Tag Archives: chefs

On the Menu

14 May

 

Jenny and I have been lucky enough to attend a bunch of great food-related events in and around Toronto, most of which we’ve found out about from contacts we’ve made through Communal Table. Since this means people we know have started to look to us for what’s going on in Toronto’s food scene – and we don’t always remember unless we have it written down – we figured it’d be a good idea to start up a periodic listing of cools events we’ve found out about.

While we’re not planning to run this listing on any sort of defined weekly schedule – at least not initially – we will offer up a look at what’s “on the menu” once in a while, as we get wind of interesting happenings. Here’s what we’ve heard about recently:

86’D at the Drake Hotel:  Cheese Rave
Monday, May 16

Food-related fun is the focus of Monday nights at the Drake Hotel’s 86’D events, hosted by local food personality Ivy Knight. Each Monday evening features music, food cook-offs pitting local chefs or amateur cooks against each other over a themed dish (think battle pate or kimchi), and great drinks from the Drake’s bar staff. This coming Monday’s 86’d is all about cheese, as attendees sample different varieties in recognition of the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

iYellow Wines of Niagara on the Lake
Wednesday, May 18

We’ve told you about the iYellow Wine Club in the past, and they’re back with another event aimed at helping people learn about and sample a selection of wines. This one will feature owners and winemakers from 26 different Niagara Region wineries, each sampling two of their newest VQA release wines. In addition to tastings, the event will include food from Oliver & Bonacini and three educational wine seminars. And here’s something cool – for every ticket you buy to the Wines of Niagara on the Lake event, you’ll get a free ticket to one of iYellow’s wine events taking place later this summer.

Recipe for Change
May 26

FoodShare is a Toronto organization with a mandate of ensuring good, healthy food for all. They offer school programs to improve the food knowledge of young people, a Good Food Box program to deliver quality produce to people all over Toronto, and focus on working to change food policy, among other activities. The Recipe for Change event is a night of great food, wine and beer from some of Toronto’s best chefs, as well as local wineries and craft breweries. Proceeds from the event help fund FoodShare’s programs for students. Jenny and I are excited by the list of chefs and dishes scheduled, and we’re planning on being there.

Donate a Can Project
Until May 28

Until May 28, the organizers of this initiative will donate a can of food to Second Harvest for every LIKE they get on their Facebook fan page, as well as a can of food for every follower they get to their Twitter account @donateacan. Sounds like a great initiative, and an easy way for everyone in Toronto and elsewhere to help feed people in need through Second Harvest.

Talking Grilled Cheese

14 Apr

A grilled sandwich of melting cheese, on a white plate.  Wholewheat bread.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my mom is an amazing and adventurous cook, which meant I was exposed to interesting foods and different cultural dishes from a young age. As much as I always enjoyed trying new things, I also loved the same foods all kids love – like grilled cheese.

April is Grilled Cheese Month, and it’s fitting that a classic sandwich that’s popular with kids, university students and adults alike should be the subject of a month-long celebration. In recognition of the grilled cheese’s universal appeal, we asked some of our favourite chefs, cheese experts and food personalities to share their thoughts on the sandwich.

Michael Simpson Leslieville Cheese Market

Photo courtesy of CheeseLover.ca

Michael Simpson
Michael is owner of Toronto’s Leslieville Cheese Market East and West (one of our favorite places in the city if we’re in the hunt for a good grilled cheese!), and co-owner of Leslieville Cheese Market North in Flesherton.

What’s your favorite place in Toronto to get a grilled cheese?
Aside from our own grilled cheese, of course! The grilled cubano sandwich at Delux Restaurant on Ossington is fantastic, with a few kinds of ham and a few kinds of cheese.

Describe your most memorable grilled cheese experience (a memory from your childhood, or a grilled cheese you had somewhere, or something you created yourself).
My mum used to make what we called mousetraps – a slice of white bread with a slice of processed  cheese, baked in the oven. Bacon or tomato made it extra special. We used to watch it grill until the cheese turned dark brown on top. Ketchup on the side, of course. These days we would have to dress up the name and call them “open-faced grilled cheese mousetraps.”

If you were to make yourself a grilled cheese today, what would be on it? (kinds of cheese, other ingredients, if any)
Actually, I’ve been into sweet grilled cheeses lately. I had a tip from a friend who recommended cream cheese mixed with strawberry jam, then grilled with Nutella. It’s fantastic. We tried it at the Cheese Market. People were intrigued, but still ordered the tried and true savoury options, so, sadly we gave up on the Nutella grilled cheese.

