Vol. 3: No. 180 – February 13, 2014
Lorenzo rules at the Canadian Nationals
On the weekend, our Executive Chef of George Restaurant and The Verity Club, Lorenzo Loseto, won the Gold Medal Plate at the Canadian Culinary Championships held this year in Kelowna, BC. The winners of the Gold Medal Plates of each Province last year assembled in Kelowna where they participated in three competitions. First, they were presented with a bottle of Okanogan wine and they were supposed to create a dish to suit it. They were given $550 for food costs and $50 for taxi costs to be used to assemble the food ingredients locally (limited to just over $1 per dish to be served). Happily for the Chef, the mystery wine selected was an unoaked blend of pinot blanc, pinot gris and viognier. This type of wine just happens to match many of our Chef’s dishes, where vegetables are as influential to the final result as are proteins. The second competition the next day consisted of cooking a black box of surprise ingredients. Then the competitors cooked 500 dishes for the Gala event that night. The competition was recorded in his usual clear and admirable fashion by James Chatto at jameschatto.com. It’s a good read, which explains the very high level of expertise achieved at Canada’s foremost culinary challenge.
So we salute our Chef, the Canadian Gold Medal winner. The competition has raised more than $8.5 million for the Olympic and Paralympic community. We at George and Verity were delighted to be associated with the Olympic ideal of the pursuit of excellence.
“Provence, 1970,” a fascinating but ultimately gloomy read
Organic family veg producer, Phylis Ortved, recommended over the Christmas holidays that we read the book “Provence, 1970, MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard and the Reinvention of American Taste.” It is the story of a few landmark meetings in Provence in the summer of 1970 which were attended by many of the iconic American writers at the time. Foremost among them were Julia Child and Simone Beck with their landmark book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
Written by the grandnephew of MFK Fisher, Luke Barr had the advantage of a treasure trove of Fisher’s unpublished notes.The twist to the story is that it is not about how these luminaries changed or reinvented American taste. It is about how a process of disillusionment began in earnest in 1970, leading eventually to the group’s questioning of the value of many things French – including cuisine.
The book is as much about culture as cuisine. It is easy to relate to because most of us have gone through the process where we no longer find France as mind blowing as it first was when we initially discovered the wondrous tastes of French cuisine. From an American viewpoint, 1970 was somewhere around the beginning of the Americas’ own evolution of a distinctive indigenous cuisine, best represented eventually by Alice Waters who focused on sourcing the best local ingredients cooked in a way to optimize their taste.
So what caused the disillusionment? In short, France like everywhere evolved, adopting many of the undesirable traits present everywhere else in the world. A good example was the excessive overbuilding and overcrowding of the Med above Nice where some of the action in the book takes place. Much of what was once beautiful now borders on ugliness as monstrous over-development took its toll over the years.
The second factor causing the disillusionment is also easy to relate to. That is, people evolve as they grow older and their tastes change. This process is described extensively in the book as all these famous writers and cooks were growing older.
So it’s a sad book and one that is easy to understand. But, it’s a nostalgic trip for those of us who found so much pleasure in France so many years ago.
Niseko, Japan: the new capital of skiing and ski food?
Eight of us assembled in Tokyo in January; five from Toronto and three from Sydney, with one key team member absent on orders from his orthopaedic surgeon. We were on our way to Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, for a week at Niseko ski resort, renowned for its light, deep snow. Privately none of us were expecting that much. At the end we all agreed that it was a peak skiing and ski dining experience.
When we returned, an article about Niseko appeared in the Homes section of the Financial Times describing Niseko. For those interested, see Niseko here.
As the article put it, the snow was so light you could not make a snowball with it. Never had any of us skied anywhere in so much snow in such deep, fluffy powder conditions.
The area is very big with three separate towns on the mountain and one nearby authentic Japanese town – the latter not overrun like the others by Aussie vacationers. One day some of us went cat skiing to a nearby wilderness area. Here is a report from Harry Gundy:
“Could the best meal of the week have been a deli sandwich on sliced white bread? When standing on a mountain with a 35 year old Japanese snowcat machine waiting to transport us back to the top, it probably was. Five of us set out for the ultimate cat skiing experience east of the Hokkaido city of Kutchane, near the ski resort town of Niseko. We spent 6 hours with guides who took us to a ridge that looked directly at Mt. Yotei, a semi-dormant volcano known as the Mt. Fuji of the North. The weather consisted of snow, interspersed with sunny periods and temperatures above freezing. On each run we dropped in from a 3 foot snowdrift at the top of the ridge, into knee deep powder that took us through fields of well-spaced birch forests. The base was 10 meters deep (the region hit the 10 meter mark the week we were there!), so the hazards consisted of watching for the tops of the trees sticking up from the snow and trying to determine if the next drop was a sheer cliff or a steep but skiable slope. The powder was knee deep but so light that it was easy to turn and the usual backcountry thigh-burning-exhaustion accompanying a day of cat skiing was nonexistent. We had a full 6 runs in this lovely snow and on the final turn of the day/week, one of our group managed to defy physics and fall over the front tips of his skis. A quick limp into the back cab of the snowcat, and all 5 rode back to the lodge with the smiles of success. Back to that sandwich; salted and thinly sliced local pork loin with a black pepper crust and local Hokkaido cheese (Hokkaido is known for its cheeses) on plain white bread. When eaten on a mountain that has cat skiing in the winter and wild mushroom picking in the summer, it’s perfect.”
