Canada C3

Version 2

C3 Journal

 

Leg 1   Toronto – Montreal

June 1-10, 2017

Michael Olson

Chef Professor, Canadian Food & Wine Institute at Niagara College

 

I moved to Niagara to open a winery restaurant called On The Twenty in 1993 after working in Toronto and Ottawa for many years. I met my wife Anna there and have a daughter, Mika. The only thing you need to know about me is that I am a very happy guy thanks to my loving family and the fact that I work in a field that keeps me constantly enthusiastic about learning and sharing.

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When I first got the invitation, I thought was a scam but noticed the names of two people from the food world that I respect: Anita Stewart and Steve Beckta. I asked and was able to get time off work so applied and was accepted. Like you, I wasn’t sure what to expect but don’t worry, it all simply comes together and you an expect things to change all the time – just roll with it! It may sound cliché but this is truly about the journey, not the destination. You can unplug from the noise of CNN and the shackles of the internet and spend time talking to people in person, getting to know their story and talents. You’ll understand more about Canada than expected, and likely understand yourself a little better.

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June 1, Toronto

My first event was to cater the launch party docked at Queen’s Quay in Toronto for 90 guests, then we set sail at 9 p.m. As I did not know the ship, equipment, or anyone on board, I prepped at my home base of Niagara College. This was a good idea as I could get things done ahead, properly chill, vac pack, and transport safely. My wife Anna came to help and see me off. I also asked a good friend, Mario Pingue to help. He has a prosciutto business in Niagara, curing meats in an old-fashioned manner learned from his father. He brought along a giant Berkel slicer that was moved around with the ship’s crane! Too funny.

 

My daughter lives in the city and was coming to say goodbye so I talked her into helping with service. It ended up being a very memorable family event for the three of us.

Menu

Hothouse Salad

            – lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil grown in our college greenhouse

Mountain Oak Gouda, New Hamburg

Pingue Capicollo and Prosciutto

Potato Salad with Kozliks Mustard

Fresh Asparagus in Icewine Vinaigrette

BBQ Chicken in Gamay~Wild Leek Glaze

Slow Roast Pork Neck in Sumac, Brown Beer, and Maple Syrup

Eton Mess

            – 1st Pick of the Season Niagara Strawberries in Cream and Meringue

Niagara College Sparkling Wine, Beer and Icewine

My first point of contact on C3 is Jason Collard, the guy who answers every question and makes every thing happen when in comes to hospitality on board. We were all happy with how the event rolled out – people were very excited to be there and enjoyed themselves. After clean up and saying goodbye, it was time to move on. Leaving the port, it was surreal to be in a large vessel dwarfed by the Toronto skyline, all was still and quiet. We had a huge send off and the police and marine boats were out, lights flashing and hoses spraying.

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And as the initial excitement wore off a little, we all looked around, total strangers, and without saying it, it was kinda like “now what do we do?” Then the conversations began. My two kitchen mates, Paul and Mike are really great guys. Like most of the crew, they’re from Newfoundland. Pleasant, hard working and honest, I enjoy working with them but can’t understand every third sentence. I will work on that.

Jeff is the group leader, the founder of Students on Ice, C3, and our version of Jacques Cousteau. And then there is the small army of super-fit, friendly “guys” that look after safety, Zodiac driving and anything to do with ushering us around. The ship crew works on a 24 hour schedule, generally quite reserved but always doing something.

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June 2, Picton

We cruised around the False Main Duck Islands, observed birds, shorelines, and learned about the geography of Prince Edward County. Whenever I’ve been through here, it’s a diversion from Highway 401, en route to Kingston or Ottawa. I realize I’ve never travelled anywhere so slowly. We anchored 2 km off from Picton and Zodiac’d into drop off at the PEYC, the local yacht club. It was truly an ernest, small town welcome. We started off with a walking tour of local landmarks by a very cordial historian, Peter Lockyer. We saw the Crystal Palace, learned about the town history, it’s early economic generators, including a canning plant. We saw the old stately home of the Loyalists and leading citizens. He talked about the Courthouse and Registry Office.

