Thursday, January 29, 2015

Redux: A Reminiscence of My Culinary Life in 1,200 Words or Less


BY BRYAN LAVERY

When I was a young teenager, our friends and family reacted like we were moving to Mars when we left Toronto to move to our cottage on Rice Lake. Our parents fulfilled a long-held dream when they purchased the cottage with a hilltop location and an acre of cedar forest backing on to the Ouse River. The site had previously been part of much larger farm acreage.

The cottage was a prefabricated shell with no amenities, in my unformed mind a zeitgeist in the back-to-the-earth spirit of the times, a handyman’s special that we idealized and had the potential to be transformed into our dream home.

At first, I thought we had landed in paradise, taking a cue from my parents who behaved like we had inherited heaven on earth. It was a convincing gambit that betrayed no hint of the hardships and sacrifices ahead. We briefly emulated the type of television family that enjoyed the solidarity of breaking bread together and took deep satisfaction from cooking meals over an open-fire in the moonlight.

Our parents purchased an old cast iron, wood-burning stove at a farm sale auction that had to be moved on a flat- bed pulled by a tractor. The stove was connected by a stove pipe to a temperamental flue that vented the smoke outside. The stove was both a heat source and cooker and would rarely burn unattended for more than a couple of hours. Gathering and chopping wood became a necessity that seemed to dominate our lives. If the embers were allowed to extinguish no amount of stoking, bellows work or fanning with a newspaper would resuscitate the fire.  It was on this volatile stove that I became a fledgling cook. I was most in my element in the kitchen or hunting and pecking on an ancient typewriter in my bedroom with a thesaurus by my side.

The experience of moving to our cottage was like going camping for an extended period of time. Like any make-believe, reality often crushes expectations. When the honeymoon was over, practicality took over, and after several months the “everything is awful” phase replaced our pioneering spirit. For a teenager accustomed to the independence of urban life and navigating a large city on transit the realization that we were isolated came as a culture shock, the effects delayed but inevitable.

At fourteen, I proved myself equal to stand a full days work. My first job was pumping gas and clerking at Heffernan’s, which was the only general store and one of few gas stations along a stretch of Highway 7 between Peterborough and the village of Norwood. Heffernan’s served a captive audience of hard-working farmers who purchased their weekly food stuffs and farming supplies as well as other passersby on route to small towns or the near north.  It was as a side-kick in the kitchen at the back of the store that I was indoctrinated into the art and science of baking and in retrospect this contributed to my life-long interest in cooking.

My formative years were spent managing the kitchens of the Keg and the Corkscrew chains, learning the business side of the industry when salad bars and steak and lobster were the very definition of middlebrow cuisine. Despite the lack of innovation in these kitchens I became an avid reader of cookbooks, the recipes were precise and I attempted to follow them to the letter.

In my early twenties, I was fortunate to have several mentors with a dedicated interest in gastronomy and was given the opportunity to work with talented chefs and restaurateurs all with difficult temperaments and strong skill sets that helped me develop a culinary backbone. My real education and passion for the culinary arts began while working at a series of French restaurants in Toronto that were bastions of haute cuisine.  The way I saw it, French seemed to be the only serious way to dine. Initially, I was an ardent student of regional French cuisine but after trips to Italy, I had to acknowledge that I was more inspired by regional Italian cooking and eventually I moved beyond France as my primary focus of interest.

As far as I can remember, travels in Europe and my introduction to food writers MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David were how my passion for food writing was incubated. In any case, it was Italy where I first encountered giant turtles fated for soup pots, wild game, a variety of unusual feathered birds and truffle hunting dogs. I enjoyed scouting the open-air food markets in Pisa and Florence and the Rialto market on Venice’s Canal Grande. The Italian market was my nirvana, with its abundant varieties of fresh and saltwater fish and shellfish, the night markets piled high with seasonal produce, fresh fungi and obscure local cheeses.

I was cooking at at a dinner club in Chandler’s Ford in Hampshire, England, just as mad cow disease was evolving from a cryptic veterinary conundrum into an epidemic affecting 120,000 cattle. Speculation about mad cow’s relationship to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans had created a state of panic.  I realized that I had been naive to put my confidence in the perceived safety of our food chain. It was about this time that I became politicized about food security and began questioning our food and farming policies.

A decade later I was chosen as part of a contingent to partake in a culinary journey with seven Canadian chefs to the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy. This was my first introduction to “Slow Food” and the movement to safeguard traditional regional specialties, time- honoured techniques and farm-to-table cuisine. It was on this trip that I had an epiphany about food boasting of regional authenticity and became a dedicated proponent of culinary tourism and Ontario's homegrown terroir.

