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Vol. 3: No. 190 – December 12, 2014

Tis the season you begin to scramble for fresh Ontario produce

Chef Loseto returned from the early morning winter gloom at the Ontario Food Terminal but was unfazed by the produce available. We have reverted to Ontario root vegetables but Chef Loseto reported that they are in good shape this year (he particularly liked the turnips). In addition, the Chef found Ontario good looking leeks, apples and pears. He was shopping later at Fiesta Farms and discovered superb Ontario cauliflower and romanesco that were unavailable at the Terminal. He bought the romanesco but passed on the cauliflower, which he termed ‘crazy expensive.’ Remember, as he suggested last month, try roasting the root veg at 350 degrees in the oven, first tossing them in sea salt and olive oil.

The Chef observed that a lot of produce from the US was very expensive, for example, California artichokes and broccoli. This contradicts trends towards lower producer prices and lower energy costs, as discussed below. The Chef suspects that the distributors who are always eager to pass on higher costs, are resisting passing on lower costs.

Chef Loseto notices that some supermarkets are mislabelling the origin of some of their produce. Andy Boy broccoli which comes from Mexico, is said to be from the US. Some of the melons are marked from Spain but really come from Guatemala. Citrus marked from California sometimes comes from South America. Often, the real origins of produce are marked on the tag, affixed to the produce itself.

From Europe, Italian pomegranates, persimmons, kiwis and chestnuts are in, although expensive. The Chef thinks that chestnuts are at their absolute peak for roasting. His suggestion: after roasting them, peel them and put on a little sugar and maple syrup for a great seasonal dessert. One of our staff at George, came into work with Italian persimmons and offered slices around to other staff. The staff’s reactions: overwhelmingly delicious and appreciated.

There are lots of fresh wild BC chanterelles around and truffle season in Italy has started. Truffle prices are as usual over the top.

Chef Loseto is sourcing really nice NS farmed salmon which is OceanWise certified. You can buy it from Daily Seafood off the Danforth, if you find yourself up there and are pleasant, since it is a wholesale operation. Tell them Lorenzo from George sent you. Fresh calamari is arriving from the west coast in the US and the oysters from NB and PEI are currently outstanding. The Chef brought in Dover sole, which he is preparing in a classical meunière way. They are sustainable and farmed in Spain. An application has been filed to certify them with OceanWise. They are as delicious as Dover sole ever was. Quickly selling out, they are being reordered for January. Chef Loseto has sourced bison cheeks from Quebec which are, in general, unobtainable here. Also, he is offering Alberta wagyu. Rabbit confit is back accompanied by chick pea fritters and passion fruit cream.

Food Prices are dropping

A new trend has been developing without people taking much notice: bumper harvests. Such harvests in 2013 and this year have completely shifted world markets for wheat, corn, oats, barley and soy into surpluses and inventory to production ratios are now historically high.

See the Financial Times analysis dated Sept 23, 2014.

This new abundance ignores the factors which not so long ago, in 2008 caused food riots and export restrictions. We were told by analysts that negative long term trends in food production were seemingly unresolvable. The FT article outlined factors: “The world population continues to grow, and consumers in developing countries are eating more grain–fed meat. Biofuel refiners are pumping out plenty of ethanol, though they may have throttled back their once-headlong pace of expansion. Climate change is making weather extremes more frequent, endangering crop yields.”

These factors no longer seem significant. Back to the drawing board for the poor analysts who are wrong again!

This article was written well before the price of oil plunged 40%. Energy is a significant cost to producers and even more important to distributors. Economics suggests that prices should begin to fall as energy price reductions work their way through the system. It will be interesting to see whether Chef Loseto’s theory that wholesale prices are sticky on the downside will prevail. When prices went up, we noticed that some of the giant food processors adjusted, by giving us smaller quantities in the same size box. We are not holding our breath in the hope of discovering, as we continue to open boxes that previous quantities have been restored.

