Thursday, April 10, 2014

Entrepreneurism, Quality, Craft, and Discerning Taste


Jazey-Spolestra, North Moore Catering/RiverRoom/ Rhino Lounge Bakery and Coffee Shop

North Moore Catering was born out of a longing while owner Jess Jazey-Spoelstra was working at Walkers in Tribeca in Manhattan.  Disenchanted with the catering at her wedding, Jazey-Spoelstra had an epiphany and decided to launch a catering company instead of a restaurant. She and husband Harmen and general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden, set about building North Moore’s status as one of the city’s foremost caterers almost entirely on word-of-mouth.

Jazey-Spoelstra is a natural communicator with her finger on the culinary pulse. Like any effective entrepreneur, she has a particular charisma and an innate gift for training and mentoring skilled staff that can communicate her vision and deliver it with finesse.

When Jazey-Spolestra was offered the restaurant space at Museum London for the River Room, she and Harmen were initially reluctant. However, the room and the facilities were the proper fit for a caterer with the Jess’s entrepreneurial vision and creative talents. The River Room quickly became a success.

Her latest project is the upscale Rhino Lounge Bakery and Coffee Shop in the premises previously occupied by the gift shop at Museum London. The café is named after Tom Benner’s White Rhino sculpture that has stood watch on the grounds of the museum since 1987. There are plans to have strategically placed patio tables on the well -manicured front lawn and guests will also be able to sit by the beautiful pond on the west side of the Museum.

Jazey-Spolestra has a sophisticated design sensibility which is reflected in all her projects. It is about delivering elegance and the attention to detail. Smoky crystal chandeliers with dozens of multifaceted hanging crystals and custom-made black leather banquettes set the tenor. The space is designed to be multi-functional which will allow it to be repurposed for special and private events.

The in-house scratch bakery is set to showcase pâtissièrie, cakes, pies, croissants, handmade doughnuts and hand-rolled bagels. Pastry chef Michele Lenhardt’s chic dessert offerings include: Goat cheese cheesecake, cherry and lemon tarts and her signature chocolate pâté. The café will be licenced and the kitchen will turn out grab and go sandwiches, paninis, charcuterie and there are plans to make tapas available on Thursday nights.

Jazey-Spoelstra focuses on providing innovative and cutting edge food experiences combined with extraordinary service which is her hallmark. She does not source products from the standard food suppliers but instead Jazey-Spoelstra selects each food item to ensure quality and freshness at each event.

She has a penchant for adding her own signature style by reimagining food styles and cultures and says, “Quality has always been my number one priority, even if it means that my prices are higher than some competitors. At caterings, we still cook all the food fresh on site with a portable kitchen.  Everything is made from scratch and if we can't keep our standards because of budget constraints or venue constraints, then we won't do the event.”

Most of the ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, but some iconic staples such as smoked salmon, caviar, bagels and cream cheese, are express-shipped by courier from the famed Russ and Daughters in New York. This is a testament to her desire to bring nothing but the best to the table for her clients.


Last May, Jazey-Spoelstra invited me to the River Room to sample Russ & Daughters hand-sliced smoked salmon which is only available once a year (the year prior it wasn’t available at all). The cold- smoked Gaspé Nova is a primal experience due to the combination of the fattiness of the fish and the mild smokiness. She served this delicacy with double hand- whipped, eat-it-by-the-spoonful, scallion-cream cheese and proper hand-made chewy bagels. We also sampled the complex and sensual mouth feel of Osetra caviar from sustainably raised Californian sturgeon. On another occasion she invited me to sample some new dishes. Well, nobody in this city does bone marrow the way the River Room does – oh, the deep and satisfying pleasure of eating pure rich hot bone marrow.

And, speaking of Russ and Daughters, Jazey-Spoelstra told me about an independent documentary called The Sturgeon Queens. The documentary’s recent release is timed to coincide with Russ & Daughters centennial this year.

The documentary features an extensive interview with two of the original daughters for whom the lox and herring emporium was named. 100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and her sister 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman both share anecdotes that encapsulate the Jewish immigrant experience: “hard work, humor, romance, and a little tsuris.”  Other participants include the 4th generation family members who operate the shop today. The film also features Herman Vargas, aka “The Artistic Slicer,” longtime employee, now manager, who represents the new wave of immigrants behind the Russ & Daughters counter.

