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Vol. 3: No. 181 – March 14, 2014

Get out your corkscrew, Max. Enroll in Wine School

This week, Eric Asimov, New York Times wine critic, begins a series of articles (“Get out your Corkscrews”) to be published each month on how to enjoy different varieties of wine. Here is the essence of the Wine School programme: each month, you purchase three bottles of wine which are available in New York and recommended by Asimov. You proceed to follow directions on how to sample them and what to look for. You will then be able to plug into comments by others. At the end of each month, Asimov writes another article reviewing all the experiences reported drawing conclusions which should be of interest to participants. He then suggests the next round of wines. This goes on for one year. Read more here.

We want to join the programme ourselves but will not be able to source the wines, which Asimov recommends because they are not sold at the LCBO. Therefore, we are asking our Sommelier, Ian Thresher, to recommend substitutes each month. If there is interest, we will publish each month’s wine substitute, available at the LCBO. Max Gundy arrived in New York only last month from Sydney. He is posted there for two years and is in an ideal position to enroll in Wine School and buy the wines. The rest of us will have to use substitutes. This month our Sommelier recommends the following three Bordeaux, available now at the LCBO:

2009 Chateau La Tour Carnet Haut-Medoc LCBO #220178  $51.85

2009 Chateau Caronne Ste Gemme Haut-Medoc LCBO #191460  $25.85

2009 Chateau Bernadotte Haut-Medoc LCBO #196477  $34.85

Very briefly, Asimov explains his approach by targeting the following questions for the participant to ponder and report on while they sip:

What does the wine smell and taste like? Is it sweetly fruity or savory? How would you generally describe the flavor?

What is its texture? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it fresh and invigorating? Tannic? Or both?

How does the taste change over time? How is it by itself, and how is it with food? How is the first glass different from the second?

Prompted by these questions, a participant in Asimov’s programme is led along a journey to discover what wine is all about and which wines turn the participant on, and in what circumstances. This is an exercise in drinking wines rather than tasting them. This is an important distinction with Asimov because he says that the taste of wine changes after you open it, depending on many things such as what you are eating with it, the weather, your emotions, the time you take to drink a bottle and so on. Refreshingly, he believes you should not bother to learn the usual cliché terms to describe wine. It all sounds like a wonderful way to learn and keep any natural pomposity, which might be lurking in your personality, in check. Perhaps this approach might even mitigate against Max becoming a wine bore. Let’s hope Max dives in to this and reports back to us.

A rapini sandwich – are you kidding?

After Executive Chef Lorenzo Loseto won the Canadian Culinary Gold medal Plates Championship last month, a Toronto Star food reporter called to ask the Chef whether he would suggest an interesting recipe which the Star might print. He had recently been fooling around at home with muffuletta, an Italian green and black olive relish with a few other veg thrown in, and he thought this might combine well with rapini in a grilled sandwich moderated with bacon. The writer was intrigued and did a full page story on the sandwich. See the story here.

You will not be surprised that this has been a much overlooked item on the George lunch menu. We confess that we did not get around to tasting this ourselves until this week, and the taste blew us away. Paired with a 2010 Meo-Camuzet red Burgundy, the lunch could not have been more memorable.

So we recommend strongly that you try the recipe or have it when you are in George for lunch. The muffuletta for home use can be purchased in Fortino’s.

The sandwich is made with delicious lightly grilled rye bread baked by our own baker, Shawn Gabrysch. He is the same baker who has been giving us his kneadless bread recipe with annual modifications every summer for the last few years, allowing us to bake superb cottage-made bread. This year we are pleased to report that he has made progress to displace 40% of the all-purpose white flour with heritage Red Fife stone ground whole grain flour, which improves the taste enormously. We will be suggesting this modification and others in our annual kneadless recipe in June, to improve everyone’s lot – bread-wise – at the cottage this year.

A book on the history of Tyson Foods

The Meat Racket, The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business by Christopher Leonard is unsatisfying to read. It tells the story of Tyson Foods, started in the thirties by John Tyson and taken public in the early sixties by his son, Don Tyson. It has grown to a company expecting to make sales of $36 billion in 2014, selling packaged chicken, beef and pork. In its recent quarter, it made a profit of $250 million, which seems like a pretty slim profit margin of less than 3% on an annualized basis. Working with such small margins, management could well appear – or worse – actually be ruthless.  We venture that stupid, incompetent or unlucky people dealing with a company facing the pressure of such thin profit margins are bound to get hurt, and the book provides many details.

The beginning of the book describes Tyson’s climb to the top of the chicken processing business. Tyson itself states it has the largest share of the US chicken market at 21%. All of the cruelties of breeding chickens industrially are set out, but nothing that we have not heard before. The usual charges prevail of animal abuse in terms of living conditions, breeding birds with such large breasts that they cannot stand, the use of preventive antibiotic drugs required because they are raised in their own filth and overuse of growth hormones. We all have to determine individually how we deal with this and many people consider that they should not buy or consume, if possible, industrially produced meat. Fundamentally, such purchases support and sanction a marked lack of respect for animals. It is better to pay more for animals and birds which are raised humanely. But that is not the point of this book.