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The Quaker Murder

            Two Quakers had sold a crop of hops and were flush with cash ($500). A couple of thugs thought they would be easy targets as Quakers are peaceful and would not defend themselves. They wore masks and attached the men – a fight ensued and one of the Quakers was killed. The masked men ran off. A manhunt captured two known troublemakers and they were brought to trial and convicted, despite their plea of innocence. It was the first and only public hanging. Citizens were so repulsed at the idea of hanging someone who might be innocent that they never again put the gallows to use. Is this part of the Canadian sentiment?

We had a nice, simple dinner of roast chicken, tomato salad, potatoes, and other sides. It all felt a little bit like a Jimmy Stewart movie from way back, but genuine. Small town, good values, decent people.

There is an ongoing message about Reconciliation with Indigenous People. The local Mohawk Chief addressed the group and then the Mayor. He highlighted an act from the previous year where the town had a disaster affecting the local water supply, resulting in a state of emergency. The first call to the Mayor’s office was from the Chief, who offered all the drinking water, a truck and driver to ensure public safety. The Mayor was clearly moved by the gesture. I made me think about isolation. I grew up in Saskatchewan and there was a Reserve not far away. There really wasn’t a lot of interaction between the two communities. There was never anything overt, but we seemed to avoid each other. I didn’t have friends from the Rez when I was a kid. Sad. Mind you, it also seemed like a town just 30 miles away was nearly a different country. When you’d play hockey in a different town, you would count the grain elevators – if they had more than yours, you were in trouble.

 

June 3, Prince Edward County

After the morning briefing, we headed in to Picton. Jason and I wanted to hit the Farmers Market to pick up additions for tomorrow’s dinner. We were driven around by Doug, a landscape guy who recently moved to PEC from Toronto. We strolled the market but it’s too early in the season here – my local market in Welland is about two weeks ahead. It’s mostly soaps and trinket stuff but we met some cool people. There a baker from Humble Bread who knew me from Instagram

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so we had a nice visit. I ran into David Miller who is helping set up a brewery call Midtown. He said I had just missed John Bil (Honest Weight) and David McMillan (Joe Beef) who’d been in town to visit Norman Hardie’s winery. I’ve known John since the 80s when I was chef of Liberty and he worked at Rodney’s Oyster House. I helped him last year on a three week pop-up restaurant at Luminato (art festival) – we opened a place called Le Pavillon at the Hearn – a defunct coal fired power generating station. It was a 1930s French classic in the former Control Room. Tough work but it was a blast.

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I should mention that our science team is studying birds, taking water samples for DNA tracking, and Thomas is a keen on studying eels. He is just as passionate about his work as I am mine.

At the market, I also ran into Krista and Dave Look. She is an exec with Food Network Canada so I know them through my wife. They bought an old pile in Wellington as their weekend getaway.

We picked up asparagus, radishes, and a few other items. Jason was hungry so I asked Doug to take us to Norman Hardie Winery. I’ve known Norm since he was a skinny sommelier at the Four Seasons Yorkville. He has gone full winemaker and is a leader in the PEC scene, almost a cult like following with the 30 year old enthusiasts. A grad from Niagara is running the patio and they have an open-air restaurant with wood burning pizza oven and salads. That’s it. Perfect. We ate pizza like kings and had a glass of excellent Chardonnay. Doug and Jason were impressed even more when Norm comp’d the bill. Moving on, we hit the Cheese Fest back in Picton at the Crystal Palace. It was fun but seemed a little disjointed, tiny samples and at the end, so many of the vendors wanted to clean up and get out. I said hi to Jamie Kennedy’s sons who run a French fry stand. I saw them as toddlers then showed Jack around my school a few years ago. To see kids now at the age you were not so long ago makes one pause and reflect. Time does fly.

In the evening I did an impromptu lesson in the Hangar (third deck meeting place, actually a helicopter hangar) discussing and tasting cheese and charcuterie. I’ve had a lot of questions on food and offers to help in the kitchen. I don’t think it’s wise to load the kitchen up and want to respect Paul and Mike’s space so thought it best to do something elsewhere. I discussed how cheese is made

“Milk’s Leap Toward Immortality”

and the origins of pre-refrigeration preserving techniques like salting or fermenting of meats. We spent about an hour discussing then they ate everything! Ha ha. I must say people are really enjoying the food. I like how it all ends up “in the kitchen”.

