Toronto Restaurants supporting local in different ways

I shared a lot of great conversation around food and what is happening in our city this week.  It`s a fascinating time in food and there`s a lot of great support for local and (or) sustainable foods across our city.

The Royal York Hotel made news over the last few years with their apiary.  They have an entire colony of bees on their roof which are tended for honey.  There are more than 40,000 of natures farmers working the roof to provide a sweet taste for guests in the hotel (which also features a high tea).

Vertical Restaurant announced (last summer) that they would begin to grow many of their own ingredients in Stouffville.  Chef Tawfik Shehata tends his garden and fuses many of the ingredients into the daily menu.

Chef Martin Kouprie of Pangea is an active scuba diver who is an active supporter of sustainable food.  Their website features a list of local partnerships (check these out here).  The list includes many food heroes in our province (foragers, cheese makers, farmers)  and their products frequently appear on the menu.  Chef had also supported local wine by implementing a no-corkage policy on Ontario Wine (I believe this is still in place as a permanent policy).

Mark Cutrara (Cowbell) features farmers and artists on his website and specializes in nose-to-tail preparation of local harvest.  Much (of not all) of their food is butchered in-house and offers courses in the art of butchery and their approach to food.

It`s an exciting time to be involved in food across this city – any favourite gems out there?

There`s a lot of great stuff happening around our city – these are 3 powerful examples of how exciting is becoming with it`s approaches and connections to local food and it`s producers.


Every once in a while you witness something that your brain can`t process.

Bitchin` Kitchen is a web-based cooking show and channel.  You can find them here – including a tonne of their videos.  I`ve watched several – they are not conservative, perhaps not for the entire family but mostly tongue-in-cheek humour and some cooking undertones (that was also tongue-in-cheek – there is actually some serious cooking advice here as well).

Although there is an affiliation with the Food Network I haven`t seen any sign of this show on it – perhaps it`s still on it`s way to our Northern Clime.  Then again, the bios do seem to point me to the fact that these dudes are actually Canadian (they are based out of Montreal) and the more I read, the more I wonder if I`m actually the last person on the Internet to discover them.

I really like that they are doing something different – I also love the branding of the entire thing.  A skull pierced with a fork and knife, pink kitchen and sketch humour that they bring into each episode is a lot of fun and something different.

You can follow them on Twitter here.

Large companies investigating food ethics?

The last few weeks have seen a few announcements from large food chains that possibly show a changing approach to food.

On January 26, Target announced that they would no longer sell farmed salmon.  Their justification was a shift towards greater sustainability and approaches which preserve local habitats.  I am not qualified to comment on the validity of the argument though Seachoice (a Canadian program supported by 5 Canadian Conservation organizations including the Suzuki Foundation) agrees with their assessment of farmed salmon (placing the wild salmon as an item of some concern).

Farmed salmon has come under fire for a variety of reasons (which of course have counterpoints) which include unnatural diets (including corn), threats to local habitat and use of antibiotics that can alter the salmon and their environment.  I have seen a single salmon farm in my life – it was a series of nets just off the shores of Cape Breton.  I was told by local scuba divers that there was a giant amount of refuse in the area (fish do have to use the bathroom) that they anecdotally felt was altering the local aquaculture.  There were also concerns of the nets breaking and the farmed salmon mixing with the wild salmon in the area.

There are many sides to any argument and now that the second largest discount retailer in the US has stepped in, the argument is bound to escalate.

Whole Foods is a less surprising entrant to the world of food ethics.  They have announced that they are phasing out sources of oil that originate from the Alberta Oil Sands, justifying that they `create higher than normal greenhouse footprints.`

There are many sides to this debate as well and I suppose it`s less surprising that a company like Whole Foods is stepping into a debate like this one.

An any rate, 2 fairly significant stories in a short time.  It`s fascinating to watch and we`ll be looking for more.

Guerrilla Gardening

Imagine an independent army of citizens who hide in plain sight with a single mission: to add beauty to their towns and cities.

Guerrilla Gardening has been around for many years (it’s roots go back to the 1970′s) though it’s picked up steam with the progress of the Internet and the ability for people to mobilize with like-minded others.

The soldiers of this war arm themselves with typical gardening tools in addition to modern weapons of a city planter.  In order to avoid resistance of planting in places that one does not have permission, gardeners find innovative ways to secretly plant in public.  Seed bombs, seed balloons and seed pills are all used for random plots of flowers (see more about them here).

New gadgets appear to be on their way as well (I say “appear” as I can’t tell how much of these are real vs tongue in cheek): a device that automatically drops seeds from you shoes, a briefcase with a hole for planting through and the like.

The recent wave of this movement started in 2004 in the UK.  Richard Reynolds wrote a book and launched a website to inspire and gather the masses.  If nothing else, check out their Troop Digs – it’s a page of before and after shots from around the world of the results of this secret army.

