Tag Archives: Foodie

Joe Beef: A Philosophy of Quebec Cuisine

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Montreal remains the place where I feel most at home. It is a city with simple aspirations; it is a city focused on quality, local food prepared in an avante garde culinary style. People in Quebec appreciate wine, soft lighting, conversation at dinner, laughter and sensuality. It is a city that has changed my life purpose three times and influenced how I live with more with every visit. The past two nights were no exception, yet exceptional nonetheless.

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My usual destination in Montreal is Martin Picard’s Au Pied Du Cochon on Duluth Street, but for this visit we chose to try our luck with Joe Beef, the brainchild of David MacMillan and Frederic Morin. A favourite with superstar chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Joe Beef has the street cred to make it worth a three month ahead reservation.

What was it like? Nothing like we expected, but beautiful in its darkness and lush food. First, I hope you read French. The ever-changing chalkboard menu is wholly francophonic, and difficult to see in the evening lights. Secondly, one needs a sense of adventure, a trust in your waiter, and a willingness to try new flavours. Our dinner consisted of 8 maritime oysters in the raw, two sea urchin, a pork and chicken tender terrine served next to a slab of perfectly chilled foie gras, a New Brunswick lake trout in a salty mortadella sauce, a large filet of cheval, and a side of Parmesan frites. I was also shamed into a whimsical peppermint soft serve ice cream on molten chocolate cake. Two bottles of Bourgogne wine and two of the better cafe Americano I have had in a long time. Final bill: $350.

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A visit to Joe Beef is not just about the food. A visit to this minor Mecca is about coming to understand a food philosophy and flavour palette that one cannot find in Toronto, New York or Chicago. The fact that horse meat was on the menu and lauded by the waiter as the best food in the house, would never be supported in a town where people are disconnected from their food and its sources. How many places serve chicken, beef and fish from parts unknown? Joe Beef knows the horse is from Pennsylvania, and the arguments for its consumption in recent Globe and Mail articles are compelling. The flavour falls between beef for texture and pork for flavour complexity. I will not crave cheval in my dreams, but it was a transformational dish in terms of how I interpret flavours for my own cooking style.

In relation to that, the reason for a food photographer and home cook to visit a restaurant like Joe Beef is to experience how food can be prepared honestly and simply. The terrine chaude was my favourite dish. I had never thought to warm a terrine, and this one was perfect in its composition. In contrast to the heavenly foie gras in a cool, classic sauce, the terrine made me want to prepare my own version this week; to build a family recipe for posterity and years of expectant enjoyment.

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We drank Burgundy region wines, as they were suggested in the Joe Beef restaurant book, and I could certainly see how their simple, clean flavours work with the rich, salty, complex flavours in the food. In the end, Joe Beef is a one time visit for me. I get it, I loved it, and it was worth the money; I simply prefer the gluttony and Gargantuan nature of Au Pied du Cochon more. Life is short; eat what you dream of in the darkest of Winter nights.

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From a different perspective, and after a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, we decided to stay at The Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar for dinner on the second night. Partly due to getting a slight chill while trekking up Mont Royal, and partly due to a $100 credit from hitting Platinum status on 2013’s trips out West and Ottawa, we stayed inside this classic hotel from the train era. After a dozen oysters from the PEI bay where I bought property next to this year we went with a cheese plate of Quebec cheeses accompanied by an absolutely perfect bottle of Quebec white wine. The price was a reasonable $150, and the experience was matched with our expectations: good hotel food from the locality.

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Our final moments this morning were spent lingering over coffee, cheap Bordeaux and a wickedly rich collection of French pastry, baguettes filled with smoked salmon and a feuillete containing a bechamel and ham centre. Perhaps that is what Montreal offers: multiple, magnificent moments unlike anywhere else. These were moments welcome and stolen from a cold winter season.

You Ate What?: Death by Food and Wine in Portland

Yes, one can eat too much. Yes. I have eaten too much. Yes, I am about to die from too much great food and wine, but, no, I do not regret a single moment of it. Food is one of those things that shape who we are, literally. I know that puritans insist that calories are murder, that fat is a sin, that flavour is not as important as fibre, and that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels…but they obviously are not foodies with an appreciation for the fact that the great food is worth the ups and downs on the scale. I would rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints. There will always be time to repair the damage with exercise and detox.