 

June 4, Kingston

My second dinner takes place anchored offshore from downtown Kingston. My brother Mark used to live here and I did some events with a local restaurateur Calrk Day – he traces his roots back to the Loyalists. I asked if he was interested in helping a while back. I wanted to do food reflective somewhat of Kingston’s connection to Sir John A, Fort Henry et al.

Menu

Smoked Brome Lake Duck

            – potato pancake, cucumbers, asparagus Bresaola salad, butternut squash marmalade, rhubarb compote, chive flowers, radish

Kingston Beer Braised Water Buffalo with Turnips, Carrots, and Buttermilk Biscuit

Scotch Laced Strawberry Trifle

* wine by Grange, PEC – skin contact Pinot Gris & Pinot Noir

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A good event with his team of Will and Francois! I stayed on ship all day to prep and Clark arrived with the meat ready to serve. The others had toured Old Fort Henry and attended a Blanket Ceremony. This is an interactive workshop that displays how Indigenous Peoples were mistreated by the settlers. I was told that it is emotionally draining and likely to really upset some people. I was not sure how the dinner guests would be on arrival. Jason and I discussed and decided on a long family table. They really did a nice job on set up – solid Hospitality team. Folks came back hungry and ready to talk it out. I was humbled by how thrilled they were with dinner. The food is a small part of a good party. Looking on to my new friends eating, laughing, wide-eyed discussing and patting each other’s backs was a million dollar view. Clark was an awesome host. A great day. A wonderful day.

 

June 5, Kingston

Early breakfast and on the Zodiacs to Kingston City Hall for a vernissage. This was a display of work by middle school children. Art, multi-media, and diorama filled the large room. The kids had been posed a series of questions and their display represented work done over the whole school year. There were some great displays. Topics included:

  • residential school impact
  • racism in sports team icons
  • learning from past mistakes
  • understanding Indigenous culture
  • next steps

I was so impressed by a painting done by a young girl that I wish I could have bought it to take home.

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There were speeches by dignitaries and some of our team but the highlight was a man named Bernard. He is an elder of the Wolf Clan and works at Fort Henry. He dressed in full regalia; buckskin pants, eagle feathers, fur hat, beads, shells, and face in yellow, black, and red paint. Omygod this guy is fierce looking. I could not keep my eyes off him. When he went up to speak, everyone went silent – including about 200 grade 8 kids! He talked about his experience in residential school and his struggles. He was incredibly peaceful yet so strong in character. His message is about living in harmony. It was unforgettable.

There were sample of game meats for the kids so several of us went out to lunch at Kingston Brewing Company. My treat and the fist money I’ve spent in 5 days!

Back on the ship, there was a special event, a youth panel moderated by Katherine McInnon, Minister of Culture. We also had a commemoration of protected lands by the Nature Conservancy of Canada. There were 10 Youth Ambassadors on stage and all spoke eloquently, very clever. I was especially impressed by a young lady from Nunavit named Matalie. So poised in her answers, well spoken and insightful. She’s fiercely proud of her heritage and wears seals fur on her neck. She later said to me:

Hunt it, eat it, wear it”.

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We saw the elder Bernard again, he did a smudge ceremony with sage, cedar, tobacco, and sweet grass. We had music from Aaron Pritchard and the Tragically Hip minus Gord Downie. Gord’s family contributed to C3 by way of the Legacy Room, dedicated to the story of Chanie Wenjack, a young boy who died running away from a residential school. We had excellent passed food by “Tulips and Maple” and after, listened to the many talents knocking it out on guitars, drums and anything that makes noise. Excellent day. We set sail at 10, heading toward the Thousand Islands.