North Moore caters cocktail parties, weddings, post wedding brunches, dinners at your home, corporate events or any occasion a caterer is required. Catering events have included cocktail parties with guest lists totaling 1500 as well as intimate dinner parties. 

“We are a full service catering company that takes care of the rentals, linen selection, floral, decor, backdrops, head table decor, wedding cakes and favours.  We assist with timeline, floor plan and planning. We take great pride in everything we do and do our best to ensure every event is perfect,” says, general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Italian Language of Food and Strozzapreti


"In the heart of Santarcangelo, at the foot of the steps leading to the Clock Tower in the old Palazzo Nadiani, we find the Restaurant-Osteria La Sangiovesa: a true place of Romagna culture and culinary traditions."
The Italian Language of Food and Strozzapreti

The relationship between food and language is interesting. In Italy, where gastronomy developed along provincial lines, this pairing is culturally informative as well as entertaining. Until the unification of Italy in 1861, one could not speak of a national cuisine. The reality of Italian cookery is an amalgamation of distinct regional cuisines more diverse and idiomatically inspired than anywhere else in Europe. The home is still the safeguard of Italian indigenous cooking and culinary traditions, which may account for the colloquial Italian expressions used as the colourful names of various dishes.

The ubiquitous tiramisu, for example, is a Venetian colloquialism meaning “pick me up.” This dessert, renowned for its power as a quick fix, is made of Savoiardi (lady fingers) dipped in espresso and layered with a whipped mixture of mascarpone cheese, sugar and egg yolks, then topped with cocoa powder. It has attained widespread popularity due to the cachet associated with anything Italian. Interestingly, professional cooks in Italy comment, “Tiramisu is arguably so passé one would be embarrassed to serve it.”

The list of Italian colloquial culinary terms is endless. Some interesting examples are: saltimbocca (a veal dish meaning “leap in the mouth”), salsicce e facioul d’pane (sausage and beans like bread) and Per’ e Palummo (a variety of grape meaning “pigeon’s feet”).

At La Sangiovesa Ristorante in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy, I was first introduced to strozzapreti, which literally means “priest stranglers.” Folklore has it that the travelling clergy would gorge themselves on it to the point of choking. The name strozzapreti reflects the power of the church and the fear of the churchgoer. At one time, liturgical power was manifested in such acts as peasants “buying” blessings from door-to-door travelling priests willing to pray diligently for absent souls in purgatory.

Wild Boar Ragu with Strozzapreti

I originally made this dish at the first Slow Food Superior dinner in Thunder Bay on April, 2005 by London, Ontario.

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into small dice
2 pounds wild boar roast cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or ground)

Flour for dusting Q B
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1 pound wild mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh chopped garlic
1 cup dry  red wine
1 (28-ounce/800g) can D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes, diced, and their juices
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
1 cup strong vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked juniper berries
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)

1 pound fresh homemade strozzapreti
Freshly grated Parmigiano - Reggiano

In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and sauté, stirring often, until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp.

Add the battuto (onions, celery, carrots,) and mushrooms to the pancetta. Sauté until soft and starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Season the chopped or ground wild boar with salt and pepper, coat lightly with flour. Add some olive oil to a separate pan set over a high heat and add the wild boar pieces. Fry until the meat is golden-brown on all sides - this may have to be done in batches to avoid crowding the pan. 

Deglaze the pan with dry red wine and reduce until not quite evaporated.  Add the wild boar and deglazing liquid to the large pot.

Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock,  juniper berries, fresh sage and thyme and bring slowly to a rolling boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring intermittently, until the meat is tender and the ragu thickens and is aromatic, approximately 1½ hours. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream (if desired). Adjust the seasoning to taste. Q.B.