The past two weeks on the road have not shown me one single mediocre meal. Not a single misplaced bit of food, and nothing that was not perfectly prepared and sustainable; farm to table and artisanal. Still, I feel like an orca whale about to birth a fleet of Moby Dicks with one slip of step. Why? Certainly not from junk food, because I have not had a single junk meal in two weeks. I put it down to a lack of sleep, water retention from travel, and the fact that I am eating deeply from the menu when I do have a chance to eat.

Yes, I fully understand that if I were to eat lettuce instead of pork belly, then I might live a little longer, fit into the most sought after clothing, and fit in at “that” club, but frankly the food I have eaten has made me appreciate the beauty in the world that could provide such a wide variety of foodstuffs. Tonight had me at SouthPark Seafood Grill in Portland, and it was another meal to remember from the Portland visit. While others opted for the fish, I went with a crab cake followed by the butcher’s choice of pork belly and shoulder on a bed of kale and corn polenta. The flavours were rich, clean and live with intensity. Against the bottle of white Pinot Noir, the whole meal moved along nicely and took the edge off the fact that I have not slept well for three nights.

Before hitting the restaurant, I had the good luck to make it up to Portland’s Tanner Goods shop just a few blocks from The Heathman. I appreciate the quality of leather that will last and wear well into my lifetime, and Tanner’s selection of products immediately resonated with me. In fact, I was able to acquire the exact type of fob I had been looking for to attach my Ducati key to so that it would not mar the carbon fibre around the ignition.

The Leica M3 also has been begging for a richly appointed strap, and Tanner made a beautiful version that should would nicely without causing any damage to the lugs over time. I cannot wait to attach the body to the strap when I return to Toronto in a few days.

Lastly, I was able to procure a gift for V. that hopefully will meet with her expectations. When we were in San Francisco she was in love with a wrist strap from Tory Birch, but the leather quality left me cold. Tanner Goods produces a similar, but higher quality piece that I hope V. will like. One never knows…

Sooo…one more day and night in Portland. Tomorrow I move hotels to head to the Jupiter Hotel on the other side of the river. If all goes well, then I will sleep, do some work for the workshop and make my way over the bridge to see how the “hipper” side lives. I will probably prefer The Heathman, but this last night is on my own coin so that I do not need to take the red-eye out with my colleagues, and a change of scene before I get home should be nice. The question is whether I can possibly ingest any more of what Portland has to offer? I have been attempting to capture a few of the bridges and scenes with my Hasselblad SWC camera while using my iPhone and the PocketMeter app to save space in my carry-on; we will have to see if it is accurate enough to be trusted.

With two bottles of Pinot  Noir for my “cellar”, I am at the end of my wine tether, my food possibilities and my rope. One can only hope that sleep will find me and deliver me from the evil of those Voodoo Donuts that were so damn yummy – oh, I guess they were the one junk food that passed my lips – fair enough, and worth every bite. The juicing will begin again upon arrival to my studio…beets, ginger and celery should start the detox!

Madrid and Tapas

[Note: This entry was poorly posted due to incompetence with my iPhone, so I have re-posted it in the main area]

We are here in Madrid! Still working on how to upload my iPhone photos of the amazing tapas we are eating. Churros, Prosciutto and $3 bottles of rjoja make Madrid a foodie paradise.We were locked out of our room last night…they had to drill a hole in the door this morning. Ahh Madrid. The tapas was our main focus yesterday, with visits to San Gine for Churros, San Miguel’s mercado for olive masterpieces, the museo de jambon for cheap Serrano ham sandwiches and more tasty bits like the octopus and ham croquettes from 4 Robles.

The Mercado de San Miguel was my favourite place in Madrid. It was alive with locals and tourists, and the the food was always presented fresh and beautifully. The colours were alive. We went there twice; once by accident and the other to try our hand at more food before we left. V. loved the olives on appetizer toothpicks, whereas I was enamoured with the raw fish tapas.

