Afrim Pristine and John Horne
: long lost brothers reunited by their love of cheese.
They were brought together at Canadian Cheese Culture, an evening celebrating the finest in Canadian cheeses. The idea for the cheese themed event came about from John and Afrim’s desire to combine forces and host a dinner together. The result was unique – cheeses integrated with dishes in ways that would be thought unimaginable by most, bringing to light all the different ways cheese can be used.
has a long standing relationship with Cheese Boutique
, a family run business founded by Afrim’s grandfather in 1970. For decades, Cheese Boutique has been procuring the best cheeses and aging them to their destined peak, after which they are supplied to the top restaurants in Toronto and cheese lovers alike. Afrim continues the family tradition proudly, most recently having been appointed the world’s youngest Maître Fromager, a distinction awarded by Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, an exclusive organization representing over 5000 cheesemongers. He is only the sixth Canadian to receive the distinction amongst the 50 in the world. You can tell by listening to Afrim that he is not only a cheese master, but a master storyteller. His passion for cheese shone brightly as he spoke of the history behind each cheese used in John’s dishes for the evening. “I do it for the cheese,” Afrim states boldly.
For John, his love of cheese was not ingrained from childhood. “I thought cheese only came in orange,” says John. “When I was working in London, England, my interest in cheese grew. One of the first cheeses I tried there was a blue cheese; I couldn’t figure out if I liked it or not. It looked like mould. But my head chef and sous chef loved it, so I kept trying it until I found aspects that I liked. Once you eat blue, you become fearless,” he continues. It was in France that John met local cheesemongers and witnessed the cheese making process firsthand. “In France, the cheese blew my mind. Joel, one of my sous-chefs at Canoe now, and I would walk to the markets and buy cheese straight from the farmers. We built a relationship with them and they would let us try unique cheeses,” John reminisces.
As a result, his appreciation for cheese evolved, “The great thing is that the base ingredient, milk, can be made into so many different tastes, forms and textures.” While St. Honoré is amongst his favourite cheeses nowadays, John also has a love of Beemster cheese. And yes, it’s orange.
It’s okay, John. I like orange cheese too.
Ontario Spring Water Sake Company Teion Sakura
, apples, chorizo, cornichons, caper berries and fresh baquette from Afrim’s bakery. General Manager extraordinaire Jocelyn and Afrim delivered and refreshed the amuses at each table throughout the night.
Ontario Buffalo Mozzarella
King Crab, Rhubarb Consommé & Chili Oil
Clos du Soleil Fumé Blanc Similkameen Valley British Columbia 2011
Ontario Buffalo Mozzarella was the star component of the dish, accompanied by King crab that had been poached in vegetable bouillon. Ontario hothouse rhubarb was poached in vanilla and made into a consommé. A drizzle of chili oil was added for heat.
Venison Carpaccio & Tartare
Allegretto, Dandelion & Foraged Pickles
Flat Rock Pinot Noir Rosé Twenty Mile Bench Ontario 2012
Venison was done two ways – carpaccio and tartare. Brioche croutons sat atop the venison with an egg yolk. Allegretto is a 100% farmhouse, unpasteurized sheep’s milk, washed rind cheese. It had been aged for 18 months and was shaved onto the venison to add saltiness. Dandelion puree provided a component of bitterness, along with foraged pickles to balance out the dish.
Baked East Coast Oysters
Comfort Cream, Brined Cucumber & Stinging Nettles
Norman Hardie Melon de Bourgogne Prince Edward County Ontario 2011
Comfort Cream, from Upper Canada Cheese Company
was dabbed onto the baked East Coast oysters. Comfort Cream is made from Guernsey cow’s milk and the Guernsey milk is highly sought after in Normandy. Comfort Cream is extremely rich and buttery, with a hint of saltiness. Because it isn’t an aromatic cheese, it paired perfectly with the oysters. Brined cucumber added a refreshing component. Stinging nettles were flown in from the West Coast, sautéed with garlic and stuffed in the bottom of the shell.
Egg Yolk Raviolo
Fresh Ricotta, Tree Syrup Glazed Short Rib & Sweet Peas
Ravine Picone Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Franc Vinemount Ridge Ontario 2010
The fresh ricotta is a straight cow’s milk cheese from Ingersoll, Ontario. Coincidentally, Afrim trained with the farmer while they were both in Tuscany learning how to make cheese. The ricotta is made three times a week. The ricotta was folded into a béchamel and piped inside the raviolo with the egg yolk. Tree syrup made of maple, cedar and birch was used to braise and glazed the short rib. Asparagus and sweet pea coulis added a component of freshness.
