Friday, January 8, 2016

THOUGHTS ABOUT THE GASTRONOMICAL M.F.K FISHER AND HOW TO COOK A WOLF





BY BRYAN LAVERY

M.F.K. Fisher is the wry, critically acclaimed author of numerous gastronomically-minded books, several of which are considered literary classics. Her evocative prose, combined with an innate appreciation for food and cuisine, is no ordinary achievement, and helped define intelligent food writing in the twentieth century.

Fisher wrote some 27 books, including a translation of The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin.

How to Cook a Wolf was originally published in 1942, when the harsh impact of the Great Depression was still firmly entrenched in people’s minds, rationing and wartime shortages were at their peak, and financial prudence was the national state of mind.

In this book, a collection of essays whose title refers to the idiom “keep the wolf from the door,” Fisher imparts pertinent tips and helpful ideas that are primarily, but not entirely, of a culinary nature. Her musings about daily living provide valuable insights — sometimes unconventional — and she shows us ways to make do, and perhaps even prosper or at least set a fine table, even when “the wolf is at the door.”

The common-sense approach of Fisher’s anecdotal conversational narrative, sometimes tinged with irony, other times self-deprecating, is mostly an insightful antidote to surviving times when money is short, the pantry bare and the spirit depleted.

Fisher reminds us that poverty is neither a crime nor a sin, in chapter titles which include: How to be Sage without Hemlock; How to Boil Water; How to Rise Up Like New Bread and How Not to Boil an Egg. In the chapter, How to Keep Alive, Fisher offers an excruciatingly unappetizing recipe, for a dish she rightly refers to as sludge, and whose only meritorious claim is to maintain sustenance in the face of adversity. Particularly thoughtful for these economic times, this slightly dated but still relevant treatise reminds us that providing sustenance entails more than just merely getting food on the table.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Truffle Season - Road Trip to Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa















 


BY BRYAN LAVERY

Recently, my nephew Nicholas and I were guests of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa.  For our culinary road trip we were provided with an all-new Lexus 2016 RX350 from Lexus of London. We drove to Stratford for a delicious repast of chicken and waffles at The Red Rabbit restaurant and a trip to the Slow Food Market, arriving at Langdon Hall at three in the afternoon.

As we turned into Langdon Hall’s discreet driveway and drove up the winding road, we passed through wooded acreage dusted with a light snowfall and arrived at the 75-acre hilltop estate’s main house, which is the centerpiece of the estate.

Built in 1898 as the lavish summer retreat of Eugene Langdon Wilks, (a great-great-grandson of John Jacob Astor), the imposing main house is inspired by Georgian and Classical traditions of the Federal Revival Style.

The property, with its expansive gardens and Carolinian trails, is situated in the countryside just outside the hamlet of Blair, which is now part of Cambridge. Langdon Hall is manifestly what food guides used to call a "restaurant destination" but it also offers guests an impressive experience with luxury suites, Victorian gardens, conference rooms, reception areas, a full-service spa and an outdoor swimming pool. A recently added $7-million wing provides an additional six luxury suites, as well as an event hall and an enhanced 10,000-square-foot spa.

Executive Chef at Langdon Hall, Jason Bangerter, is an influential culinary maverick on the national cooking stage, with international credentials, as well as a dedicated advocate for sustainability and seafood conservation. Both his early and present affiliations colour his cooking repertoire.

Bangerter cemented his reputation at the Auberge du Pommier in mid-town Toronto, and later at the O&B Canteen and LUMA at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In 2015 Bangerter was awarded the International Rising Chef Award in Paris from the illustrious Relais & Châteaux, and recently Langdon Hall was acknowledged for being the only restaurant in Ontario to have achieved the CAA 5 Diamond award for excellence in 2015.

Relais & Châteaux is a global fellowship of independently owned and operated luxury properties and restaurants. Prospective and current members are evaluated by the Paris-based group's traditional "five C" motto: caractère, courtoisie, calme, charme et cuisine. Langdon Hall easily meets the standards for all five criteria.