There are full SWAT teams in the main square due to Spain’s growing protests against the failing economy. Exciting times. We ended up heading to a small place with marble countertops, 4 Robles, just before they closed. The potato and ham croquettes were around 7 Euros, while the octopus was another 16 Euros. I think we needed another mouth to feed to finish the whole dinner, but it was truly special – it was what I had hoped tapas would be like. I should warn travellers that there are tonnes of BAD touristy tapas places, too. A lot of what we saw while walking was like cafeteria food versions of the real deal. I can only suggest that you walk around and see what people are actually eating at each place. Guide books felt unreliable when it came to find the freshest and most interesting tapas.

We went to three museums today: V. and I preferred the Reina Sofia to the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica was a highlight for me, but the war photography was a real dark space. V. loved James Castle’s duck sculpture. One more day in Madrid before we head to Casablanca.

The first thing I noticed about the food in Madrid is that unless you are looking for tapas you will end up with tourist trap food like mush paella. As we walked around the Plaza Mayor and through the city, it became clear that the tapas trail would be the best way to dine. I am sure that there are killer restaurants in Madrid at killer prices, but we decided to save money and take more risks on small plates at various places than to risk it all on one big, and possibly awful, dinner.

The churros were wonderful. The thick chocolate reminded me of Jell-O pudding with a kick, and that was a good thing. We went twice, but neither time were we able to figure out how to get the big churro pieces. San Gines was a funky establishment from yesteryear, and I am so glad we made it there…twice.

One thing that we did not get to sample in either Madrid or Barcelona was sherry…maybe they were the wrong cities?

Elizir: The Restaurant in Essaouria

Essaouria came after the desert and after the Atlas Mountains, and it did not come too soon. A small fishing town for beachside tourists, Essaouria felt like a godsend in terms of pace and calm. We were there for two days with GAP Adventures, and by this point the group had pretty much built its factions and fictitious personalities, which we did not really want any part of, so we went it alone for the two days. The first order of the day was to find a real, non-GAP, restaurant, which was pretty easy via Trip Advisor. There was only one clear choice in the town and that was the restaurant Elizir.

We arrived at 7:30pm for an 8:15pm opening, and were the first in, which was fortunate as we were the only people who got to sit down for the next hour. Elizir requires reservations as it only sits about 28 people for one sitting per night. About 20 people were turned down, but we were lucky enough to get the last open table for the night.

The music was Leonard Cohen, Edith Piaf and some funky French music. The crowd ranged from a few tourists to some “locals” who wanted to take visiting friends out to a nice meal. The highlight of the night was the idiot who pranced in wearing a blanket for a cape. I mean I get dressing up like a berber, or wearing harem-wear to fulfill a dream, but a Polo shirt, tight khakis and a blanket was just ridiculous, especially since he thought he was the cat’s meow. Sigh….people.

Sancho Panza's Best Friend?

The food was spectacular for the price and the area. No, it was not Bobby Flay or Susur Lee, but the food was fresh, clean and well-prepared in a pseudo-moderne way. We went with a full course menu to make sure that we did not waste a table for the owner, and frankly there was no better way to spend an evening.

Ummm, we ate the tapas-style dips before we could take a photograph.

The vibe was cool, and the wine was awful, but remember that alcohol is not on most menus in Morocco, especially during Ramadan. We enjoyed the first course of dips, and then shared a rich pumpkin and saffron soup. Given how raw our tummies were from the onslaught of tagine after tagine, the soup was a tiny miracle.

Saffron on soup...need I say more?

The main courses were a pistacio, ricotta and pomodoro ravioli and a beef tenderloin with balsamic reduction. I would say the beef was extraordinary, truly world-class, but the vegetables did not match the dish. The pasta was spot on, but needed garlic and sea salt to pull it together. We ended with a pear in filo pastry, and a chocolate ganache tart. Bother were nicely presented and had nice touched os ice cream and vegetable juices. The espresso was free, and I ended up paying around 600-700 dirhams or around 80 dollars with a tip. I cannot recommend Elizir more highly. After ten days of roughing it through Morocco with only beef jerky or tagines/couscous, I needed some familiar food and atmosphere.

