Monday, March 31, 2008

kitchen tour: prep

As a cook, your "meez" is your first principle, your belief system, your religion, your Tao. All else springs from this basic relationship with your food and your environment...

There is something really great about transforming a big heap of raw ingredients into an organized array of useful foodstuffs...From chaos, one slowly but surely creates order. And when the work is done, and the music's over, there is no more beautiful moment than when one takes stock of the fruits of one's labours, everything in its place, one's meez complete, a moment of true beauty, certainty, and nearly limitless possibilities...
Anthony Bourdain, Preface to Les Halles Cookbook

And so, what might be a typical day at the restaurant, beginning, of course, with the fundamentals: your prep work, your foundation for the service to follow, your mise en place...

11 AM - 12 PM

After changing into your whites and finishing your large coffee, go through your setup from yesterday. Check out what needs to be made and what needs to go. Write your prep list.


Grab your ingredients and equipment. Barter for trays and whisks, if necessary.


The spice boxes...pick a pepper, any pepper.

The knife rail. I wish I had one of these at home...

Roasters, for browning bones, mirepoix, sometimes staff lunches (that's another story...)

Oldest mallet, ever.


Pots are on, ovens are nice and hot; your day is (hopefully) off to a good start.

The hot line; the territory of the meat, veg and sauce boys.

Water is a booblin'... steam action is happening.

Pots and pans containing mother sauces and poaching liquids in holding pattern, awaiting future action.

2:30 - 3 PM

Staff lunch is up. (Pasta again!) Scarf it back if you can.

Keep on skimming those stocks...

Cleaning up artichokes.

A bit of butchery going on. (Just in passing, J - in the middle - can debone that entire hotel pan of birds in about 5 minutes, no kidding.)

Prepping squab.

Baked goodness cooling on rolling rack.

3 - 4 PM

Check your list. Check your list. Check your list. (By now you should have an idea if you're screwed or not.)

Good communication makes everything easier.

Different oils, ready for some squeezin'.

Neat & immaculate: ready to go!

Keep your station as clean and as organized as humanly possible. Your OCD tendencies will reward you, really.

Cipollini onions.

Julienned radish.

Potato puffs a deep fryin'.

4 - 5 PM

Final prep and push time. Hopefully, you're crossing off those final few last minute items on your list.

Last minute snipping of daikon and shiso sprouts for garnishing.

Testing/previewing the blini batter.

Grab your spoons, terrines, fill your containers.

5 - 5:30 PM

Scrub down. Get that station clean and ready for service. Grab your wipes, (and any extra clean dry towels hidden in your secret stash), do a last check of your fridge.

The dish pit.

Consolidate. Downsize. (That should be a rule for sure: When in doubt...)

Scrubbing down the stations. (Like shaving before the prom...)

Final fill-ups and organizing.



First orders arrive. The printer starts its staccato rat-ta-tat, and the chits start coming in.

Two amuses, away!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

ladies who brunch

When the power of Facebook is used for the purposes of good (rather than evil, in the form of say, massive procrastination or album/wall post lurking), this is the kind of magic that you hope for.

I'd be hard pressed to imagine that our scrappy childhood group of best girlfriends, riding bikes into ravines and saving our allowances for hot lips from Macs Milk, would nearly two decades later be sitting in a lovely restaurant downtown, chatting about making each other mix tapes (in 1992, I might add) over a very grown up brunch.

For your Friend Finder button, Facebook, we salute you!


Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar was a great meeting spot, easy to get to for those coming in from out of town. We'd all tried meeting for a few casual dinners before, but have since decided that brunching, with all its Sunday lazy-day connotations, is definitely the way to go. (Carrie Bradshaw and the girls would be so proud!)


After hemming and hawing over the delicious sounding menu (your choice of not one, but two of the small sized mains for $20; decisions, decisions) we finally placed our orders and got down to the business at hand; catching up and good ol' fashioned girly gossip.

Pistachio Sticky Bun and Chocolate Brioche with House-Made Marmalade and Creme Fraiche: After

So I'm afraid that this picture doesn't do the warm butter-scented plate justice, basically because the cute sticky bun was so darned tasty that we all tore into it like the pastry savages we are. The rich muffin-sized, molten chocolate-filled brioche fared a similar fate, this time torn and smeared with zesty orange marmalade before scarfage.