Anthony Rose Drake Hotel

Anthony Rose
Anthony is chef at The Drake Hotel, which regular readers of Communal Table will know is one of our top picks in Toronto for great food, drinks and live entertainment.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto to get a grilled cheese?
The pressed cubano at Delux on Ossington.  Cubano yes, grilled cheese deluxe absolutely!

Describe your most memorable grilled cheese experience.
My chef de cuisine’s Aunt Dot used Kraft singles, white bread and covered the sandwich in Campbell’s cream of celery soup. It’s amazing.

If you were to make yourself a grilled cheese today, what would be on it?
Heirloom tomatoes, really old cheddar and bacon, with ketchup on the side.

Stephen Gouzopoulos L'Unita

Stephen Gouzopoulos
Stephen is head chef at the popular Toronto Italian restaurant L’Unita.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto to get a grilled cheese?
My mother’s house.

Describe your most memorable grilled cheese experience.
My mother’s grilled cheese is without a doubt the most memorable. Simple and clean: buttered whole wheat bread and aged cheddar cheese. Often accompanied by a bowl of her fantastic home made tomato soup. Reminds me of summers off in grade school. Too bad that doesn’t happen anymore. I would love a summer off!

If you were to make yourself a grilled cheese today, what would be on it?
Sourdough bread, aged white cheddar, Berkshire bacon and red onion, with a cold Duggan’s #9 IPA.

Georgs Kolesnikovs

Georgs Kolesnikovs
Georgs, a journalist with a passion for cheese, runs the blog CheeseLover.ca and is founder and director of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival, which will make its debut at the Crystal Palace in Prince Edward County, Ontario on June 4-5, 2011.

What’s your favorite place in Toronto to get a grilled cheese?
Leslieville Cheese Market makes a grilled cheese worth driving into Toronto for. (I live out in the boonies.)

Describe your most memorable grilled cheese experience.
Significant Other and I were cruising on a chartered trawler yacht in southwest Florida. We dropped the anchor in a pretty cove for lunch one day and she knocked my socks off (Actually, put me in bad need of a nap) with the combination of creamy camembert, sharp cheddar and tangy blue on a light rye with caraway – buttered as if there were no tomorrow.

If you were to make yourself a grilled cheese today, what would be on it?
Unsalted butter is the secret to making the best grilled cheese sandwiches. From the look of what’s in our cheese bin today, I’d go with Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar seasoned with Le Bleu d’Élizabeth on a caraway rye.

Christine Cushing

Christine Cushing
Christine, one of Canada’s best known food personalities, hosts Fearless in the Kitchen on OWN.

What’s your favorite place in Toronto to get a grilled cheese?
If I want a grilled cheese I usually make it myself.

Describe your most memorable grilled cheese experience.
The grilled cheese always takes me back to being a kid and coming home from school. My dad would always make me the simple white bread grilled cheese for lunch and that’s the first thing we cooked together. He would show me how to flip it in the pan without using a spatula, so I have great memories of that.

If you were to make yourself a grilled cheese today, what would be on it?
The best grilled cheese ever is one I made myself and it was on an epsisode of Christine Cushing Live. I was brainstorming with the whole cooking team. The recipe came together with us all just throwing ideas back and forth. It’s not traditional in any way and I only make it when fresh Greek figs are in season. It starts with Italian or French rustic bread, shaved parmigiano reggiano, ultra thin slices of prosciutto di Parma and Greek figs tossed in olive oil and a drizzle of Greek thyme honey. I fry it in olive oil until crisp on the outside. The combination of sweet crunchy figs, salty prosciutto and parmigiano is enough to make me cry. Just saying…

 

Christine was kind enough to share the recipe for her amazing grilled cheese sandwich with us. She says Greek thyme honey (sometimes called Greek amber honey) can be purchased at any Greek specialty store and some Longo’s locations. She adds that any honey can be substituted, though the flavour of course won’t be exactly the same.

4 slices Ciabatta bread, about 3/4-inch thick
4 slices prosciutto di Parma
4 slices soft Italian Asiago cheese
2 slices shaved Grana Padano cheese
4 fresh figs, quartered
2 tbsp. good quality honey
4 tbsp. olive oil

Heat 1 tbsp. oil in a medium nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Add the figs and sauté about 1 minute or until starting to turn golden in colour. Add honey and toss to coat. Continue sautéing for about 30 seconds or until caramelized.  Set aside to cool.

