Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ontario VQA Wines to go on Sale at Ontario Farmers’ Markets May 1, 2014

Ontario wines will be for sale at farmers' markets starting this weekend as part of a pilot program the province hopes will lead to a rise in the demand for VQA wines. Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) sets a framework by which standards for quality wine production made from Ontario grapes and appellations for wine regions are established. From quality standards for grape growing and winemaking, to comprehensive testing and truth in labeling and consumer safety standards, all stages of the regulation are stringent and intensive.

To qualify for the VQA, wineries must use only grapes grown in the three designated viticulture areas. Non-grape wines or wines that do not meet this geographical criterion don’t qualify and in addition to giving up the majority of the revenue they generate outside their own vineyards, those who are not in a VQA-designated area for grapes; or fail to qualify for VQA status cannot put “Made in Ontario” on their labels.

On May 1, homegrown wines, crafted entirely from Ontario-grown grapes and following local winemaking standards, can be bought at approved farmers' markets. Locally, Quai du Vin Estate Winery has applied to set up shop at nine markets in the region including: Covent Garden Market, Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market and the Horton Farmers' Market in St. Thomas.

For purposes of the Liquor Licence Act (LLA) and Regulations, “Farmers’ Market” means: a central location at which a group of persons who operate stalls or other food premises meet to sell or offer for sale to consumers products that include, without being restricted to, farm products, baked goods and preserved foods, and at which a substantial number of the persons operating the stalls or other food premises are producers of farm products who are primarily selling or offering for sale their own products. VQA wine may be sold during Farmer’s Markets’ hours of operation.

Many are hoping that this will pave the way for expanding additional product offerings in the future to include a wider range sales of local craft beer, wine and artisanal spirits at Farmers’ Markets and beyond.



A Thirst for the Small-Batch Coffee Roasters and Other Independents Hits Town

  Fire Roasted, Locomotive, Las Chicas and Hasbeans

A Thirst for the Small-Batch Coffee Roasters and Other Independents Hits Town

Locomotive Espresso

 The emergence of London, Ontario’s small-batch coffee roasters emphasizes the passion that exists for fairly traded, environmentally responsible, and ethically sourced coffee beans. The astounding growth of the burgeoning coffeehouse/café niche in the intensely competitive coffee market dominated by Starbucks and Tim Horton’s is nothing short of remarkable.

Lately there has been an unprecedented increase of upmarket cafés that are part grab-and-go café, part bakery, and part casual dine-in restaurant, some of which are licensed. The quest of coffee drinkers for artisanal, small hand-batched roasts with diverse flavour profiles is unmatched. It has been recently suggested that in addition to its other well-documented effects, a cup of coffee will improve your memory.

Hasbeans is operated by the hospitable Smith family, who have been Covent Garden Market merchants for more than 125 years. Their coffee business continues to be hands-on with Paul (third generation), Debbie (fourth) and Joel (fifth).

While promoting the distinct qualities that each coffee bean develops in its natural environment, Hasbeans’ stalwart owners and staff have become a Covent Garden Market institution for their fair trade offerings and personalized service. Hasbeans’ hand-selected and imported coffees are offered as both green (raw) and roasted coffee beans.

The Little Red Roaster was initially opened in 1995 and operated by former restaurateurs Anne and Archie Chisholm of Anthony’s Seafood Bistro. The Wortley Road location became a local institution and was the original café in what became a chain of independently owned franchises. Kendra Gordon-Green purchased the venture in 2002, adding several franchised Little Red Roaster locations in the downtown core, most notably at the Covent Garden Market and at the Central Library.

Entrepreneur Dave Cook started The Fire Roasted Coffee Co. in 2006. He had been roasting his own coffee beans in his garage, and launched Fire Roasted Coffee as a Saturday business at the Western Fair Farmers Market. Cook took over as owner of the market operation two years later and began to build his business portfolio. More recently he opened a flagship café (and his complementary business, Habitual Chocolate) in a renovated heritage building at King and Talbot streets. Just last month Cook opened another satellite Fire Roasted location in Wortley Village, in premises formerly occupied by The Little Red Roaster.

 Cook leverages his expertise, networks and knowledge in order to shape a strong and enabling environment for social enterprise. Cook’s core business belief embraces the philosophy of supporting and mentoring people committed to sourcing quality products and invested in their place of origin. In the interest of global justice, Fire Roasted Coffee has established direct trade with producing countries to benefit the producers in a more substantial way. 