Holiday gift suggestions

The following books, some of which we commented on earlier in the year are more than suitable for foodies:

Charred & Scruffed: Bold New Techniques for Explosive Flavor on and off the Grill by Adam Perry Lang
This book teaches you many things about BBQ but if you like the cut and thrust of cooking directly on coals with the attendant heat, smoke and danger of mastering fire as a medium for cooking, this is the book for you. Easy to understand, there is one delicious recipe after another requiring few props or BBQ accessories.

Liquid Intelligence, The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold
Be sure to secure an invitation to the next drinks party of anyone you gives this to you. Probably best for those who are a bit anal in following directions. We bought it because it fulfilled our greatest dream – unlocking the secret of how to make perfectly crystal clear ice cubes. Written for pros but not too much detail for someone who is fussy.

Toronto Cooks, Signature Recipes from the City’s Best Restaurants by Amy Rosen
Rosen writes, “Toronto Cooks is a distillation of this city’s food scene. This cookbook is designed to make fan-favourite dishes from restaurants, achievable for the eager home chef. You can make a reservation tomorrow. Tonight you cook.”

The Virtues of the Table: How to Eat and Think by Julian Baggini, Granta
One of the Best Books of 2014 by the Financial Times. “Baggini, a practised demystifier of philosophy, takes on the issues with which “foodies” torture themselves. He is never dry or over-academic, leavening reason with wit. Several writers have attempted philosophies of food. This philosopher does a better job and with more humour.” We have not yet read it but did mention it earlier in the year having noticed a very funny article in the FT on Dieting. This article turned out to be an excerpt from the book.

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
We missed the book but caught the movie on Itunes. Starring Helen Mirren who perfectly captures the dour demeanour of a strong, unpleasant woman owning and operating a French provincial restaurant (you will recognize the type from your travels). The film is about an Indian family who starts a very unwelcome Indian restaurant across the highway from a one star Michelin restaurant, in a small town in the Lot. The film which is beautifully photographed was produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.

If you would rather not read over the holidays but wish to continue eating, try the newly opened Nao Steakhouse by Tim Foley at 90 Avenue Road above Bloor in the old Boba premises. It was a huge and lengthy renovation, delivering a splendid result.

A superb last minute gift is organic Greek olive oil carried by Olliffe. A perfect finishing oil, Spartan Rolling Hills, $28.00. Sam Gundy of Olliffe suggests the non-organic alternative which he says, is a better deal at $36.00 for double the volume.

Wine School takes a holiday in December

Last month, Eric Asimov of the New York Times selected 3 Rioja Reserves to drink and compare. Our own Ian Thresher suggested comparable Rioja’s available at the LCBO. Following the Wine School protocol, Eric Asimov suggested what we look for in terms of an evening of drinking these 3 wines. Recently, he summed up the results of this exercise. See here. It turns out that the point of this month’s drinking, was to observe how the taste of wine evolves as it ages.

Vouvray Sec, is the wine which Eric Asimov of the New York Times suggests we drink this month.

Asimov explains in the Wine School introduction why we should consider Vouvray Sec, which is made from the chenin blanc variety. “It’s a wine lover’s duty to extol the beauties and virtues of genres that are under loved and underappreciated. This was so of riesling, before the world cottoned to it and it is so now of chenin blanc, the great white grape of the Loire Valley.”

Word of its beauty has yet to arrive at the LCBO. Ian Thresher tells us that all the Vouvray wines, now available at the LCBO, fall into the category of sweet plonk. Therefore, Wine School in Toronto is adjourned until January. Look for dry chenin blanc wines to sample when you travel to France.

Our Cocktail for the Season – WinterGold

Our Sommelier Christopher Sealy, tells us this recipe resembles a mulled apple cider but without the sweetness. He writes:

“Built in a shaker over ice. Shaken not stirred. Poured over ice.

  • 1 oz of Bulleit Rye. – I tried with a higher end Rye/bourbon and the flavor though distinct, overwhelmed the balance. Therefore, a rye of moderate to good quality should be used
  • ¾ to 1 oz of unfiltered Ontario/Quebec apple juice
  • ½ oz of demerara syrup – or Guyanese dark rum if you choose to upgrade
  • 1 oz of Amaro Nonino or Amaro Montengro (Amaro Nonino being the finer)
  • ¾ oz of lemon juice

Happy Holidays!

— 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.