Archive for March, 2011

Background: Susur Lee was (and depending who you speak to, is) one the World’s top Chefs.  Most f his reputation was made in Toronto where he owned multiple restaurants.  He decided to move to New York City, rebranded his 2 Toronto restaurants and launched his claim in the Big Apple.  Susur was a contestant on TOP CHEF MASTERS where many cable viewers got to ‘meet’ him.  For a variety of reasons, his US project has been muddled and his Toronto presence is a shadow of it’s former self.  That’s an unfairly brief summary of where we got to this week.

Today’s post is far more Editorial than we’ve been lately and is something I’ve been gently thinking about for the last few days.  I’m not intending to start an Internet war – simply sharing a perspective that’s a little off what I’ve been reading around the Internet this week. 

The Internet seemed to be on fire this week with the news that one of our former Top Chef’s was launching a new project – a line of salad dressings with one of Canada’s largest food conglomerates.  It seems as though his star may have been falling (or, at least, settling in the sky) when many of our Cities food-forward people heard the news – and seemed to lose their breath.  The Globe and Mail stopped short of name calling but did quote a writer Rose Prince from the Telegraph that, “Selling out has become a natural progression that follows television fame.”

Twitter was ablaze with name calling and bitter accusations.  There were a series of awful accusations that accused him of being, amongst other things:

  • a sell-out
  • desperate
  • greedy
  • fake

Pretty heady stuff – words that hurt.

I am hoping I can level an argument that may appeal to cooler heads.  I’m not suggesting you should run out and buy his line of Salad Dressing (I won’t) – just asking that we take a step back for a moment and consider the ramifications of the easy act of piling on an easy target.

Susur opened his restaurant in New York in 2008.  The risk was considerable – he closed his flagship restaurant in Toronto, rebranded it Madeline and passed the keys (metaphorically to his former right-hand).  He essentially opened two high-end restaurants at the same time.

I am sure that there were many reasons why the ventures appeared to struggle (I don’t have access to the numbers).  Certainly it was a giant task, splitting attention in two places is difficult (at best) and the competition in New York is fierce. 

I have no idea why the ventures didn’t soar into success.  I would have to argue that the decisions to launch these ventures occurred long before our economy hit the bump that it did, corporate expense accounts got cinched and buildings full of bankers rolled their Aeron chairs down the streets.  The people with the $1,000+ expense account were a rare breed.  And this had to be part of the story.

Was the decline of the economy predictable?  Perhaps.  It is certainly a lot more foreseeable in hindsight.  Susur and his investors wouldn’t be the only ones who didn’t see it coming.

The restaurant business is one of the toughest businesses there is.  Combine 2 higher-end restaurants in two-cities and a bad economy and the odds would be stacked against all of us.  Even Adonis was mortal after all.

Imagine yourself in the same position.  Reaching success and still not sated.  Wanting to raise the bar even higher than world-class.  Willing to put your name, your brand, your restaurant and more behind that dream.  And imagine hitting the same obstacles.  The truth is that this is what most chef-owned restaurants do every day.  There are few safety nets and a lot of people cheering for you to fall off the tightrope.

A celebrated Chef in Toronto went through a very public battle with bankruptcy (or near bankruptcy last year).  The case is none of my business and I am a giant fan.  The man has won an Order of Canada – and too many people seemed excited to spread the news of his ‘failure’ (which was highly exaggerated as time is showing).

Perhaps you don’t agree with the mass grocery approach (I haven’t spent more than $120 in grocery stores in 6 months and haven’t bought salad dressing in years).  Perhaps it’s not sustainable (it’s not – but my personal target of choice would take aim at Tuna and Factory Farms before the nefarious aisle of Salad Dressing).  But perhaps, just maybe, this is a safety net.  One that will allow him to continue to pursue his dream – even if it is an extreme measure.

But my argument isn’t about defending Susur.  He can do that on his own. 

My calm argument is simply that if we jump on Chefs using the only thing they have (their brand) to weather difficult times, what’s in it for them to risk doing what they do in the first place?  If people are only going to cheer you on when you are doing well and leave you when you hit a bump, why would you want to do it in the first place?

I have a tonne of respect for the Career Path of a Chef – as I know many do.  I’m not entirely comfortable with this line of product (I have made the point of not mentioning it here) and it does take a bit of the shine out of my excitement around the symbol that is Susur Lee.  But that, in my mind, doesn’t mean he’s a sellout or worse.  It simply means he is doing what he has to – and discouraging that is a very dangerous precident for for all the Chefs who dare to risk the same.