On 1 slice of the ciabatta layer 1 slice of Asiago, 1 slice of prosciutto, 1 slice of Grana Padano, and half the figs.  Then add 1 more slice of prosciutto and one more slice of Asiago. Top with another slice of ciabatta bread. Brush both sides of the panino with olive oil.  Repeat to make one more panino.

Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add the panini and cook, pressing lightly with a spatula, for 2 to 3 minutes per side or until golden and the cheese is melted. Serve. Makes 2 grilled cheese sandwiches.

Win Tickets to the Green Living Show with Communal Table!

11 Apr

Green Living Show

The Green Living Show – Canada’s largest green consumer show dedicated to educating people about easy and workable solutions for leading a sustainable lifestyle – is taking place next weekend in Toronto, April 15 to 17, and we have two pairs of tickets to give away free to a couple lucky readers. Keep reading to find out how to win!

The show is in its 5th year, and it’s grown each year. That makes sense, of course, since the focus on sustainable living has continued as more people realize that with a few small actions and a few easy changes to our buying habits, we can all make a positive impact on our interaction with the environment. But green trends aside, the show itself continues to draw crowds because it really has something for everyone. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s event:

  • For  job seekers, the Green Jobs Forum on Friday will feature a panel of speakers discussing the new green economy, how to develop in-demand green skills and transform traditional skills to meet the needs of the green workforce, and tips on how to find a green-focused job.
  • Those focused on fashion will pick up some useful info on which cosmetics are safe, as well as get a look at some great green clothing.
  • Looking for a new car that’s easier on the environment? The show’s Green Living Test Drive section will offer opportunities to test drive leading green cars from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Lexus and Nissan!

Of course, we’re always most interested in the food and drink, and the Green Living Show offers plenty in this regard. The Farm Fresh Fare area will pair up some of Toronto’s best chefs with farmers from across the province to create dishes that will be sampled throughout the festival. More cooking will take place on the Cooking Stage, where some of the chefs participating in Farm Fresh Fare will tell you how to create great dishes using local and sustainable ingredients. There will also be sessions on pairing beer and cheese and the Slow Food movement. Local craft beers and biodynamic wines will be available to taste. And if that’s not enough, the show will have its very own farmers’ market, the Good Eats Market, where you can buy some amazing local produce, cheeses and other products to enjoy at home.

We’ll definitely be walking around the Green Living Show, eating, drinking and discovering new green products and information, and you can too. Admission to the show is $12 or free with the donation of electronic waste, which is a great deal if you have any products that need recycling. If you don’t have any e-waste, all you have to do to win one of two pairs of passes to the show is:

Option 1: Tweet this phrase: Win tickets to #GreenLivingShow from #CommunalTable http://wp.me/pJ0ov-nA

Option 2: Leave us a comment right here on the blog letting us know you’d like to win!

That’s it! Tweet or comment to enter by this Wednesday, April, 13. Winners will be announced here and on Communal Table’s Facebook page on Thursday. Good luck!

Viva Italia! Cucina Gala Showcases Toronto’s Italian Delights

3 Mar

Buca at George Brown

Being half Italian, I’ve had the pleasure of eating great Italian food my entire life. I grew up eating the simple dishes my dad made that he remembered from his childhood, the complex pastas that my mom (not Italian, but an amateur gourmet chef) loved to experiment with, and the lasagnas, slow-cooked sauces and great grilled meats made by my Italian aunts and uncles that I’ve tried to duplicate the taste of ever since I started messing around in the kitchen.

While I love eating the familiar flavours I grew up on, I also get excited about being able to sample new takes on Italian dishes prepared by great professional chefs. Jenny and I were recently at an event that let us do just that. The George Brown College Chef School’s Viva Italia! Cucina event is a week-long celebration of the food and culture of Italy. For the past three years, the event has allowed diners the opportunity to eat lunches and dinners prepared by the college’s talented students, and to enjoy movies and other Italian cultural offerings. Proceeds from the events go toward scholarships for George Brown culinary students.

The Viva Italia event we attended was the gala tasting reception, which brought together some of Toronto’s best chefs, along with food and wine producers, for an evening of eating, drinking and enjoying Italian culture.