Since Langdon Hall began its conversion into a hotel in 1987, the main house, cloister suites and the stables provided accommodations with a current total of 58 guest rooms. My cloister suite was comfortably and tastefully appointed with a generous seating area, king-size feather bed, wood-burning fireplace and bathroom, complete with a deep soaking tub, walk-in shower and private dressing area. After unpacking I was gazing out of the large picture window which overlooked the grounds. At first glance, I admired what appeared to be a majestic deer statue, when it unexpectedly turned its head. The realization suddenly dawned on me that this was one of the many wildlife creatures that roam freely on the property.

The restaurant is well-known for its terroir-driven Ontario cuisine, using the estate’s acreage as inspiration for the seasonal menus. This is complemented by an extensive wine cellar. Wine is a large part of the restaurant’s credo and prestige, with over 1,000 globally sourced bottles and VQA’s on its extensive list.

At seven7 pm, we dined in the newest of the three dining rooms, the Orchard Room. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a pleasing garden view. The whitewashed, white-linen dining rooms are très soigné in the truest sense of the expression.

It was our good fortune to arrive at Langdon Hall during truffle season. Chef is a self-confessed funghi and mushroom aficionado who dedicated time to speak in-depth about his seasonal truffle tasting menu and how the kitchen sources the seasonal delicacies from Italy, Croatia, France and Australia.

An amuse that began our tasting experience was a luxurious hen liver parfait accompanied by a primordial-flavoured black truffle and crispy hen-skin cracker that Chef referred to as his version of “chips ‘n’ dip”.

My starter was a finely minced and seasoned quenelle of veal tartare with paper-thin slices of Jerusalem artichoke, golden raisin and garnish of rounded nasturtium leaves. Nicholas ordered an artfully arranged sugar-cured trout elevated with red cabbage, crab apple and buttermilk.

A deliciously pungent black-as-night truffle crème de volaille accompanied by parmesan shortbread followed.

 At my request, our waiter inquired if I could partake of two meat courses, and subsequently suggested game for my entrée. I decided on the elk served with bone marrow parsnip, foraged mushroom, orchard apple and young juniper. Two lean and tender elk chops with accompaniments arrived, cooked to a succulent and stunning medium rare.

Nicholas selected farmer Murray Thunberg’s heritage hen served with Savoy cabbage, salsify, smoked onion and a savoury jus. Bangerter told us, “Thunberg’s small-scale organic farm specializing in quality heritage meats and heirloom vegetables is practically on the doorstep of Langdon Hall.” In addition, there is a stellar network of farmers and producers in the area that complement the property’s own comprehensive gardens. Both our entrées showed off Chef’s extraordinary facility with taste, texture and colour.

Our engaging Maître d’ broke the top of my perfectly-risen quince soufflé with a spoon and poured warm apple cider caramel into the interior for “additional decadence”.  Nicholas wisely chose peanut butter sablé, with puffy clouds of Rosewood Estates honey mousse, and chocolate fudge. At the end of the meal a plate of mignardises, also known as petit fours, were served. The selection included profiteroles, squares of caramel, and shortbreads with Saskatoon berries.

The attentive down-to-earth discourse and wine pairings by sommelier Brie Dema were a top-drawer experience. Sommelier Faye MacLachlan later explained Langdon Hall’s wine platform by e-mail, “The wine program is fundamentally a reflection of our core values and commitment to excellence. The program is structured to provide a global selection, represented by producers on our list that embody the same commitment to quality and passion for their craft.” 

I also asked MacLachlan about reports that she is creating a variety of barrel-aged specialty cocktails made of blends of fruits, herbs, and roots from Langdon Hall’s gardens, with Head Gardener Mario Muniz. MacLachlan said, “It was like going flavor shopping on the grounds of Langdon with a walking botanical encyclopedia. Mario’s knowledge of the huge variety of both cultivated and wild species is amazing.”

There is an expectation of a particular standard of care in a restaurant befitting a well-run luxury hotel. Langdon Hall has achieved a reputation for setting the benchmark in Ontario when it comes to offering the highest pinnacle of hospitality. Luxurious facilities aside, the most impressive measure of Langdon Hall's excellence, besides chef Bangerter’s cuisine, is the level of genuine hospitality and friendly service.

