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Vol. 3: No. 192 – February 20, 2015

The misery continues at the Ontario Food Terminal

Chef Loseto reports that things are tough at the Terminal. It’s dark when he gets there, bitterly cold with shortages of all produce. The only thing which sustained him was a trip to Kelowna which as the 2014 Gold Medal Plate Canadian winner resulted in a victory lap where he cooked dinner for 150 people at Big White, to much applause. At the Terminal he found that everything seems to be almost 3 times the price; however, when shopping in Kelowna, he found that prices were twice as expensive as in Toronto. How is that possible?

High prices at the Terminal usually go hand in hand with crop failures and higher energy prices. Judging by the scarcity of products, (he said that he had to fight for everything), it would seem that the higher prices have resulted from crop failures in California. Lower energy prices are offset by our low dollar. Californian lettuces and other green vegetables appear to have taken a hard hit by frost. Shortages have also put pressure on Mexican produce, which also has risen in price.

The good news is that Canadian root vegetables are abundant and of good value. Ontario sunchokes and leeks are nice. Remember though to use them soon after you buy them or they will deteriorate quickly at this time of year because your refrigerator is not cold enough to preserve them. Hot house Ontario vegetables are scarce except cucumbers. There are no field peppers and hothouse Ontario tomatoes are hit and miss at best.

So what was good? The Chef liked the look of Mexican asparagus although he did not buy it because he dislikes serving food not corresponding to our seasons. He also saw really nice looking Mexican tomatoes and notes that Mexican produce continues to get better all the time. Blood oranges from Italy have just arrived. Earlier in the month the Chef did buy Moro blood oranges by Cecelia from California. These are tarter than the sweet Sunkist Californian variety but not as good as the Sicilian ones. The Chef also liked Israeli persimmons a lot. He recommends Portuguese pears, California clementines, Italian kiwis and Spanish peppers. He thinks the cold storage apples are excellent but again, similar to Ontario sunchokes and leeks you’re required to consume them soon after purchase.

Finally, the Chef has discovered some fantastic Ontario hydroponic lettuce which is tinged red. This lettuce is so beautiful it could be used as a floral centrepiece for dining. We have yet to find out who its producer is but we are actively looking. We will report back on our progress.

We are using lamb saddles and bison tenderloin which had not been available so far this year. The Toronto market for squabs has sold out with the demand for Chinese New Year.

New wild bass from the US tops the list of new fish available, along with Nova Scotia caviar which the Chef likes.

On GEORGE’s Valentines menu was dark chocolate banana mascarpone mousse. It appears that the media is pushing chocolate desserts strongly this month. Our head server scoffs and says her grandmother in Jamaica makes her own chocolate (and coffee) from beans she harvests on her own bushes located on her property there.

More nonsense from nutritionists

We seem to be deluged with the news of false nutritional claims and it is always interesting to hear from nutritionaction.com–an online service attempting to sort out spurious claims of nutritionists.

In this recent article, Dr Mehmet Oz on his TV show in 2013 tried to claim that carbs eat away at your brain. On the show he had a guest who discussed the possible connection between gluten and dementia. The article calmly dissects the issue and tries to squash the argument. Here is the conclusion of NutritionAction:

“Bottom Line: If you’re like most Americans, you eat too much bread, rice, pasta, sweet baked goods, and other grains. Shoot for just four or five small servings a day. But that’s unlikely to cut your chances of memory loss unless it helps you lose weight or lowers your blood sugar.”

In general, how is one to determine which nutritional claims to believe? Last week, we notice that a panel of US experts told us that all the claims about the connection between elevated cholesterol and heart attacks were overblown. When we mentioned this to our doctor, he said that the chief benefit from anti-cholesterol pills lay in their anti-inflammatory action and not the reduction in cholesterol levels. Oh dear, what to believe!