Fire Roasted had supplied coffee to the nearby Black Walnut Bakery Café but that affiliation recently came to a halt. Cook approached Gordon-Green of the Little Red Roaster to give Fire Roasted a sustained presence and a higher profile in Wortley Village. Cook realizes that this location might have a limited shelf-life, as there are plans to expand Home Hardware into that space in the future. In the meantime, he views the Wortley Road location like a pop-up restaurant where he is able to create a different niche and new identity in the neighbourhood.

Fire Roasted Coffee

Sisters Maria and Valeria Fiallos -Soliman operate the coffee micro-roaster, Las Chicas del Café, on Exeter Road, which opened in 2005. The Fiallos family has been defined by coffee for generations, starting with their great-grandfather on the family's coffee plantation in Las Sabanas, Nicaragua. The family was forced to flee Nicaragua in the 1980s during that country's civil war, finally settling in London, Ontario in 1988. The sisters’ parents were eventually able to return to Nicaragua and re-establish the family's coffee growing tradition with their mission of "quality, tradition and responsibility." Today, plantation workers hand-pick, sun-dry and manually bag their annual harvest of dense, flavour-packed beans and send them to London to be roasted.

Charles and Jill Wright opened Locomotive Espresso in a building that has been a neighbourhood variety store for 45 years. Locomotive baristas have received strict training in Pilot Coffee Roaster's Toronto espresso laboratory. Pilot took top honours in this year’s Roast Magazine's annual Roaster of the Year competition saying, “Pilot’s exemplary marketing practices and dedication to offering quality coffee — evidenced by its education practices and construction of a state-of-the-art coffee-tasting lab — propelled the company to a win”.

  Locomotive Espresso opened its doors mid-February looking to fill a growing worldwide thirst for local, independent coffee bars serving the highest quality beverages. Its direct trade beans will be featured along with other “visiting” roasts from similarly skilled roasters. Locomotive is located at the corner of Pall Mall and Colborne at the railroad tracks, in the former Helen's Variety.

More and more it is worth embracing independents and small-batch artisanal coffee roasters. These types of businesses provide core commitments to quality, relationships and hands-on service. The coffee trade appears to be further inspired to leverage economics with social enterprise and environmental responsibility by their conduct, rather than driving profit by how they market themselves.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup

Roasted Eggplant and Garlic Soup


2 roasted garlic bulbs (recipe follows)
2 large eggplants, peeled and cubed

375 ml (1 ½ cups) chopped onion
25 L (5 cups) good quality vegetable stock

2 ml (½ ) salt
1 ml (¼) freshly ground pepper

175 ml (3/4 cup)  35% heavy cream
125 ml (½ cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


In a large oven proof casserole, combine roasted garlic, eggplant, onion, stock, salt and pepper. Cover and bake in preheated 190 C (375 F) oven for 45 to 60 minutes until vegetables are soft.

Uncover, stir and continue to bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes until liquid is slightly reduced and vegetables are roasted. In a blender, puree soup in batches until smooth and creamy. Return to saucepan and whisk in cream; bring to serving temperature and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If desired, place bowls under boiler to melt the cheese.

Roasted garlic: 2 whole garlic bulbs

10 ml (2 tsp) olive oil
50 ml (¼ cup) water method.

Rub loose skin from garlic bulbs. Trim root end flat and cut 1 cm (½ inch) from top of each bulb; be careful not to detach individual cloves. Place bulbs cut side up in a baking dish; drizzle oil over cut ends.

Add water to baking dish, cover and bake in preheated 260 C (500 F) oven for 25 to 30 minutes until garlic is soft to the touch. Cool bulbs and squeeze garlic from individual cloves. Makes 125 ml (½ cup) roasted garlic.

London Food Truck Pilot Reignites Debate

London Food Truck Pilot Reignites Debate
The  London Food Truck Pilot reignited debate and Community and Protective Services Committee   voted 5-0 to refer the food truck pilot proposal back to a special meeting before council next week. The issue has been debated across the city since last spring. Among the more disappointing proposals was a recommended cap of 12 trucks and a lottery for licences. Many councilors remained hesitant about the pilot program going forward as written. The entrepreneurial spirit of food trucks and the importance of diversifying our street food culture seems totally lost on most of the Council.
Last year London City Council agreed to get public feedback on a proposed program to allow food trucks. The proposal worked its way between city departments for months and has been refined and revised along the way to avoid the bureaucratic red tape that plagued Toronto’s food truck initiative. The City  agreed to  liberalize their initial food truck plan, and is proposing a much less restrictive version that seemingly balances the interests of stakeholders. As of this writing it is expected that a new food truck licence will cost a vendor $1,225.00.

