Stadtländer’s Foodstock, Simpson met a few of O&B’s chefs, including Chef John Horne
, and began building a rapport. Ever since, Osprey Bluffs honey has been consistently popping up on our restaurants’ menus, whether it’s drizzled over warm fresh ricotta at Canoe, or glazed over roasted chicken as part of O&B Blue Mountain
’s Easter brunch.
"We use Osprey Bluffs honey for tea service, drizzled on plates, infused, reduced glazes, marinades..." says Chef John. "You name it we use it for it. It's amazing."
Canoe’s Torched Bread Pudding with Niagara plums and Osprey Bluffs honey sabayon (Photo: Cindy La)
Osprey Bluffs honey particularly works well with desserts, such as Canoe’s Torched Bread Pudding
with Niagara plums and honey sabayon, or the Sablé Breton
with vanilla-roasted plums, pistachio mousseline and caramelized honey.
As for Simpson, his favourite way of eating honey is pretty uncomplicated. He likes to spread the sweet, sticky substance on a piece of warm toast. Ultimately, when it comes to honey, he thinks it’s best to keep things simple.
Simpson is wholly devoted to his work. He sticks to a natural method and only produces raw, unpasteurized honey. Raw honey is actually solid at room temperature and looks slightly cloudy. That opaque quality means that the honey still contains bee pollen granules, tree sap, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
“The attribute which is the most important to me, and makes the biggest difference for the people tasting it, is that it’s absolutely pure and all natural,” says Simpson. “Nothing happens to that honey except what the bees have done.”
Honeybees coming in and out of their hive (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
Raw honeycomb (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
Raw honeycomb (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
The queen bee in her cage (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
A good looking frame of bees (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
Lots of bees - a good sign indeed (Photo: Hugh Simpson)
The only impact Simpson has on the honey is through a minimal filtering process to remove bits of bees and leaves. Beyond that, Simpson relinquishes full control over the properties of the honey to the wild card that is Mother Nature. Much like a grower of grapes for wine is dependent on a multitude of natural variables, a honey harvest is completely dependent on the patterns of the bees, flowers, climate and geography.
Simpson says he's not cultivating anything as his efforts are mostly about keeping the bees numerous and the hives healthy, and then just letting things happen naturally.
The final product that Simpson collects at the end of the summer always reflects a unique array of flavours and colours. Osprey Bluffs honey is multi-floral, representing floral nectar all the way from the early dandelions of spring to the goldenrods that bloom in late summer, as well as the basswoods, clovers and alfalfas found in between. Again, just like wine, each year brings about its own special batch.
“It’s kind of a personal product that people are enjoying,” says Simpson
While the days become shorter and the nights cooler, Oliver & Bonacini is busy gearing up for the Toronto International Film Festival
. As Toronto fills with stars, O&B restaurants are getting ready to welcome film enthusiasts, celebrity spotters, press and film industry VIPs. We never know when a movie deal might close over freshly-shucked oysters at Biff’s Bistro, or a Hollywood starlet will pop in to Luma after a long day of walking the red carpet!
The team at O&B Events is especially excited for the Festival. In addition to hosting numerous TIFF-related events, we are part of two of the hottest parties of the year: The Festival Opening Night Party is taking place at Malaparte
at the TIFF Bell Lightbox - the central hub of all the Film Festival action - while the Closing Night Party is being held at Arcadian
With all these star-studded events and high-profile people coming to the city, we could think of no better way to get into our heads in the game than a quick trip to the City of Angels to research the hottest event trends in Hollywood, and experience cutting-edge food, beverages and service, California-style. Corporate Events Chef Jamie Meireles headed our team, along with Sous Chef Robert Lizotte and Associate Director Mark Budden.
The first order of business was a trip to the Los Angeles Food & Wine Festival
. Over 145 chefs take part in the spectacular four-day event, where Hollywood celebrities and celebrity chefs mix and mingle while enjoying the very best of Los Angeles’ food and wine culture.