 

June 6, Thousand Islands & Brockville

The weather is presenting a bit of a problem, lots of grey skies, wind, and rain. I feel bad for Ian, our Thousand Islands expert, who had planned to tour us extensively through his locale. I think he had intended rolling tour of the area with us on the top deck and him guiding us through the beauty and history. There was a stop at Gordon Island to hike and plant trees but I choose to stay in. It was wet. At one point a crew member asked me to come to the stern to have a laugh – one of the Zodiacs had come loose due to a weak knot and the crew delighted in the fact that it had drifted off and had to be rescued! It was a bonding moment for me, six Newfoundlanders, and a guy from Victoria. Later, there was a neat poster in the galley offering an evening workshop on proper knot technique.

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The cottages on the islands are beautiful! We passed the area near Bolt Castle, a local version of the Taj Mahal. The castle was built by an American industrialist in honour of his wife. It was quite a sight on its own but made more dramatic by the indreadible high water levels. The damage looks very miserable. The highlight of that part was a large cargo ship whipping by us at what seemed like breakneck speed while we were pelted by rain and driving winds.

Paul prepared a lunch with Newfoundland angles; brisket, fish cakes, cabbage, carrots & turnips, and Figgy Duff (steamed blueberry pudding) for dessert – delicious. Arriving in Brockville, the water was rough and winds high. Sailboats were out. I was glad to dock rather than anchor out and Zodiac in.

There was a welcoming party for us at a local attraction called Aquaterrium. The idea was to put on a “Ship to Shore” presentation which was to unfold naturally without a great deal of scripting. Jason and I intended to show up for a little while then take Paul and Mike out for a beer. We felt we should stay and were glad as it was a great show hosted by Nigit’stil and Ray – our young friend Donavan spoke and this guy has the ability to message in a really clear way. He spoke of Reconciliation and told a story of love compared to fire. His father had taken him outside in the cold and wet, then asked him to start a fire without matches. Donavan tried and failed but then his father showed him how. He talked about how there are people that are capable of love but no one ever showed them how. He spoke of family as fire, keeping you warm and safe and always there. It was a really great message.

We also hear from a young man who sits on town council and had caused a stir several years earlier. A young person had committed suicide after feeling isolated regarding LGBTQ hassles. A Pride March had been suggested and shot down but Leigh, our councilor pushed the agenda against eh might of the conservative majority. It is now an annual event that has become a part of the community. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to everyone when they say you’re wrong.

IMG_7847IMG_7877IMG_7898We met the kitchen guys and crew at a local pub and had a really good laugh. They were speaking full-on NFLD lingo and I could barely understand half but we had a really good visit. I left early.

 

June 7, Brockville – Picton

Early wake up in Brockville and briefing on the bow, then off to a tour of the “Railroad Tunnel”. I have to admit that I thought this would be a real snoozer   I mean, it’s a railroad tu nnel. The first RR tunnel in built in Canada, it was built to transport goods to Ottawa from the river. We entered a site under construction as it is bring updated after a 40 year shutdown. The arched brick walls are coated with mineral deposits and it was a full kilometer under the city hall and the middle of town. Once completed, it will be a cool attraction and event space. I am shocked that no one had re-purposed it for commercial use; cheese cave, barrel ageing, brewery, I don’t know something! We continued through the town to see the local architecture (tons of brick & stone in Victorian and Loyalist homes) and through the town square. The place seems ready to accept a whole lot of new business and tourists. We went back as a group to see the Aquaterrrium and were guided by a city councillor who is either part of the design team or somehow connected to them. We spent an hour of so then boarded C3 to lift anchor. We gathered on the bow for a briefing then headed to Prescot.

We arrive to a welcome at the Coast Guard base then toured the facility. The best part (aside from being mobbed by elementary school children) was seeing the “lenses” from old lighthouses. Rather than rely on powerful electric lights, they used a series of crystal glass lenses to amplify the light of a gas light or single light source – amazing.

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We toured the town then met a the waterfront for a public meet and greet. Wonderful, warm welcome. The whole area, however, was covered in “shad flies”, harmless insects. I chatted with the mayor and asked what the economy was like across the river in Ogdensburg, NY. He explained that they had been hit hard by plant closings and more recent economic woes but the worst part was an epidemic of HEROIN use – terrible.

We visited Fort Wellington, shot cannons, toured old barracks – it was hot like hell and we were tired. After a group dinner at the local pub, we tried to call it an early night but the musicians were on fire so sat around the Knot (room on deck 2) to listen in.