I should also note that taking pictures of food with the iPhone is useful to remember what you ate, but terrible in terms of low-light resolution. The actual food was much more attractive than my snapshots show.

Pushing Hard in N.Y.C.: Eight Hours, Culture and Thousands of Calories

It is hard to eat like a foodie in New York City without killing one’s self. In every moment when I am not working this week, it has been visits to what I hope will prove to be some of the best food spots in New York. Fortunately, unlike Chicago, the portions are bearable. I began with lunch at Angelo’s Pizza on West 57th Street. Online reviews post this as the best pizzeria in the area, and I really felt like I needed to try to find a really nice slice of pizza. The caveat though is that you cannot order a reasonable size here as a single diner; you order a whole pie and that is the way it goes.

At $15 or so, this pizza was the real deal. Cooked in a coal oven and hand-tossed, the pizza came slightly charred, but to perfection. I went with just an addition of pepperoni, as the sauce and mozzarella really only should need a bit of meat to give the pie its kick. Great sauce, fabulous crust, real mozzarella and the fresh basil was a nice touch. The atmosphere of the place was not compelling [not a dive, but not upscale…more 1987 tourist], but I was there for a quick lunch. I would have preferred taking V. along, so that we could have shared in the experience, but there is always lots of time in the future for New York. Final verdict: stellar pizza,and what I had hoped for today. It was better than what I had in Italy,  but I still favour Abruzzo Pizza in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Go figure.

On V.’s suggestion I spent an hour in the Frick Museum. As a Fine Arts History student, I had heard of the Frick, but never really registered anything about it. For $18 I was able to get inside a glorious mansion built by the coke baron to house his Old Masters art collection. I had to admit that I liked everything Frick stood for; he seemed hard-working and he had vision – his plan to leave an art collection for Americans to enjoy in perpetuity seems like a better plan than either Bill Gates or Warren Buffet have to save the world. Seeing the Rembrandt self-portrait, St. Francis by Bellini, Boucher’s coy mistresses and Frick’s gorgeous book collection in his library made me smile and wonder what it must mean to be so rich. With a mere five years to enjoy his riches, I imagine that he missed out on the possibilities for experiencing the treasures he collected.

On a jaunt through the mid-section of Central Park I came across a Wafel and Dinges cart. Now the last thing I needed was a Belgian waffle, but then I noticed that their waffle had beaten out Bobby Flay in a “throwdown” match, and for a mere $7 with tip, how could I not try the confection? Do not leave New York without trying one of these. I would have enjoyed it more with a coffee and an empty stomach, but it just killed with its texture and flavour. I needed the long walk home just to feel like I was not going to explode. Still, a wafel and some Coltrane in the Park is not a bad way to spend an hour.
A walk on Madison Avenue took me through the boutiques of Ralph Lauren, Thomas Pink and Tom Ford. Sigh, to be rich, beautiful and fashionable…alas, that is not me, nor could it ever be. The Ralph Lauren flagship had the most beautiful motorcycle helmet that I have ever seen; the Confederate Motorcycle Carbon Fibre Ruby Helmet. The piece was to die for, but it was only in a super small size and Confederate are out of these online. Still…for a mere 700 British pounds I could pick one up in a custom colour. I would need a few gigs to pay for that luxury, but I do need a new helmet.

Going through these stores made me sad. One, I wished that V. was there to buy pretty things for and that I could actually afford to do so. Two, I realized just how different the economics must be between the middle class and the rich – $700 for a sweater is beyond my reach, and I am not a poor man.  Three, seeing quality goods versus goods masquerading as quality goods made me wonder why we pay so much for the second best items? $400 is too much for a shirt, but so is $200 and $100. Today made me question what clothes I should be wearing. It also made me ask why I can never, ever looked as unwrinkled as the men I saw on Madison Avenue today. I felt like such a sweaty, slobby hack. Jay Gatsby I am, Tom Buchanan was all of the other boys shopping at Ralph Lauren with bags full of shirts….such beautiful shirts.

