Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Toronto Dining Series Chef Showcase with Amy Rosen

Featured as the opening culinary event of Toronto's 2015 Visa Infinite Dining Series was Canadian food writer Amy Rosen, presenting star chefs from her newest cookbook, 'Toronto Cooks: Signature Recipes from the City's Best Restaurants'. Held at the St Lawrence Market for one night only, the evening showcased the culinary talents some of the city's top chefs: Basilio Pesce of Porzia; Alexandra Feswick of The Drake; Teddy Corrado of the The Drake 150; Alex Molitz and Michael Mooney of Parkdale's Geraldine; and for a sweet finish, Atul Palghadmal of Jelly Modern Doughnuts. To get the evening off to a fine start, a charming couple from Dairy Farmer's of Canada were serving Whipped Ricotta Crostini garnished with fresh thyme and marjoram and a drizzle of olive oil as guests entered the dining event, in addition to a special Parisienne Milk Punch cocktail served by Mixologist Michael Mooney of Geraldine on Queen West in Parkdale. With cocktails in hand, guests found their tables or perches and settled in for a six-course menu of delectable offerings.

A charming couple on the Dairy Farmer's of Canada cheese station serving Whipped Ricotta Crostini using Quality Cheese Bella Casara Ricotta on garlic country bread

Bella Casara Ricotta supplied from Quality Cheese in Vaughan

Bella Casara Mascarpone from Quality Cheese also

Whipped Ricotta Canapé drizzled with olive oil and garnished with fresh thyme and marjoram 

The Six-course dinner menu for the Visa Infinite Dining event featuring chefs from Amy Rosen's cookbook 'Toronto Cooks'

A Parisienne Milk Punch made with Calvados, rum, absinthe, coriander, roobius, lavender, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pineapple, lemon and milk by Michael Mooney of Geraldine

The first course of the evening was a simple, elegant and delicious Ontario Rainbow Trout Crudo Canapé with wild flower granita, raw celery and espelette pepper served on a house made potato chip served nestled in a clam shell, created by Chef Alex Molitz, now at Geraldine, having left Farmhouse Tavern about 6 months ago. With four chefs bustling around the St Lawrence Market open concept kitchen, all hands were on deck as each chef helped one another in plating every dish, regardless of who had authored the recipe — a shining example of culinary camaraderie.

Chef Basilio Pesce of 'Porzia' composing Chef Alex Molitz's Rainbow Trout Crudo appetizer, the first course of the evening

An Ontario Rainbow Trout Crudo Canapé with wild flower granita, raw celery and espelette pepper served on a house made potato crisp served in a clam shell, designed by Chef Alex Molitz of Geraldine

A 2013 Nadjas Vineyard Riesling from Flat Rock Cellars from Niagara was the 
first wine pairing of the evening with Chef Pesce's Citrus Salad

Chef Alexandra Feswick helping to plate Chef Pesce's Citrus Salad course

Citrus Salad with blood orange, naval orange, clementines, ruby grapefruit and pomegranate seeds with mixed olives in Bomba Calabrese oil by Chef Basilio Pesce of 'Porzia'

The second course was a bright and tangy Citrus Salad with blood orange, naval orange, clementines, ruby grapefruit, pomegranate seeds and mixed olives marinated in a hot Bomba Calabrese oil and garnished with fresh mint, a recipe created by Chef Basilio Pesce of 'Porzia', a Southern Italian culinary hotspot on Queen West that the chef named after his Mom. After working at some of Toronto’s most celebrated restaurants like Canoe, Bymark, North 44 and Biff's Bistro, Basilio opened his own restaurant two years ago, serving homestyle Italian cuisine with a focus on local, ethically grown ingredients. With a name like Basilio Pesce, he seems to have been destined to become a chef!

2012 Origin Chardonnay from Rosewood Estates Winery was paired with 'The Drake' Chef Alexandra Fewick's Gnudi, which was the best dish of the night

Chef Alexandra Feswick of 'The'Drake' reducing the cream sauce for her Gnudi, which she made with equal parts ricotta and parmesan rolled in semolina

My favourite dish of the night was hands-down Chef Alexandra Feswick's pillowy Ricotta & Parmesan Gnudi poached in cream and served with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and fresh pea shoots, inspired by a dish her Mom used to make at Christmas, however this sensational recipe is based a chance meeting she had with Mario Batali at The Spotted Pig in NYC years ago. According to Alex, she was eating at the restaurant when everyone jumped up as Batali arrived on his Vespa sporting his signature orange clogs. They chatted about Italian cuisine and the secret to making the perfect gnudi, a technique that Alex brought home with her and practices to this day. Rolling the gnudi in semolina, refrigerating it for a couple of days then poaching it in cream is the key. Alex has mastered this dish — it was light, luscious and bursting with delicate flavours.