In retrospect, I have had a rewarding career in the culinary arts and am gratified to be associated with establishing, owning or in partnership with many great restaurants that became a way of life but more importantly an ideology. More recently my involvement with the Western Fair Farmers` and Artisans` Market gave me a platform to lead and support innovative initiatives in the community during a transformational time. I have always felt that my true calling has been as a communicator. It has taken me many years to find my authentic voice.

It was not that long ago that we lacked dedicated local food media to report on the local food community. One of my goals is to continue to have  role in sustaining, mentoring and promoting talent and a vibrant culinary community.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Look Back at London's Food Truck Debacle



BRYAN LAVERY

Here we go again. The London City Council is ready to revive the discussion on food trucks in London. As reported by the London Free Press Wednesday, city councilors are reviving the proposal the previous council rejected. Mayor Matt Brown and Councillor Josh Morgan are expected to be pro-food trucks and propose that city staff spend the next month reviving the plan with a view to launching a pilot program this summer. The request is expected to go to the Community and Protective Services Committee tonight.


Last year, 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. The issue has been a hotly debated for two years.  Among the more disappointing proposals was a recommended cap of 12 trucks and a lottery for licences.

City council eventually decided, by an 8-6 vote, not to permit food trucks on City of London streets. The unanticipated decision came after months of contentious debate, five reports, and three trips to council, two of which resulted in recommendations back for more information. The proposal had earlier been significantly tightened by the community and protective services committee, mostly a result of the intervention of Mayor Fontana.  The Mayor  who was initially pro-food trucks, called for a food truck ban  on Richmond Row, Old East Village, Wortley Road and Byron. The Mayor’s subsequent amendments to the proposal: higher fees, larger buffer zones and earlier closings.
 
Several of the councilors who opposed food trucks did so because they claimed they believed them to be a threat to the financial health of existing restaurants in the downtown core. The amended proposal would have capped the number of trucks at eight, levied an annual license fee of $2,865, and required a 50-meter (about 150 feet) separation from any existing restaurant, double previous proposals. The amended proposal reduced the number of potential downtown sites from 222 to 50, eliminating almost all of Richmond Ave.
  
Two years ago, 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 unsuccessful food truck initiative. 


Initially, Ethan Ling, 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 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 last years rejected proposal, City staff would be able to designate locations based on such things as proximity to restaurants, schools and neighbourhoods. It suggested a 25-metre buffer zone separating food trucks from existing restaurants. Food trucks were also 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. 

The proposed food truck by-law amendments appeared to provide reasonable recommendations and safeguards making the pilot much more accessible to entrepreneurs. However, it was and still is too early to try to define what the food truck streetscape will look like in London. There are 27 licences granted for trucks to serve food on private property, just metres from the street. Last year’s decision does not affect them.

After the failure of the proposal, Ethan Ling, City Policy Coordinator, said “There are still opportunities for  ‘refreshment vehicles’ – as they are dubbed in London – to operate on private property, parking lots, festivals, carts on sidewalks, etc.  So notwithstanding this decision, I hope that area entrepreneurs and food lovers can still find ways create, deliver and consume innovative, exciting and boundary-pushing cuisine from trucks, carts, stands or wherever.”

Commenting on City Council’s decision, Ontario Food Trucks tweeted, “Even if it would've passed, it was too restrictive and expensive! Protectionism hurts all!"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Redux: Refined African Cooking at T.G.`s Addis Ababa




By BRYAN LAVERY


Dining at T.G.’s Addis Ababa is characterized by the ritual breaking of injera (the traditional yeast-risen flatbread which is spongy in texture, crèpe-like in appearance with sourdough tanginess) and sharing food from a communal platter signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire. This is refined Ethiopian cooking.





  

The modest restaurant is tucked away off-the-beaten-track in an unassuming brick building the south side of Dundas Street, near the corner of Burwell and Maitland.


Having avoided the Eritrean – Ethiopian conflict in 1998, with little more than determination and a leap of faith, T.G. was eager to resettle her life in London. It was a tough route that included being detained in the United States for five months before she received refugee status in Canada.  Initially, T.G. was employed at a variety of jobs; attending classes to expand her English at G.A. Wheable Centre for Adult Education and training to become a hair stylist. She dreamt of opening a restaurant. Her passion for cooking was ignited as a child; both her mother and grandmother were restaurateurs.  