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A simple meal this evening – a 3-jar meal (meaning we used 3 full jars of preserves to make it).

The ‘feature’ was 2 rather large sardines we picked up from Hooked this afternoon.  They weighed about a quarter pound each and were delightfully freshly flown in from British Columbia.

Sardines are simple to cook – liberally spread with salt, pepper and olive oil and grill for 3-4 minutes per side.  We were out of propane so we cooked them in our cast iron pan for about the same time.

Serve with lemon wedges.  To eat you simply peel the skin back (our dog loves it) and pull the flesh gently off the small bones (you can eat the smallest ones).  It can be picky eating if you’re not a fan of the small bones but they taste like the ocean itself.

Dinner was served with two sides:

  • Romano bean puree.  The beans were pressure canned in 2009 and were gently reheated in a small bit of chicken stock.  They were then pureed with a tiny bit of stock and salt.  Parsley was added for colour and our home-canned tomatoes were stirred in later.
  • Winter Salad: hearty sprouts were sautéed with carrots, leeks and topped with lemon-doused parsley.

It was a simple, lovely meal – one that gently lingers around hours after eating.

Total time to prepare was about 15 minutes and total cost was under $3.75 a person.

The only downside?  We’re coming close to running out of all of our preserved beans…something that we’ll have to correct in the near future.

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I couldn’t wait for summer to use our new Harsch Gartopf Crock pot and naturally ferment something.  So we turned to what we could get locally and ended up with a 6-pound bowl of carrots:

If you think they look a little suspect – I did cheat with the slicing blade of the food processor.  Much like dehydrating, I generally use a slicer (generally a mandoline) so that my slices are the same thickness (you can also ferment the entire carrot).  I prefer uniform slices – especially for test batches – because the taste is consistent through the entire batch.  Different thicknesses lead to different curing and flavour change and, while interesting, are difficult to get uniform results.

Natural fermentation is the process of pickling in a salt brine.  It is sometimes called wild fermentation, fermentation and lacto-fermentation.  It takes 1-4 weeks to properly ferment most vegetables and the process is simple – veggies are covered in salt (which draws moisture out of your produce and helps preserve your ingredients) and a brine (if needed – often items like cabbage have enough moisture drawn out by the salt that none is needed).

Fermentation has some advantages over `quick`pickles (made with vinegar) – the obvious trade-off is the length of time it takes before they are ready to consume.  Advantages include:

  • You don`t need to seal if you have a cellar or keep it in the fridge where it will last a very long time.  This also means the result can be different texture from sealed pickles (which require a water bath).  You can also freeze or water bath these when complete.
  • The process is less expensive (after buying equipment) – you don`t need vinegar.
  • The natural enzymes of the pickle are arguable more healthy than vinegar (which is not to say vinegar is unhealthy as it`s not…)
  • Many argue the flavour is better and the product is less consumed by the vinegar.
  • You can actually eat most of these with wine – something vinegar makes very difficult.
  • There`s just something magical about the slow and natural process (this one of the oldest preservation styles in the world) and it`s actually less work than a quick pickle (unless water bathing).

I don`t think they`re necesarilly better, just interesting and fun to make.

The process is fairly simple:

  • Clean and cut veg
  • Place in clean pot (generally a crock)
  • Mix salt (which is measured by weight as a ratio to the amount of produce you add) layer by layer of produce.
  • Weight down the vegetable.  Press under weight (it is important that the product does not float and make contact with the air or it will create mould).
  • If enough liquid is not created, add brine (it is generally salt and water, perhaps other flavour)
  • When the fermentation completes you boil the brine and let it cool before adding the product (this kills any additional nasties that may be present).
  • If your final product is too salty, you can quickly rinse it before consuming.

I added a few hot peppers, celery seed and dried dill to the carrots this time.  We`ll share exact recipes once we`ve done a few more batches and are really happy with the results (this one is a bit of an experiment – one I plan to share around with friends and family to get feedback from).

We have 3 crocks – only one is the `race car`of fermenting (more on the others soon).  It`s major feature is this lip:

When fermenting you place the lid on top (it sits in the rim) and you place water in the rim.  This allows gasses (and air with them) to escape without letting air in.  This airlock will help with fermentation as long as the temperature of the pot stays under 70 degrees (we keep it by the window) in the winter).  We won`t open the lid for the first two weeks – which I find incredibly tempting (I just want to see!)

What would you want to know – or pickle by fermentation?

