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    Wednesday, April 29, 2009

    ...the feast

    I fear my photography skills cannot do justice to the meal we savored last Sunday night. I'm glad I waited before posting because I needed a couple of days to (literally and figuratively) digest the meal.

    It started with a lovely Langdon Maple Martini upon entering Billy's apartment. It tasted like lime without being too tart and packed a wallop. We schmoozed around for a little while and then Billy was kind enough to take us on a tour of his fabulous collectibles.

    The Chef for the evening was the lovely and charming Victor DeGuzman from the CAA/AAA Five Diamond, Mobile 4 Star, Relais & Chateaux; Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa. He works there under Executive Chef and Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef Jonathan Gushue.

    Towards the end of the tour, we had hors d’oeuvres of bison done three ways: jerky, satays and steamed buns. I missed the jerky which was upsetting because I love jerky dearly, but I was very pleased with the delicious satay.

    After that we enjoyed the oysters depicted on my previous post. They were light, citrusy and delicious with the lovely lemongrass and shallot mignonette. And I've already discussed the butter. Simply heavenly.

    Next came the marinated scallops and charred octopus accompanied by a mango, tamarind and red chili salsa fresca. The flavour was more sweet than hot and the scallops melted in my mouth like butter. The octopus has great flavour. I always love it for its chew. This course was accompanied by and Italian 2006 Pinot Grigio (IGT, CANDONI, Delle Venezie), which was light and fresh, the mildest of the wines we would enjoy.

    Next came the duck course. This egg was imported from the Philippines and took three weeks to arrive in Canada. Chez DeGuzman told us he knew Charlie's Burgers diners were infamously adventurous so he thought we would enjoy it. It's a "mature" egg, containing a small baby duck inside.


    I tried it because I'll try anything, but I didn't eat much. Maybe it was the richness of the flavour or, more likely, biting into a small bone that rocked my culinary conceptual framework. My boyfriend happily ate all of his, recounting his experience eating similar things while visiting Hanoi, Vietnam. In that case, he said the bird had been even further developed so he was pulling feathers out of his mouth.

    (shudder)

    Along with the egg for the duck course was the cured and roasted breast served with glutinous rice that had been infused with lotus root and was served on top of a grape leaf. I think the reduction we ate with it was made from leg and gizzard confit. Another Italian wine accompanied this course: 2006 Barbera D'Alba DOC, "Piani" Pelissero, Piemonte. It was a light red, with very few tannins and I loved it.


    Here is the source of much contention: the Itoham Kobe beef striploin course. Just yesterday, I got into a feud on Chowhound about whether or not the Kobe beef was real. I can only go on what Chef DeGuzman told us. It had taken four weeks for the loin to be delivered from Japan. Our waiter, Franco, spread his arms wide to describe the size of it. He said he had never seen anything that size.

    The seared, tenderly-bloody loin was served with braised cheeks so succulent that they melted in my mouth like butter. I drank every drop of the kaffir lime consommé like a barbarian. It was so flavourful and perfectly seasoned. *sigh* The red Italian wine that accompanied this course was a 2005 Langhe Rosso DOC, "Long Now" Pelissero, Super Piemonte. My boyfriend, who knows more about wine than I do, whispered to me that it was very, very expensive. It had a prominent flavor that met the richness of the beef.


    One last thing...

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Dessert

    I didn't forget; I just have a limit on the number of photos I can display in one post.

    The dessert was a cashew, praline and meringue torte accompanied by mangosteen, coconut caramel ice cream. It was served with "White Nun" Vecchia Romagna Brandy, something I wouldn't have ordered myself, but I was so glad that it was selected for me.

    To summarize this whoel meal experience, I would have to say it was heavenly, heavenly, heavenly. The beauty of a menu fixe is that you get to experience things you might not have chosen for yourself. I would not have selected these items for a last meal, but I'm so grateful that Chef DeGuzman did.

    Many thanks to Charlie for putting on the dinner party of the year.

    Monday, April 27, 2009

    One more for good measure

    (Last time, I promise.)



    The top of horse-drawn hearse that has been converted into a fish tank, a collection of skulls.


