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Vol. 3: No. 189 – November 17, 2014

Ontario fall and winter veg are here in force.

Chef Loseto suggests you adapt your menus to the new fruit and veg now in. This means substituting root vegetables for salads and braising or roasting them. He suggests you cut them in uniform sizes, drizzle with olive oil and season them with sea salt, pepper and other herbs or seasonings. Roast them on parchment paper in a 350 degree oven. For desserts, after you exhaust apples and pears, start using seasonal imports like citrus, pomegranates and persimmons.

Ontario fall produce is in full swing at the Ontario Food Terminal. The Chef found lots of pumpkins and squashes, root vegetables, Brussel sprouts, really good cabbage, pears and apples. He bought Mitsu apples which he thinks are the best all round variety to cook with.

Gone are Ontario field tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower and romanesco (but who uses romanesco anyway). The Chef notes more than ever, fewer farmers are present selling their Ontario wares this fall. Ontario hothouse producers were present though with a lot of produce which the chef liked the look of.

On the import side of the Terminal, the Chef noted that citrus was starting but there was not yet an abundance of it. Oranges are rising in price. Is the orange blight spreading perhaps? There were lots of tangerines and clementines. The Chef preferred the satsuma from California as well as the clementines from Spain that he saw. The Chef spotted US fennel he liked. He thought the price of chestnuts was high and ought to come down. Finally, he recommends the seedless Spanish pomegranates (which are really not seedless), the Spanish persimmons and Italian plums and kiwis.

Lots of wild BC mushrooms are available including pine, porcini and chanterelle varieties.

The Chef is introducing new winter fish like OceanWise calamari, black cod, arctic char and sea bass on the George menu, moving away from salmon and Pacific halibut which are out of season. Scallops are nearly over and OceanWise certified BC prawns are available.

The Chef is pleased to have sourced bison cheeks from Quebec, which he thinks are particularly good. For some reason, they are not available from either of his Ontario or Alberta suppliers. Wild boar is over and the Chef is looking to replace it with elk. He is putting more braises on the menu using rabbit, duck confit and short ribs.

For desserts, he likes pears this year and is perfecting a caramelized pear tart with puffed pastry.

Gluten-free, a popular misconception.

The annual food issue of the New Yorker came out on November 3, 2014. Two articles were of particular interest. The first by the writer John Lanchester, see here. The article was an insightful ramble on how food has changed in the 20 years he has been writing about it. “The apparent silliness and superficiality of food fashions and trends touches on something deep; our ability to define ourselves…. Once upon a time, food was about where you came from. Now, for many of us, it is about where we want to go about who we want to be how we choose to live.” His mother was not much of a cook, something common in her generation. But she was interested and stimulated him to succeed as a food critic and novelist.

The second article deals with one of those potentially “silly” trends – the public’s aversion to gluten. It is entitled “Against the Grain – should you go gluten-free?” by Michael Spector.

Michael Spector points out that while there is reality to celiac disease where people are genuinely intolerant to gluten, there is no evidence to the widely shared belief that it’s a syndrome. It has now been newly named, gluten-sensitivity. Apparently, about 20 million people contend that they are adversely affected by gluten and sales of gluten-free products exceed $20 billion per year. About three large corporations make the bulk of gluten-free products. The writer states that no one can explain why so many people feel the need to give up gluten. He cites similar phenomena years ago surrounding the aversion to MSG as well as over-enthusiasm about margarine; both good examples of public misconceptions.

The only scientific study which linked gluten with digestive disorders was apparently conducted in 2011 on 34 subjects. It found a connection but later studies invalidated the results.

The article does go on however, to deal extensively with the main way which gluten enters the diet and it does make one uneasy. He alleges that every commercial bakery uses a concentrated gluten supplement called “vital wheat gluten” to strengthen the dough and make it more elastic to endure the tough process of commercial mixing. He describes vital wheat gluten as by itself a disgusting indigestible blob. When processed it never breaks down in the digestive process. The writer however, goes through a long list of other chemicals added in commercial bread making and the whole thing is rather sickening. Naturally, when we read this, we rushed down the corridor to our bakery at George to find out whether we use vital wheat gluten or other chemicals. We were immensely relieved to find out we added neither vital wheat gluten nor any chemicals to our products. Actually, our baker was slightly offended at the suggestion.