Ham Ragout on Soft Polenta with Organic Egg


Of the five of us, four ordered this "eggs and ham" dish. For the first time since we sat down, it was at this point where nothing was heard save the satisfying sound of egg yolk poking (one of the best sensations ever, I think) and cutlery being used to shovel the salty pork and creamy pudding-like polenta into our faces.

Sheep's Milk Cheddar and Apple Sandwich on Raisin Bread


These came with spicy house made pickles. The apple and cheese sandwiches were done "en Carozza", or "in carriages", that is, dunked in beaten eggs and pan having raisin bread french toast and a grilled cheese sandwich at the same time! Totally genius.

Warm Tartelette with Smoked Cheddar, Roast Garlic and Cured Tomatoes


I didn't actually eat this one; all I know is that this smelled and looked like a heavenly little quiche. I swear I could hear the light flaky crunch of the tart as A cut in with her fork to reveal the soft, eggy innards.

We were definitely on a roll now, and we're not even talking about the food! We covered J's growing baby bump, names we liked (Madeleine, Audrey - of course) and those we were wary of (Joachim, Elody, anything that ends with an i), Earth Hour, plane crashes, our parent's old houses, muffin tops, A's dinner party that nearly ended with her bookshelves catching on fire, all in between bites of our lovely, mostly ladylike brunch.

Sheep's Milk Yoghurt with Preserved Fruit and Granola


One of my favorite things for breakfast is yogurt and granola. This version was super yummy because I'd never tried sheep's milk yogurt before. It's quite tangy and thick, which made it very easy to eat with the sweet poached pears and crunchy walnut granola. I think I could eat this every morning, actually.

Walnut and Raisin Bread Pudding with Chantilly Cream


Now this crazy little number was what put us over the edge. Mmm, bread pudding. There's nothing quite like a slab of dense, custardy, caramel soaked goodness to put you straight into a food coma. Good thing we had plenty of coffee and sparkling conversations about boob jobs and sports to keep things lively!


Thank you, lovely ladies for a great afternoon... until we brunch again!

Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar
9 Church Street
416 362 1957

Saturday, March 29, 2008

saturday afternoon

Very random, but there you go. Strolling along on this beautiful sunny afternoon, I came across a place on Spadina selling instant noodles from a massive piled up mountain of so much red plastic wrapped msg goodness...each 6 pack is yours for only a buck!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

kitchen tour: front of the house

Once upon a time, a streetcar ride east of Bathurst away, there was a magical place called the Restaurant. Wondrous tales of its beauty had spread far and wide, and many travellers from distant lands came to sample its famed hospitality.

Recently, I had the good fortune to visit this vibrant, manic, and altogether inspirational home to food lovers and dreamers alike. Happily, I was welcomed by faces both familiar and new; it has been quite awhile, but to some places, such as this, and their memories, one will always be fond.

My gratitude to you, dear staff, for letting me be so obnoxiously snap-happy amidst your busy selves. Spending even a partial service watching everyone hustle about made me feel (first, a little tired, to be honest) proud and inspired by the sheer amount of labour and love involved in working here. (Not that life lived here is all sunshine and hand-holding, not at all, but you know how it goes: what doesn't kill you...) Much respect to all the talented and hard-working guys and gals that make this machine run so very beautifully.

And what about all those parts to be played in that creature we call service? Let's start at the front of the house. Physically, this is the area the diner sees; the main dining room, the bar, the lounge. The front staff includes all the servers, food runners and bartenders (otherwise known as "Them" by those cooks who choose to take up the historically longstanding battle of the "Us" vs. variety).

While we are here, I believe that a little tour is in order. Shall we?

The main floor, dressed, pressed and ready for her closeup.

The Colonel is watching you...

R takes reservations. Flattering lighting provided by dividers made of stretched ostrich skin.

The lounge area. (Pinups courtesy of Playboy Shanghai, 1939? Just a guess.)

Still life in pepper, egg & bone.

Through the back doors of the kitchen, the private room awaits.

More still life, in the form of an installation of miniature trees, coloured light boxes, and a zen rock garden.


Marble-sized kumquats provide colourful and edible (I wonder if people do?) table pieces.

The room feels graceful, still now, but full of the promise of a spectacular show to come.

Back through these doors, the tranquil illusion ends.

Get ready to roll up your sleeves, kids, we're going into the kitchen...