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We set sail at around 10 or so – on our way.

 

June 8, Cornwall

 

After a night of moving, we arrived at the harbor in Cornwall. I woke up twice through the night, at first to see the passage through one of the locks then again as we made a hard left to pass through a canal.

We were greeted by an enthusiastic group – about 150 locals. Speeches were impossible to hear as there was no P.A. system. There are a lot of people engaged in “River Clean Up” organizations and there seems to be a lot of momentum. This was previously a center of chemical manufacture so there was a great deal of pollution..

At the welcome event, I met the leaders of a local religious group who had invited us to attend a dinner to celebrate the end of Ramadan for the Muslim community. I offered to help out with the dinner and they said yes.

I spent all day getting prep done for my last dinner tomorrow night. I prepped beef striploin, brisket, pork ribs, several salads, tons of vegetables, pre-soak for brown bread chimichuri, and many others. I want our last family dinner to be a special one.

At 5 I was taken over to the United Church to meet Moussabi – thinking I might help a little with dinner. I ended up cooking most of it.

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June 10, Monteal

It’s over.

I worked all day yesterday on preparing dinner so did not get to partake in the activities. It was a a wonderful evening as we feasted, laughed, cried, and held each other.

Menu

Eggplant in garlic yogurt and pomegranate

Zuchini and Snow Peas

Corn – Black Bean salad

Fennel and Grapefruit

Asparagus Salad with Chimichuri

Icelandic Brown Bread

Glengarry Cheeses

Ribs

Buffalo Wings

Striploin

Brisket

Pork Matahambre

Hummus

Bread Pudding with Rhubarb

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Olive Green Globe Slicer, Model 150

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Globe is an American company, founded in Dayton, Ohio back in 1920. At the time, Berkel slicers had become popular as a time-saving device and things like weigh scales, meat slicers, and  display cabinets were the business equipment of the day. It is interesting that IBM (International Business Machines), now synonymous with computers, was originally in this same line of work. The Model 150 slicer is a beautiful example of mid century design, with sleek lines and extra chrome for adornment and display of power. The Amercian economy was booming at the time so many items from this period (think ’57 Chevy) have these muscular displays of might, compared to the leaner, softer lines from the 30s and 40s.

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Unlike earlier designs like the Berkel flywheel series, the Globe 150 is a “gravity” slicer, where the meat carriage is on an angle, allowing the weight of the item being sliced to provide the pressure against the blade. Flywheel models used a mechanism to push horizontally on the meat but had to be clamped in place, so this allowed for easy removal and switch out of different items. The meat carriage and blade guard are in the original white enamel, food safe and sanitary looking. The blade handle on the right of the carriage is made of Bakelite. An additional feature of this model is an adjustable chute for controlling the angle of the meats being sliced.

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The 11 inch blade is powered by a 1/4 hp motor with satisfying quite hum and high rpm. All connections have been checked and corrected and the power cord has been replaced with a grounded 600v 16 G assembly.

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The restoration process involves total disassembly and cataloguing of parts. The cast aluminum base and carriage is then sent to a powder coat shop where these parts are sandblasted and acid treated to remove the decades of water, grease, and salt from commercial kitchen environments. Powder coating is an industrial application of a polyester based paint that is sprayed on in a fashion similar to electroplating – the paint particles are give a positive charge through corona spray head and the metal base has a negative charge running through it. Of course, opposites attract and the result is a smooth, even coat. The metal is then placed in a gigantic oven and baked at high temperature for 40 minutes to give the deep colour and impermeable finish. Although I wouldn’t, you could hit it with a hammer – the metal will dent but the coating will not chip off.

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The base has a removable meat tray that can be hand washed, made of cast aluminum and should not go into a dishwasher or used with metal or green scrubbies.

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The lower knife guard has a swing out feature for easy cleaning and a crumb tray directly below the blade that will catch any debris, dripping,  or oil from the items being sliced. The simply pulls out for washing.