What the book attacks, however, is the cruelty which it alleges Tyson has imposed on the people it deals with: its suppliers, its employees, its competitors, etc. One story after another is rolled out describing people who have been abused and degraded by Tyson. After about one hundred pages of this, the reader notices that we never hear about anyone who has had a good experience with Tyson. How is this possible for such a large, successful and active company?

Then it begins to dawn that along the way the author is revealing a lack of understanding as to how modern businesses work, how production in any business is optimized, the normal tension between sales and production people, supply management, financial planning, corporate finance methodology, the role of legal advisors, merger and acquisition principles and practices, regulatory policy management and on and on. He doesn’t understand modern business. We suspect he hates the result of the modern industrial model.

Since there is no insight in the book on the merits and downside of the current industrial model, and the author does not suggest how we might better organize industrial production for a better result (and come to think of it, it might be helpful to learn what he thinks might constitute a better result), we gave up reading the book half way through. A string of whining stories can only sustain interest for so long and it is fair to expect that an author will share some conclusions about what is to be made of the misery he describes. Perhaps these are in the second half of the book we neglected.

On the positive side, The New York Times presents a whole new concept aimed at freeing oneself from participating in the industrial food system. The neighborhood near Phoenix is called Agritopia, not a name we would have chosen (when do “topias” ever work?). The idea is to locate a working mixed farm in a new subdivision where a friendly farmer supplies you with your food. If you need to find land for your subdivision, convert the local golf course into the farm. Don’t overly worry about being able to locate a farmer with the knowledge and skills to work the proposed 160 acres, or growing a wide variety of organic fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as breeding and caring for animals and birds. Somehow we suppose such a person who has plenty of money to invest in the venture will eventually turn up. For further information on golf club conversion and local eating, see Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root.


Plenty of fresh food at the Ontario Food Terminal

Even at this time, seasonally-speaking the worst in the Toronto calendar, the Chef reports that this year, there are decent amounts of Ontario vegetables on offer and he bought the full range of them, including apples. As the winter drags on, the Ontario leeks are peeled before offering so that a leek which had a diameter of 2”, when offered, would now have a diameter of only 1”. Ontario root vegetables now available but harvested last year, are covered in the dirt in which they grew. Consequently the Chef advises that when you are buying, say, Ontario beets and carrots, you ought to use them fairly soon after you get them home because they will ripen quickly. Your refrigerator is not designed to hold them fresh for long at this time of year.

Even the import side of the Terminal had an exceptionally wide variety of produce. Typically by now, we would be experiencing shortages of some of the produce normally offered at this time. But everything from around the world is available. The chef bought cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, dandelion, fennel, sunchokes and artichokes from the US, all of which he liked a lot. He predicts that during April, shortages will begin to emerge and we will be more than ready for the arrival of US asparagus which heralds the beginning of spring crops.

He notes that a lot of good looking herbs and pomegranates are coming in from Israel.  Jaffa mandarins, now appearing, are the best of all mandarin offerings this year.

Citrus is abundant and the Chef expects the Italian blood oranges to be around until mid-April this year. This is suspiciously long and one wonders how long they are put into storage. They are awfully good though, particularly in dark rum with some soda.

Chef Loseto has begun developing the spring menu. But he will be adding some new items before this is launched. Specifically he will be putting Berkshire pork loin (supplied by Olliffe) on the menu. It is cooked by sous vide for 5 hours at 57 degrees. Dukkah (Duqqa) is mixed with it while cooking. This is a delicious nut and spice spread recently discovered by the Chef. It comes from Egypt and people usually spread it on grilled bread with olive oil. With the pork, it is delicious. The dish will come with a carrot mostrada. Also, the Chef has located beef cheeks which are plump and juicy. He braises these at 250 degrees.

Another sous vide dish to be introduced is sustainable octopus from Morocco. This is also cooked for 5 hours at 77 degrees. Often octopus is tenderized by beating it against concrete. We always heard in Greece that it took exactly 50 blows. The sous vide technique, however, ensures amazing tenderness without any tenderizing necessary.

We are using mackerel but the Chef warns that if it is not completely fresh, it should be avoided because it becomes too strong.

This year one of our suppliers is selling us Quebec sea urchin. It comes from one of our favourite places, Tadoussac, for a five week season, only ending towards the end of April. The same company is offering seal meat but when asked, told the Chef that no one in Toronto had ordered it yet.

For dessert, we have had some success at parties with fresh blood oranges and three types of meringue. We are starting our double baked chocolate soufflés, which are currently all the rage in Paris. A new cheese being offered is Blue Haze, which is a smoked blue cheese from Benedictine monks in Quebec.

— 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.