Bring a large pot of abundant salted water to a rolling boil. Add the strozzapreti and cook until al dente (when pasta floats to the surface). Drain in a colander and place in a large serving bowl. Ladle the ragu over top of the pasta and mix so the ragu clings to the pasta.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Where to Eat in London’s Old East Village

Where to Eat in London’s Old East Village

The Old East Village commercial corridor has a reputation as a haven for artists and musicians and other members of the creative class (to use urban theorist Richard Florida’s lingo) whose support for community development and revitalization initiatives continues to help stimulate neighbourhood stability and strengthen a blend of commercial activities along the strip.

In recent times the area has seen a new arrival of culinary entrepreneurs and food enthusiasts that have added to the areas established culinary landmarks like: Mykonos, Tony’s of London, Vietnam Restaurant and True Taco.

Creative independent restaurants and cafes like Unique Food Attitudes, Chi Hi Vietnamese, The Root Cellar, and East Village Coffeehouse add another level of diversity to the culinary fabric and the evolution of the burgeoning food scene in the neighbourhood. The Artisan Bakery, Hungary Butcher and All ’Bout Cheese have also contributed in a significant way to that mix.

Yam Gurung was born and raised in a remote village on the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains of central Nepal with his parents and 7 siblings. At the age of 12 he headed to a busy Nepalese tourist area, to advance his chances of finding work to support his family. Gurung learned English, interacting with Western tourists and working in restaurants. Yam came to Canada to join his wife and newly born daughter in 2001. They settled in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, where Samantha worked as a midwife for a year, before moving to London. Having always worked in the food services industry, for Yam the idea of starting a catering business came naturally. Gurung’s business was incubated at the Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market and has evolved to become the small boutique eatery and caterer, Momo’s at the Market. Yam and his team have built an unfaltering reputation and serve hand-made Nepalese-inspired dumplings (momos) and a variety of curries and noodle dishes. Be sure to try his signature Nepali Tea.


Barbara Czyz has operated Unique Food Attitudes as a catering business for 18 years. Right behind her chic storefront bistro, Medallion Development is completing its second residential tower. The restaurant has been a runaway success due to its modern European sensibility, changing chalkboard menu offerings, home-made food, and authentic hospitality. House specialties include goulash and potato pancakes, krokiety (crepes) and red borsch made from beets, bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew), slow cooked cabbage rolls and tender peirogi with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. One day our charming and hospitable server recommended the Szavlotka (delicious apple cake) and we have been converts to Czyz’s baking since. 697 Dundas St.  519 649-2225


On the Move Organics cooperative opened their latest initiative, the funky Root Cellar Organic Café and Bakery on Dundas Street just east of Adelaide, next door to the St. Regis Tavern in the former London Winery retail outlet. The team serves a healthy, seasonal menu featuring cooking and baking with mostly local and organic ingredients. This is where locals go when they are looking for a filling breakfast, a simple and healthy lunch, or evidence that organic muffins are yummier than conventional. In addition to ethically sourced coffee and tea, the café also features a fresh juice and smoothie bar, where local denizens can pick from an expansive selection of nutritious, energizing, detoxifying, or just plain refreshing drinks. The Root Cellar is expanding into the neighbouring premises at 621 Dundas Street. When completed this spring the dining room will have tripled in size. In warm weather diners will be able to enjoy the sidewalk patio. 623 Dundas St. 519 719-7675


Chef Trinh’s CHI HI Vietnamese is the latest restaurant to open in the OEV. The traditional Vietnamese offering includes black bean tofu subs, beef subs, pad Thai, vegetarian Singapore noodles and black bean tofu vermicelli. It is quickly making a name for its Vietnamese subs and Sunday breakfast. 791 Dundas St. (beside Aeolian Hall at Rectory)