    Please excuse the terrible glare. The picture's not great, but how many people have a mummy in the basement?


    Ah ha! The first of the meal: Colville Bay Oysters accompanied by a lemongrass and shallot mignonette. The oysters are actually missing from this picture because I got so excited and ate them.

    They were served on a bed of aromatics and pink rock salt. It was unbelieveable. The butter pictured on the bread had been made from fresh cream delivered to Langdon Hall at 9PM the evening prior. The pastry chef, Rob Howland, had made it at 2AM. It was unpasteurized, completely fresh and sprinkled with a smattering of kosher salt. I was in heaven.


    Next time I won't break my promise. The next post will include the rest of the meal.

    More nightmare candy

    By overwhelming and popular request, here are some more photos of the Bill Jamieson's place/ museum. I'm just trying to build suspense for the food photos. (Patience, my friends.)

    A small representation of the host's taxidermy collection.

    Some context for the basement and the spiral staircase. (Someone dressed appropriately for the evening, no?):

    Assorted menacing and ancient weaponry:

    The living room mantel: pretty typical. My parents have the same set.


    Be good: the electric chair.

    I thought this was a food blog...

    Well, it is. I'm just taking a little hiatus for a moment. (I swear; it ties in.) Please refrain from reading any further if you are a squeamish person. What's posted below is a little gruesome.

    *drumroll*

    Last night I had the pleasure of attending the most recent of Charlie's Dinners. To say that it surpassed my expectations would be an understatement. The food was divine, but I need to devote a post exclusively to the setting first to build the mood.

    Imagine my surprise and delight when I walked into the gorgeously Gothic home of Billy Jamieson to be greeted by the host himself and none other than Susur Lee, one of (if not) the most famous chef in the Canadian culinary community.

    Gregarious sommelier Jamie Drummond, who I originally thought to be Charlie was there. I introduced myself as the one churning the rumour mill and we shared a laugh. Other guests were current and aspiring sommeliers and other food connoisseurs. The attendees were great company and we enjoyed some lovely conversations over dinner.

    Jamieson, the host, is an artifact dealer specializing in ancient and tribal collections with a slant toward the macabre. He has a pending show with History Television Canada called Heads and Tails.

    His home collection could put most museums to shame. A full wall showcases ancient weaponry. An ancient horse-drawn hearse has been adapted into a very elaborate fish tank.

    The largest butterfly collection I’ve ever seen stretches from floor to ceiling down two flights of a spiral staircase.

    Jamieson has examples of taxidermy beavers, alligators, fish, ostriches, gorillas, and snakes cover the floors and walls. He is careful to mention that all of these examples are historic pieces.


    In the exceptional case of a more recently contemporary animal, the leopard situated in his bedroom died of natural causes before being stuffed.

    In the glass cabinets near the dinner table, were an impressive collection of skulls and shrunken heads. Billy let us smell one ancient skull that had been stuffed with spices and still smelled faintly of sage. The picture below depicts me holding a shrunken head. Someone made a joke that it looked like Rip Torn. I concur.

    Last, but not least, was the gory contemporary artwork on display. (It matched the dark aesthetic of Billy's Dita-Von-tease-esque girlfriend.

    This dinner environment would not suit everyone, but that's exactly what made the experience so special. Charlie's Burgers is an underground dinner party after all: not for the faint of heart. I've never seen a place like Billy's apartment and I was so grateful I could attend.

    For the next post, I promise to discuss the food.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    The end of the world


    If it is 6 PM on Sunday, April 26, 2009 then my automated time-elapsed post has been successful.

    As you read this now, I am dining on the following menu posted below. Many thanks to the king of the underground dining community in Toronto, Charlie Burger.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, this menu is based around the chef's notion of what his last meal on earth should be. Details of the event to follow. Stay tuned.