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Edit: we now have two different versions of the poster available in our store – you can check them out here.

Today’s post was delayed for good reason – we were waiting to get the release to share the following two secrets we’ve been hoarding (one of them for months) and the approval came after I went to work.  I know I’m a geek but I can’t find the words to say how excited I am about sharing these things with you – and hope you enjoy!


I am really excited to have the chance to finally share our latest article in Edible Toronto’s Spring issue:

To fully explain the table, the focus is on water bath seasonal canning for ingredients that are available locally in the Province of Ontario.  There are lots of other places that could use the chart but if you’re wondering where the marmalade is or why our seasons are different, now you know.  🙂

The project was almost 100 hours of work.  From researching ingredients (we have the other preserving styles up our sleeve and are *considering* doing the rest of the 109 items but we’re still recovering from the first 58, coming up with a system to display them and dana having to create almost 60 hand sketches and retouch them (you’ll see some of the detail below).

We do have another 59 items figured out that comprises a tonne more of Ontario Ingredients and expands the periodic table to include curing, dehydrating, fermenting and infusing.  It’s a scary prospect to think of another large project – let us know if you think we should go for it..

I want to send a special shout out to Meg (Grow and Resist), Shae (Hitchhiking to Heaven), Julia (What Julia Ate), Kaela (Local Kitchen), Erica (F*#ked in Park Slope) , Audra (Doris and Jilly Cook), Marisa (Food in Jars) and Sean (Punk Domestics) who all provided some feedback on the concept (they had not seen the completed work).

Here’s a sample of the detail:

A giant thanks again to Gail who let us run with the concept sight-unseen and signs off on it with the same passion that we submit it.


To see other closeups of the work and a larger version of the entire Periodic Table – come over and visit our group on Facebook (you don’t need to have aFacebook  account to see it).  If you do have an account, we’d love you to join our group!  Click here for the photo album.


I am thrilled to announce that I have been selected as one of the final 12 Torontonians Ocean Wise SeaFoodie competitors for my video on Sustainable Fish.  This means I’ll be making another next week and we’ll share more info on how voting could help you win prizes, help us win prizes and, more importantly to me, help us all share the word on sustainable seafood.

Our original post is here (it explains what this is all about) but if you just want to check out the video, my 30 second audition video is below:

We’ll be sharing more details and our entry video over the next 10 days – and we welcome all feedback. Hope you enjoy – we welcome any questions and post ideas so if you see something on the table you’d like to know more about, let us know!

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I`m just back from 12 days in Glasgow  It was a great trip – nothing glamorous like a vacation and most of the time was dedicated to work but it`s always fun to visit that city.

As I`ve explained in the past, my biggest love in life are friends and family.  Food is a close second.  While food will never be the most important, friends and family with food are often better than without.  I know my view of the world is a little skewed… 🙂

When I travel for work, the biggest sacrifice is lack of time with friends and family – lost memories that I will never gain back and time that will never return.  This may sound very flowery but as a guy who has spent almost 7 weeks away from home in the last 4 months (nothing compared to some), it doesn`t feel so exaggerated.  At this pace I would miss almost 20 weeks a year away from home.  Thankfully my travel now slows (not a coincidence – I travel during the toughest eating months so I can be here for the spring-fall harvest eating).

My way of compensating for such travel is fairly easy: I buy something (generally food related) that I can’t (or sometimes wouldn’t) buy at home.  I share this with friends and family and we have a memory we simply couldn’t have without the trip and making the trip personally rewarding.

Alcohol is a frequent purchase because it travels so well and you can buy something specific to the area that you’re in, such as Scotch.

Having been to Glasgow 8-10 times in the last 4 years I have my own shop that I go to, my own special place to buy a bottle.  This trip sees me come home with a 1991 Bottle of Glen Moray ‘Carn Mor’ (‘Celebration of the Cask).  It’s bottle 73 of 81 of the series which I believe was limited only to cask 2997.  I am a sucker for such detail – the handwriting on the bottle and label which specifies the bottle number makes me feel somehow connected to the art of the process rather than any mechanical machine behind it.  I also find it interesting to see the dates it was distilled and later bottles – I wonder what I was doing on each of those days and enjoy the simple precision of the label and the knowledge of small trivia that made this bottle what it is.

Being cask strength (it is bottled at 52.6%), the Scottish generally insist on mixing tis with a bit of water – but the choice is deeply personal.

