I met a family at New Brighton Park hauling in Laminaria, an edible seaweed called Kombu in Japan and dashima in Korea. Through a bit of sign language I figured out it was on their grocery list but I couldn’t get my point across that it might not be a good idea to eat seaweed washed up next to the freighters in the Burrard Inlet.
The first time I ate kombu (sounds tastier than Laminariaceae) was about ten years ago at Sooke Harbour House–so ahead of their time. Diane Bernard AKA the Seaweed Lady took me on a seaweed harvesting tour and Chef Edward Tuson served a few seaweed courses that night (I later wrote about Bernard for Western Living Magazine).
Anyway, I wanted to tell this family that the Kombu washed up on this shore might look like lasagna sheets but the basic rule when harvesting any edibles, be they wild mushrooms or marine plants, is to err on the side of caution.
Ulva lactuca, or sea lettuce, is the most recognizable by its brilliant green colour, almost transulcent, and most accessible of the seaweeds. You see it washed up on shore and just about anywhere in the high-tide zone. I vaguely remember its crisp, grassy taste, vaguely reminiscent of peas in chef Tuson’s tri-colour seaweed salad.
Closer to home I’ve foraged Ulva for my compost. Seaweed absorbs pollutants such as lead and mercury just as readily as nutrients, so avoid picking near marinas, residential areas and parking lots located close to shore. And avoid anywhere in and around Vancouver and even worse, Victoria.
Most people visit Whistler in the summertime for the activities – hiking and mountain biking, kayaking and canoeing, even skiing and snowboarding on the glacier. Not us. My friend and I went for R&R – resorts and restaurants. Two restaurants in particular are stand-out: Aura at Nita Lake Lodge, and of course Araxi.
We spent a few hours in culinary heaven at Aura, starting with a spring vegetable salad made with lettuces that screamed green, followed by organic lamb shoulder spiked with herbs picked from the lodge’s rooftop garden and ending with silky panna cotta.
If you can, try to get a table for dinner at Araxi in Whistler village. Chef James Walt never disappoints, so it’s no wonder the walls are adorned with “best of” awards for both cuisine and wine.
If they’re still on the menu when you go, make sure to try the zucchini blossom stuffed with house-made ricotta, halibut with English pea purée and Yarrow Meadow duck breast with local potato and cheddar gratin. We couldn’t resist lemon tart with a glass of Elephant Island Framboise and chocolate tart with an amazing Banyuls Chapoutier dessert wine. Phew.
The next day, we fuelled up at the breakfast buffet at Wildflower restaurant in the Château Whistler, loading our plates with smoked salmon, French toast, ham carved to order and a huge array of fresh pastries. There’s only one thing wrong with Whistler in the summer: you just want to stay longer.
Kale and Whole Kitchen philosophy went out the porthole for three weeks when I flew to Singapore and boarded Crystal Cruise’s Symphony (but I went on a diet when I got home, including no wine for a few weeks, which I hadn’t done since infancy.)
‘Here’s the plan. We’ll eat in the bistro first, have our butler bring us some caviar and then we’ll freshen up for dinner.”
I overheard this conversation in the van shuttling me back to the cruise ship Crystal Symphony from a daylong excursion in Thailand. My fellow passengers and I were set to weigh anchor from Laem Chabang near Bangkok and head to Saigon, our next port of call on the 16-day Treasures of Southeast Asia cruise.
I was already well acquainted with David Feliu, the butler in my premium penthouse. I first met him two days before when I boarded the ship in Singapore. As he delivered champagne to my suite, he apologized for not greeting me and asked me why I had unpacked my own suitcase. Had I already made a Downton Abbey faux pas?
“Perhaps I can bring you a little caviar?” he suggested. read the whole story ►
I’ve been busy creating a new website and blog with fellow foodista and writer Joanne Blain, called The Whole Kitchen. I challenged Joanne: could she abstain from processed foods for a year? Could you do it? Growing up, processed food was a luxury. I remember our first camping trip in Canada (we immigrated from England) – my dad opened a can of stew and a can of potatoes. Heavenly!
Since I started thinking and eating for myself, I haven’t so much as bought a can of beans (and canned vs dried beans is an ongoing debate with Joanne). I have caved and bought canned chicken stock because my dog, Lizzy, needs it drizzled on her kibble and sometimes I run out of homemade, much to her chagrin.
Kids, Eat your vegetables, er, I mean dessert. Vegetable Desserts will be popular. Sure, carrot cake and pumpkin pie are nothing new, but how about parsnip pie, beet parfait and chocolate beet cake with candied beets? If you don’t believe me, check out Johhny Iuzzini’s beet dessert.