    Menu & Wine Pairing

    Selection of Hors D’oeuvres
    Omnibus of Bison:
    Jerky, Satays, Steamed Buns

    Rob Howland’s Unpasteurized Butter
    Assortment of Crusty Breads, Radishes and Pickles
    Langdon Maple Martini

    Amuse Bouche: Colville Bay Oysters
    Lemongrass and Shallot Mignonette

    Marinated Scallops and Charred Octopus
    Mango, Tamarind and Red Chili
    2006 Pinot Grigio IGT, CANDONI, Delle Venezie - ITALY

    Opus of Rouen Duck
    Cured and Roasted Breast, Boiled Egg, Leg Confit, Gizzards, with Glutinous Rice, Lotus Root and Leaf
    2006 Barbera D'Alba DOC, "Piani" PELISSERO, Piemonte - ITALY

    Seared Itoham Kobe Beef Striploin
    Braised Cheeks, Ginger and Kaffir Lime Consommé
    2005 Langhe Rosso DOC, "Long Now" PELISSERO, SUPER Piemonte - ITALY

    Cashew Praline and Meringue Torte
    Mangosteen, Coconut Caramel Ice Cream
    "WHITE NUN" - Vecchia Romagna Brandy

    Sweet Gifts
    Buffalo Milk Bonbons, Purple Yam Truffles, Rice Cakes

    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Recession caviar with a splash of sustainability


    Black caviar is the processed and salted roe (fish eggs) of the Sturgeon, a fish that resides in the Caspian sea. It comes in some rather decadent varieties including, sevruga, osetra, and, most expensive of all, beluga.

    Sturgeon populations have been threatened due to acquisition of caviar so CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) places a yearly quota on Caspian Sea caviar and only a very small amount reaches the market. The natural result is astronomical prices: you can pay $595 for 50g here.

    Although the Northern Pike is a fish I would generally like to avoid coming face-to-face with, this bottom-feeder that resides in our northern Prairie lakes has recently become highly valued for producing caviar that rivals the Caspian Sea.

    In today's National Post, Joanne Sasvari outlines the recent trend in Canadian caviar production. Over the past few years, Manitoba has produced golden caviar that comes from lake whitefish. Even more recently, the discovery was made that Northern Pike produces even better roe.

    Northern Pike, in all its abundance, can undercut the price point of Sturgeon. It still tastes like caviar and maintains the ritualistic glamour of eating roe with mother of pearl spoons. People describe the flavor as delicate with a mild saltiness and a firmer crunch. Best of all, it is sustainable so there aren't the same limitations on its availability and it does not ravage the delicate ocean ecosystem.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Your last meal on earth

    One of the questions on the application for Charlie’s Burgers is, “What would your last meal on earth be?” I like this question because the response it elicits strips away any pretentiousness or health concerns about food and gets to the core of what tastes good.

    If I knew I were going to die tomorrow, I would eat the richest and most decadently delicious things I could imagine. My response to that questionnaire included anchovy-laced salad, stuffed pasta in herb-wine-cream sauce and something bloody and tender like filet mignon. I also included something unabashedly deep-fried and my weakness of all weaknesses: the god-sent chocolate hazelnut combination.

    The flavors of the courses for my meal would be sweet, salty, pungent, sour, umami, creamy, bitter, earthy and fresh. I’d want the textures to be soft, chewy, crisp and crunchy. I’d want to be simultaneously comforted and surprised and I’d want to eat with my eyes as I eat with my mouth. I’d want the meal to test the limits of my imagination.

    Let’s be honest though: my imagination is limited. I know some things about food, but there are flavors I haven’t even experienced yet. I care deeply and passionately about the culinary arts, but it’s not my entire life and I am by no means an expert.

    That’s why I’m so excited to attend the next meeting at Charlie’s Burgers. An executive sous-chef from one of the top restaurants in Canada has constructed the menu he would select for his very last meal on earth.

    I can only imagine what it will be like.

    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Local Food Buying Habits

    The results are in from the local food buying habits poll we conducted last week.

    Findings:
    Out of the 24 people that responded, 33 per cent indicated they absolutely make an effort to buy locally.


    29 per cent said they would choose Canada over somewhere else. Another 33 per cent said that where produce comes from is a consideration, but other factors like price are more important. Finally, 4 per cent were smart alecs who said they lived in caves.