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The blade can be removed by access through the stainless steel cover and using a socket. This should be done (carefully) on a fairly regular basis for cleaning as the design did not create a water tight condition – it will naturally allow for particles to get in.

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The built-in sharpener is shielded by the Globe name cover. To use, loosen the thumbscrew and tilt up the assembly.

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The two sharpening stones are put into place by pulling on the plunger and swinging them up to the blade.

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The motor is then turned on and the lever moved back and forth to sharpen the blade. Yes, wear glasses when doing this.

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There is a crack in the housing just below and right of the thumbscrew. This was a design flaw as I have seen others that have the exact same weak spot. However, it does not affect operation – I considered fabricating a “bridge” to hold it together but it would look ugly. The metal is plated zinc and would not take to welding or braising. I might try to look into an epoxy but concerned that this may not be food safe, therefore not worth the risk.

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The power switch is covered by a brass plate and there is also a CSA badge that reads “Globe Slicer, Connecticut, USA”. The black knob is the index for choosing the thickness of the slice. An interesting feature of this machine is that you can turn the power on by advancing the thickness indicator.

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The original rubberized legs were shot so will be replaced with stainless machine bolts and rubber feet to keep in off the table surface. Just a few more hours of detailing and this beauty will be good to go to a new home, ready to work all day for years to come.

Pumpkin Tofu Curry

 

2 onions, diced

1 clove garlic

1 Tbsp fresh ginger

1/2 cup apple juice

 

Puree in blender and cook in a heavy pot or skillet 10 minutes over medium heat using 1 Tbsp oil

Add 4 Tbsp curry powder and a pinch of salt

Add 1 cup yogurt and 2 cups tomato sauce

Bring to simmer and add 1/2 cup each diced celery and carrot plus 4 cups diced pumpkin or butternut squash

Cover and simmer slowly for 25 minutes, stirring a few times. Check seasoning.

Add 1 pkg (400g) diced firm tofu, cover and heat through.

Serve piping hot over rice with a side salad and warm Naan bread or toast. Add hot sauce if you like.

 

 

Mercado de la Cebada

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Entrance to the Mercado de la Cebada

Through our travels, we always end up at Market, whether that is a “farmer’s” seasonal market or a permanent structure. It’s always the best way to see what people eat, what is in season, pricing and how food is handled in different cultures. It can be frustrating however, as a hotel stay prevents buying any raw produce to cook yourself – this is why we opt for staying in apartments so we can do a blend of restaurant meals and ones prepared at home.

This year I’ve spent time in food markets throughout  South East Asia, Argentina, Iceland, Canada, and now Spain. At home we use our neighbourhood farm markets to get wonderful produce in season. It is also a very social experience, far different from the heads-down approach to shopping at the supermarket. And it takes more time.

Something that is clear is that traditional markets are having a hard time attracting new customers to their form of buying, going from stand to stand and choosing those ingredients with confidence. Is is because there are so many options to eat out? Are people generally not cooking that much at home despite the abundance of food information available? Whatever the reason, the numbers are down around the world. We’ve seen more and more prepared food stalls between the raw product vendors, even the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon has switched almost entirely to prepared foods as the younger crowds were not buying whole fish, raw vegetables and meat. The challenge with these however, is that they can start to feel like a “Disney” version of the real deal.

Now I’ve experienced a new blended approach that simple makes sense.

The Mercado de la Cebada in the Latina neighbourhood of Madrid is a real, working market, unlike some of the other “markets” that are basically tourist attractions, similar to a food court. We actually walked right by it looking for a place to find lunch at first, expecting nothing other than alleys of fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood and meat stalls. On a chance visit with no other ambition than to gaze and snap photos, we were so surprised to find a serious house party with people celebrating like it was their birthday. Crowds of party goers, dance music, laughing and roars of toasts and clinking glasses made us wonder if there was a local festival or celebration at hand. No, just Saturday afternoon.

We were told by a vendor that the market had become less busy, especially with young people and stalls were left with excess food at the end of the work week – the market is closed Sunday so Saturday was the last opportunity to have a busy day of sales. Certainly there would have been dissenters, and not all places stay open but a good dozen or more stalls switch from retails to “food truck” mode at noon, selling cooked items by the place and bargain priced wine and beer.