Luis Rivas opened the popular True Taco after perfecting his business model and building a loyal clientele at his Saturday operation at the Western Fair Farmers’ Market. “The big favourite being the taco al pastor made with juicy pork loin, pineapple, onion and cilantro that just melt into the meat." says Rivas. The other signature tacos are prepared with a choice of chorizo, beef barbacoa, or beef tongue, and a selection of homemade sauces. At the restaurant there are 16 fresh salsas to choose from. The nacho chips are house made, artisan corn tortillas are produced and sourced nearby in Alymer. True Taco offers a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros, sunny side up eggs with homemade sauce served with beans (locally sourced) and tortillas at both locations. Other choices include the delicious pupusas served with curtido (traditional cabbage relish) and homemade sauce. Another signature dish is the pupusa, this thick handmade corn or rice flour tortilla that is typically stuffed “de queso” (cheese) or chicharron served with refried beans and loroco (a vine flower bud indigenous to Central America) and curtido.  Other True Taco traditional Central America offerings include: burritos, taquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales. El Salvadorian pupusas crafted by the sublime Elsa Garca and the Chicken Milanese are also favourites. True Taco is expanding into new location with larger premises across the street from his existing restaurant. 784 Dundas Street 519 433 0909

Located across from Kellogg’s, Long Duc Ngo is the welcoming hands-on proprietor of The Vietnam Restaurant, this long established restaurant has operated since 1994. The kitchen offers a selection of accessibly priced noodle, rice and soup dishes. The substantive menu includes: superb spring rolls, pho, sizzling hot pots, and many seafood and chicken dishes. Favourites include: Pho Dac Biet the signature combination beef, rice noodle broth with rare and brisket beef, beef balls and tripe with fresh herbs.  The cold rice paper roll known as goi cuon is a perennial favourite. It is comprised of noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and Thai basil, making this savoury easy to dip in a thick sauce of peanuts and soya. 1074 Dundas St. 519-457-0762

Thai Taste is an unassuming hole-in-the-wall, with cramped booth seating offering superior Thai food. Served with pride and attention to detail Thai Taste is a neighbourhood favourite. Don’t be put off by the façade or the narrow interior—the food shines. 671 Dundas St.  519-646-2909

Don’t confuse The Spring (You Yi Cun), half a block west of the Palace Theatre in the Old East Village, with the Springs on Springbank Drive. If you judge authenticity by the stereotypical appraisal of Chinese restaurants, the number of Asians dining there, your expectations will be more than satisfied. The menu, inspired by Tianjin and Szechwan cookery, will seem transcendent to appetites familiar with typical Canadian-Chinese cuisine.  Spring is a Mom-and-Pop business operated by Oi and Baoju Wang. Oi was classically trained in traditional Chinese cookery, as was his father and his father before him. The family operated a restaurant in Tianjin near Beijing for thirteen years before immigrating and opening a successful restaurant in downtown Toronto for five years, then relocating to London. The surroundings are down-market, but we are not interested in the décor, and even the uncomfortable chairs will not deter us. This unassuming culinary gem offers amazingly delicious food served with pride and attention to detail. This is traditional Chinese regional cooking combined with Canadian-Chinese cuisine. The signature wonton “purses” –house-made pork dumplings – are browned to pan-fried perfection. We return time and time again for the sautéed Asian eggplant with chili and sauce, a comingling of spicy, sour, and sweet flavours. The al-dente long green beans are another favourite, bathed in a fiery sauce. We love the spring rolls and crispy deep-fried wontons. My constant Spring dining companion favours the battered, sweet and spicy General Tao’s chicken with chili peppers. I am partial to the black bean dishes. 768 Dundas Street East, London   519-266-4421

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Covent Garden Market is the Longest Established Link to London Ontario’s Culinary History

Covent Garden Market is the Longest Established Link to London, Ontario’s Culinary History

Covent Garden Market formerly established in 1845, is the longest established link to London's culinary history. Today, the Covent Garden continues to be a strong focal point for the rural and urban exchange where local, farm-fresh quality and gourmet international foodstuffs can be procured every day of the week.

Located at the junction of King and Talbot Streets, the Covent Garden Market is a strong attraction and culinary destination for both locals and out-of-town guests.  The Market remains one of the city’s most venerated cultural landmarks and is the heart and soul of the downtown buy-local food movement. The Covent Garden Market offers some of the city's finest selection of local, gourmet, ethnic and organic foods.

The City of London adopted a plan to create a public Farmers’ Market as part of their revitalization strategy for its downtown core in 1997. The aim of the new Covent Garden Market was to revitalize the area by attracting more people to the downtown core and acting as a catalyst for future development.