T.G. is pleased to make her home in London, “I chose to start my business in London, but more importantly, I chose to start my family here. It is a safe and welcoming community, and there is nowhere else I would rather build a future.” 
Ethiopian cuisine has emerged as a significant international cuisine in recent times due to scholarly interest and the re- interpretation of complex regional culinary traditions to create and popularize an Ethiopian national cuisine by middle class Ethiopians in places of emigration and diaspora. 
The cuisine has garnered repute for being blistering-hot, but truly authentic Ethiopian cuisine is characterised by a blending of flavours in order to produce a harmony of ingredients. T.G. is a skillful chef and her signature dishes from the repertoire of Ethiopian cookery comprise permutations of sweet, bitter, sour, salty, hot and fragrant. These flavour contrasts are the hallmark of T.G.’s cooking.
In recent times, T.G. had hoped to bring her youngest sister to Canada to help her with the demands and challenges of cooking a labour- intensive ethnic cuisine that requires specialized training. Initial approval was given to T.G.’s sister but because of her limited English there are still obstacles with the Canadian consulate in Ethiopia. T.G. hopes this will be resolved so that she will be able to spend more time with her young daughter. At present she would find it difficult and uncomfortable handing over the reins of her kitchen to an outsider. T.G. is acutely   aware that there would be consequences to employing someone who is not culturally indoctrinated in the nuances of the cuisine.
Customarily made out of fermented tef, injera is used as both the serving platter and eating utensil. Decorum decrees tearing pieces of injera off with your right hand, pinching up and then wrapping it around the meat or wat, and then popping the injera into your mouth. No other utensils are required. Various dishes are placed decoratively and served directly onto the injera, allowing it to absorb individual flavours and spices. Dishes are always accompanied by additional injera to scoop up the food with.
Sharing a medley of delicious dishes that have been expertly arranged on a common platter — the traditional way to eat — is an enjoyable introduction to the cuisine. During a meal with friends or family, it is a common practice to feed others in the group with your right hand by putting the pinched up injera into another's mouth. This is called a gursha, and I have been told that the larger the gursha, the stronger the relationship or bond.
Berbere is the brick-red blend of 17 ground spices which is an essential ingredient in Ethiopian cooking and adds a fiery heat and stimulating boost to many of the dishes that reflect its national culinary identity. 
Meat dishes fall mostly into two distinct categories: red stews (wat), which include berbere, and green stews (alicha wat), which do not. Wats are properly prepared with a generous amount of chopped onions, which the cook simmers or sautés in a pot. Onions are fried without oil, which gives them the distinct taste central to Ethiopian cuisine. T.G.’s menu includes several types of meat dishes, such as zsil zsil tibbs which are strips of beef sautéed with green onion and spices. Ethiopian cuisine does not include pork.
Another of her signature dishes is dulet kitfo, which consists of freshly minced, lean beef, mixed and cooked with clarified butter, onion, jalapeño and the traditional spice mixture mitmita (a dry chili blend containing ground cardamom seed, cloves and salt).

T.G. is a born communicator and guides the uninitiated to select from a menu that has been designed so you can order à la carte or eat communally. There is a large repertoire of vegetarian dishes, with a diversity of deftly spiced preparations based on lentils, split peas, chickpeas and other pulses. 
It should be noted that Ethiopian culinary staples like injera and wat are immortalised as a metaphor for prosperity and security in the various writings of nineteenth century travellers.  Hospitality is imperative in Ethiopia, and at T.G.’s Addis Ababa it is supreme. 

T.G. is dedicated to supporting important cultural and charitable initiatives and events despite the fact that she is a hands-on owner who does all of the cooking at the restaurant. T.G.’s Addis Ababa has been a stalwart participant in the Taste for Life campaign to support the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection.


T.G. supports the efforts of local student organizers at Brescia University during their annual Multicultural Show, as well as the London Black History Coordinating Committee. Last year, T.G. was selected as one of “I am London’s” successfully settled immigrants from various countries that have chosen London as their home.

465 Dundas Street (at Maitland)

519-433-4222.





  









Modern and Sophisticated Vietnamese Cuisine at Tamarine by Quynh Nhi


 
 




 

BY BRYAN LAVERY

 

This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional spicing and flavours to create contemporary menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host.

From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.

The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated than traditional Vietnamese spots. The chefs push the culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.

The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. 

The signature Crispy Spring Roll at Tamarine is made with chicken, pork, or a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls, made with shrimp and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese use fish sauce to enhance the flavour of their foods, much the same way we use table salt, and it pretty much goes with everything.

Compared with its cousin, the egg roll, the spring roll is smaller, with much less filling. (Phan tells me that the “spring roll” is all about quality, not quantity). However, the terms “spring roll” and “egg roll,” like “spring roll” and “fresh roll,” are often used somewhat interchangeably and incorrectly. It can be quite confusing.

Fresh rolls are referred to by several different names, including “salad roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words; for example, “Vietnamese roll” or “Vietnamese spring rolls.” It has been my experience that on the North American west coast, many restaurants refer to fresh rolls as “crystal rolls,” “soft rolls,” or “salad rolls.” Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls in that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls.

“Spring rolls” take their name from the freshness of the spring season with all the seasonal ingredients, and frying would, of course take away that element. At Tamarine, they offer fresh Spring Rolls with a choice of barbecued chicken or shrimp, vermicelli, crispy pastry heart, fresh mint, lettuce, and sprouts, all rolled in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce.