    Interpretations and Discussion:
    I suspect that there is a biased skew in conducting a survey of people who would be inclined to read a blog about food. Perhaps their interest or education about localism would be greater than that of the general population. Additionally, the sample size for this survey is probably too small to make generalizations, but the fun part of being a blogger and not a scientist is that I can do so nonetheless.
    :)

    The survey demonstrated that roughly one third of the respondents cared deeply about purchasing locally, another third would choose local over another option and the final third acknowledged that other factors like price were more important. Maybe being a locavore in the middle of an economic recession is more difficult than it might have been 12 months ago.

    Conclusion:
    I think our little survey demonstrates that the localist food trends have a way to come before they become mainstream. Due to the climate in Ontario and our central geographic position, it may be trickier for Torontonians to partake in local food practices than those in a moderate, coastal climate like Vancouver. Don’t be too discouraged though, Ontario hothouse fruits and vegetables are some of the best one can find and we have some pretty tasty wines and cheeses.

    Stay tuned

    Howdy folks,

    Please excuse my lapse in posting. I got a foul cold and, rather than take my own advice and consume healing broth, I took it upon myself to overdose on Easter chocolate. Sugar lowers your body's immunity to illness so it took me a little time to kick it. I'm back in fine form now and can't wait to post this week.

    Some upcoming posts to watch out for:
    • The results from our local food poll
    • A discussion of raw veganism
    • Two different rustic chicken recipes with olives and wine
    • Will I be able to attend Charlie's Burgers? Got the invite and the upcoming menu, but did I get in?
    Stay tuned. There's some good stuff coming down the pipes.

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    How does Twitter relate to food?

    After attending Canada's web conference, MeSH, I'm finding it hard to be away from a computer. My nerd-saturation levels are dangerously high. I had a terrific time: got to meet lots of smart and cool people who like to learn, see some awesome speeches from people like Mayor Miller and Mike Masnick, and eat catered lunches and drink free drinks.

    I had the opportunity to meet Amanda Laird, kindred spirit in both occupation and food bloggery. When avatars come to life it can be so exciting! We discussed how to write about MeSH in our respective food blogs since eating is not really the main focus of the event.

    Naturally there was a lot of Twittering during the conference. The audience would be watching a speaker and then simultaneously monitoring Twitter meta-conversations and maybe writing a blog post at the same time.

    For those of you who come here to read about food, you might be wondering how this relates. Well, I've noticed a new trend on Twitter of people creating profiles devoted exclusively to their eating habits.


    The first person I've came across was StaceyEats. Her tweets list the various foods she eats throughout the day and her avatar is a picture of her biting into an apple. (So funny!)

    I love this idea and am tempted to copy. One trick that people use when dieting is to keep a written record of all the food they eat with the idea that seeing "2 Quarter-Pounders, 3 chocolate bars, 5 cups of coffee, etc...." might compel them to alter their eating habits in a kind of forced acknowledgement.

    Although I'm not on a diet, I'm still compelled to record all my food consumption, even if temporarily. Better yet, I could devote a Twitter account exclusively to food I cook and then link it to this blog...

    What do you think? Is there any use for Twitter in recording ones eating or cooking habits? Do you find this idea hilariously charming or have I just spent too long in the nerd-o-sphere?

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Locavores & Generic Soup

    I cannot pretend that the phenomenon of eating locally is a recent trend. After all, it was New Oxford American Dictionary ‘s word of the year in 2007. The concept is straightforward:

    In purchasing local produce, you:
    1. Support local industries and help bolster local economy
    2. Minimize the fossil fuels and carbon pollution which result from shipping and transportation
    3. Reduce travel time, which means less time for nutrients to leech out and more flavor because fruits and vegetables stay on the vine or in the ground longer and get picked riper
    4. Minimize the need for sketchy preservatives
    5. Develop a more intimate relationship with the food you eat, by cultivating your own garden or building a relationship with a farmer at the market
    Go to any decent restaurant in Toronto and you will notice how much more frequently the word local now gets tossed around. Innovators of this trend have been practicing locavore habits for years. Early adopters may have bought in when Oxford caught on to the trend in 2007. Now the tipping point is here: the laggards are finally buying in to the local phenomenon.