Getting back to Night Hotel, I took a break, shaved with the straight razor [my third shave and I am getting MUCH better with it], and then read over the next day’s workshop notes. I knew that I would have to gather my strength to go out for dinner, but I was not in the mood. Frankly, I missed V. and while I know it is important for me to have these couple of days alone to reflect, think, sleep and work, I felt lonely and disconnected from the world. Over the past three nights I have barely spoken to a soul other than food servers, and it gets hard to go back to the hotel to sleep in a city that never does. My feet are killing me.

I walked all along the mid-town area, and finally decided that the only place that would not be a tourist trap would be Bobby Van’s Grill, which was also next door to my hotel. While it was difficult, I decided to go with the Cobb Salad that subbed lobster for chicken; at $22 this salad was a great deal. I received a whole canner lobster and a very, very good Cobb salad that made my stomach feel better for having eaten a vegetable or two. Sure, a giant cockroach scared two Russian girls at the table next to me, but I have seen bigger and the little monster was outside the restaurant with nothing to do with the food.

Lastly, I decided to force down a 14oz Filet Mignon with bearnaise sauce on the side. Why? Why? When in New York I feel that it is important to try the classics to reaffirm what is truly good food. Was the filet to die for? No. Was it excellent? Yes. The bearnaise was a waste, but the Bobby Van Sauce was pretty good as a horseradish/molasses/tomato sauce for steak.  Did I do a better job with the two organic steaks for Paderno last week? Yep, and that is where the reassurance comes in: you cannot cook well and improve if you do not keep trying the best of what is out there. And that is the hard part; when I travel I need to expand my palette and my waistband in a short time so as to be able to redefine my own cooking style. While that may sound ridiculous to anyone outside of the food industry, I know that a lot of why I get hired for food photography is for my food preparation and understanding of how to make food look delicious and with the times. Food styling is like fashion and the meatballs of 1980, the stacks of the 1990s, the tapas of 2005 or the Martha Stewart/Donna Hay looks will not always be de rigeur. Where next? A consumer wants to see that the next big thing can be prepared in the product they are about to purchase, and that is part of my job as a stylist/photographer.

Final thoughts are that the iPhone 4 was an excellent purchase for me at this time. I use OmniFocus to implement my GTD system of organization and that keeps my crazy life on task. Having the software on the iPhone makes it so much easier to access, add and subtract events from. The camera has proven itself to be invaluable when I just want to take snapshots of food or little stuff. I know the quality is not up to par with any of my other cameras, but it is light, it is with me, and these are not the type of photos I need to have in hi-res files. I also like being able to text easily to home, check out my map of the city I am in or even hook up to the web in an emergency [roaming fees are killer, so it would have to be an emergency]. Tomorrow is my last day in New York. I hope to head south to the Liberty statue and see that part of the city for the first time. I do not leave until 8pm, but my workshop is till about 3pm. Five hours should be enough…I can always hope in Obama’s America.

When in New York…Mario Batali’s Babbo

But this is the other side of wonderful
And it’s not the side you want to be on.
I found myself here yesterday
And I, I can’t go on….
When I was walking the streets of New York.
When I was walking with the dead.

The last time I was in New York was the lowest point of my life. New York has never been an easy city for me to be in, but I keep returning as a test for the famous maxim that “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” I am here for a series of workshops on educational differentiation, but my first day was my own to rest, walk and reflect on the world we live in.

My day began with a smooth flight from Toronto through Porter airlines, a decent cab ride into the city, and then about three hours walking in the scorching heat of a Manhattan summer. On the taxi ride into Manhattan one frustrated New Yorker smashed at the window as we went around a turn; this city runs on anger and drive to get to the top. Taking V.’s advice, I decided to walk up the Avenue of the Americas to Central Park and to enjoy an afternoon exploring there.

Do not, I repeat, do not walk through Central Park in cowboy boots. I had my first New York hot dog in about 12 years. They still remind me of the hot dogs I used to cook for the other kids when I was in Grade Six…boiled with a bun and lots of mustard to make it edible. After sweating so much from the heat though I needed the salt.