The Covent Garden Market, in its third incarnation, was rebuilt in its present location. The $14-million downtown linchpin opened in October 1999 drawing crowds. By 2003, the new Market was suffering growing pains, customers were scarce, vacancy rates high and there was conflict between vendors and management.

Soon after, the third general manager, Bob Usher, would shepherd in a new era of community building and prosperity.  Annual sales have reportedly increased, vacancies are non-existent and the Covent Garden Market has created an affordably fresh, friendly and buy-local identity and brand. Usher has said, “The Covent Garden has been able to leverage the rising fortunes of downtown, marked by the proximity of the Budweiser Gardens and the upturn in downtown residential development.”

A mandate of the Market is to strive to ensure a unique, vibrant commercially viable self- sustaining shopping and gathering place, embracing products that highlight the diverse community.

On market days in earlier times, farmers travelled over back-country roads to sell from their wagons at Market Square. Meat was sold from covered booths inside the market building, and a large pot-bellied stove provided heat in the winter months. Market-goers and farmers were brought together to barter on sawdust-covered floors, where everything and anything was for sale.

In the 1880s, a collection of shops just east of the market building was known as the Market Bazaar, selling anything “from a needle to an anchor.” By 1905, these buildings had been torn down and “con men, jugglers, musicians, magicians, medicine men and preachers” reportedly made pitches in the open square. 

Covent Garden Market, which was named, like many local landmarks, after the original in London, England, retains a strong sense of London’s early history and tradition. In the 1950s, the historic stately building was replaced by an enclosed market and parking garage, which were completed in 1956, with two levels added for parking in 1958. 
Despite all the changes, several long-time merchant families have served the market public for generations, including the Smiths since 1887 and the Havaris family since 1910.

Hasbeans, operated by the hospitable Smith family, have been market merchants following a family tradition that began when Chancey Smith, first opened a fruit and vegetable stand in the market in the 1880’s. The coffee business continues to be a hands-on affair with Paul (3rd generation), Debbie (4th) and the effervescent Joel McMillian (5th) who now runs the shop’s day-to-day operations. While promoting the distinct qualities that each coffee bean develops in its natural environment, Hasbeans’ stalwart owners and staff have become a market institution for their fair trade offerings and personalized service. Hasbeans’ hand-selected imported coffees are offered as both green (raw) and roasted coffee beans.  

Though the market has introduced more restaurants and take-out outlets, the core retailers are still the fruit and vegetable vendors, bakers, and butchers. All vendors remain independents. Usher assures that as long as he is general manager, there will be no chain outlets allowed in the market. “Everything will remain mom and pop.”

Today, the Covent Garden Market continues to be the heart of the downtown, where gourmet, artisanal and wholesome, farm-fresh quality can be found every day of the week. Ask Usher, about some of the city’s best selection of organic foods, award-winning meats (Fieldgate Farms), ethnic foods (a long list), the largest assortment of international and artisan cheese (thanks to cheese monger Glenda Smith) in Southwestern Ontario, confectionery, chocolatiers, market-roasted coffees, and a wide range of seasonal fresh cut flowers.

The International Bakery has been a prominent vendor for over 40 years offering kringle, pastries, cakes, breads, and European inspired staples. Speaking of bakeries, Petit Paris Crêperie & Pâtisserie is a fine example of the French pastry tradition, located at the King Street entrance of the Market. Petit Paris offers personalized cakes and pâtisseries made from scratch — timeless classics — all crafted with premium quality ingredients that have quickly established Petit Paris’s reputation for quality.

You’ll be amazed with the variety of ethnic, gourmet and specialty foods you can purchase, which showcase the multi-cultural diversity on offer.  Sample one of Zoran Sehovac's hand-made Balkan-inspired savoury bureks from the Hot Oven. Rolled in a spiral savoury spinach and cheese, meat or plain offerings in phyllo pastry attract a loyal clientele.

Chef Bhan from the New Delhi Deli serves up a melting pot of authentic Indian, Caribbean, Mexican and East African cuisines. Serving homemade non-dairy, vegetarian and meat curry choices, jerk and tandoori chicken, roti wraps, samosas, seafood, duck, lamb and more, Bhan offers lunches anytime, snacks, and take-home dinners when you need a break from cooking.

