Monday, January 9, 2012

Luma: O&B in the Spotlight at TIFF Bell Lightbox

is the latest addition to Toronto’s hottest new entertainment destination, the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Located at the corner of King and John Streets, the Bell Lightbox is home to the Toronto International Film Festival, houses five theatres, three exhibition galleries, a dramatic sixth floor event space and Oliver & Bonacini's two restaurants — Luma and O&B Canteen. After eight years at upscale Auberge du Pommier, Executive Chef Jason Bangerter now heads up both restaurants, with Chef de Cuisine, Brent Maxwell assisting at Luma, and Chef de Cuisine Ryan Morrison handling O&B Canteen. 

Another iconic image, but this time, on Toronto's culinary scene...
Executive Chef Jason Bangerter (L) with Chef de Cuisine Brent Maxwell (R)

Classically trained in London under Chef Anton Mosimann, Chef Bangerter cooked in Michelin starred restaurants throughout Europe for a number of years before returning to Canada to become chef of Auberge, where he interpreted traditional French cuisine with modern flair and creativity. Now at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Jason draws on his classic roots and pays homage to Toronto’s rich, cultural landscape with Luma’s menu showcasing global and Canadian artisanal cuisine featuring the finest local and regional ingredients, with Bangerter's inimitable style.

Luma's inviting dining room infused with light and rich woods

Chef Bangerter’s wonderfully original, imaginative and inspired cooking is the perfect complement to Luma’s warm, inviting dining room, designed with rich woods, supple leather and polished stone, and outstanding floor to ceiling views of King Street West. But it's the food that is the true star at Luma. From eight appetizers, we chose the Caesar Salad with double smoked bacon, white anchovy, buttery croutons and oozing quail’s egg set amid a puddle of quietly restrained garlicky dressing. The presentation was wonderful, with a head of romaine lettuce sliced horizontally like thick steaks, with the traditional accompaniments deconstructed and layered on top. We also enjoyed Luma's Seasonal Soup of the Day, a Cauliflower Purée made with chicken stock and a touch of cream, garnished with blue cheese, walnuts and a drizzle of oil. Deliciously silky and velvety smooth, the purée was a winner. 

Caesar Salad with double smoked bacon, white anchovy, croutons and quail’s egg

Cauliflower Purée garnished with blue cheese, walnuts and a drizzle of olive oil

For entrées we chose the Spaghetti Carbonara with double smoked bacon, caramelized onions, black pepper and parmesan topped with a raw slightly warmed egg yolk, which created a lovely light and creamy sauce when broken into the pasta; and the Ricotta Gnudi with sautéed wild mushrooms, shaved parmesan, parmesan foam and chives. In truth, I'm not a fan of foam, as I generally find them tasteless and bland, but Chef Bangerter is a culinary wizard. The foam was delicate and refined with a rich parmesan flavour. Amazing. So was the fragrant truffle cream sauce and the delicious assortment of mixed Northern Woods specialty mushrooms: including oyster, lion's mane, shiitake and cinnamon cap. It's impossible not to appreciate the depth of Bangerter's cuisine, and the way he mingles flavour and texture to create deceptively simple yet lusciously layered dishes, weaving the same familiar magic he did at Auberge du Pommier.

Spaghetti Carbonara with double smoked bacon, caramelized onions, black pepper and parmesan topped with a raw slightly warmed egg yolk

Ricotta Gnudi with sautéed wild mushrooms, shaved parmesan, parmesan foam and chives

At the end of the meal, our delightful server Casey brought us our espressos and a complimentary wooden bowl of warm caramel corn, with little ivory chocolate pearls and raw peanuts complete with flecks of gold leaf —  a delightfully inspired 'nod' to the Grace Kelly exhibition currently on show at TIFF Lightbox with the "pearls" of chocolate, as well as the popcorn — an essential part of any movie-goers experience, and a whimsical end to a lovely lunch.

To end the meal - a bowl of warm caramel popcorn, little ivory pearls of white chocolate, 
raw peanuts and finished with gold leaf

Luma is a beautiful restaurant, luxuriously spacious, elegantly detailed and airily contemporary. The service we enjoyed was impeccable, the meal unhurried and thoroughly delicious, and the price was actually pretty reasonable. Lunch for two with wine came to about $120 before tip. Paired with the Grace Kelly exhibit featured on the ground floor, or one of the five films being featured in the TIFF cinemas, Luma can take 'dinner-and-a-movie' to a whole new level.

The Luma Lunchbox, available during the Film Festival last year

In fact, if you're visiting TIFF Lightbox for the annual Film Festival, Luma has that covered too, with the Luma lunchbox — a quick way to re-fuel between screenings. Available at O&B Canteen's grab-and-go counter or the Luma Blackberry Lounge during the film festival week, each box contains Chef Bangerter's daily sandwich, salad, yogurt, bottle of water, a piece of fruit and a sweet treat for just $15. For those with more time, Luma also offers a "quick fix" menu of two courses, $34, with one of the desserts being a "to-go" option of caramel corn with peanuts and chocolate pop rocks. Let's hope it's still on offer this year!

The Luma Blackberry Lounge

View from Luma looking over the Grace Kelly exhibit on the main floor, 
and the five festival cinemas over the catwalk 

Jason Bangerter's Mac & Cheese
Serves 4

2 onions, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
6 strips of bacon, diced
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
5 sprigs fresh thyme, some leaves reserved for garnish
4 cups pasta, macaroni, penne or rigatoni
1 litre 35% cream
Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
drizzle of truffle oil before serving

In a pot of salted boiling water cook the pasta for 10 minutes, drain in a colander and reserve. In a sauce pan, on low heat, sweat the bacon, nutmeg, onion and garlic until tender. Add the cream, thyme and reduce by 1/3. Mix the pasta and bacon cream sauce together with half of each of the grated cheeses. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to an earthenware or casserole dish. Depending on the pasta you choose you may have to leave out some of the cream sauce. The sauce should just cover noodles. Add the reserved thyme leaves and the remainder of the grated cheese. Bake in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the pasta dish is hot throughout. 

Jason Bangerter's Red Wine Chicken
Serves 4

4 Cornish hen or 4 de-boned chicken thighs
1 bottles of full bodied red wine from Burgundy
1 carrot peeled and sliced
1 onion peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 bunch fresh parsley
2 fresh bay leaves, torn
1 tsp black pepper corns
2 tbsp vegetable oil for frying
salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken, sliced vegetables, pepper corns and fresh herbs in a deep dish and pour in enough wine over the contents to cover. Wrap tight in cling film and marinate in the fridge over night.

The next day, remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towel. To cook the chicken, season with salt and fresh ground black pepper on both sides. In a sauté pan, using vegetable oil sauté the chicken, skin side down for about four minutes or until you achieve a golden brown colour. Turn and cook another four minutes. Depending on the size of the chicken you may have to finish the cooking in the oven. If you have a meat temperature probe the desired internal temperature reading is 165°F.

To use the marinade as a sauce, reduce the wine and herbs and vegetables down to about 1 cup in volume. Off the heat whisk in about 1 tbsp of cold butter to thicken; adjust seasoning and serve.