Tamarine also has its own version of Pad Thai. Although it is the national dish of Thailand and has been known in various incarnations for centuries, the dish is thought to have been introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders. Tamarine’s version is a choice of wok-tossed chicken or beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts, finished with a spicy tamarind sauce and cilantro lime, and garnished with crushed peanuts.

“Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved,” says Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our heritage with our cuisine.” The cooking remains delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of both China and India.

Wrapping spring rolls in lettuce leaves and including fresh herbs in the bundles is a vestige of the original civilizations that existed before the centuries of Chinese influence in Vietnam, and is practised with delicacy at both Quynh Nhi and Tamarine.

For well over a decade the family-run sister restaurant, Quynh Nhi, has developed a loyal following and prospered off the beaten path in a 40- seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family run business operated by their extended family. 

118 Dundas Street,

519 601 8276


Quynh Nhi 

55 Wharncliffe Road North

519.850.8878.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tableside at Michaels-on-the-Thames





 

 

By BRYAN LAVERY

 

My passion for French cooking was ignited when I travelled through France at age 22. A year later I was asked to run the kitchen at The Vineyard, one of Toronto’s first wine bars. In those days, French cuisine dominated the fine dining scene. My mentor was a serious gastronome who informed and educated my palate by wining and dining me in the most prestigious fine dining institutions in Toronto. All of these establishments — Napoléon, Three Small Rooms, Auberge Gavroche, Fenton’s, Les Cavaliers and the dining rooms at the King Edward Hotel and the Westbury Hotel — were French, and enjoyed august reputations and discerning clientele. The same welcoming hospitality, and the same discreet but impeccable service were extended to everyone.

Tastes are transitory and altered sensibilities have brought changes to the cuisine and classic styles of restaurant service that I esteemed in my early career. Good value to the patron does not mean cheap prices. It refers to the quality and quantity of the food, the level of service, and the décor and ambience.

To my mind, French food has always been the cuisine synonymous with refined taste and, to some extent, it still is. To this day I appreciate the skill and showmanship of French-style service. French service is distinguished by the fact that all or part of the preparation of the dish, or at least the finishing of it, is done in the dining room. This type of service requires a cart or gueridon and organized mise en place to facilitate cooking at the side of the patron’s table. Tableside preparations might involve sautéing or flambéing an item, or carving it, boning a fish or composing a salad from scratch.

Classic tableside cooking is part of the innate charm of Michaels-on-the-Thames. The restaurant is at once appealing and traditional, and yet old-school: Caesar salad for two, prepared tableside, as well as flaming dishes, also done tableside including whole Dover sole meuniere, pepper steak “Dorchester” with brandy demi-glace, cherries jubilee and strawberries alla Marco.

If you’re hungry for steak Diane the dining room staff will create that at a tableside cart for you too. It is not a classical French recipe, though its preparation is at least a cousin to the French (steak coated in cracked peppercorns accompanied by a cognac and butter sauce). It's all about elegance, presentation, and personal attention. The showmanship starts with a tender cut of beef tenderloin pounded thin and pan-fried in butter to your preference. It then is topped with a rich sauce of more butter, shallots, and mushrooms, and flambéed with brandy and a splash of fresh cream. An intoxicating wine bouquet and fragrant beef aroma emanates from the pan. The same goes for the Brome Lake duck à l’orange, whose boozy sauce will be whisked and flambéed a few inches from your table.

One evening while dining with my nephew, service professional Maria Homolay served us juicy-on-the-inside, seared and roasted Chateaubriand. The Chateaubriand, which can be ordered for a table of two, is served in the traditional manner accompanied by a variety of vegetables and crowned with béarnaise sauce. Chateaubriand and béarnaise sauce have a natural kinship, with the sauce of clarified butter emulsified in egg yolks, white wine vinegar and flavoured with tarragon playing off the beef tenderloin. There was naturalness to the way Homolay moved and worked – a professionalism that has made many dining experiences at Michael’s-on-the-Thames memorable. It offers classic French flair for diners who prefer a bit of finesse while dining—and appreciate a bit of interaction with their tableside preparation.

For thirty-one years and counting Michael’s-on-the-Thames has been regarded as London’s “celebration destination”, and for good cause. Owner-operator Brian Stewart, executive chef Denis Clavette, kitchen manager Dave Wyler and their kitchen brigade consistently give patrons what they want, and that is why the restaurant remains popular. There is no attempt to be trendy or cutting edge at Michael's.

Besides tableside cooking, there are prix fixe menus and many à la carte selections that mostly stick to tried and true classics. There is Cobb salad, colossal shrimp stuffed with crab and wrapped in pancetta and finished with a Pernod beurre blanc drizzle, baked west coast halibut with lemon beurre noisette, and even the Valencian classic, paella. In Chef’s hands, paella is a fragrant combination of Metzger’s chorizo, duck confit, mussels, scallops, shrimp and saffron rice.