Chef Jamie and Robert had the opportunity to experience lots of amazing bites, as well as indulge in some fantastic California wines. One of their favorite dishes was by Ernesto Uchimura from Plan Check Kitchen + Bar
in Santa Monica. His take on the Bloody Mary involved crab and pickled asparagus wrapped in a Bloody Mary fruit and vegetable leather, finished with flowering herbs and sprinkled with bacon powder. Cheers!
After tasting so many amazing dishes, the only logical next step was to go to dinner. It was the perfect opportunity to visit the restaurant of Oliver & Bonacini alumnus Nakul Mahendro, former manager at O&B Bayview Village, who also had a booth at the Festival. Nakul and his father, executive chef Pawan Mahendro, opened the Indian gastropub Badmaash
last year in downtown Los Angeles. The menu includes traditional Indian dishes such as Chicken Tikki Masala and “Good Ol’ Saag Paneer,” as well as a variety of Bombay-style street food, and a section simply called #FoodPorn @BadmaashLA.
The next day was full of star-gazing as we headed for Hollywood Boulevard. The streets were crammed with people vying to find their favorite celebrity immortalized in the concrete in front of TCL Chinese Theatre or on a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It was time for a quick stop for a “Pistol Whipped” Margarita at Tinhorn Flats Saloon and Grill
. The mixture of muddled jalapeños and cucumber added a refreshing kick to this classic summer drink.
We continued our journey on foot to Sunset Boulevard, where we could get ready for our close-up. Save for a couple of joggers, the pristine sidewalk was all ours. This is definitely not a walking town! After a decent trek we had worked up a thirst, so we had to stop in at the historic Chateau Marmont
for a drink on their lovely open patio. Opened in 1929, the hotel is based upon a French Gothic Chateau. The eclectic outdoor space featured high arches, lots of greenery and heavy wooden furniture with plush fabrics…a true oasis within an oasis.
It was time to Uber it back downtown before the sun set on the strip. Our next stop was Industriel Urban Farm Cuisine
, where we were greeted by a warm service team who were excited to share their vision about food and cocktails. We had to try The Ballad of Jack & Rose and La Catrina, for two different takes on working with mezcal. Both cocktails were surprisingly light. The flamed rosemary in The Ballad immediately filled the room with a fresh herbal aroma, and added a savoury smokiness to the drink, while the chamomile added a lovely smoothness to the mixture of rum, mezcal and lime. La Catrina tasted fresh and clean, while the large ice cube prevented the light flavours from being watered down too quickly.
In addition to being delicious, The Ballad of Jack & Rose entitled us to a free fire show!
Since the staff were so lovely, we decided to return later that evening for dinner. The stand out dish of the evening was the game platter. That night, it was loaded with lamb, rabbit, and a smoked veal brisket. It paired perfectly with a 2010 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir by Domaine Serene
from the Williamette Valley, Oregon.
Our trip was not just about experiencing Los Angeles food culture first-hand. We also had the opportunity to speak with a group of experts to have helped define that culture. Patina Restaurant Group
, a company with lots of experience serving high-profile guests, made time to meet with us, and share some of their professional insights about dining and event trends. PRG operates over twenty-nine unique restaurants on the west coast, including 10 in downtown Los Angeles, where they showcase the best local ingredients California has to offer. Their flagship restaurant, Patina
, is a Relais & Châteaux property, overseen by Master Chef Joachim Splichal. Their catering division, Patina Catering, offers large and small-scale catering, all with restaurant-quality food and service. Their passion for hospitality and their commitment to the industry shone through as they shared their vision about consistently providing world-class guest experiences at every event, large or small.