A few photos (digital tastings are tough to share over the Internet):


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I am so thrilled to share what arrived when I was away: our brand new 15 Liter Crock Pot for fermenting and pickling.  I do feel like a bit of a geek on just how excited I am about this but I`m comfortable enough in my obsession (I mean self-confidence :)) that I am just letting myself get amped about it.

There are a few features about these amazing crock pots from Germany that make them so special.  Beyond the quality of the pot (it`s fired in a kiln at 1200 degrees) it comes with weights designed to fun in the pot.  If you fill the pot to it`s capacity (you don`t have to), these stones lock in place because of the shape of the rim of the jar.  The hole formed in the center of the two discs allow you to easily check the height of the brine and ensure your product is well covered and prevents mould.

The other feature is the shape of the rim and the lid – this allows gasses during fermentation to escape while creating an airlock that keeps air out.

You;ll definitely be seeing a lot more about our new tool (ok, I`ll admit I think of it as a toy) and fermentation in general in coming months!

If you have a crock that you want to share your knowledge with – or questions about fermenting that we could help answer, let us know and we`ll include as we start a whole bunch of new and exciting projects!

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It’s nice to have two consecutive posts inspired by discussions on the WellPreserved Facebook group.  There’s been a lot of great back and forth there lately – discussions on which preservers people made too much of, not enough of or plan to make this year.  There’s also been a lot of sharing about pressure canning, getting over the fear of it and the like.  It’s been a lot of fun.

Kelly shared the following idea/ question/ thought:

I wanna have a preserv-a-palooza where a bunch of educated preservers(?) get together and make a large batch of one kind of preserves, split the cost and walk away with some yummy preserves – any thoughts on how to organize something of that nature? More hands make less work….

She also noted that her and her Mother-In-Law yields a big batch of tomato sauce – 96 jars (this is quite the feat for two people – we get around 160-180 with 4 people and I do think 4 is more in this case – i.e. it’s less work to do twice as much with 2 times the people).  More than 4 people could start to get difficult.

Preserving ‘parties’ are common in many places in the world.  They range from seasonal parties where entire communities get together through communities simply working as a group to preserve an abundant harvest.  The far north preserves significant supplies of meat during the great migration (something that happens less and less) by smoking, drying or even canning meat for the winter.  It’s not so much a party as it is a way to ensure that precious food isn’t lost.

Wine and tomato sauce are common in many families to get together and share the burden.  These batches are easily multiplied without loss of quality.  With few exceptions, jams and jellies do not multiply well when cooking as Marissa at Food in Jars explains (I won’t steal her post – be sure to check it out as she’s simply brilliant).

Here’s a few ways I’d approach such a party:

  • If you want a single batch and insist on jam or jelly, you could form a line and make catch-after-batch of the same thing.  This is more practical unless you have a giant pot for the water-bath (such as one you’d use for tomato sauce)
  • If you want a single batch and want fruit, consider other sauces (such as applesauce) or approach sliced/ whole fruit for your jars.  These can be done in large batches and easily worked on together.
  • To avoid tripping over each other, consider multiple style of preserving in the same day.  i.e. while some work on a water-bath of applesauce, others could work on dehydrating.
  • My approach would be to alter the approach.  I’d get our set number of people (imagine 6) and have each show up with 6-24 jars and enough ingredients to fill them with their single favorite recipe.  If you double a recipe, cook it off in separate pots.  Each person gets to lead their project and everyone goes home with several jars of each recipe.  With each person leading I believe you would learn a lot from each other, and still go home with a mixed bounty.

The last approach is novel – the natural lulls of one recipe (cooking, waiting for the water-bath to end and the like) naturally lend themselves to starting the next recipe while the current one finishes.  It’s how I completed 5 different batches of preserves (including a jelly, seeding cherries and more) in 2 day in 2009.  This could have easily been done in 1 day with more people (you can read about the haul here and here).

A word of caution; take some time to plan the day in advance – either with the entire group or have the group decide who (or whom) will co-ordinate on the day.  It’s easy to lose time to chaos and trying to figure out what’s next.  We now make more tomato sauce in one day than we used to in 2 – and it’s largely to do with each of us knowing what everyone else is doing.  For instance, I know that I will be grinding tomatoes next year by 9:00AM.  We don’t keep a list, we’ve just fallen into this from trial and error (and can easily trade ‘jobs’ if others want to).

Lastly, be very cautions.  A hot pot of jam is dangerous.  A vat of molten sugar could be lethal.  Not the nicest of thoughts but something to be cautious of.

How would you approach such an event?  Comment here or pop over to Facebook and we’ll see you there!

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