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Vol. 3: No. 187 – October 8, 2014

Summer gently recedes.

The Chef reports from the Ontario Food Terminal that the last of the Ontario summer produce is moving through it now. Fewer farmers are around and prices are higher reflecting increasing scarcities. And what’s around like the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are not as nice as they once were. Lettuces, artichokes, zucchinis and brussel sprouts are other veg very near the end.

Rapini and broccoli have arrived signalling the autumn but the Chef also spotted chestnuts which for him is always the most accurate harbinger that winter is close by.

On the other hand, the Chef says that celery is currently the best it will be all year. Leeks are also good along with potatoes, baby onions and shallots. The corn crop usually winding down around now is abundant and excellent. All manner of good looking squash are starting. Ontario grapes are excellent but the best table grapes are US ones which are wonderfully sweet at the moment.
Ontario strawberries and raspberries are abundant. The Chef bought US pomegranates but one of his favorite fruit at this time of year, persimmons have not yet arrived. Chef Loseto notes that persimmons are the best at the beginning of the season.

He thinks the current Ontario pear crop is spectacular and notes the many varieties available now. He will concentrate on using them now rather than Ontario apples because the pear season unlike the apple season is short and will end before Christmas.
Wild BC mushrooms which include porcinis, pine, lobster and chanterelle varieties are in the markets.

Most wild BC salmon is ending with King salmon expected to end in about a week. This is also true for Pacific halibut, Yellow tuna from NS now weighs over 100 lbs a fish. It and NS swordfish are almost over. The Chef is currently searching for a fall replacement.

He is also changing the meat menu bringing in bison cheeks and venison which has just started.

Recently we were in New York and talked to the Chef about how many farmers’ markets were in evidence. We have many in Toronto but some of Toronto’s established produce stores are hard to beat. The Chef likes Lady York Foods just south of Lawrence on Dufferin Street. This is an old Italian family-owned grocery store which was established to serve the Italian community with what it likes. And it’s just up the street from Bologna Pastificio where the best fresh pasta in Toronto is made. Bologna Pastificio also sell fresh homemade sauces which are also excellent.

Debut of the NYT cooking website

The Cooking Issue in the Dining Section of the September 24, 2014 edition of the New York Times announced that the paper was starting a cooking website which offered an app for an iPad. The Cooking Issue was devoted to “techniques and tricks” of making food at home. It was full of articles like Staying Cool When the Fat Hits the Fire which explains how to master sautéing, searing and pan-frying.

This is for home cooks who want to learn some of the tricks of the trade to cook better. From our viewpoint, this initiative matches a trend where more and more people are beginning to cook really well. So well in fact that their food is better than that served in many restaurants. We wonder however whether the standards of neighborhood restaurant cuisine are falling. In New York last weekend, we noticed that the trend to farm-to-table neighborhood restaurant offerings is marred somewhat by the ordinariness of the final result – despite the wonderful fresh seasonal ingredients employed. The result is not overcome by the extensive lavish congratulatory messages to suppliers on the backs of the menus. Might as well buy the ingredients yourself in the numerous farmers’ markets if you only could cook better. This NYT initiative might just work for you.

The Paris Food and Drink Scene

Last weekend, the Financial Times published a number of food and wine articles (Sept 27,2014) on Paris including many recommendations. If you are planning to go, there is sure to be something of interest to you. If you are not, it may be still worthwhile to look at. The FT”s regular food contributor Chef Rowley Leigh writes How Paris Likes It. He says that the favourite dish for Parisians remains onglet a l’échalote, (steak, shallots and fries). An “onglet” is a cut of skirt steak (bavettes are another) and Leigh writes that it defies reason how so many onglets can be produced for the French market since the onglet cut comes from a muscle which rarely weighs more than 1 kg per animal. (We understand many of the onglets served in Paris come from Uruguay and South America).

Chef Ben Gundy at Olliffe advises that it offers the onglet cut which it calls hangar steak. If you cook one, Rowley Leigh strongly advises 1) it be cooked rare or medium rare and 2) it must be sliced against the grain. If you miss these two requirements, Leigh calls the onglet inedible. We hear Stephen LeDrew, recently returned from Paris, is asking around about the onglet cut. Will this article start a run on onglets?

Food price trends reverse

In 2008, low stocks of grain initiated food riots and real fear in many countries that we were entering a period where shortages would generate political instability. Prices went up in subsequent years as cereal production was affected by severe drought. In 2010, Russia banned the export of cereal and governments everywhere faced the nightmarish scenario where global food trade would cease as individual countries hoarded. This year by contrast, Russia has banned certain imports in response to Western sanctions. The only fall-out to the Russian consumer appears to be that Russian restaurants which are the main purchasers of imported food have been scrambling to replace higher quality foreign supplies with home-grown Russian products.

The Financial Times reports that the world now has a huge surplus of food stocks and prices are falling. Despite this trend we are not looking for grocery store prices to decline. And when the trend was going the other way, we noticed that if grocery store prices did not rise, a common tactic by producers was to fill the same boxes with less product. We are not holding our breath that this trend will work in reverse as prices fall.

— 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.