Returning to the article, he noted that several experts who were interviewed were concerned that no one really knows the effects on humans of adding concentrated gluten, or other chemical additives. However, the writer did emphasize that gluten-free manufacturers had to substitute something in their products to replace the gluten and these were generally pure starches. Spector states, that this implies that gluten-free foods are fundamentally equivalent to junk food in their effect on people. He is especially critical of parents who take their kids off gluten and Spector encourages us to question this strategy.

Dr Peter H R Green, the Director of the Celiac-Disease Center at Columbia University is cited as one of the most prominent celiac doctors in the US and weighs in on the subject. He claims that there are as many people harmed, as helped by believing that they have a non-celiac sensitivity. He says “this is largely a self-diagnosed disease.” He also states that “often, gluten-free versions of wheat–based foods are actually junk foods.”

Michael Spector’s conclusion. “I am certainly not going to live without gluten. That just seems silly.” Read the article for many interesting ideas here.

Finally, the ultimate BBQ book!

Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang is the ultimate backyard BBQ guide. It arrived as a birthday gift through the kindness of two members of our family. The author had an interesting and enviable classical cooking career with Alain Ducasse and many other globally recognized chefs before he returned to the US and discovered people cooking the best meat he ever had being prepared in converted oil drums. He abandoned fine dining for BBQ, but his meticulous training survives and is exhibited in the rigour of his presentation.

He describes four different BBQ approaches: classical grilling, grilling on a higher rack and finishing on a lower rack, clinching which is cooking directly on coals, and clinching followed by finishing on a soaked wooden plank in the fire. Here is a picture of our lamb roast last weekend using the high and low method.


Particular care is given to seasoning the roast before putting it on the grill. Next, baste it while cooking. Then, apply controlled heat during the cooking and finally place the meat on a wooden board and drizzled with an herb dressing during the post-cooking resting phase. We have followed his detailed instructions and so far, our results have been outstanding. We have never had such good BBQ. The book also includes recipes for BBQ accompaniments which sound delicious. We did cheat though and bought Olliffe’s prepared coleslaw which is close to perfect!

Wine School features Rioja this month.

We missed the class on champagne because we thought it was too expensive. Here is a report however on the results. We note the high esteem that the New York Times wine critic has for Charles Heidseick Brut Réserve. We look forward to trying it ourselves for the holidays. At George, we have been serving growers champagne, which we think is more interesting than champagne produced by the big houses. Unlike the latter, it is still possible to distinguish it through the effect of terroir.

Eric Asimov this month suggests we drink and attempt to understand Rioja. See the article here.

Ian Thresher at George suggests three Riojas available from the LCBO which can be substituted for the wines suggested by Asimov. Thresher writes:

“There’s a new style of winemaking happening in Rioja. Modern Rioja wines use more French or Hungarian oak (instead of American oak) to make a smoother and rounder wine – usually with less acidity. While these wines are often touted as lacking Rioja’s traditional earthiness, they are a growing category because of high ratings.

Rioja wine has traditionally been released only when deemed ready to drink by its maker. But an increasing number of producers are making Rioja wine from mostly or all Tempranillo and aging them for a shorter period in smaller, newer barrels. These new wines are darker, more robust and more tannic than traditionally styled wines from the region, and often possess more primary fruit flavors. The wines I’ve selected are all Reserva level and prime examples of this shift.

Make sure to compare the 2010 Muga Reserva to the 2010 Marques Riscal Reserva. Same vintage, definitely classic vs. modern styles. The 2004 Rioja Alta Ardanza Reserva is worth the price and a serious wine for the cellar as well. Three Reservas that all show off Riojas amazing value.