Buca sign

Jenny and I agreed that one of the best samples we had at the gala was Buca chef Rob Gentile’s dish of rare beef heart served with grilled radicchio Treviso, taleggio cheese from Montforte Dairy, Cookstown Greens cippolini onion, preserved figs and concorde grape mosto cotto. The flavours worked beautifully together in this dish, with sweet, sour and bitter elements paired well with the rich, earthy taste of the beef heart.

Of course, Toronto is a city full of great Italian restaurants, so many of the dishes we tasted were amazing. Here are some of the highlights:

Pingue prosciuttoMario Pingue of Niagara’s Pingue Prosciutto was on hand to sample his product, slicing the prosciutto fresh for eaters over the course of the evening. Pingue’s is the prosciutto of choice for many Ontario restaurants, and it’s not hard to see why, as the taste and texture is very close to the authentic stuff that gets imported from Parma.

Local Kitchen TorontoChef Fabio Bondi from Local Kitchen was serving crostini topped with thinly sliced potato, braised octopus and a hint of citrus. A delicious bite of food.

risottoStaff from Toronto fine food grocer Pusateri’s was preparing chicken and spinach risotto. While I rarely order risotto in a restaurant and only occasionally make it at home, I have a soft spot for it as an Italian comfort food, so I was happy to see it being prepared fresh for diners at the Viva Italia! Cucina gala.

Zucca Trattoria TorontoChef Andrew Milne-Allan of popular Toronto restaurant Zucca Trattoria prepared a canape of farro, cooked risotto-style and mixed with shrimp, lemon, celery and onion, and served on an endive leaf. The endive is a great vessel for serving something like this, as it’s strong enough to hold the food well while also adding a nice hit of bitter to the dish. And it was nice to see farro being used, as it’s a grain I’m still not very familiar with but have really enjoyed the few times I’ve eaten it.

Peroni cheese and beer

While the food was great, Jenny and I really enjoyed the chance to interact with many of the chefs and food representatives on hand, to discover new ideas and stories. Representatives from Peroni, one of Italy’s most popular beers, were there to educate attendees about how well their beer pairs with one of Italy’s most popular cheeses, asiago. While the idea of pairing cheese and beer isn’t necessarily new – a dark Belgian ale is a great match for cheese fondue, for instance – consumption of beer is still low in Italy and it’s not a common pairing for cheese in the cuisine.

As we tasted, the Peroni reps explained that beer and cheese naturally complement one another, as the cows that produce the milk used in the cheese consume some of the same grains used in the production of the beer. The Peroni was definitely a great match with the sharp asiago, as both have an inherent creamy mouth feel, and the sweet hoppy taste of the beer helps to mellow out the cheese’s strong bite.

Torito pasta

We also really loved chatting with chef Luis Valenzuela of Torito Tapas Bar. While both the restaurant and the chef are Spanish, it was Valenzuela who made one of the best Italian dishes of the night. He blanched homemade tagliatelle noodles in water for one minute, then placed the noodles in a mold along with chunks of braised wild boar guanciale and amatriciana (spicy tomato) sauce. The molds were placed in the oven to cook, so that the end result was a sort of cross between a plate of pasta and a layered lasagna. Chef Valenzuela topped each dish with a disc of deliciously salty, thinly sliced Pingue’s pancetta. He was also serving a dish of raw spaghetti squash and thinly julienned zucchini tossed with a peanut and almond sauce that tasted very Spanish inspired.

The fact that Chef Valenzuela’s guanciale amatriciana pasta was clearly one of the night’s most popular dishes – he told us he made more than 100 servings and he was down to about 20 left just an hour into the evening, and there were constantly lineups at his booth – is proof positive that you don’t have to be Italian to cook amazing Italian food; you just need passion for both the food and the people eating it.

Torito Toronto

Valenzuela spoke to us with passion about the time he spent studying at George Brown College’s culinary school. He said he started in the program shortly after moving from his native Mexico, and George Brown allowed him to explore a number of different cuisines, cook with and learn from chefs who’d worked all over the world (including one who had cooked for the queen), and make important industry connections. He said he still feels strong ties to the school, which is why he comes back to volunteer his time and skills to events such as the Viva Italia week.

This was our first exposure to the Viva Italia! Cucina event at George Brown College’s Chef School, but judging by the size of the crowd and the great chefs who attended, it’s clearly developed a strong following. We’ll definitely go back to the gala next year – and hopefully enjoy one of the lunches or dinners during the week, as well.

The crowd enjoying dessert at the Viva Italia! Cucina gala at George Brown College.
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