Initially, the City Policy Coordinator stated that an impartial food truck advisory review panel made up of local food industry experts was expected to provide knowledgeable opinion and recommendations regarding food truck strategy in London. In addition, the panel was anticipated to be charged with encouraging culturally diverse and original menu offerings, and endorsing the promotion of healthy eating. But the latest report that went to politicians stated that menu-vetting (read micro-managing) is too complicated to be part of London’s food-truck plan. 

Under the new proposal, City staff will be able to designate locations based on such things as proximity to restaurants, schools and neighbourhoods. There will a 25-metre buffer zone separating food trucks from existing restaurants. Food trucks will also be required to keep their distance 100 metres from schools, and vendors will be required to keep a log of their whereabouts.  Food trucks will be required to close for business between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Food trucks are subject to standardized health and safety regulations and inspections.

The proposed food truck by-law amendments appeared to provide reasonable recommendations and safeguards making the pilot much more accessible to entrepreneurs. However, it is still too early to try to define what the food truck streetscape will look like and if there will be any significant changes to the pilot proposal.



Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Trio of Regionally-Inspired Chinese Restaurants in London, Ontario

Five Fortune Culture Restaurant

Jeff and Wen Bei Li’s Five Fortune Culture Restaurant opened in early March 2014, at the southeast corner of Richmond and King Street. The restaurant is a very personal expression of their former lives in China and the premises double as an arts and culture centre.  Wen Bei describes the cuisine as  "pure", a combination of Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou styles and influences.

According to the New York Times, “both Beijing and Shanghai have seen a Yunnan-restaurant boom, possibly inspired by a surge in tourism”. The owners are part of the wave of restaurateurs presenting a particular kind of traditional Chineseness that doesn’t adhere to the standardization of stereotypical Chinese cuisine which is not differentiated by regional categories such as Yunnan or Sichuan, but instead commercial genres such as “chow mein” or “egg foo young,” invented by early Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to Western tastes and available ingredients.

On Saturday evenings there is traditional dancing and song on a small stage at the Five Fortune Culture Restaurant. So it is truly a cultural experience that is being offered. Five happens to be the name of their former business in China. Wen Bei tells me that she wants to extend the good fortune of that business to this restaurant.  She also wishes to impart the culture of their people with her customers, so that's how they came to name the restaurant Five Fortune Culture. Jeff belongs to "Bai" a minority group from Yunnan who traditionally adhere to Buddhist principles.

The menu states that the couple travelled 7,756 miles (four years ago) to start a new life in a strange land with the hope to live a more peaceful life. (They are learning English and have a good grasp of the language but sometimes they find it challenging to express themselves articulately. Fortunately, several of the servers are Chinese students and speak English fluently). An epigram on the menu states, "The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose..." 

The cuisine of Yunnan province, in southwestern China, may not be particularly well-known in the West, yet it is touted to be one of the best regional eating experiences in China. As the northeastern part of Yunnan borders Sichuan province, many dishes are influenced the hot, spicy flavours of Sichuan cooking. Southern Yunnan borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma, and there are also other ethnic subgroups in the province, all contributing influences to Yunnan cookery. Yunnan cuisine (also known as Dian cuisine) doesn't get its own place in the traditional eight schools of Chinese cuisine; rather it's considered a subgroup of Sichuan (or Chuan) cuisine.

Foil-wrapped and grilled fish (a recipe from Jeff's grandmothers that is a 36 hour process) Tom Yum seafood pot, Mixian mini-pots, Udon noodles, green onion pie, pancake rolls and dumplings are among the signature specialties. The five good fortunes are: wealth, health, longevity, love, and virtue. Try the iced congee, pineapple rice and dia bao (steamed buns).

368 Richmond Street

Wednesday – Sunday  11:30 AM – 10:30 PM

Closed  Mondays and Tuesdays

Double Happiness  Redux

A distinction should be made between regionally-inspired Chinese restaurants and the ubiquitous Canadian-Chinese immigrant-owned diners that are still the norm across Canada. Canadian-Chinese cooking grounded in Chinese tradition, quickly adapted to the food and taste preferences of whatever locale Chinese immigrants established for themselves. The improvised dishes they created, like chop suey, have been dismissed as “not Chinese” by experts of the culture.

In relatively recent times, when Canada’s explicitly discriminatory race-based barriers on Chinese immigration grew less stringent, restaurants serving more authentic Chinese cuisine started to replace the hybrid Canadian-Chinese restaurants, especially in larger cities. These restaurants crossed regional borders, fusing Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghainese and Hunan cuisines, and more often than not, tossing a few recognizable Canadian-Chinese staples on the menu for good measure.