Maybe Loblaws? On the boob tube, the president of Loblaws acknowledges that the public is besieged by contradictory nutritional advice. As a result, Loblaws has packaged processed food with easy-to-read advice on nutritional content. Sounds good, except one of our rules is to avoid all processed food altogether so we know what we are actually eating. NutritionAction’s bottom line advice sounds the simplest.

P.S. NutritionAction has an interesting follow–up article which shows how some supplement producers approach the market deceitfully.

Wine School

This month we are supposed to drink nebbiolo wines from the Langhe in Piemonte. New York Times Wine Critic, Eric Asimov chose these wines as one of the twelve monthly wines included in his wine drinking education series which begun last year.

Langhe is in an area south of Turin where Barolo and Barbareso are produced. Asimov writes “sometimes the grapes used for Langhe nebbiolo come from outside the limits of the more exalted appellations. Other times, they may come from the same vineyards as Barolo and Barbaresco but are taken from young vines or, for some other reason, do not make the cut to go into the more grander wines”

A few years ago, some of us accompanied the Chef to Turin to attend the Slow Food Movement’s annual meeting. We diverted to the Langhe region where we learned to love Barolo and Barbaresco wines but we noted that the wines had to be at least 10 years old before they really became superb (in the case of Barbaresco – drinkable). Wines of this age are difficult to find in Ontario. We ended the trip in an inn across the river from the Barbaresco vineyards where Langhe-Nebbiolo wines were produced and loved what we tasted there. Unfortunately when we returned home, we noticed that they were seldom available at the LCBO.

This is still true and we regret to tell you that currently the LCBO offers no Langhe-Nebbiolo wines at all. Consequently, Wine School is en cong this month. If you are keen to try these wines, you can find two of the three selections in the NYT article at GEORGE which we happen to have for some time now in our cellar. We will serve them by the glass for anyone who wants to see what the fuss is all about.Also, if you want to know more, talk to our Sommelier, Christopher Sealy who has an absolute passion for these wines. Here is Christopher’s take:

“Langhe Nebbiolo,

The rolling hills of the Langhe area around the quiet town of Alba, at the foot of the Piemontese Alps are home to some of the most elegant and age-worthy red wines that Italy produces. The red wines of Barolo and Barbaresco sourced from the Nebbiolo grape can draw parallels to the great wines of Burgundy.

Piemonte shares a complex food and wine history inherited from the Franco-Italian reign of the late Savoy Dynasty. If you every have trouble speaking Italian with a wine maker, you could easily fall into the common language of French. In fact, ages ago it was a French oenologist, Louis Odart, who upon a visit to Piemonte informed his counterparts that in order to coax greatness out of Nebbiolo— a sweet wine for Kings at the time, one must train and grow it much like Pinot Noir…et voila!

The comparison of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir only goes as far as wines made in a particular style and have origins on specific terroir which allow the resulting wine to have nuances similar to Burgundy Pinot Noir. Yet like Burgundy, the region of Barolo and Barbaresco can be divided into single vineyards much like the Cote de Beaune and the Cote de Nuits and as such is very diverse and complex.

To better understand the wines of Nebbiolo, many producers use young vine Nebbiolo to go into a cuvee labeled as ‘Langhe-Nebbiolo’. Vines under the age of 20 – 25 years are often softer and more fruit forward and as such can be and are meant to be consumed when young. Many producers, even the greatest, have an offering of these wines in order to give the consumer a glimpse at what the grander and more austere wines of the house would be like. So as you wait for your Cannubi and Brunate cru Barolo to age in cellar, you should be consuming ‘village’ level wines such as ‘Langhe Nebbiolo.’

At GEORGE we currently list wines from the houses of Vietti, Produttori del Barbaresco, Gianfranco Alessandria. I have always found that certain Nebbiolo based wines pair so very well with the cuisine of our Chef Lorenzo Loseto. Just shift your gaze from Burgundy which also pairs well and you will be pleasantly surprised.  I have been buying them over time for GEORGE. These wines are exclusive to GEORGE in limited quantity.”

— 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.