Braised Pork Cheek & Belly
Smoked Ontario Stilton, Creamed Oats, Spiced Raisins & Mustard Foam
Fielding Syrah Niagara Peninsula Ontario 2010
Ontario Stilton is a cheese that needs to be aged with high humidity. It is aged for six months, which is an eternity for blue cheese. The big, bold flavour of the blue cheese was a perfect match for the salty pork, especially with the added smokiness. The pork belly was Anthony Walsh’s famous “HF” crispy pork belly. Creamed steel-cut oats and spiced raisins that had been simmered in white wine, allspice, star anise, cloves and sugar accompanied the dish, along with mustard foam and West Coast turnips.
Intermezzo: Guillaume Tell with Apple Sorbet & Apple Gastrique
“There are only a few chefs who can use cheese in an intermezzo and John Horne is one of them. He has pulled this off brilliantly.” – Afrim Pristine
Guillaume Tell is a Pomme de Glace (Quebec icewine) infused rind cheese. It requires three months of ripening and is highly acidic with a hint of sweetness at the end. The rind is edible and extremely important to the tasting of the cheese. It was paired with apple sorbet and apple gastrique to create the perfect palate cleanser.
Wellington County Beef
Beef Tongue, Le Filou Potatoes & Portobello Pickles
Moon Curser Border Vines Okanagan Valley British Columbia 2009
Potatoes aligot were a unique component to this dish. The potatoes were stewed in Le Filou cheese as a natural seasoning, then boiled, crushed and fried. Le Filou is a half sheep’s milk, half cow’s milk cheese. Heirloom carrots and Portobello mushrooms that were pickled accompanied the dish.
Pan Seared Scallops
Kale, Bleu d’Élizabeth, Duck Confit & Pommes Anna
Tawse Laidlaw Vineyard Pinot Noir Vinemount Ridge Ontario 2009
Bleu d’Élizabeth is an award winning cheese that took the “Best in Show ” title at the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. It’s one of the best cheeses in Canada and is made from the highest quality of milk in Canada, coming from a single raw milk farm, versus a mixed milk farm. The Bleu d’Élizabeth was crumbled atop the dish, pairing best with the fattiness of the duck confit and the duck fat that was used in the Pommes Anna. Cauliflower puree rounded out the Qualicum Beach scallops dish.
Niagara Gold, Stewed Rutabaga, Beluga Lentils & Swiss Chard
Lailey Impromptu Niagara River Ontario 2010
The second version of aligot was featured in this dish; rutabaga was stewed in Niagara Gold cheese, which also comes from Upper Canada Cheese Company. The natural buttery and creamy flavour was a perfect match for the rutabaga. It’s important to note that the natural colour of the milk is indeed orange.
Heritage Chicken Cordon Bleu
Chantecler Chicken, Champlain, Savoy Cabbage & Wild Boar Bacon
13th Street Sandstone Old Vines Gamay Noir Four Mile Creek Ontario 2010
Champlain cheese has a natural cabbage flavour, which is elevated once the cheese is heated. It was stuffed into the chicken and rolled inside. The chicken leg was made into confit and deep fried, and an Asian pear compete was added to the dish for freshness.
Double Baked Grey Owl Soufflé
Wild Black Currants, Vanilla Ice Cream & Birch Syrup
Malivoire Chardonnay Musqué Spritz Beamsville Bench Ontario 2011
Grey Owl is an ash-covered goat’s milk cheese that is both earthy and fresh in flavour. The ash acts to absorb the acidity. Wild black currants came from Quebec.
Wild Honey Custard
Raspberries, Thunder Oak Gouda & Milk Crumble
Rosewood Estates Ambrosia Mead Beamsville Bench Ontario 2006
The wild honey used is from Collingwood, Ontario and was reduced down to a toffee. The custard was baked on top, with the taffy-like honey flavour playing off the similarities of a crème caramel. Thunder Oak Gouda comes from Dutch farmers and has a caramel flavour that pairs with the other components of this dish perfectly. Afrim calls Thunder Oak Gouda the “O&B Cheese” because we’ve been serving it for five and a half years.