An experienced entrepreneur (Stewart owned Sam the Record Man franchises), and inspired by his inveterate restaurant patron father's appreciation for fine dining, Stewart recognized he'd found the ideal location for his new endeavour the minute he saw the former tile and cement warehouse which gave way to Guildwood Lighting in the early 1960s.

The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere with its private dining areas, an enclosed sun room beside the Thames River, the sophistication of a baby grand piano overlooking the dining room, oak decor, tables with plenty of elbow room and a stone fireplace. A rotating cast of pianists that include David Priest and Dean Harrison play classics and jazz on the baby grand at select times during dinner.

Until a few years ago, Jack Di Carlo had been the maître d' at Michael's since 1986. He created a lasting impression on the clientele, greeting and serenading customers and cementing the restaurant’s reputation as a romantic dining destination. It is a reputation that endures.

General Manager Joelle Lees and certified sommelier/captain Andrew Fratepietro are warm and hospitable and, in addition to applying their skills and charisma as restaurant professionals, are focused on creating great dining experiences. Good service is one of the primary things diners consider in judging the value of a restaurant. The service here is a welcome throwback, countering the prevalent attitude of casual service that favours over-familiar waiters and high pressure upselling tactics.

Fratepietro’s wine list is a virtuous representation of the style and cuisine of the restaurant and has options for many different types of wine drinkers, both in terms of price point and style. There are some excellent consignment wines on the list.

While many restaurateurs and chefs are working to comprehend and respond to the expectations of the food savvy Generation X and the Millennial Generation, Michael’s remains an intentional and charming anachronism while appealing to the tastes and preferences of its changing demographic.

 

1 York Street (at the bridge) 519- 672- 0111 www.michaelsonthethames.com

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Artisans' Market at the Western Fair Farmers' Market is London's Answer to the Big City Flea







Hunter's Precious Metals


Junction Flea in Toronto
By BRYAN LAVERY

London's Old East Village is home to a row of second-hand, vintage, retro and quasi- antique stores, attracting a diverse clientele of vintage aficionados, collectors, dealers and people who have a growing awareness and appreciation for the 20th century decorative arts and like to score a deal.

There is also a diverse vendors market on the 2nd floor of the Western Fair Farmers' Market on Saturdays known as the Artisans’ Market – which is similar to the big city fleas, (think the Brooklyn Flea or the Junction Flea in Toronto),  that are popping up in neighbourhoods all over major urban centres. The 2nd floor market is also home to the Fire Roasted Coffee roastery and the On the Move Organic production facility, and several other niche culinary businesses like Kosuma Foods, Everything Tea and Dessert Buns.

Over the last few years the ever-changing 2nd floor Artisans' Market has been a minimal-risk testing ground and business incubator for budding entrepreneurs to try out their ideas. The Artisans' Market has been purposefully curated and has evolved to offer an alternative to the traditional retail experience. Surprisingly, after eight years, many patrons of the Farmers' Market are still unaware of the Artisans' Market vendors who represent just less than half of the 100 or so permanent vendors at the Western Fair Farmers’ Market.

According to the New York Times, “Flea markets proliferate a volume of goods needing to be sold and people who are hungry — emotionally and aesthetically — to sort out the meaning of life,” said Michael Prokopow, a history professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto, who teaches a course called “Stuff,” about things and their meaning. “For most people who go on these ritualized scavenger hunts looking for something that they may not know exists, it is a kind of pilgrims’ process through the detritus of the past.”

It also hasn’t gone unnoticed that the rise of some of the hipper, trendier urban “fleas” and pop-ups have coincided with the "shop local", do-it-yourself and culinary artisan movements.

Paul Smith, a knowledgeable steward of modernism, operates the Mid-century Modern Market booth in the far left corner of the Artisans' Market. Smith retails a diversity of vintage and mid-century pieces. His small but ever-changing selection includes everything from vintage Scandinavian and Murano art glass, Italian and German ceramics, Lotte lamps, vintage upholstery, unique teak furniture to pieces from elite Danish furniture craftsmen and designers such as Finn Juhl and Freme Rojle. Other furniture classics include designers Florence Knoll, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen and George Nelson.

An example of a typical collector is my friend Peter who has an impressive collection of period household appliances, kitchenware and culinary artifacts. Peter is hot-wired with the idiosyncratic impulse that drives most collectors. In this particular case, the search for craftsmanship, state-of-the-art design, technological innovation and kitsch all contribute to his collection. Part of the appeal for the collector is the hunt itself as well as an educational pursuit.

In fact, there is a room in his spacious split-level home that resembles a small museum. Perhaps this display is better described as a time capsule, where the artifacts are on a kind of private permanent show and tell. It is in this subterranean room that our curator wears different hats: curator, guardian, repairman and spokesperson.