Havaris Produce has been a vendor at the Market dating back to the 1800s. Introduce yourself to Chris Doris of Doris Family Produce — he’s the one who can help you find those hard-to-get quinces in season, when Persian Chicken is the order of the day.

Speaking of produce sellers, a couple of years ago, Greg Fraumeni took over the produce stall run by Chris Catsiroumpas, who retired at the age of 74 after 38 years as a vendor.

Kleiber’s is another long-time fixture at the Market and has built a reputation for carrying a large array of authentic European delicacies, including quality ingredients from Germany, Holland, Poland and elsewhere in the EU. Anna Turkiewicz is a well-known caterer and for the last fifteen years, owner of Kleiber’s, an old-school deli that has been a  Covent Garden Market mainstay since it opened in 1940. Well- known to the downtown lunch crowd, for whom Turkiewicz prepares her signature soups,  cabbage rolls, schnitzels and sausages for take-away, she is also a caterer with a reputation for friendly and personal service. Who can say no to her classic chicken and beef dishes served daily with salad and mashed potatoes? Kleiber`s corner stall is where you can locate hard to find chestnut purée, quince jam, specialty mustards, holiday confectionary and imported chocolate.

Covent Garden Market also houses several restaurants, such as Waldo’s on King whose talented culinary brigade offers traditional bistro-style selections. Nestled into the Market Lane side of the building, Tanakaya is something of a hidden gem offering made-to-order sushi rolls, sashimi, teriyaki, tempura and traditional bento box choices.  

The market also offers a variety of culturally diverse take-out and grab and go outlets. Other core retailers are still the fruit and vegetable vendors, bakers, butchers and specialty food artisans. And this is only a very short list of all the interesting and exciting vendors who give the Market its unique character and persona. There are 52 indoor vendors.

The Covent Garden remains true to its historic roots even though it's more upscale and gentrified than the old market that operated on the main floor of a parking garage. Twice a week (Thursdays and Saturdays) during the season a producer-only outdoor farmers' market features fresh local produce, meats (bison), and a variety of artisanal baked goods. The arts are also a focus of the Market's mezzanine where a local cultural organizations and artists are resident – there’s even a cooking studio/kitchen an art school and a theatre.

Open 7 days a week. 

130 King Street;   519 439-3921


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Is Tilapia a Sustainable Alternative?

Is Tilapia a Sustainable Alternative?

The ubiquitous tilapia is the broad name for nearly one hundred species of fish. Farmed tilapia, a lean white fish with a generic flavour, is the second-most popular farmed fish, after carp, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. China is the leading producer of tilapia, British Columbia and Nova Scotia also produce it commercially.
Tilapia has earned a reputation in the food circles as “aquatic chicken” because it reproduces easily, matures early, tastes bland and is an inexpensive alternative. Tilapia is the model factory-farmed fish; it consumes pellets made largely of corn and soy, easily converting a diet that is similar to cheap chicken feed formulated to maximize growth and weight gain into into low-cost seafood.

Tilapia appearing on a restaurant menu is generally my litmus test to determine whether or not the kitchen is sourcing generic products from a commercial distributor.
Sustainable Seafood
I became a proponent of sustainable seafood with the inception of he Endangered Fish Alliance, when a group of concerned restaurateurs, chefs and environmentalists joined staff members of the Toronto Enviroguide to encourage its members to make environmentally wise choices by not serving four endangered fish: swordfish, Chilean sea bass, orange roughy and certain types of endangered caviar-egg-producing sturgeons.

Other endangered fish  and seafood to avoid include: red grouper from the Gulf of Mexico, blue and striped marlin, Atlantic cod, red king crab, imported mahi mahi, , shark, swordfish, Atlantic halibut, imported shrimp, red snapper and several varieties of non-canned tuna.

