Tag Archives: Mark McEwan

S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition: A Showcase of Culinary Promise

20 Feb

S. Pellegrino almost famous chef competition

For the past couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to attend the Canadian regional portion of the annual S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. The competition brings young culinary students from around North America together to compete and showcase their skills as the next generation of great restaurant chefs.

This year’s Canada regional competition is taking place next Monday in Toronto. I had the chance to chat with Timothy Van Ryzewyk, a culinary student representing Toronto’s Humber College in the competition, about what drives him to create great food. You can read his thoughts below.

But first, an exciting contest: We have a $150 gift certificate, good for dinner for two at Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica restaurant in Toronto, courtesy of S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition. I recently had the chance to eat at Fabbrica and chat with Mark McEwan, and I can vouch for the food.

To win, leave a comment below telling us what your most memorable restaurant meal was in the past year. We’ll draw a lucky winner from all comments left here by 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, February 23.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Victoria, who was randomly chosen as our winner with the help of Random.org!


S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef

What drew you into cooking?
I have always been passionate about cooking; my mother still brings up photos of me as a child helping in the kitchen. Everyone has to eat, so my goal is to give them a dish that they want to keep eating over and over again. I love the kitchen atmosphere – whether it be the long hours, hard work and dedication everyday or the occasional stressful day, it all comes with the job and I just couldn’t see myself behind a desk.

Who is your biggest culinary influence?
From the industry standpoint I would say Chef Susur Lee is my influence. His extremely hard work throughout his career got him to the point he is at today. From a food standpoint my biggest influence is my Mom. If it were not for her allowing me to be a part of cooking family dinners and holiday meals, I never would have discovered my calling.

How would you describe your preferred cooking style?
I enjoy the fusion style of cooking because you can take bits and parts of different styles you have learned and bring them all together to make a very ”out of the box dish” using very different cooking techniques. Introducing and discovering new food combinations and preparation techniques is definitely something that really appeals to me.

How are you preparing for the S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Competition?
I have been practising my signature dish at Humber College and at home at least twice a week. When I sleep, I dream of my dish so that on the day of the competition, I can close my eyes and produce my dish.

You write comedy in addition to training as a chef. How do you think your creative and humourous side helps in the kitchen?
The comedy I write is based upon sketches. I am currently working with a few friends on writing and acting in a sketch comedy show that we plan to have ready to send out by the end of the year.

Comedy writing is a great utensil in the culinary world because there will always be moments when you’re in the heat of things and someone loses their cool. Being able to defuse that tension can really save the day during a busy service – especially in my case, where I am currently the head expeditor at Lee Restaurant.

Having a constant creative outlook makes it very fun creating menus for school projects or for a competition. You don’t limit yourself; at the same time you’re being logical with the food choices you make.


A Taste of Valentine’s Day at Fabbrica

8 Feb
Mark McEwan Fabbrica Toronto

Dining with Mark McEwan at Fabbrica

Jenny and I aren’t huge fans of Valentine’s Day. We rarely mark the occasion with cards or flowers, and definitely steer clear of restaurants offering (usually overpriced) Valentine’s Day-themed prix fixe menus.

So, when I was invited to have dinner with chef Mark McEwan at his newest Toronto restaurant, Fabbrica, to preview the kitchen’s Valentine’s Day menu, I was initially skeptical. But, then again, it’s not every day the chance comes along to sit and break bread with a man who is one of Toronto’s best-known chefs and a host of Top Chef Canada on the Food Network.

As we sat and read over the special Valentine’s Day menu that will be available to Fabbrica diners between February 14 and 17, McEwan put me at ease by saying that he’s not a fan of Valentine’s Day menus built around “cheese” like heart-shaped food and chocolate incorporated into each dish for no good reason. The dishes on the $55 prix fixe ($85 with wine pairings) were developed around the same ethos McEwan says Fabbrica’s regular menu is built: good, honest Italian food done right.

Veal Mark McEwan Fabbrica

Seared veal tenderloin on braised brisket raviolo and carrot-parsnip puree. A great dish!

Since graduating from culinary school at George Brown College in 1979, McEwan has been at the forefront of Toronto’s dining scene, owning and/or running the kitchen at some of the city’s most popular restaurants and hotels—many of which count wealthy residents and visiting movie stars as frequent diners.

But despite the flashy clientele, McEwan says he’s always made sure his menus focused on the classics rather than what’s trendy. And he thinks that’s what diners want. Even in the food trends that have taken Toronto by storm over the past year or two—think tacos, Southern barbecue and rustic Italian—McEwan says the key elements are authenticity and time-honoured technique.

McEwan Fabbrica Budino

And for dessert, caramel budino topped with espresso gelato

McEwan says that even the projects that have brought him into the national spotlight—his Food Network shows The Heat and Top Chef Canada—have been real and honest. Of the former, which followed him as he worked to open his eponymous, upscale Toronto grocery store, McEwan, he says the show was an honest portrayal of the experience, giving viewers a glimpse at the opening of a business and the mistakes made along the way. And he says he’s enjoyed working on Top Chef Canada because, unlike some other food-based reality shows, this one is focused on good cooking and passionate chefs; “It’s not about a basket of weird ingredients,” he says, referring to Chopped—a show I admitted to him that I’m a pretty devoted fan of.

Like his restaurants, there’s a definite polish to Mark McEwan, a sense that he’s always ready to perform. But after spending a couple hours with him, talking about food, sports (he’s a Buffalo native and, like me, a long-suffering Bills fan) and ideas for Toronto’s future (he’s a big believer in the current plan for a downtown casino), I was definitely left with a feeling of authenticity in both the man and his food.