Chef Alexandra Feswick's outstanding Ricotta & Parmesan Gnudi poached in cream with Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms and Fresh Pea Shoots, inspired by a trip she made to ‘The Spotted Pig’ a few years ago when she ran into Mario Batali, and also based on Alex's mom’s famous mushroom and pea dish

2011 Growers Blend Cabernet Franc from Tawse Winery paired with the next course, a Venison Carpaccio by Chef Teddy Corrado of The Drake 150

Venison Carpaccio with Shaved Foie Gras, Orange Zest and Baby Mustard Greens by Chef Teddy Corrada of The Drake 150

The two entrées were from Chef Teddy Corrada of The Drake One Fifty, the new eastern outpost of The Drake on York Street in Toronto's financial district. His first dish was a Venison Carpaccio with shaved foie gras, orange zest and baby mustard greens. Wafer thin and garnished with "shaved" foie gras, which was actually finely grated frozen foie gras, was completely overwhelmed by a heavy hand of orange zest, which rendered the headline ingredients of the dish entirely without flavour. The Olive Oil Poached Octopus with blistered shishito peppers and Drake "X-oh! sauce was another matter. The octopus was perfectly cooked, lovely and tender with a lightly crispy outer layer garnished with a salty umami XO sauce and served with blistered bright green shishito peppers.

2012 Select Pinot Noir from Rosewood Estates Winery

Olive Oil Poached Octopus with Blistered Shishito Peppers and Drake "X-oh! Sauce" by Chef Corrada

Chef Atul Palghadmal of Jelly Modern Doughnuts (with Chef Alex Molitz behind) presenting his Trio of Doughnuts, the dessert and final course of the evening

Trio of Bite-Size hand-filled and hand-dipped Doughnuts: Lemon Curd topped with meringue; Chocolate with Callebaut Ganache and Edible Gold Leaf; and Classic Jelly

The final course and sweet ending to the dinner were a trio of fresh, fluffy and fabulous bite-size doughnuts from Chef Atul Palghadmal of Jelly Modern Doughnuts, and "one for the road" from mixologist Michael Mooney — a cocktail named 'Anonymous' made with black cardamom infused Bulleit Bourbon cold brew coffee, cinnamon tincture, maple syrup and Fernet Branca served with a lime leaf. With my new 'Toronto Cooks' cookbook in hand, I made way around to each of the chefs to get them to sign the latest addition to my culinary library, and then wound my way home across the street in sub arctic temperatures.  

Mixologist Michael Mooney's final cocktail of the evening — 'Anonymous' made with black cardamom infused Bulleit Bourbon cold brew coffee, cinnamon tincture, maple syrup and Fernet Branca served with a lime leaf — photos are getting fuzzier now!

A signed cookbook by Amy Rosen was included in the $125 fee for the dining event, 
and which I got signed by each of the chefs — a wonderful keepsake

The upstairs kitchen of the St Lawrence Market was still aglow from the evening's dining event, 
as I made my way home across the street!

Gnudi with Mushrooms and Pea Shoots
Serves 6
Recipe courtesy Chef Alexandra Feswick

1 cup ricotta cheese
q cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
8 fresh chives, finely chopped
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
6-8 cups semolina, divided
3 cups whipping cream

Mushroom Sauté:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups oyster mushrooms
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup pea shoots
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

For the gnudi, combine the ricotta, parmesan, lemon zest, chives, pepper and olive oil and mix until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Spread 3 cups of semolina in the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Working with about 1/2 tbsp of prepared cheese mixture at a time, form into balls using the palm of you hand if necessary. Layer the cheese balls on top of the semolina in the baking dish and cover with the remaining semolina flour. Cover and refrigerate for 12-48 hours. When ready to cook, remove the gnudi from the dish and shake off the excess semolina before poaching.

For the mushroom sauté, melt the butter and oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When the butter begins to bubble, add the oyster and shiitake mushrooms — note: I finely sliced them first — and sauté until golden brown and softened, 10-15 minutes. Wipe the pan with paper towel to remove excess oil and reserve pan for poaching the gnudi.

To finish the gnudi, set the reserved frying pan over medium-high heat and warm the cream for 3 minutes, or until just beginning to bubble. Add the gnudi and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, rolling the gnudi in the pan for 3-5 minutes, making sure the balls stay coated as this will help them keep their shape. The gnudi are ready when the cream begins to thicken and the gnudi begin to swell.

To serve, spoon the gnudi into pre-warmed dishes and garnish with the sautéed mushrooms, fresh pea shoots and grated parmesan.

Alex's Garlicky Sausage Minestrone Soup
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy Chef Alexandra Feswick

1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb pepperoni or dry cured sausage, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 stems fresh oregano
2 stems fresh basil
1/2 cup red wine
1 28-oz can tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/4 cups fresh spinach leaves
1 can red kidney beans

Parmesan, freshly grated
Cracked black pepper

Sauté vegetables in an oiled pot over medium-high heat with pepperoni, garlic, oregano and one basil stem. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until softened. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the remaining ingredients except the garnishes, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the basil and oregano stems. Garnish with Parmesan, pepper and remaining basil.