The first time I saw the collection assembled, I was surprised by the ingenuity and commitment required to accumulate such a vast array of formerly neglected, mainly forgotten objects that appeared to have been abandoned with no regard for their artistic vanguard, utility, social or historical interest.

Considered passé by today’s mass manufacturing standards, many of the household items do not suffer modern built-in product obsolescence, surviving intact from the ravages of time and use. Peter’s collection is a compilation of durable and highly-stylized vacuum cleaners, futuristic coffee percolators, toasters, blenders, mix masters, can-openers, food processors, tools, kitchen gee-gaws and gadgets purchased at flea markets and second hand stores.

Speaking of tools, Bud, (who just celebrated his 90th birthday), and Marian’s booth across from Smith’s Mid-century Modern Market has an interesting selection of hard-to-find vintage and antique tools.

I often see the stylish Forest City Fashionista at the Artisans' Market. She has turned her obsession with unique and high fashion clothing and photography into a blog, scoping out vintage fashion and accessories from the vendors like Faye’s at Passion 4 Fassion.

The Artisans’ market is also a  great place to find culinary ephemera -  almanacs, church and promotional cook booklets, product and marketing brochures, recipe leaflets and other printed food-related information that have been historically given away gratis or sold at a nominal cost.

Culinary ephemera make fascinating and informative reading. In addition to general knowledge and practical homespun advice, they provide a unique historical perspective and social commentary offering solicited testimonials, helpful household hints, cooking secrets and entertaining rules of etiquette.

The increased awareness and interest in environmental sustainability in terms of reusing, recycling, repurposing and repairing, rather than just giving unwanted items the heave-ho, makes a lot of sense and not just because we are in economically challenging times.
 The next time you are visiting the Western Fair Farmers' Market be sure to visit the 2nd floor.





 Be sure to check out the Forest City Fashionista's Blog.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hot List: Food Trends to Track in 2015









BY BRYAN LAVERY




The end of one year and the beginning of another is the perfect time to re-examine the role of culinary trends as a gauge of popular culture. How we eat, what we eat, and where we eat are all indicators of the larger popular consciousness. Tastemakers and trend analysts use a variety of ways to determine what’s hot and what’s not. The fact is that most gastronomic trends have a shelf life.

Technological innovation, food science, increasingly inquisitive customers and rising labour costs will be driving factors in food and beverage trends at restaurants and hotels next year, according to a recent report by food and restaurant consulting firm Baum + Whiteman. The culinary world continues to embrace smartphones, mobile apps and all sorts of devices and programs that interface directly with the consumer. Locally, think of The SmartAPPetite app which communicates to users not only what, when and where local food can be procured, but offers reliable dietary information and nutritional recipes as well.

One of the top trends in 2015 will be the continuing popularity and obsession with fermented foods (think kombucha made with tea, sugar bacteria and yeast, or other aged, pickled or cured foods). Pistachios will be the nuts du jour. We are being told to expect to see smoked flavours as this year's taste sensation.

This past year, the preoccupation with chilies and heat continued — ghost chili-infused honey is one taste that’s gaining considerable buzz. Food lovers continue to seek out their next big chili high, and upscaled spicier ramen noodles are at the top of that list.

Waffle sandwiches and flavoured salts are popular.  In New York City, savoury ice creams and savoury yogurts including beet, parsnip and carrot, and Middle Eastern flavours like hummus and spicy harissa oil are the rage. Pimm's Cup #1 (the drink of Wimbledon) is finally making a comeback. Matcha (finely milled or fine powder green tea) and coconut sugar are among the top predictions as food trends.

Energy protein bars made from cricket flour helped introduce the idea of insect-eating to North America. The discussion about eating insects is just beginning, but it is not expected to go away, as environmental sustainability and nutrition become progressively convincing arguments. Chef Jeff Stewart of Creepy Crawly Cooking, along with the bug experts from Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory featured bug cooking demos this year at Savour Stratford. Besides learning about entomophagy (the practice of eating insects) there were lots of free samples.  

A Spanish company has developed laser labeling for fresh produce, which can apply logos, provenance specifics and even QR codes on to fruit and vegetables. Farewell, annoying and un-eco-friendly stickers and welcome benign food tattoos.

The kombu salad, with its iodine crunch of seaweed, is unlikely to become as over-hyped as the kale boom but its popularity is on the rise. Speaking of seaweed, according to Baum + Whiteman “Consumers recognize it as a packaged snack and as a California roll's wrapper. But chefs are adding it (often silently) to poaching broths, seafood sauces, even risotto, for its punch of umami and evanescent background flavor and dash of salinity. They're inspired by a sustainable sea-to-table ethos ... and also by new-Nordic cooks searching for food under tree stumps and boulders.”