The collapse of the cod stocks off Atlantic Canada in an ocean once thought to be an inexhaustible supply of food epitomized one of the most contentious environmental and natural resource management disasters of the 20th century. Fishing has always been a vital part of Canada’s economy and has shaped the foundation of the social fabric of many of our coastal communities.
 In 1992, the moratorium on cod fishing plunged 40,000 Atlantic Canadian fisherman and processing plant employees into unemployment. In 2003, the Canadian government finally declared the northern Atlantic cod an endangered species. 

It was thirty years ago that I first saw migrating salmon in the Fraser River in British Columbia, abundant and teeming in their awe-inspiring journey upstream to spawn at Hell's Gate. On our Pacific coast, one of the world’s great gastronomic luxuries — and once considered to be an everlasting resource — wild pacific salmon is disappearing.

I fear few people are aware that Atlantic salmon is now predominately a farmed fish raised in Pacific coastal farms. The practice of farming salmon began in Norway in the late 1960s and in Canada in the 1970s, in response to the depletion of wild fish. Farmed salmon, once hailed as the solution to the endangered stocks of wild salmon, have become among the most ubiquitous and affordable fresh fish in North American kitchens and restaurants. But along with farmed tilapia and farmed shrimp, farmed salmon is among the principal aquaculture controversies that we should be paying closer attention to.
Salmon is bred in ocean based pens rife with relentless organic contaminants, anemic-looking farmed salmon are fed chemical growth agents and dyes to give them their colour and enhance their appearance. Farmed salmon is also generally acknowledged origin of the prevalence of sea lice and attendant diseases in our wild fish stocks. Fish farmers use pesticides in their fish feed pellets to stop the threat of sea lice. Practices such as these make me question whether or not the variety of fish we eat may be less important than what the fish we’re dining on has been fed or eaten itself.

Several years ago, Sustainable Seafood Canada, a national coalition of non-profit environmental groups, initiated SeaChoice (, a comprehensive Canadian program that raises awareness and delivers solutions for sustainable fisheries. Part of the SeaChoice mandate is to rank seafood by sustainability and educate consumers, retailers and suppliers about the country of origin, how it is caught, its journey from sea to market, and how to effectively manage their inventory.

Choosing seafood wisely requires developing an awareness of the environmental and moral issues at hand, and informing ourselves about which species are and are not being overexploited. At the same time, as consumers we need to be mindful of which varieties are fished (line or trawl net) or farmed in an ethical manner that is renewable and won’t jeopardize the future of the species or the destruction of marine habitat and attendant bycatch. (Bycatch being the fish and marine life that is caught and most often killed as a side effect of fishers pursuing a targeted, more commercial, species.) The more ethically minded consumers, chefs and culinary enthusiasts that informed, targeted boycotts of endangered species can make a significant difference in our eating preferences. An estimated 70 percent of fish in North America is consumed in restaurants.

We should avoid catch from the top end of the deep-sea food chain and think about fish and seafood that are less commercially important and underutilized. At the top of the food chain are big luxury fish like blue fin tuna, Chilean sea bass, shark and swordfish. All have been seriously depleted and are not good ethical or sustainable choices.

There is also a need for labeling laws that state country of origin, whether the fish has been farmed or fished, whether it has been previously frozen and thawed, and whether or not the fish is certified sustainable. It has become increasingly important to continue to raise awareness and bring about self-imposed moratoriums on purchasing and supporting restaurants that continue to serve endangered fish stocks.

A partial answer to finding the best environmental and sustainable choices for seafood is a program run by the Marine Stewardship Council ( The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a self-determining, non-profit organization that has established global environmental criteria for sustainable and well managed fisheries. .

The MSC has developed standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. Both standards meet the world's toughest best practice guidelines and are helping to transform global seafood markets. The MSC seeks to connect consumer preference for products from sustainable fisheries by the use of its blue MSC eco- label. When fish is purchased that has the eco- label, it indicates that the fishery operates in an environmentally responsible way and does not contribute to the global problem of overfishing.

In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a treatise on the greater moral issues surrounding what we choose to eat and the impact of our choices, author Michael Pollan states, “Fishing is the last economically important hunter-gatherer food chain, even though this foraging economy is rapidly giving way to aquaculture, for the same reason that hunting wild game succumbed to raising livestock. It is depressing though not at all difficult to imagine our grandchildren living in a world in which fishing for a living is history.”