My food trend picks from 2012 could apply to 2013.
Pulled Pork and BBQ
Pulled pork has gone from a Southern regional specialty to the BBQ favourite north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And for good reason. The juicy, succulent, tangy, sweet, smoky concoction is the ultimate comfort food, satisfying every food craving in one bite. From the pulled pork sliders with Okanagan peach barbecue sauce on mini-brioche buns at Hawksworth to the featured item on Subway menus across Canada, we are bonkers for pulled pork.
Indoor chefs are taking their talents into the backyard and finding that pulled pork is not only a crowd-pleaser, it’s easy to cook: because there is fat in the butt, it self-bastes. As a chef once told me, “Fat is Love.”
Increasingly, people are buying smokers for slow-cooking pork over 18-20 hours, which is traditional BBQ in states like Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas. The pulled pork motto is “Low and Slow”. But not everybody wants to invest that kind of time or energy in a dish that’s guaranteed to get gobbled down in a hurry because it’s so delicious. “For me, barbecue is not just a pastime, it’s a lifestyle,” says competitive barbecuer Ron (“Rockin’ Ronnie“) Shewchuk, whose pulled pork is now offered on high-end food market shelves in BC.
Gluten-Free is Glam
Until recently, gluten-free diners (those who are wheat intolerant or celiac) had few options when it came to dining out. But increasingly, restaurants are devoting entire menus to gluten-free items (e.g., Fairmont hotels across Canada offer Baked Tofu with Bean Noodles or Cornish Crab Cake and Marinated Cucumber & Grapefruit Salad). From pasta to pizza to macarons, gluten-free has gone glam.
Macarons are the eye-catching French sandwich cookies that are now the rage in North America. The chewy treats, often found in unlikely dessert colours such as blue, green, and red, are made with almond flour, egg whites, sugars and food colouring. Flavoured buttercream provides the sandwich filling. “We are blown away by the popularity of the macarons at Thierry Patisserie,” says publicist Shelley McArthur, “and they are definitely the most popular item.” Vancouver pastry chef Thierry Busset sells 1,000-1,500 of the Parisian temptations per day at Thierry Patisserie. Hmm — there aren’t that many gluten-intolerant customers in Vancouver, which is proof positive that gluten-free foods are attracting people sans dietary restrictions.
Foraging Wild Things
We know about the holy trinity: local, regional and organic. Now, with purse strings tightening across Canada, concerns about GMOs, a heightened interest in 0-mile diets and growing produce in the backyard, home cooks and chefs alike are foraging wild foods.
Think ramps (wild leeks), fiddleheads, and “weeds” such as dandelion and stinging nettles, purslane and even the lowly chickweed. They’re all popping up on high-end restaurant menus across Canada. Not only do they taste great, they’re unusual, interesting and make for great conversation. And they’re growing in your backyard.
While devoted foodies have long been foraging for kelp, wood sorrel, salal berries, grand fir leaves and of course, wild mushrooms, chefs from Victoria to Halifax are now introducing them to their restaurant patrons. This year, Vancouver Island’s Sooke Harbour House hosted a wildly (pardon the pun) popular Foraged Food Festival.
Gourmet Sauvage, based in Sainte-Adèle, Québec offers a mind-boggling array of wild products—my kitchen shelf is stocked with their jellied cedar, pickled cattails, and milkweed pod ketchup. Forage—one of my fave restos in Vancouver, recently opened to rave reviews.
You can’t get any greener than harvesting foods that grow wild in your own ‘hood.
As the trend towards seasonal/local food settles in for the long haul, chefs are increasingly canning and preserving ingredients so they have a greater diversity of products year-round. Chef James Walt of Whistler’s Araxi has been doing this for many years with PembertonValley summer produce. He uses the house-canned versions in the winter to supplement the root crops that are typically all that’s available fresh. Chef Quang Dang also cans and preserves ingredients for use at the restaurant.
“Right now on my shelves I have pickled green strawberries, picked before ripe and great with sardines,” says Dang. “I found coronation grapes on a bush behind the restaurant and pickled them.” Dang recently got together with friends and held a canning party. “They want to learn about canning and I’m a willing teacher,” he said.
At Vancouver’s popular Kintaro eatery, manager Yoshi Negishi says their most popular ramen is miso with BBQ pork. Though you won’t find it on the menu in Japan, cheese ramen—a topping of melted Swiss cheese and mozzarella– is their biggest seller with Caucasian female customers and unique to North America, according to Yoshi.