Chef Rene Redzepi and chef de cuisine Daniel Giusti of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant (short for nordisk mad meaning Nordic food) serve dishes prepared under tenets drawn up for the New Nordic cuisine. In 2010, 2011, 2012, and again in 2014, Noma was ranked as the "world's best restaurant" by Restaurant Magazine, based on a poll of international chefs, restaurateurs, gastronomes and restaurant critics. Each year the awards provide a snapshot of the world’s gastronomic scene — an internationally acknowledged and esteemed reference point which showcases leading trends from around the world.

After the innovations of the New Nordic cuisine in Scandinavia and chef Ferran Adrià’s experimental modernist cuisine at El Bulli in Spain, interest in Mexican and Latin American cuisines has been spiking among food enthusiasts. Culinary pundits are expecting to see further international expansion of Peruvian cuisine in the near future.

Traditional Mexican is making way for top-quality takes on tacos and ceviche at high-end restaurants around the globe — taking inspiration from one of the world’s most esteemed kitchen auteurs, innovative Mexican chef Enrique Olvera. It seems that everyone is interested in finding new ways to reinterpret the taco.

A highly refined version of Newfoundland cuisine is a strong contender for the world’s next “it” cuisine. According to Derek Dammann of Montreal’s Maison Publique and Jamie Oliver’s Canadian partner, chef Jeremy Charles’s wild foods at Raymonds and chef Todd Perrin’s Mallard Cottage, “will make St. John’s the next major food travel destination in the world.”

Made in small batches with specialized, local ingredients, “craft everything” has become a foodie mantra. The movement for craft beer brought new enthusiasm, flavours and sales to the beer industry. Look for this movement to encompass other beverages and culinary items, as millennials are being given credit for driving most of the upcoming trends.

To start a food trend from agriculture is “one of the riskiest” things an entrepreneur can do, states Toronto writer David Sax in The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue. “Yet every day,” he writes, “there are countless farmers, scientists and gardening dreamers with a trowel in their hand, digging in the dirt and planting the seed they hope will one day change the way we eat.”

Over the years, I have often found it remarkable the way culinary experts, food media, market researchers and trend predictors seize a collective thought or idea with such a synchronicity of timing. This certainly has been the case with regard to the “local food” movement, the food truck and night market phenomena, and the ascent of culturally diverse street food being re-imagined in restaurant kitchens.

When I go out to dine, I am attracted to restaurants that support local farmers, small-scale producers and food artisans by procuring and featuring local ingredients, products and wines. Patronizing farm-to-table restaurants makes perfect sense because it supports and sustains economic activity on a local level. I primarily support small-scale farmers and frequent farmers’ markets and only shop in grocery chains as a last resort.

To keep informed and stay up-to-date with the culinary world, I regularly attend food events, press preview dinners and consult with culinary innovators, chefs, farmers and food artisans who are inter-dependent, community-focused, passionate and interested in advancing the culinary conversation not only in Ontario but across the country.

Savour Stratford continues to be a prime example of collaborative culinary innovation by linking food to place with the still emerging, modern cuisine du terroir and its commitment to origin and season. Highlights of Savour Stratford this past year included the “Intimate Tutored Talks and Tastings” with culinary experts discussing trends from foraged wild edibles to fermentation, preserving seafood, the pairing of craft beers and sampling Ontario VQA wines, and The Grand Tasting, a stylish garden party showcasing chefs and producers who were paired to create a strictly terroir-driven regional tasting experience. It is easy to see the local food movements are not short-lived trends, but transformations in the collective mindset of chefs and culinary specialists around the globe.


BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.

Canada's award-winning inflight magazine, Air Canada’s enRoute announced the Top 10 list of Canada's Best New Restaurants 2014, as well as the winner of the Air Canada enRoute Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2014 People’s Choice Award. On a month-long culinary journey that took noted food writer Andrew Braithwaite from Tofino, British Columbia to St. John’s, Newfoundland, he discovered a group of chefs, sommeliers and restaurateurs who continued to explore this country’s terroir and redefine what it means to dine out in Canada. Read more: ethicalgourmet.blogspot.ca/2014/10/air-canadas-enroute-magazine-announces.html






 




The Smart APPetite App Stands Out


The Smart APPetite App Stands Out

 

 

By BRYAN LAVERY

 

Recently I was the guest of Dr. Jason Gilliland (HEAL & Dept of Geography at Western) and Margaret Milczarek, the project manager and research associate for the SmartAPPetite initiative, for an outstanding lunch at the Church Key Pub. Dr. Gilliland and I ordered the warm duck salad (which he highly recommended) with duck leg confit on greens, roasted mushrooms, candied almonds, Stilton cheese and white balsamic and raspberry vinaigrette. Milczarek, a passionate food enthusiast, ordered the steamed P.E.I mussels that were served with frites, and brought me up-to-date on several interesting culinary-related activities she had recently attended.