Torres Muga Reserva 2010, $23.95, #177345

Marques de Riscal Reserva 2010, $24.95, #32656

La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva 2004, $39.95, #315531.
This may be difficult to find. An alternative which is a bit younger but will be in the November 22nd Vintages Release, is Cune Gran Reserva 2008, $39.95, #393553″

Go to Eric Asimov’s article to learn what questions to ask as you drink these wines under the heading at the bottom “Characteristics to Consider.”

A few suggestions from on our recent trip to Rome, Naples, the Amalfi Coast and Capri.

Italy beckoned us in October and what with the terrible weather this summer, we thought we might still find summer on the Amalfi Coast. Our hopes were realized; every day being sunny with temperatures in the 80s. Here is a random list of suggestions for those considering a trip there.

The trip was constructed around a self-guided mountainous walking tour from Amalfi ending in Capri. It was organized by an English based company, On Foot Holidays. Everything was well done. Our bags were transported from town to town while we followed what were consistently clear directions carrying very light packs. The system worked without fault and we were constantly impressed with everyone we dealt with in the organization as well as the hotel operators. Most of the walking took place on ancient footpaths in the coastal mountains overlooking the small villages and the Med.

On the walk, the most memorable hotel we stayed in was Hotel Luna Convento. The first hotel opened in Amalfi (an ancient convent) is still owned after 200 years by the same Italian family who originally lived there. Unfortunately, the family must have begun to run out of money judging by the lack of recent renovations which it needs and deserves. Nevertheless it was good value, warm and fun. We ended the trip in Capri staying in La Scalinatella which overlooks Capri Port and has the most magnificent views from its terraced rooms. Perfect service, ambiance and great food, owned by four brothers who own four of the best hotels in Capri.

In terms of restaurants, two stood out among the many we enjoyed. At the end of the famous Path of the Gods high above Positano, we arrived at the cliff-side village of Nocelle and found the very friendly Trattoria Santa Croce. The menu featured fresh fish driven up that morning from the Med together, with great wines. Here is photo of the view.

santa croce

The other notable restaurant was in Capri strongly recommended by our hotel which had closed its dining room for the season. Named providentially Giorgio, we were intrigued because we have always had good times at restaurants named George worldwide. It was our last night requiring in our minds a bit of a splurge to steel for ourselves for the long trip home the next day. It was billed as one of the best in Capri but we were underwhelmed when we arrived by its ordinary appearance. When we settled in however it oddly and magically transformed itself into one of the great restaurants we have been to in Italy. Perfect food, wine, service.

In July, we reviewed an interesting book The Land Where Lemons Grow – The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit. We noticed that the author recommended a restaurant in Amalfi named Il Mulino and we mentioned it in our review. Naturally, when we arrived in Amalfi, we immediately scooted over to see it. It was the worst meal we had in Italy and it was embarrassing that we had mentioned it here. The problem was more than a bad night, although comically, a huge fight broke out in the kitchen in the middle of service. Please accept our apologies.

Everyone who goes to Rome falls in love with some or other seemingly ordinary small trattoria/osteria which appeals to them. Ours was the Osteria Agrippa in a street behind the Pantheon which turned out to be for us nearly perfect. We heard it has a basement room which is over 1000 years old but we did not see it as we sat outdoors in an alley. In Rome, our hotel booking was changed at the last minute to a third rate hotel on the noisy but lively piazza of the Pantheon. The hotel next door named Albergo del Senato looked pretty good with a terrace on the top reserved for guests.

In Rome, we decided to concentrate on the baroque having being inspired by the recent interesting series on TVO, Baroque. We continued this interest in Naples where following the TVO commentary, we saw and were overwhelmed with Caravaggio’s dark but very imaginative The Seven Works of Mercy, painted for the church in which it still is hung.

In Naples, we stayed at Hotel Romeo described as an art hotel. Modern, it is filled with an eclectic expensive collection of stuff which combined, seems to work well together. Well run and within walking distance of everything including an 18C La Scala-type opera house where we caught an Italian opera, it was a great place to stay!

What struck us most as we moved around was we had forgotten the consistently very friendly and professional service combined with superb food and wine in Italy. There is lots for Canadian hoteliers/restaurateurs to ponder but can we learn?

— 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.