 

LUNCH
MONDAY–SATURDAY
12:00PM–2:30PM

Afternoon Tea
FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY

DINNER
DAILY 5:30PM–9:00PM

BAR
DAILY 12:00PM–9:30PM

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa

1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge,
www.langdonhall.ca

 

BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Chef Gabrielle Hamilton Speaks About Writing and her Appointment as Stratford Chef School Gastronomic Writer in Residence 2015/16.



 


 


Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of New York’s Prune, the author of both the memoir Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef ranks and the Prune cookbook, and a star of season 4 of the PBS series Mind of a Chef. It is my opinion that Hamilton ranks among the upper echelons of food memoirists M.F.K. Fisher and Elizabeth David.

Launching her Canadian visit on January 11th 2016, Chef Gabrielle Hamilton will be in conversation with fellow Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer In Residence and notable author Ian Brown at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon Series. The two acclaimed authors will discuss Hamilton’s life as a chef and writer. This event will be held at the Appel Salon in Toronto Reference Library.

While in residence at the Stratford Chefs School, Chef Hamilton will work alongside students for three dinners, bringing her Prune to Stratford’s Prune Restaurant (the school’s dinner venue partner). Dates include: Friday January 15th, Thursday January 21st and Saturday January 23rd. These exclusive four-course dinners, with wine pairings, are priced at $85.00 plus HST. Reserve your seat by calling the school or visiting the Stratford Chef School website.

 Sunday January 17th, Richmond Station is hosting a Stratford Chefs School pop-up dinner not to be missed. Alumni will get to collaborate with Chef Hamilton and Richmond Station co-owners, Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan, who are both 2005 Stratford Chefs School alumni. The highly praised Richmond Station is located in Downtown Toronto. Dinner will include four courses, wine and the opportunity to meet these culinary greats. Ticket price is $150. 

Richmond Station opened in 2012 and was a huge success from the start. "Committed to delicious food and excellent hospitality", Heinrich and Donovan have honed a team who appreciate quality local ingredients and thoughtfully crafted dishes. 

In advance of her upcoming visit to Toronto and Stratford as Stratford Chef School Gastronomic Writer in Residence 2015/16, I posed a few questions to Hamilton.



 
Bryan Lavery: What is your writing routine like? How do you fit it into your busy life?

Gabrielle Hamilton: I don’t have a routine for writing any more than I do for sleeping or eating. I just get whatever I can on any given day. It is not ideal, and I often wish for a series of uninterrupted hours to just focus and polish up the work, but on the other hand, there is something motivating about seeing a brief window/opportunity and seizing it with urgency. I think of it just as a fact to live with and work around this fact of limited and unpredictable writing time—unless I decide to burn down my restaurant and put my children up for adoption.

Bryan Lavery: What experiences developed your voice as a writer?

Gabrielle Hamilton: By chance, the voice was the only thing I was born with. The rest of the craft has been learned and practiced.

Bryan Lavery: What insights about writing do you feel you can offer the Stratford Chef School students as Gastronomic Writer in Residence?

Gabrielle Hamilton: That it feels better on the page, and makes the work stronger when you try to tell the truth rather than sell the truth. That it is easier to write the more you write, like cooking itself perhaps? That the very best food writing is simply good writing that happens to be around food, and that all writing—even food writing—requires rigor and discipline and technique.

Bryan Lavery: I have heard you in an interview say that you would like to write a novel. Do you think this is something you will do?

Gabrielle Hamilton: Sure. When it’s right. 

Bryan Lavery: What kinds of foods do you think are overrated?

Gabrielle Hamilton: The meals that are designed to “blow your mind” and to compel you to spend your meal talking about the genius of the chef.

Bryan Lavery: What is one of the most memorable meals you've had?

Gabrielle Hamilton: Please read Blood, Bones and Butter for the answer to this question!

Bryan Lavery: You write that your experiences with hunger were some of the most important credentials for opening the Prune? Can you briefly explain this?

Gabrielle Hamilton: I did not have formal training and had never run a restaurant before I opened my own. So I had to do a full and honest reckoning with myself when it came to open Prune about what credentials I might have that would actually help me succeed. It was clutching at straws, but having an extended and repeated, episodic relationship to very real hunger—and the attendant cravings and the longings and the gratifications and the hospitality and the generosity of strangers—all added up to at least one thing on my weak resume that gave me the footing to think I could cook for people and feed them nicely.