We were there to discuss the launch of the smartphone application, or 'app', and an accompanying interactive website that will help make healthy local food more accessible, and its interrelated strategies.  SmartAPPetite is a Western University community-led initiative that aims to help keep participants accountable to their nutrition goals and to maintain healthy diets. It also helps users access local food businesses, farmers and other advocates and proponents of eating and sourcing food locally.

Incidentally, I have been acquainted with Dr. Gilliland for several years in his capacity as an advisor to the Old East Village BIA and through my work at the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair, where he and his team, led by Michael Clark (Old East Village senior researcher and programs administrator), conducted several studies and customer surveys, as well as an economic impact comparative analysis of farmers’ markets.

Milczarek is responsible for overseeing the advancement of the project, providing strategic direction and leadership for The SmartAPPetite team, and is the liaison for various staff stakeholders and collaborators.

The project was inaugurated last summer as a twelve-week pilot with 200 participants at the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at the Western Fair who provided feedback on the design and various applications of the app. A prototype app has been in the beta testing phase for months and will soon become a bona fide `farm-to fork` digital resource.

The SmartAPPetite team has two chief goals. First of all, they want to make it easier for consumers to access healthy, locally-sourced, meals by improving food literacy and the awareness of what home-grown foods are available in our local communities. Secondly, they want to shine a light on the importance of southwestern Ontario's local food economies and facilitate their roles as local economic development tools.

The collaborative project is a Labour Market Partnership, and is funded by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and Western University. It is being led by Dr. Gilliland’s lab, the Human Environments Analysis Laboratory (HEAL) and The Department of Geography at Western University, with collaboration from other partners such as Brescia University College, Department of Geography and Wilfrid Laurier University, Old East Village BIA and the London Training Centre.

HEAL is committed to research on public health and the built environment (the built environment encompasses places and spaces created or modified by people including buildings, parks, and transportation systems), Laurier is offering specialists in geography and environmental studies and Brescia’s strength is embracing the diversity of food and nutrition research.

London Training Centre (LTC) executive director David Corke said that the LTC is presently the host organization and administrator of this Labour Market Partnership (LMP) project. LMP’s are funded by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities here in Ontario

Corke elaborates, ``Our connection and interest rest both with local food and regional economic development. A large part of the work of our organization, in addition to training and our work with food, also involves helping people find work and careers. We believe that a reinvigorated and re-imagined regional food system, one that establishes linkages between consumers and producers through technology such as SmartAPPetite, will encourage growth in the food sector and by extension – new businesses and careers for people.``

In addition to Gilliland, Milczarek, Clark and Corke the SmartAPPetite Team includes  Dr. Sean Doherty (Dept. of Geography & Environmental Studies, WLU), Dr. Colleen O'Connor (Registered Dietitian, Brescia University College), Dr. Richard Sadler (Post​​-Doctoral Fellow), Dr. Andrew Clark (Post-Doctoral Fellow), and Mark McGregor (MA Candidate and Research Associate).

While there are similar apps currently available, Dr. Gilliland stated, ``Smart APPetite is unique in its approach because it embraces the diversity of food.`` Dozens of students from Brescia gathered data and in total over one hundred academics lent scientifically validated expertise to the project. The app and an integrated website being designed by London digital agency Inner Geek Media will actively provide users with information about nearby local food options based on their preferences and/or dietary restrictions. The objective, Dr. Gilliland emphasized, ``is to develop an app that can communicate to users not only what, when and where local food can be procured, but offer reliable dietary information and nutritional recipes as well. The challenge will be keeping the content updated to maintain credibility.”

Every so often, the team will send the user short personally customized tips with information about the health benefits of specific foods, what is seasonal now, what foods are available near you, or how to prepare or store food properly. You will be able to let them know when and how often you want to hear from them. With the app, you can search for independent restaurants that are part of the Smart APPetite ideology. You will be able to get the restaurant’s address and phone number, a link to its website and a brief description of the restaurant and cuisine.

The team has facilitated workshop consultations to evaluate how best to design the app to make sure it user-friendly for the widest variety of users as possible. Attendees have represented various stakeholders ranging from farmers (from agriculture to cattle), producers, processors, distributors, niche businesses, chefs, restaurateurs, regional economic development and health unit representatives and  local food advocates. Consultations were held in Elgin County (Arts & Cookery Bank), Old East Village (London Potter's Guild), Lambton County (Wyoming Library), Essex County (Kingsville Library), Middlesex & London (Central Library), Perth County (The Local Community Food Centre), and in Oxford County (Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese).

The team has also attended many local food-focused events as well as being in touch with stakeholders from Chatham-Kent and Huron counties. Be sure to check out the launch and progress of the SmartAPPetite at www.theheal.ca/SmartAPPetite_project.php. And be sure to go to the Church Key Pub and order the confit of duck salad.

 
 

BRYAN LAVERY is a contributing editor and eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.