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

@chefmolson

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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3 thoughts on “Canada C3

  1. Gary Torraville

    A great read Michael. Saw it this morning on fb…Ross MacFarlane had posted it.

    Look forward to hearing more about it and about the newfs you spent so much time with! Haha

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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