Lap up some southern hospitality later this month, courtesy of East Thirty Six’s Chef Brent Maxwell. On March 30, he’ll combine his skills in French fine dining with dashes of Spanish, Creole and Cajun influences for an off-menu experience called Southern Shindig.
The menu promises an explosion of flavours, beginning the night with some Kentucky Derby favourites such as the duck confit Hot Brown (an open-faced sandwich), and end up in the French Quarter with shrimp and grits (Mardi Gras beads optional).
U-Feast is upping the ante on the booze, no less. Jim Beam’s Canadian whisky ambassadorMatt Jones will walk attendees through the wonderful and trendy world of bourbon, and pair the evening’s dishes with evolved libations.
I had an opportunity to chat with Chef Brent Maxwell to find out more about his food philosophy and his take on southern eats:
Where did you grow up? What is your culinary background?
I grew up in small town Ontario, a place called Hillsburgh. I lived there until I was 20 and moved to Toronto to experience the culinary scene. I went to Humber College for my culinary training in 1998.
You’ve worked in numerous kitchens, but most notable are your stints with O&B here in Toronto and Maison Pic, a tri-Michelin-starred bistro in southeastern France. How have these experiences influenced the way you cook and craft menus?
O&B offers different experiences and styles in each restaurant. This has given me breadth and depth in cooking styles and flavours. And going to France for Maison Pic was an eye-opener in terms of learning about the art and intricacies of fine dining.
How would you define or describe your personal food and cooking philosophy?
I would define it as smart cooking, as in things and flavours that work together naturally, harmoniously. It is definitely French-based and branches out from there.
Can you tell me your experience with cooking southern food in preparation for the U-feast menu?
Well, it all ties in with French basics and its cooking foundations. It is all essentially grounded in French cuisine. The exception is that with southern food, it uses more flavours to accent everything – spice and smoke, for instance. The menu we made for this event is on the heavier style. We focused on richer flavours and offering plates in a family-style manner.
Tell me about the menu’s inception.
It works through the bourbons/whiskies. In fact, we’ll be using bourbons directly in the dishes, in addition to the food complementing the drinks. Matt Jones will also be offering a flight of whiskies and interesting cocktails to pair with the evening’s menu.
The idea from the outset was to do southern-style dishes but with a focus on local, Canadian ingredients. We wanted to highlight B.C. shrimp because we have a great relationship withOrganic Ocean – so we wanted to incorporate them into menu.
And a Hot Brown sandwich traditionally uses turkey. But we’re elevating the dish by featuring King Cole duck legs from Ontario in our version. We want to show how delicious our homegrown food is.
Best thing you’ve eaten recently?
We just returned from Australia. So it would probably be a restaurant there. In fact, we had pretty crazy tasting menus. The one that stuck out was from Quay. The standard of food there was stellar, and not just with the fine dining places – even in the casual cafes, like eggs and toast – everything was done super well. There’s attention to detail.
What’s on your To-Eat list in Toronto?
If you could cook with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you cook?
Escoffier. We’d do some old-school stuff together – classic French stuff from Le Guide culinaire.
Favourite guilty pleasure?
I’ve phased out those old cravings for fast food. I used to get a Baconator once a year, but I don’t even do that anymore. I’ve been pretty good with eating clean now.
Find out more about U-Feast here.
Beyond mommy guilt: Is Canada’s growing meal-kit mania here to stay?
TORONTO — Celebrities like Beyoncé, Oprah Winfrey, and NSync’s Lance Bass are now in the meal kit business, and for some that’s a sure sign the online subscription-based food startup phenomenon has hit its peak.
A plethora of the new e-commerce meal companies have popped up in Canada and the U.S. in the last couple of years, and subscribers have been joining the services in droves.
While the biggest player in the space, New York-based Blue Apron, does not operate in this country, a number of meal kit services are available locally and nationally for Canadians seeking a quick meal fix: Chef’s Plate, Goodfood, MissFresh, The Jolly Table, Cook It, Kuisto, Fresh City Farms, One Kitchen, Dinnerlicious, Fresh Prep and Germany’s Hello Fresh, to name a few.
There’s even a subscription-based startup for breakfasts, Montreal-based Oatbox, which delivers granolas, ‘overnight’ oats and granola bars to customers.
The convenience factor is undeniable. For about $10 to $13 per meal, customers receive a box of chilled, portioned food and recipes for an easy meal assembly.
The whole industry in the U.S. was founded on mommy guilt
Home chefs are able to cook dishes that evoke an au courant restaurant menu in less than half an hour: lentil mushroom tacos with jicama carrot slaw; mint sumac chicken with sautéed snap peas and carrot, parsnip and cucumber salad; Cajun tilapia over quinoa with a corn and tomato succotash.
But two recent initial public offerings by meal kit companies — including Blue Apron, the biggest player in the United States and Montreal-based Goodfood Market Inc. — ended up looking like a failed soufflé. Skeptics have drawn parallels between the spate of subscription startups and the faddish dot-com failures of the early 2000s.
Indeed, on Friday, Blue Apron announced it is cutting almost a quarter of its staff as it struggles to become a profitable business.
‘Toronto’ New Restaurant is a Paradise for Bao Lovers
This cleverly named restaurant makes a dizzying array of bao and banh mi, from pork belly to Japanese fried chicken. There’s also banh mi and a host of Asian-inspired appetizers like Bulgogi Kimchi Fries that’ll have you eating until you’re stuffed.
Read my profile of It’s a Bao Time in the restaurants section.
‘Toronto’ At This Toronto Cafe you Can PWYC for Coffee
One of Toronto’s quirkiest cafes has just become a bit more “kooky” in the words of its founder Liz Haines. Formerly called the Intergalactic Travel Authority, the espresso bar was designed to support Story Planet, a charity modelled after Dave Egger’s 826 Valencia, which provides writing and communication workshops for kids from age six to 18.
Operated as a social enterprise, the Intergalactic Space Authority was never about making tons of money, but the cafe was the economic engine that made running Story Planet out of a storefront space possible. Now, just over three years since it opened, the concept has proven insufficient to fund the operation.
Rather than close up shop, Haines has decided to try something unconventional. “While our social enterprise (formerly known as the ITA) has been an amazing community hub, it has not been financially viable. We have let the espresso machine go and are operating it, for the next little while, as a pay-what-you-can, serve-yourself community lounge,” she notes.
Aside from the loss of the espresso machine, the space remains the same as before, and there’s still drip coffee on offer. The space has always been available to rent ($30 an hour), so the new model isn’t radically different than before, but the notion of a PWYC cafe and lounge is intriguing.
“We’ve been surprised by the incredibly warm reception to this slightly kooky idea,” Haines writes in a blog post.
It will, however, need plenty of support to remain viable. Story Planet is trying out the concept for the month of April, after which time it will decide whether to keep the storefront space at 1165 Bloor St. West or close up shop and continue its programming in schools and community centres.