I’ve been dreaming about Guerrilla Farming for some time – hiding food crops around the city and seeing what happens.  All things in good time…

I really do adore this project and the spirit behind it – the spirit carried out by people around the world trying to make it just a little better.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet – Chicken Barley soup for 80 cents

I wholly believe that part of the difficulty of eating affordably is, in some cases, completely solvable by learning simple cooking techniques.  This won`t solve all the world`s problems but I know that some easy tricks could make a difference.

Last night was a good test of our committment – it`s a busy week and the evening was chock full.  I had a 30 minute chunk of time between arriving from work and needing to head out the door to meet Dana for a walk.  30 minutes to get dinner on, change, clean a little, return some calls – you know the drill.

I decided on a chicken barley soup.  The goal was something warm and hearty for last night as well as something that could be used for lunches through the week.  I spent $7.50 on ingredients – barley, tinned tomatoes, a 2-pound bag of onions and a full (`double`) chicken breast with skin and bones in tact.

Cheap Tuesday Gourmet   Chicken Barley soup for 80 cents February Cooking Recipes Cheap Tuesday Gourmet

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Cooking with ingredients – when 1+1=3

We were visiting family in Lindsay this weekend.  We arrived home around 5PM and I was in a hurry to go to a friends house to watch the big football game (the first full game I`ve seen all year).

Our plan was to watch the game, order a pizza and drink a few beer.  There wasn`t much time and our needs were simple.

In a fit of madness I decided that I had time to make my own pizza dough.  I made my first pizza from scratch in the last few months and may be developing a bit of an addiction.  The process is simple, almost effortless and the taste is simply superior.  In less than 5 minutes of effort (plus waiting time for the dough to raise) you can easily create enough dough for 2 pizzas.

I took the ingredients to a friends house – a pizza bar in a back pack.  I presented some options and we came up with a spicy little number that tasted awesome, cost less and left a smaller environmental mark on our world (sans takeout box).

We also remarked how much cooking from ingredients fills you quicker than eating typical fast food.  3 slices of the homemade pizza (we cooked one of the two), filled me to the brim.  I would have inhaled half an extra large of a commercial product.

Writing about food has really forced us to think a great deal about it.  Thinking about it is creating radical changes in my life – even the definition of eating something easy (fast food vs cooking) is being rewritten.  I`m thankful and excited at the same time.

San Diego – A model of a beer scene

I have been stating that the U.S. is kicking Canada`s butt in terms of it`s beer scene for about 2 years (by many accounts I was very late to the table with that assessment).

It`s not that we don`t have good beer.  Our craft beer scene is picking up momentum and some world-class pint glasses are appearing in Canada.  Progress is slow and consumers are supporting the scene slower.  With the LCBO (Ontario`s Government Liquor monopoly) now devoting shelves to Ontario Craft Beer, a strengthening of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association and brewers who are starting to get International recognition (Mill Street, Beau`s and others) there is great potential for where beer may go in Ontario, and Canada.

The US now supports more than 2,000 craft beers who support each other and educate the public on the beer scene as a whole.  People are excited about breweries and brew masters and the industry is becoming closer to rock and roll than mass food production.  Brewers are combining efforts, producing unique and rare beers and making them accessible to the general public.

The less restrictive import laws also allow the US to indulge in beer from around the world.  I have been to more than 10 stores which offer 500+ brands of beer (Premiere Gourmet being the closes in Buffalo – they stock up to 1,600 different flavors).

You may recall that I visited Stone Brewery in the Spring.  They are nestled in the outskirts of San Diego, California.  They were also named (once again) as the number one brewery in America.  They set an aspirational example of what a brewery can be (if you have not seen the 3-minute video they produced called I am a Craft Brewer, you simply must).

I recently revisited San Diego.  I didn`t have the chance to get back to Stone (it was about $100 cab ride from where I was staying) but I did get out on the town.

Of 10 or 15 bars and restaurants I visited, 100% of their draft beer was craft beer – more than 90% of that was local.  When a tap wasn`t local it made sense (i.e. a Japanese craft beer available on draft in a sushi restaurant).

The support of local beer was everywhere.  The convention center which housed our conference even offered local bottle beer (an amazing and pretty Red Trolley Ale).  This may have been the first time I have seen craft beer at a mass convention in my life.

If I had a sudden bout of memory loss and found myself trying to figure out where in the world I was, it would have been easy to diagnose which city I was in by merely reading the taps of beer.

The day after I returned from my trip I ended up in a large hotel in Toronto.  The lobby bar supported mostly large US mass-produced beer.  This is not an indictment of the hotel – they are not an exception in our city.  It is however, a pint worth thinking over…

Eat, Drink and Give

A quick post this morning to draw attention to a worthy cause and a great event.

This Tuesday evening is Eat, Drink and Give – a crazy amount of chefs and wineries are gathering at Roy Thompson Hall to create the food event of the winter.  The food, wine, space and time have been donated to raise funds for Haiti.

Tickets are $75 and the event runs from 6.30-9.30.  Click here to see the current participants – the list is stunning.

