Friday, September 14, 2012

St Lawrence Market Chef Series: John Horne

One of the best kept secrets at Toronto's St Lawrence Market is its Executive Chef Series where participants can "eat, mingle and dine with the city's top local chefs" and enjoy a five-course meal complete with wine pairings. The third chef in the Market's 2012 season was Chef John Horne, Chef de Cuisine at Canoe. One of the most respected restaurants and chefs in Toronto, I signed up immediately and was one of the lucky few fortunate enough to get tickets to the coveted event.

Prior to his appointment at Canoe, Chef John Horne was the Senior Sous Chef at Auberge du Pommier for seven years, and had an integral role in the development of the menus and acted as a mentor for many of the staff, while working under the direction of Chef Jason Bangerter, who was the first chef featured in the Market's Executive Chef Series. Graduating from the Culinary Management program at Niagara College before joining Oliver & Bonacini, John spent a significant amount of time in London, England where he worked at Orrey Restaurant under Chef Chris Galvin and as Chef de Partie at Almeida Restaurant under Chef Ian Wood. He also completed stagiaires all over the world including Crillon le Brave in Provence, France in 2008, and Michelin-star restaurants in London including The Square and L'Escargot.

Chef Horne and his staff prep the kitchen before the 'show'

Toronto historian Bruce Bell was on hand to recount 
stories of Toronto and the St Lawrence Market

The menu for the Canoe's five-course dinner under Chef John Horne

Charmed with stories about Toronto and the St Lawrence Market by local historian and personality Bruce Bell, Chef Horne and his sous-chefs prepared the evening's five-course menu, which started with a delicious Maple Torched B.C. Salmon garnished with lemon emulsion, shaved fennel, sea asparagus, Kim Chi radish and a light horseradish cream. Light and delicate, the salmon was perfectly cooked and balanced wonderfully with the pillowy horseradish whipped cream. Each dish that Chef Horne presented during the evening highlighted different areas from around Canada, with the sea asparagus being flown in from B.C. every 2 days. Each course during the evening was paired with a different wine, which for the Maple Torched B.C. Salmon was a Prince Edward County 2011 Hinterland Sauvignon Blanc.

Maple Torched B.C. Salmon garnished with lemon emulsion, shaved fennel, 
sea asparagus, Kim Chi radish and a light horseradish cream

Chef Horne adding horseradish cream to the plates

The second of the five courses was a delicate Ontario Corn Panna Cotta served with truffled saucisson, lightly pickled Saskatchewan chanterelle mushrooms and garnished with a cumin scented yogurt and crushed corn nuts for texture. Chef Horne recounted a story how a truffle supplier who he used when was at Auberge du Pommier, kept approaching him once he became Chef at Canoe, to buy his European truffled saucisson. When Chef Horne told him that he only used Canadian produce, the fellow went away and developed a new truffle infused saucisson using Canadian Berkshire-style ham and his own canola oil infused with truffles. Chef Horne now uses his products exclusively. A deep rich Prince Edward County 2010 Norman Hardie Chardonnay was served with this dish, and is available at the LCBO for about $32 a bottle.

Ontario Corn Panna Cotta served with truffled saucisson, lightly pickled Saskatchewan chanterelle mushrooms, cumin scented yogurt and crushed corn nuts


As an entrée, Chef Horne and his staff created a fabulous Smoked Prairies Venison served with steel cut oats, wild mountain cranberries, seared Holland Marsh leeks and an outrageously delicious tourtière, made with a combination of bison, elk, venison, pork and foie gras. The wild mountain cranberries were rich and full flavoured from having been mulled in wine and spices beforehand. Not being particularly fond of cranberries, these mulled wild berries were exceptional. Interestingly, the venison had also been rubbed with elder berries that Chef Horne hand picks then toasts, grinds and dusts over the meat prior to being smoked. 

Everyone from Canoe worked as a team, ensuring a seamless evening

One of the sous-chef works on preparing some Niagara peaches

The attention to detail was inspiring, the flavours memorable. and his tourtière with wild game has jaded me forever from enjoying the Quebecois classic ever again. A 2010 Syrah from Lailey Vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake was nicely paired with the venison — a lovely deep red wine with a rich texture and lingering finish with notes of black pepper, anise and mocha. Canoe's Senior Sommelier, William Predhomme, was in charge of the evenings wine pairings and offered a concise and informative background detail on each of his selections.

Smoked Prairies Venison served with steel cut oats, 
wild mountain cranberries, seared Holland Marsh leeks and mini tourtière boule

Next was the cheese course featuring an Alexis de Portneuf St Honoré mild triple cream brie from Quebec. Soft ripened with an incredibly rich, buttery and smooth texture, it seemed to just melt in the mouth. Served with Chef Horne's buttermilk biscuits, made using his Great Grandmother's recipe, the cheese was garnished with  drunken raisins that had been soaked in white wine, slivered celery, a drizzle of churned Gaspésie honey from Quebec and served with a glass of Quebec Ice Apple Cider.

Alexis de Portneuf St Honoré triple cream brie with churned Gaspésie honey, 
celery and Grandma Horne's buttermilk & raisin biscuits

The cheese course was served with a rich Quebec ice apple cider

The final coup de grace was a Peanut Parfait with Niagara peaches, Canoes peanut brittle and chocolate tuile — a gorgeous peanut butter and chocolate confection. As with all of their dishes, Canoe's ingredients are all 100% Canadian, so I was surprised when Chef Horne said that even the peanuts were local — from Kernels Peanuts in Brantford. Who knew? Canoe makes their own peanut brittle and peanut butter, salt roasting the Kernels peanuts.

Chef Horne putting the finishing touches on the Peanut Parfaits

Peanut Parfait with Niagara peaches, Canoes peanut brittle and chocolate tuile

A great way to explore some of the city's best cuisine by some of the top chef's, is the St Lawrence Market Executive Chef Series, which into it's 4th year, will hopefully be announcing next year's line up before the new year. Let's hope they do, because I'll be one of the first to sign up.