Reza Samadi, Regional Director of Operations, described his “the answer is always yes” philosophy when it comes to catering. Whether a guest wants something that is not on the menu, or even in the building, the PRG team always makes it work. He also pointed to the ever-evolving expectations of guests, and the new challenges they bring. While a perfectly cooked beef tenderloin was once the gold standard, guests are now looking for lots of options, especially gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan dishes. At really high-profile events, Patina Catering will even have someone on hand at a grocery store, at the ready to pick up some unanticipated request. Expecting the unexpected means being prepared both mentally and physically to make it happen – the perfect thought to keep in mind as we ready ourselves for TIFF.
The final day of our trip included a visit to Grand Central Market
on South Broadway. Opened in 1917, the market continues to serve up fresh produce (including bags of avocados for $1!), meats and seafood, cheese, dry goods, and a variety of flavourful meals at 36 different vendors.
California grapes always put a smile on Chef Jamie's face.
That’s a lot of ceviche!
Taco photo time!
It was an unforgettable trip, and the perfect way to kick of Festival season. Here’s to a great TIFF 2014!
Leave it to Chef John Horne
) to push the envelope and serve crunchy fried critters at one of the city’s most buzzed about food events.
The special occasion was Heroes vs. Villains, a comic book themed celebration of food. Organized and hosted by Afrim Pristine of Cheese Boutique
, the event was more than a labour of love. Afrim was bringing together his two greatest passions – food and comic books.
For this formidable task, Afrim called upon his super friends, 11 of the city’s top chefs, who were chosen to represent a hero or villain with their astounding cooking powers. “We’re all kids at heart – we grew up with comics and these are amazing chefs,” said Afrim.
Over 200 enthusiastic guests, largely comprised of industry folks and loyal customers, received the red carpet treatment. Hopping from one food station to another while wandering through the store was a euphoric experience for any gourmand.
Our very own Chef John was in his spidey-suit, complete with live tarantulas on display, serving up spider-appropriate crickets. Now, I’m not particularly fond of insects and certainly not eating them. But where else would I have an opportunity to eat a cricket?
In line with his dedication to using all local ingredients in his cuisine at Canoe, Chef John sourced crickets from New Millennium Farms, an edible insect farm in Ontario. The crickets were fried with a house-made Montreal steak spice, ‘caught’ in a delicate sugar-fennel spider web that sat atop a tall glass of ‘radioactive’ corn soup.
Donning his most prized possession, a Batman cape that he’s had since he was six years old, Afrim explained his why the event meant so much to him, “Comics are a boyhood passion of mine – it’s the little things that bring a smile to my face. This was a dream for me and the chefs made my dream come true. I’ll never forget that night.”
And the guests won’t forget it either. I ate some crickets. I went home smelling like cheese. It was a pretty terrific night.
Pinxto of 60 day ribeye, American blue cheese, mushroom, boquerone (Bar Isabel) by Chef Grant Van Gameren / Captain America
Bufala mozzarella, crushed heirloom tomato, white balsamic sorbet (The Harbord Room) by Chef Cory Vitiello / The Joker
Australian black truffle & ricotta tortellini (Splendido) by Chef Victor Barry / The Hulk
Farmhouse Ploughman Platter (Farmhouse Tavern) by Chef Tom Wade / The Flash
Cured Arctic char, horseradish, dillweed crème fraiche (Hopgood Foodliner’s) by Chef Geoff Hopgood / Magneto
Chef Geoff Hopgood / Magneto and Chef Tom Wade / The Flash
Marinated summer artichokes, goat yogurt, 100 year old balsamic (Royal Canadian Yacht Club) by Chef Jonathan Goodyear / Wolverine
Live Gaspé scallops, caviar, Prosecco shooter (Buca) by Chef Rob Gentile / Iron Man
Roasted whole lamb, Green Goblin salsa verde (Campagnolo) by Chef Craig Harding / Green Goblin
Selection of Gourmadises (Nadège Patisserie) by Chef Nourian Nadège / Catwoman
Kryptonite Snow Crab Vichyssoise (Grand Colette Café) by Chef Michael Steh / Superman
Afrim Pristine / Batman