There must have been 300 local restaurants and bars within striking distance from our condo. This included four enclosed ice bars with furniture and glasses carved from ice. The restaurants we went to were excellent, featuring Hokkaido-caught fish and seafood, along with other local products. Our favourites were Asperges, a French on-the-hill restaurant owned by Richard LI’s Hong Kong Group as part of a big property development, and a noodle house, Rakuichi Soba, owned by a Japanese Soba Master. This had been reviewed by Anthony Bourdain. Chef Ben Gundy was with us and had remembered seeing the television segment. This programme shows how complicated soba making is. The Soba Master was also an accomplished outdoorsman who taught sea kayaking, skiing and probably everything else worthwhile on Hokkaido.
Asperges was a one star Michelin restaurant whose executive chef had won a world culinary championship in France and who operated a nearby three star Michelin restaurant in Sapporo. He happened to be present and cooking when we lunched. The most amazing thing we ate was a dessert, tomato and eggplant compote, better than any fruit compote any us could remember.
The skiers we encountered at Niseko were mostly Australian with a sprinkling of Japanese. It looks like the Chinese will come. Our advice is to get there before its reputation becomes too well known. Compared to the Alps or the West, it has much better snow as well as superb dining all at bargain prices.
Some of you may have zero interest in skiing. However, you might be interested in this article in Bon Appetit by Peter Meehan where he writes that Hokkaido is one of the least discovered culinary paradises in the world. Of course, hats off to the Hokkaido Tourism or their PR advisers since it is probably not a mystery why suddenly and seemingly coincidentally, so may flattering articles about Hokkaido have appeared in major world newspapers and magazines in 2014.
Three standard recipes for a long winter’s night
Huddled in our homes, out of the cold, what could be better than to cook some standard recipes superbly? Here are three with lots of good preparation tips: pepper steak, marinara sauce and fried pork chops. They sound easy but the following three articles provide an outstandingly improved result.
First, pepper steak. This recipe appeared in the Financial Times written by its chef regular contributor, Rowley Leigh. His view is that if he wants to know whether to hire a cook, he tests them by asking them to do a pepper steak. In his view, this separates the wheat from the chaff. He proceeds in the article to tell you the secrets of its preparation. See here.
What could be simpler than making pasta with a marinara sauce? A lot of things as it happens, according to Lidia Bastianich in her new book, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking.” It turns out that you ruin this dish if you overcook it. To achieve a fresh taste, cook it for no more than about 15 minutes. These and other instructions worked well for us this past weekend. The mistake we made was to buy fresh pasta from Pusitaris. Terribly starchy. Should have made it ourselves! See here.
Then there are excellent instructions for frying pork chops and adding a mustard sauce with shitaki mushrooms by Melissa Clarke. The extra step worth taking (and the headline for her article) is to fry the chops on one side on the stove top, and then after turning them, finish them in the oven. We used an excellent cross bred pork which Olliffe had ordered from Fred, their supplier near Perth, ON. See article the article here and the recipe here.
To round off last weekend watching the Olympics, we thought we needed to dream about hitting the beaches in the Caribbean. What better way than to make fresh Singapore Slings. To do this well, we made our own grenadine from pomegranates and added it to Cuban rum with soda. Homemade fresh grenadine provided the moment of winter release we sought. And this is the season in which pomegranates are available to us. Separating the berries from the bitter white membrane surrounding them was – it must be – said tedious, but the following article guided us. Without these instructions, it would have been a nightmare. The grenadine recipe can be found here.
The result was better than the Singapore Slings made at the Long Bar at Raffles in Singapore. Whoever knew it was a seasonal drink! There is also a recipe for fresh pomegranate juice which we recommend.
Cold and bleak at the Ontario Food Terminal but a good array of produce
Chef Loseto comments that this is the toughest month because the new spring crops seem so distant at this time. Sometimes at this time of year American produce is scarce. But he found no shortages other than expensive Italian produce and bought the full array of Ontario root vegetables, leek and newly arrived hothouse tomatoes and peppers which are returning to the market. California artichokes are starting, the fennel and Swiss chard are nice and the Chef found black kale and dandelion from California, which he was delighted with. These two vegetables are currently in fashion because of their relative novelty. But he likes them. He thinks that their Ontario varieties are much more bitter, even at the height of their Ontario season. He is currently sautéing dandelion with squash to add to his short rib dish.
American cactus pears are available but, in the Chef’s opinion, not as good as Italian ones which are absent this year. There is a shortage of Italian blood oranges with only one vendor bringing them into Toronto. The Chef worries that in the case of both cactus pears and blood oranges, the Italians are pricing themselves out of the market.
Black trumpet mushrooms continue to arrive from the West Coast.
We are substituting bison tenderloin for bison rib eye for Valentine’s Day. A new item in the market are chicken cockscombs. This is a new product which vendors are pushing and the Chef is thinking about it.
During his Kelowna experience the Chef ate fresh albacore tuna. He liked it so much that he is looking for a distributor here. This fish is sold frozen in Toronto and has an unpleasant metallic taste, absent in the Kelowna material where it resembled a good yellow tail tuna.
For dessert, the Chef is reinstating double baked chocolate soufflés. This is coincidental with an article appearing in the Financial Times which stated that there is a strong trend in Paris restaurants back to soufflés. Years ago we offered them at George and we are pleased to reinstate them on the menu.
— Le Patron
A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.