Everyone is on the line, including Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Walsh, who stopped by during the evening, and Oscar Bonacini on the right, who jumped into the kitchen as a cook.
Afrim's prestigious medal
Eric from Cheese Boutique and the stunning cheese display for sampling
Empty plancha, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
Next week, Chef Anthony finds himself in a locavore’s dream restaurant in The Algarve. - J.K. PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Aceutnas!
We went to one joint in Seville four separate times. Led there by my son’s research, Noah had zeroed in on Bodega dos de Mayo
, where they are renowned for their shellfish tapas and bàcalao
After our first quick visit, we discovered what a gem this place really is. It’s a mid-sized taberna with two others literally within spitting distance. A large bar is the focal point. There are no servers. Instead, well-dressed gentlemen behind the bar do absolutely everything – take orders, dish out beer, wine and Fino, scoop chilled seafood tapas, put together tostadas, expertly carve the four different types of jamòn (all to order) and they courier the freshest seafood from the ice bar to the kitchen.
The food coming from the kitchen is announced via microphone. The place was nuts; arguably one of the craziest, most fluid places I’ve ever experienced. The food was up quick and the service was even quicker.
Conversation, interactions and in our case, friendships with the men behind the bar, were forced. You had to roll up your sleeves and push your way in if you wanted the best they had to offer. That said, it was their mental energy and passion that brought us back each time. After we placed our first order, one gent poured us a round, asked me my name and where I was from. He saw the kids and seemed impressed that they were there at that (late) hour, ogling over the iced fish display.
Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
“Antonio de Toronto!” came over the loud speaker. It was Paco – he was the first one I met and this really made a difference. After he had sussed us out, we gave him the low down and left the rest of the ordering up to him. The first plates came out at midnight: monkfish and chorico brochettes and tiny white shrimp in a shallow terra cotta pot with a tab of butter, stewed garlic and olive oil (dry toasts accompanied). Incredible.
Bacalao Tortilla, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
Next was a bàcalao tortilla that tasted of hickory sticks, laden with onion and salt cod. Incredibly delicate, it had a lemony yoghurt drizzled over top. One of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time.
Razor Clams, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
Prawns, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
Then, the smallest razor clams I’ve ever seen. They weren’t much thicker than a Sharpie pen and were roughly three inches long. They oiled a plancha and lay the closed clams directly on the surface, letting the plancha do its work. The razors came out on top of some crushed, white-fleshed potatoes, all of the juices combined with some olive oil and a squirt of lemon.
Poached Octopus, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
Pulpo de Gallegos was another speciality: warm poached octopus with the skin, fat and tentacles all intact, just warmed and sitting atop those Yukon-like potatoes that were well cooked and sliced into rounds.
Wooden boards were placed in an oven and heated gently, then doused with an aggressive pimentòn-spiked olive oil and sherry vinegar concoction. Spinach and chick peas with an assertive preserved lemon and chermoula-like spicing appeared atop the boards.
Hake Dish, Taberna Dos de Mayo, Seville
The last dish Paco served us before we left Seville for Portugal again was in a shallow terra cotta dish. There was the familiar stewed garlic, but this time it was housing lightly cured, beautiful chunks of hake with prehistoric looking goose neck barnacles (percebes), incredible, teeny white elvers and olive oil, a spritz of cider and crushed tomato. It was a great way to leave Señor Paco and the wonders of Seville.
Him being a huge soccer fan, we decided to send Paco a Toronto FC jersey when we got home. I just hope he doesn’t find out how bad TFC actually is.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Walsh Abroad: Perfect Paella and Porky Bits
Our apartment was in the center of Seville’s old city. It had a big courtyard on the inside, crazy, neon-coloured walls that somehow worked (very little lighting being a possible reason), 15 foot ceilings, stone floors, mosque-inspired arches and mosaic plaques embedded throughout. It was pretty cool.
The streets barely fit even the smallest of cars and most taxis wouldn’t come in as they most likely would not get out.
As ancient as our area was, three blocks away was the Plaza Mayor – one of the coolest, most modern city squares I have ever seen. It has a covered market that houses the widest range of amazing produce, all sorts of meat, poultry, fish, seafood as well as sweets and baked goods.