Final Week to Donate and Win a Mark McEwan/North 44 Prize Pack!

12 Dec

Mark McEwan Great Food at Home

There’s still time to be entered for your chance to win a $200 gift certificate to chef Mark McEwan’s North 44 Restaurant in Toronto, as well as a signed copy of his new cookbook, Great Food at Home, all while helping the Daily Bread Food Bank help feed those in need.

As many of you know, Jenny and I launched a campaign in November to raise funds for the Daily Bread Food Bank. The organization helps feed people across the Greater Toronto Area year-round. But the Christmas holidays represent one of their busiest periods. So it seemed like a natural fit for us – using our food blog, where we focus on the food we cook, eat and love, to help the Daily Bread Food Bank feed those in need.

Since we set up Team Communal Table’s online donation page nearly a month ago, many of our family members, friends, and even several people we’ve never had the chance to meet, have generously donated. We’re really happy to report that we’ve raised a total of $1,030 so far! And everyone who has made a donation will be entered into a draw for the North 44/Mark McEwan cookbook prize pack, generously donated by chef McEwan and his staff. We think it’s a great prize, and we’re excited to be able to give it to one generous donor.

If you’d like to be entered for your chance to win, just click here to go to Team Communal Table’s Daily Bread Food Bank online donation page. With a minimum $10 donation, payable by credit card through the secure site, your name will be placed in our draw and you’ll also receive a tax receipt via email from the Daily Bread Food Bank. It’s really a win-win situation: You help the food bank ensure people are well-fed over the holidays, you receive a tax deduction for making a donation, and you might even win a great prize.

But if you want to donate and win, you need to do it soon. We’ll draw a name from all donations received by midnight on Saturday, December 18, and announce the winner both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page by Monday, December 20.

To make a donation: Click here to go to our team page. Then, click on “Make a gift” on the righthand side next to the red progress meter, and fill out the online form.

Thanks to everyone for their generous donations!

Daily Bread Food Bank

Communal Table Gives Back – to the Daily Bread Food Bank and to Our Readers

21 Nov

Daily Bread Food Bank

‘Tis the season for giving, and for giving back, and Communal Table is getting into the spirit of the season with a little ‘giving back’ project of our own. Starting today, we’re going to be collecting donations for the Daily Bread Food Bank through our official Team Communal Table donation page.

When we started this blog back in March 2010, we meant it as nothing more than a hobby – an outlet for our love of communicating, and of course, our love of food. Almost a year later, it’s still that, but it’s become so much more. Over the past several months, we’ve found our voice and told more stories about ourselves and our passion for cooking, and about people and places that we’ve developed a love for. And we’ve also found new ways to reach out, through our Facebook page and Twitter. More than that, we’ve been lucky enough to slowly gather a following of people who actually want to read what we post. It’s been a great first year, and we’re looking at new ways to build the site in 2011.

But in the meantime, we want to use this platform and our modest but growing following to give something back, both to our readers and to our community. So, from now until December 18, we’re appealing to all of you who have enjoyed all our stories of food to help us feed those most in need through Daily Bread Food Bank, a network of food banks and other programs across Toronto. A recent report published by the Daily Bread Food Bank indicates that, over the past year, food banks experienced the largest increase in client visits since 1995. The Daily Bread Food Bank’s 174 member agencies saw 872,000 client visits this past year. The people who rely on the food banks are our neighbors, our co-workers and regular people that we interact with every day. Many people who regularly use the food bank are working people in our communities who can’t keep up with the growing costs of living. The median monthly household income of a Daily Bread Food Bank client is $980. Take a second and really think about that.

It’s so easy not to think about these things as we go about our busy daily lives, and when you do stop to think about it, it can feel very overwhelming trying to figure out what you could possibly do to help. But here’s a chance to do something small that will definitely help people in need, right in our communities. At a time of year when most people are worried about what to buy for holiday gifts and what to cook for big family dinners, no one should have to worry about when they’re going to have their next meal or how they’re going to feed their kids.

So, here’s our chance to make a difference. Click here to go to Team Communal Table’s donation page to contribute online to the Daily Bread Food Bank’s holiday fundraising drive. The site is set up to accept donations of $10 and above; all donations are tax deductible and all donors will receive a tax receipt from the Daily Bread Food Bank via email. Jenny and I have gotten things started, by making a donation toward our team goal of $500. Any help you can give us to reach that goal will be appreciated.

To show our appreciation of our readers’ generosity, anyone who donates between now and December 18 will be entered into our awesome holiday draw. Celebrity chef Mark McEwan and his staff have generously donated a great culinary package including a $200 gift certificate to North 44 restaurant in Toronto, and a signed copy of Mark’s first cookbook, Great Food at Home. One of our lucky food-loving readers will get to experience culinary greatness at one of Toronto’s most renowned restaurants, and then test out  some recipes from the beautifully-illustrated book that Mark specifically developed for home cooks.

Mark McEwan North 44 cookbook

Mark McEwan cookbook signed

To make a donation: Click here to go to our team page. Then, click on “Make a gift” on the righthand side next to the red progress meter. After you’ve selected your amount, you have the option to publicize your name or to donate anonymously. Either is fine with us. But here’s the really important part: in the “Personal Note” box, please include your full name and email address. This info will not be made public; it will be sent to us, which will allow us to enter you into our draw. We will randomly draw a name from our pool of donors and announce it here and on our Facebook Fan Page on Monday, December 20.

We’re really excited about this chance to bring food lovers together to help feed those in need. Help us spread the word by sharing this post – tweet it, share it on Facebook, email your friends. The more people we can reach, the more we can raise for Daily Bread Food Bank.

Happy holidays from Communal Table!

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