The feeling was not like a restaurant or bar but rather like a festival, a speakeasy, a house party, a … I’m not quite sure to tell the truth. It is serious fun, loud and inviting. With young and old, kids here and there. And what seems to be groups of friends or relatives getting together for nothing more than celebrating the good stuff in life. Anna was spotted but fans of her tv show so we were instantly brought into the fold of a small group. We made out way around then found a second floor that was less busy to took a look. There we found a number of smaller, quieter places and settled near a family fish shop, mom and dad in the back and their daughter, studying to be a dentist out front. It felt like a picnic, you could have your choice of 6 different wines, or beer or soft drinks, who cares. By the way, these Madrid people eat and drink like it is their last day on earth, and they all appear to grow very old gracefully (what the hell?) – another story.

Anyway, we spent an hour or so visiting, chatting with the daughter and a counter man, really nice experience. We ate boquerones (vinegared white anchovies), escabeche, steamed clams and salt seared shrimps. What a feast! However the coolest thing was the welcome, the genuine smile, the fact that we were not seen as customer$ but guests (sounds like a training manual for a formula restaurant). I felt as though a warm embrace of human kindness had come our way, we enjoyed the time and left with a smile, waving goodbye.

Should this be happening at St Lawrence Market in Toronto and Jean Talon in Montreal? Without question, yes. Of course the fun police would be convinced that serving drinks to the public with music playing while tasting and learning about food would lead to anarchy but I do not agree. It is simply a modern way to get good food to people who might not otherwise visit markets, see the product on the raw form or ever learn a simple way to prepare it at home. This in turn reduces food wasted, keeps the hard working market vendors in a healthy business state and everyone wins. See you at the market.

 

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We felt like we were invited into their home, a really incredible sense of hospitality.

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Le Pavillon

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David Dundas, dad, husband, carpenter, ham slicer operator, craft beer aficionado 

Le Pavillon was the hottest table in the Toronto restaurant circuit, for 3 weeks. Then boom, it disappeared.

It all started very simply; my old pal John Bil asked way back in February if he could use a vintage deli slicer for a pop up project he was working on with Fred Morin. Of course was my response then I had to stick my foot into it. Finding out it was a temporary restaurant as part of Toronto’s Luminato Fest and involved doing 1930s French food at an abandoned power plant, how could I say no. Better yet, I Huck Finned my colleague from Niagara College, Peter Blakeman, to come along to cook. We knew it would be a tough haul but we also knew this style of food, based on the menu offering at the French Pavillion at the New York World’s Fair, and later the famed New York restaurant, Le Pavillon. He was Saucier, I was Garde Manger.

Like a couple of old dogs, we settled into the routine right away, starting the monumental task list at 8 a.m. and dragging our sore butts out at midnight. I got one day off a week so went to home see my sweetheart then pick up Niagara produce on the way back in to the city. Funny part is, I didn’t even have much time to take photos, ha ha. It is amazing however, that what seems completely nuts initially becomes routine just after a few days, like walking though the abandoned Hearn Generating Station, empty of people but filled with art installations, early in the morning. Strange.

I can tell more but will let the pictures guide you through.

Delicious Manila

locavore
Chef Mikel at Locavore

 

milkfish sinagang
Milk Fish Sinagang, Locavore 
oyster sisig
Oyster Sisig, Locavore 
scallops
Bay Scallops with Mullet Roe, Grace Park 
grace park
No one is leaving hungry, Grace Park
plating at Shangri-la
Plating up Chilled Chicken Breast, Pho Style at the Makati Shangri-La
limecustardShangri-la
Tocino de Cielo, Anna’s Lime Custard at the Shangri-La 

Outside of the Filipino community, there are very few people that I know in Ontario that have a clue of what the cuisine of the Philippines has to offer. Can you name three dishes? Indigenous products including a vast array of seafood, fruits and vegetables have been augmented by influences and staples like rice from China, Malaysia, Spain and of course, the United States. In some areas like Clark, a former US air base near Manila, they still celebrate American Thanksgiving after years of the post WW2 presence. Traditional dishes are rich, intended to keep you fuelled for a day of hard physical work. Most are presented family style and it seems like nearly every meal is a celebration; Filipinos are happiest at the dinner table with family and friends. Feast meals always look to the roasted pig, Lechon, golden and crisp skinned. There is always rice on the table and tastes look to sweet, sour and salty. Sour comes from either vinegar preparations or tangy fruits. Noodles from China are a big player but the new world ingredients brought by the Spanish, like potato, tomato and chile are never far away. On our earlier trips, I was always dared to try the balut (google it) but now I know what I like and steer in that direction.