I have colleagues who seek out restaurants that don’t cater to wai guo ren, “foreigners”. By foreigners, my colleagues are certainly not talking about themselves. Over the years, I have benefited from their guidance. I am told that the most authentic expression of Chinese cuisine is often withheld from the inexperienced non-Chinese palate. To these colleagues, Canadian-Chinese is a bastardized cuisine with a brief vocabulary of standard sauces, altered cooking times, and interloper ingredients — in general, techniques and ingredients designed to make dishes blander, thicker, sweeter, and less offensive to the Caucasian palate.

London has a myriad of Chinese-inspired restaurants. Due to the popularity of Canadian-Chinese food, even the most authentic Chinese restaurants pay homage to the genre. When you go to authentic Chinese restaurants, ask for the finest “traditional Chinese” dishes on (or off) the menu. Encourage chefs to share their authentic cuisines with us. Canadian palates, unlike those of preceding generations, are ready for the genuine, unadulterated thing.

The Chinese Barbecue

The Chinese Barbeque (aka “Gee Gai Yun” – meaning “Our Family People”) is acknowledged as the number one Chinese Barbeque restaurant in the city. The cooking is informed by the Cantonese cuisine of Hong Kong, by way of Vietnam. This family-run business is the progeny of Quan Quyet Chow Ly and her sons Quan and John Ly.

The concept of eating nose to tail has seen pork tongues and spleens, beef hearts and cheeks grace the plates of high-end restaurants around the region. John and Quan Ly’s father, To Ha Ly, was known for his “Chinese chitterlings” or Lui- Mei in Vietnamese (pork intestines – yummy, unctuous, with a unique taste) and other traditional offal like pigs’ ears, tongue and stomach. The family served these delicacies at their original restaurant, Ly Hoa Tran Barbeque and Seafood Restaurant in Windsor in the 1980s, before a stint in Toronto, back to Windsor, and finally settling in London.

Keeping with “the nose-to-tail eating” philosophy and trend, this is the perfect restaurant for the true culinary adventurer to sample Chinese barbecue (char-siu) specialties. Hanging in the window near the entrance to the restaurant you will see whole pigs (sourced locally in Mt. Brydges) that have been coated with a signature honey and molasses marinade and roasted until the skin is crisp, glistening and golden brown.

The food at The Chinese Barbecue has a fresh homemade quality with locally-sourced ingredients. No stale taro cake or premade, frozen Dim Sum here. The menu is expansive.

The meal started with a delicious delicacy of marinated and barbecued duck livers that tasted like they had been caramelized with honey (not on the menu) and followed by a bowl of clear broth (made traditionally with both chicken and pork to impart sweetness), with big slices of fresh Leamington-grown Winter melon and sweet carrots. This was followed by perfectly cooked squid, shrimps and scallops that had been lightly coated in batter, deep-fried and then stir-fried to crispy precision. Each individual bite was an unparalleled taste sensation and elevated the experience.

Fried rice is not a dish you can rush, and here it is cooked expertly. We ordered Yeung Chow, long-grain jasmine rice, with minced barbecued pork imparting sweetness, baby shrimp, scallions and egg yolk. On a few occasions here, I have been enthralled with a platter of melt-in-your-mouth barbecued pork and duck so delectably fresh that the meat practically falls off your chopsticks. My trustworthy Chinese cuisine connoisseur companions agree that the food here is top-notch. Also the service is intelligent and hospitable.

994 Huron Street, London


Hours: Sunday–Thursday – 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Friday & Saturday – 11:00 AM – 10:30 PM

Closed Tuesdays



The Spring (You Yi Cun)

If you judge authenticity by the stereotypical appraisal of Chinese restaurants, the number of Asians dining there, your expectations will be satisfied. The menu, inspired by Tianjin and Sichuan 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 and their daughter Ting. 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 dining room at Spring is unremarkable; it approximates the ambience of eating out in a modest home in a remote rural province in China. The surroundings are down-market, but we are not interested in the décor, and even the uncomfortable chairs will not deter us. Don’t be surprised if the Wang’s youngest daughter is watching T.V. in the dining room or rides by your table on her tricycle. It is all part of the unique experience.

This unassuming culinary gem in the heart of Old East London offers amazingly delicious food served with pride and attention to detail. The family is gracious. 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. The Tianjin rice is revelatory.

768 Dundas Street East
London, ON

Hours: 12:00 noon to 10:30 PM daily