 I did have a brief encounter with the nicest hustler. He was pretty impressive with the way he forced me to keep talking about nothing – the key to the hustle is to keep the grift talking until you have their trust. He was commenting on a photo I was trying to take in the park, then on my tattoo – hey, man I REALY like your style – much to his dismay I did not stay around for his actual con.

V. suggested that I hit Magnolia Bakery for a few select cupcakes. Last week I was in Chicago and went to Bliss; sorry, Magnolia, but you got nothing on Bliss. I found the buttercream icing to be too whippy and without substance. The cakes themselves were good, but not worth $3 each.

I slept for two hours and then hoofed it to Mario Batali’s flagship Babbo restaurant. A tough place to get a reservation for, but with a walk-in for one person to the bar it is about an thirty minute wait. I ended up being able to do a full tasting menu for the night and that meant getting a better sense of what Batali interprets Italy as being. Let me assure you that Italy is better; let me assure you that V. and I will kill that meal after one night in Madrid, but that it is probably the best meal on this continent for what it is. Batali understands what he does and his staff do the vision well.

My meal was flawless. I had multiple courses of perfect meals matched with wines until I went rogue from the Traditional Tasting Menu and asked for the octopus. It was super-salty, the kitchen over-seasoned it,  and I got comped it by the server. If you get a chance to blow $200 in NYC for food, then Babbo is the bomb. Kill it or go home.

The pappardelle with morels and thyme was my favourite dish; the butter, noodles and morels blended into a beautiful dish. The fava beans with the coppa was excellent, and the guinea hen was flavourful. The Tasting Menu was a good value for superb food, and Babbo is a restaurant that I do enjoy.

My initial thoughts on New York are that everyone is one the hustle and that the hustle is what makes the thin, hungry look appealing to a world where that edge is non-existent. People like how New Yorkers look, but I doubt they realize the look comes from burning life to the very end to get ahead. One night in NYC made me feel like Toronto is soft, and that what I have is so good. I watched a crew of ten nobodies work with a nobody model like she was god for thirty minutes today; my hot dog never tasted so good. New York misses the importance of reality but that is okay if you are just here for the illusion, Peter Pan.

New York forces me to evaluate how I am doing against the real world: I am not Dave LaChapelle, nor am I Uncle Louis. I feel infinitely better than I did three year ago and that makes all the difference. The Leica has been ruling supreme thus far. It gets me the shot no matter the light, and it is pretty non-imposing to most people. At Babbo, a Chinese patron went wacko because he recognized the actual camera, while an art student was just impressed that I was shooting film. In the end, I do feel like the Leica M3 is THE New York camera, and it has been pretty good for both the candid photographs tonight and the shots in Central Park.  I would have captured more shots with the MkIII, but this is my vacation and I need some rest. I do not care what I capture insofar as I care about what I experience.

If I have to admit one thing, then it is that I do not deserve to enjoy the great food and shelter that I do. The world is filled with better and worse people than me; I will take it because I can, but I get that it is a blessing that I can enjoy the life that I do. All of these photos were taken with my iPhone 4. Through New York and Chicago, it has been a great way to capture the basics snapshots of a trip – these are not killer foodie photos of Batali’s greatest, but the images give an impression of what I was able to enjoy over the three hour meal. I bought an iPhone 4 to keep me organized and let me keep in touch with the world when I am on the road. It has the added benefit of having a decent camera that lets me take okay snapshots. I would never say these are photographic shots, but rather they are okay captures to get a point across.

Alinea, Charlie Trotter and a few others beat out Batali, but what his apprentices do, they do better than anyone else. I had some amazing food tonight. Still, the streets of New York are filled with those who did not handle the stresses of what has to be the hardest city in the world. People look hard here. Small town people confuse it with sexy, but I know the New York look as being hard and lean.

The streets are filled with the broken bodies and minds of those New Yorkers for whom the hustle was just too much. I am going to sleep. I know I am not on the street in the toughest place on the planet, and I appreciate that.  A great day one…but in New York anything can happen and it will.