If you are attending, we`d love to meet up so drop a comment below and we`ll figure out how to find each other.

Wondertwin Power: Michael Pollan and Nancy Duarte

There is a shortage of phenomenal presentations in the world.

A phenomenal presentation is a combination of parts which rarely even appear by themselves – a great speaker, presentation material, expertise, appropriate props and audience engagement.  The importance of topic appears way down the list – great presentations transcend that.

Nancy Duarte helps people make great presentations.  She works with some of the world’s best.  Al Gore’s inconvenient Truth was prepared by her (and her team) as were a chunk of TED Presentations.

Nancy writes about including S.T.A.R. moments (Something They WIll Always Remember) in your presentations.  She worked with food advocate Pollan to develop a recent speech for POP!TECH (similar to TED – their differentiator is that they try to push their impact beyond the presentation by fostering collaborations to create world change).

Doug Neff, from the Duarte team, wrote about the experience of working with Pollan here.  There are some practical takeaways for presenters and presentation makers in that article.

To see the actual presentation (great food for thought), check it out below (less than 20 minutes and will likely pull you in during the first 60 seconds):

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ANy other favourite food presentations out there – or am I just that odd?

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego

I recall a time in my life that the concept of business travel sounded very prestigious and romantic.  It was a long, long time ago, but I do remember it.  J

I travel every few months.  There are some definite benefits to travel so I`m not entirely bitter about the deal.  I`ve had an inspiring week and an exciting time, certainly enjoyed some nicer weather than we had at home and met some great people.

The drawbacks are the obvious ones – time away from those you love, odd sleep patterns, long hours, extra work piling up, cramped travel, dragging bags and so forth.

It`s a tolerable balance.  I`m not anti-business travel it`s just different from I dreamed it would be.  I would fantasize that you would be whisked to a magical city, do your gig and explore a foreign land on endless adventures.  My reality, as I get older, is that the exploration becomes less and less and the appeal of a simple meal and a night of tossing and turning in a comfy bed is more alluring than conquering new worlds.  This holds especially true when I am attending conferences (which I was this week) – my brain is so filled with great information, ideas, plans and excitement that adding more stimuli is just overwhelming.

There are, of course, exceptions.  With 7 days abroad I did manage to take some time to explore San Diego.  It`s a charming city with a central airport and a tonne of great food, drink and entertainment.  I managed one solid night on the town on Saturday and was thrilled with the discovery of Red Pearl Kitchen.

I stumbled on the Red Pearl after seeing a poster for Asian Cuisine that looked more like an ad for a new Grand Theft Auto video game.  It was clear that this was Asian food with a modern flare.  The poster was dominated by a picture of a woman who, at first glance, appeared to be wearing traditional attire but the longer you looked, the quicker you realized she wasn`t.  The nylons were far more modern, the pose more evocative, a tattoo peaked out and so forth.  There was no photo of the restaurant but it was clear what the message was – modern Asian cuisine.  This is the power of design to me.

I was a little sceptical – so many offerings of fusion end up being merely excuses for poor execution of traditional dishes.  The possibility of something spicy was just too exciting to pass up.

As I opened the door it became apparent this was going to be a different experience.  I couldn`t see very far into the restaurant as the entrance gave access to a ramp that wrapped behind an extensive bar and into the restaurant.  The lighting was dim and moody and music was loud.  I had entered a bar as much as I had entered a restaurant.

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego February

The music stayed loud all night.  It wasn`t uncomfortable – you could easily converse over it but it was loud enough to dim he conversation of others around you.  The music was familiar from my youth and was fun – I remember Jackson 5 in particular.

I grabbed a seat at the bar.  There were 4 taps – all local or Asian (Kirin on tap!). I also noticed a few bottles of Hitachino Nest which I recognized as a fantastic Japanese craft beer.  They also had a great Scotch selection – the place couldn`t be awful!

Red Pearl Kitchen San Diego February

My bartender was fantastic.  Friendly, courteous and knew her stuff.  She gave an honest walk through of her recommendations on the menu and I followed her suggestions to try the Salt and Pepper Shrimp and the Spicy Beef.  Both were fabulous.  When I asked for local reccomendations she gave me a handwritten list of 5 or 6 places to visit for food and drink – these are the types of things that happen so rarely and will be long remembered.

The Salt and Pepper Shrimp were lightly breaded crustaceans paired with fresh chives and a dipping sauce that was refreshingly spicy.  The beef was tender, tasty and plentiful.  The mushrooms stood out in the dish and it was made with an extra kick of hot as I had requested.

Ivanna, my friendly bartender, offered a suggestion for a beverage.  She held up a bottle of Vodka which had hot peppers floating in it – the bar did it`s own infusion.  This was mixed with a combination of their own lemon squash, simple syrup, muddled Thai basil and a slice of green apple .  Easily one of the best cocktails I`ve had in years and bonus points for the unsolicited recommendation.

It was a great place, awesome night and a great balance between very serious food and drink without taking itself too seriously.