Shouting above all the staff yelling “Irasshaimase” (please come in), and “Konichiwa” (how are you) to each customer, Yoshi says despite the constant line-up, most people spend only half an hour seated, just enough time to slurp a bowl and down a brewski. “My Canadian friends first looked at me funny when I slurped,” he says. “It’s normal in Japan, and I think slurping is catching on here in Vancouver—it tastes better that way.”
Worldwide, Ramen etiquette only dictates that you use chopsticks to eat the noodles and toppings, then drink the soup from the spoon. To thoroughly enjoy ramen you have to eat it fast, otherwise the noodles get soggy. Slurping helps. “Some people feel embarrassed, so I guess it takes some getting used to,” says Yoshi, laughing.
When Kintaro opened in 2000, only a few ramen eateries existed in Vancouver. Now there are dozens throughout the Lower Mainland. Every day, Kintaro’s cooks start the dashi (stock) from about 100 pounds of pork (and sometimes chicken) bones at the crack of dawn. Vegetables are added later in the day, and it simmers until midnight—enough for about 500 bowls the next day at less than 10 bucks a bowl.
At a pricier joint like Momofuku in New York, your noodles will be made on the premises with white pearl flour (from winter wheat) boiled in filtered or carbonated water, with Berkshire pork for the broth.
A chef once told me that “fat is love”. My two slabs of pork belly float atop hearty broth glistening with beads of oil, cut with crispy bean sprouts and green onion, and then the chewy noodles—ahhh, rapture. This is the ultimate comfort food—Ramen Oishikatta (really good ramen)!
Who’d ever think of octopus salad as festive?
I bought two pounds of octopus from The Daily Catch on Commercial Drive (took about 20 minutes to defrost) and it served 8 guests.
I just happened to have a pomegranate on hand and a few sprigs or arugula in the garden. My dinner guests loved it (or so they said) so I thought you might too. Two packages of octopus only cost $20.
Cool the tentacles, brush with a little olive oil, and chuck them on the BBQ for a few minutes.
Here is the recipe, minus the pomegranate.
Pomegranate outside Pippistrelli Villa in Tuscany.
After cooking for a living and running a busy film catering company for a few decades I figured I knew every tip and trick in the book– until I took my first cooking class. I’m not talking about cooking classes where “culinebrities” lecture and demo a few recipes from their latest cookbook. Or where chefs intimidate and impress with recipes you’ll never replicate, let alone spell, like they do on some Food Network shows. I am referring to the hands-on cooking schools, where you don an apron, roll up your sleeves and do the work.
Well, not quite all the work. There are kitchen fairies. At every cooking class I attended, the ingredients were measured and laid out at your cooking station beforehand, and your hands never entered the dishpit. Regardless, it’s so rewarding when your next dinner guests are impressed by your culinary prowess. Learning in a hands-on class sticks to you like flour to melted butter.
Of course you need a certain amount of charisma to keep a group of people engaged for several hours and at the same time safe around sharp instruments and boiling cauldrons, and the following chefs have it—without any screaming and yelling or kitchen nightmares.
A Vancouver gastropub lets you eat and drink for free (but, yes, there’s a catch)
THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Come for the food, stay for the banter.
Fifty hungry diners take their seats at a 12-metre-long community table, eager to see what chef Paul Haldane has in-store. But before they can dig in, they roll up their sleeves – and pit about 450 kilograms of fruit.
It’s all part of the Irish Heather’s Pit for Your Supper series, which gives patrons a free dinner and beer in exchange for manual labour.
“It’s been a runaway success – and it’s my cheapness coming out in me,” owner Sean Heather says with a laugh.
Like most restaurants, the Gastown gastropub buys fruit from wholesalers. To buy directly from an orchard, say, would be costprohibitive – unless free labour is involved. But Heather listens to his customers: They want to eat local and know where their food is from. So he came up with a compromise.
After a two-hour taxi ride south (and a pit stop at Border for extremely tasty jerk chicken and requisite Red Stripe) along a two-lane road with scenery becoming more jungle-like, I arrived at Treasure Beach and Jakes Resort, a colony of 30 artsy-funky “cottages” dotted about spacious grounds that includes a salt-water pool, two restaurants and dare I say, wireless internet access. (I’d vowed not to go there.) Miss Yvonne, the manager, welcomed with ice-cold towels and fresh-squeezed watermelon juice. I noticed a sign in the lobby: “Support your local farmer.” This was my kind of place.
I’d worked up an appetite after all that fluttering so we pulled into Scotchies, arguably serving up the best jerk chicken in the world. Half a chicken with a side of festival—deep fried dough–will set you back $7.50. “The chicken is so fresh and the balance of spices, just the right amount of Scotch bonnet, is perfect,” said Shaun Verespej, a chef from Austen,Texas. The chicken is pink inside, something no chef here could get away with.