There is a huge roster of new restaurants opening all the time and every cuisine imaginable is available but many of the young chefs wishing to revitalize local classics are doing it right. I have to admit that the suggestion of going to another restaurant where “the chef has created a list of dishes that are his/her interpretation of local classics” usually makes me want to run but we enjoyed two excellent examples of fresh, bright and intense flavours.

Locavore – Chef Mikel does party food for sharing, seasonings intense and flavours rich enough that you might not be able to eat the whole dish yourself but a bunch of spoonfuls of this cooking makes for a great meal. We had chicken wings in Kare Kare (peanut sauce usually served on braised oxtail, root vegetable chips with aioli, prawns in coconut, milk fish Sinagang (sour fruit soup), braised beef with green beans and an amazing Sissig, usually crisp fried stewed pork head bits but in this case crisp pork crackling, deep fried oysters and a French inspired sauce made creamy with chicken livers and butter. If I read the dish description on paper, it would not appeal to me but it was so well balanced and rich in texture and flavour that I felt I was dining on class Escoffier style haute cuisine. The pastry chef did a wonderful job of blasting us with coma inducing desserts to finish off the evening.

Grace Park – this is the restaurant of Margarita Fores, named Top Female Chef in Asia for 2016. She has a calm sense of cool style, the room decorated in comforting colours and quirky antiques and artifacts to provide a farmhouse appeal. Her food is very much “I am looking after you, my chubby little baby” style, wonderful flavours, ample portions and each dish obviously made with great care and attention. Braised meats are cooked long enough to be melting tender, seafood cooked just enough to fall apart but still with that snap that says super fresh. We had roast bay scallops on the shell with mullet roe, crisp battered mushrooms with aioli, pasta with uni and fresh shrimp in tomato, Flinstones-like short rib, marlin in a “dry” style Sinagang and a leprechaun’s pot of gold, rather braised lamb adobo served in a traditional clay pot with Chinese barley. This is the kind of dish that you wish to eat alone in a darkened room. Food this good makes decent people greedy.

 

We also put on a dinner sponsored by the Canadian Embassy featuring Alberta Beef, BC fruits and Icewine from Niagara (Inniskiln) with a wonderful support from the staff of the Makati Shangri-La. I was especially impressed by the personal attention of the Executive Chef and other kitchen leaders who worked service from start to finish. This is a super busy hotel with a half dozen restaurants, plenty of banquet rooms and a whole list of reasons why they could have not been there to work but they all pitched in, an effort that did not go unnoticed.

 

Now, after several visit to the Greater Manila Area, I feel I am starting to get comfortable enough to incorporate some Pinoy cooking into my own style. But will it be the next greatest thing on the world dining stage? Who knows. It will be the next greatest thing at the Olson home kitchen soon. Thanks Manila!

 

Manila From The Car Window

jeepney

 

In Saigon, everyone rides scooters, outnumbering cars 50:1 but in Manila, there is a traffic snarl of cars, buses and Jeepneys, the utility vehicle turned mini bus that repeats a neighbourhood route, costing pennies and the most common way to get around for the majority of the city’s massive population. These photos are simply what I saw looking out the car window, normal life, no judgement, just reality.

 

 

I am this city

It’s hot, I’m dirty, I sweat

I ache, I sweat, I burp

My stomach growls

I’m angry, I push a man against a wall

The streets slow to a crawl

I keep the poor next to the river

I stretch, I moan, I shout

I work hard, lift stones, wash a car

But they smile no matter what I do

They sing, they pray, they make music

They cook, they share, they love

Nurture, lift, care

These people