It is important to know where your fish is sourced and what you are eating underneath all that batter. 

 Read more about sustainable fish on Ocean Wise.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

To My Way of Thinking, Love and Food Go Hand in Hand.

To My Way of Thinking, Love and Food Go Hand in Hand

The writer Collette documented her thoughts and feelings on the sensual pleasure of love and food. It seems to me Collette observed something undeniable when she wrote, “If one wished to be perfectly sincere, one would have to admit there are two kinds of love- well- fed and ill-fed. The rest is pure fiction.”

To my way of thinking, love and food go hand in hand. Love when celebrated awakens many an appetite. Perhaps, that’s why we celebrate a month known for its cold days and stillness. Just ask those who celebrate Valentine’s Day by dining out. Many of us agree sharing the pleasure of dinner together publicly is a romantic expression of our affections.

Several years ago, at the restaurant Belvedere in Bertinoro, Italy I was given a card that stated, roughly translated, “Two are the pleasures in life, the table linen and the bed linen.” Perhaps this is what is meant when Italians speak of “la dolce vita” (the sweet life).

Call it romantic, call it foolish, but gifts from the passionate kitchen are most certainly gifts of love. Cupid’s arrows have been ritually targeted at the most cynical among us, long before Valentine’s Day became the prevailing feast of sentimentality. So what better night to go out and dine and combine the pleasures of love of food and wine?


Monday, February 10, 2014

Dining with a Food Allergy Or Intolerance And Its Consequences

Dining with a Food Allergy Or Intolerance And Its Consequences 

Several years ago, we had a patron dining in my restaurant who suffers from severe food allergies. She wisely presented me with a card that listed all the ingredients and food types that she is allergic to. Not only could that move save her life, it makes it easier for any chef to ensure her safety, too.

Unfortunately, I have encountered several people through the years who for some reason have abdicated responsibility for their allergies or food intolerances. I was impressed by this diner’s commitment to her own well-being and her consideration and respect for my kitchen.

Perhaps if people who suffer with food allergies and in tolerances carried cards detailing the ingredients and food types they react to, it would encourage a firmer understanding and eliminate anxiety on both sides of the kitchen door.

Many dining patrons have food allergies or intolerances. Among the most common allergy causing foods that we encounter in restaurants are gluten, nuts, dairy products, eggs, shellfish, soy, sesame and monosodium glutamate (MSG).

Don’t confuse food allergies with food intolerance. An allergy occurs when a person’s immune system produces an antibody response to the food, causing symptoms ranging from skin rashes, to trouble breathing. Some food allergies can lead to severe reactions called anaphylaxis, which causes a dangerous drop in blood pressure and the swelling of the throat or tongue. If left untreated it can even result in death.

A person with food intolerance is unable to digest and process food correctly, often due to the lack of particular enzymes. This can lead to discomfort and unpleasant side effects, but they are not life threatening.
It’s easy to say, “If you are allergic to gluten, don’t eat it. Or, if you are allergic to dairy don’t drink it.” But it is not that simple. There are many products, from baked goods to fresh meat products that might contain added dry milk solids or slivers of wheat.  Even trace amounts of wheat from cross-contamination can make someone severely ill.

Many of us in the food business encounter customers with food allergies or in tolerances on a frequent basis. We are concerned, empathetic and, given the right conditions, quite willing to take on the responsibility of preparing their food.

It has been a long-held opinion of mine that if you suffer from a food allergy or intolerance, you are naive to put your confidence in any restaurant until you are certain beyond doubt that the staff understands your food allergy or intolerance and its consequences. 
It has also been my opinion that the person suffering from a severe food allergy should always speak directly to the person cooking the meal. If the cook is too busy to address this issue personally, you probably shouldn't be eating in that particular establishment.

It has been estimated that there are thousands of additives used in the preparation of commercial foods. This issue is further complicated by the fact that there is so little transparency and clarity in the way many products are labelled. With this in mind, how can anyone be truly certain what they are eating, no matter what assurances are given?

If all this sounds confusing, you can get an idea the kind of minefield the food allergic or intolerant diner is walking through.