    This past Sunday, Food Network Canada aired the first episode of a show called the 100-Mile Challenge. The authors of the 100-Mile Diet, Alisa Smith and James B. MacKinnon, guide six families in B.C. through the steps of becoming locavores. (No beer, salt, soft drinks, coffee, or white sugar!) Food Network Canada has launched a comprehensive interactive website to accompany the new show. Users have the opportunities to share recipes and source local ingredients.

    In the spirit of localism, I originally wanted to put together a recipe using ingredients that are currently in season in Toronto. Naturally, the locavore spirit will only be channeled if the ingredients are purchased at a market and come from a local farmer so bear that in mind.

    However, I thought I'd develop a generic template for making puréed vegetable soup. In talking to one of my colleagues recently, she mentioned that she was a hopeless cook and had no idea where to even start. I mentioned that soup was a great confidence-builder: once you get the formula down, you can apply it to almost anything. So feel free to use asparagus, beans, cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower which are all in season and would make great options for soup.

    If you're trying to be a locavore, remember to hold the salt!


    Generic Soup Template

    1 cooking onion/ 2 leeks/ 4 shallots (or more than one)
    +
    2 cloves of garlic/ 1 thumb sized piece of ginger (optional)
    +
    spice of your choice: nutmeg/ thyme/ curry
    +
    1 russet potato (optional)
    +
    3 cups of vegetable
    +
    3 or so cups of chicken/vegetable/beef broth (enough to cover)
    +
    1/2 cup - 1 cup of 2% milk/ evaporated milk/ coconut milk/ cream
    +
    dollop of sour cream/ grated parmigiano-reggiano/ hot sauce
    +
    chives/ parsley/ cilantro

    Example:
    Broccoli & Cauliflower Soup

    Heat oil in a 4-qt heavy-based saucepan. Add one chopped and rinsed leek and one chopped cooking onion. Cook until they soften and become translucent. Add in two cloves of grated garlic. Stir. Cook one minute. Add one teaspoon of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.

    Toss in 1 cubed russet potato. (I don't worry about the skins, but you can peel it if you like.) Add 1 chopped head of broccoli and 1 chopped head of cauliflower (about 3 cups.) Add enough chicken broth to cover all the vegetables completely. Bring to a gentle boil.

    Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes (until vegetables are fork-tender.) Let cool then blend in batches in a blender or use a hand blender. Add 1/2 cup of cream.

    Ladle into individual servings. Add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with chopped chives.

    Revel at your masterpiece.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    Dear Charlie,



    Well Charlie, you're doing well. You're all over the media these days and I'm sure your inbox is now overflowing with emails from interested guests.

    Cathy Gulli from Maclean's took an interesting spin on your underground trend by discussing guests like the know-it-all-but-really-know-nothing guest, the ungracious guest, and the name-dropping guest. (Thanks for the hyperlink, Cathy. Welcome new readers!)

    There were another two articles in the Toronto Star today from food writer Susan Sampson, discussing her experience at the underground dinner and looking into the legalities and health regulations of such a phenomenon. Another Star article came courtesy of Corey Minz, recounting the experience in great detail. Sheryl Kirby wrote an exceptional and detailed piece for TasteTO that unfortunately refers to my speculative post from Friday as having a wee touch of a stalker vibe. (Ouch!) All three attended the same dinner, hosted at a west end art gallery.

    In Sampson's piece, Jamie Drummond is quoted as saying, Despite popular rumours on the Internet, I am certainly not Charlie.


    Similarly Charlie, I'd like to thank you for your email the other day, stating, Jamie is correct. I am in fact not him nor is he me. You and Mr. Drummond certainly have your stories straight.

    Sigh.

    I relent.

    Oh, but one last thing. Sheryl Kirby mentioned 250 people applied to come to last week's Sunday dinner and only 30 got in. I believe you started this whole society to evade the snobbery and red tape of Toronto's culinary community, dulled by soul-crushing food and beverage managers and bean counters. But Torontonians love a gimmick and an elitist secret society spreads allure like wildfire. Have you created a monster?

    In all the hullabaloo, is there room for a good old-fashioned food lover like me?

    Yours Truly,
    Jess Bennett

    P.S. I could have finished that cheese plate that everyone struggled so much with last Sunday. It sounded heavenly.