Strolling through the market, it looked like it has been styled by Martha herself. The fish were coded by their species, the furry rabbits were all cozied together on cabbage leaves in the butcher case, and beside them was the fowl shop: tiny feathered quails, snipe and yellow-footed hens. Mushrooms were lined up alongside varieties of garlic and onions I’d never seen before, heaped in coloured wicker baskets.
Olive stand, Mercado de San Miguel
Olive and cheese purveyors were strolling through with handouts. One olive lady took a liking to us and apparently, she went everywhere with her Spanish-speaking parrot named Bertha on her shoulder.
Bertha was on a leash, but still very charming. She would crack off verses of some melancholic folk song and then scream out a sales pitch for “Acetunas!” (olives!).
I could see myself walking down Bay Street with a parrot on my shoulder, screaming obscenities and then reciting passages from some of Escoffier’s writings. Hmm…
Plaza Mayor, Seville
On top of the market is a covered platform that resembles floating, honeycombed lily pads. This structure started at the market and ended up snaking over two additional city blocks. Later, we discovered an observatory on top of the “lily pads”; a massive, crazy structure surrounded by a combination of Gothic cathedrals, Moorish arches, the odd commercial billboard and snaking, cobbled streets.
I’m not usually interested in touristy stuff, but this was pretty cool.
Join Chef Anthony next week as he makes a new BFF in Seville. - J.K.
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Olives in Córdoba
and tapas scene is nuts, but at this point we were really getting the hang of it.
Grilled Pork at Los Coloniales, Seville
We had a monster lunch at Los Coloniales at around 3 p.m. after arriving by train from Còrdoba. This place is renowned for its pork (need I say more?). These dudes and dudettes really know how to cook “pork meat” (as they call it).
We had three different cuts for lunch: a thin shoulder steak, the secreto and very thin slices of fresh belly. They were cooked very simply over fruit wood charcoal and seasoned with salt, olive oil and lemon. The meat was pink, juicy and served piping hot. I was amazed at the clean flavour this meat had. According to the neighbouring table (and then confirmed by the barkeeper), they only use pigs that weigh 40 kg and under – none of that dead-commodity pork.
Pan y Tomates with Quail`s Egg, Los Coloniales, Seville
It was all served with a smattering of yellow-fleshed, fried potato slices – just enough to do the sop up. Along with the pork, we had incredible Pan y Tomates with the fresh tomato pulp, olive oil and Iberico jamòn, each little quadrant topped with a sunny-side-up quail’s egg.
Our first serious paella showed up as well; we ended up ordering it twice – it was so good. It was comprised of snails, rabbit, choriço, saffron and tomatoes. Medium-soupy in consistency – it was absolutely stunning.
This was followed by a nip of vino, some Fino and then the all-important siesta. Recharge.
Tune in next week for Chef Anthony’s encounter with a parrot named “Bertha ". - J.K.
The time for vegetables is now.
Menu Potager, a Tasting of Vegetables, has been on Marc St. Jacques
’ mind throughout his two years at Auberge du Pommier
. This five course tasting menu is Marc’s outlet to showcase a variety of beautiful Ontario produce. Marc’s passion for cooking vegetables stems from countless hours on veg stations as a young cook. There, he was able to see and taste the seasonality within the produce he was working with. “I quickly realized vegetables were my favourite thing to cook; to me, they are the most interesting because they change the most during the year,” says Marc.
Instead of selecting a protein first and choosing sides to pair with it, Marc prefers to focus on what is in season, putting the vegetables at the forefront, a philosophy he wrote about in COLLECTIONS magazine last fall
. Marc emphasizes the importance of seasonality, “I’d rather eat peas at their perfect point or strawberries when they’re really great. If it's asparagus season, you should eat as much as asparagus as you can until you never want to eat asparagus again. But that’s when you should be eating vegetables – when they are at their peak. The new tasting menu is really another place to feature these beautiful vegetables, especially when we’re getting the best of the best from the farmers.”
Marc’s commitment to maintaining relationships with local farmers is strengthened by what he calls an open door policy, whereby he encourages farmers to bring in whatever produce looks best. He recalls the early stages, “At first, they wouldn’t bring me anything. I asked them again to bring me what they thought was best. The next week, they brought in a few vegetables. As the weeks went by, more and more started coming in. It’s far more interesting to me to try to figure out dishes to make with the vegetables they bring in rather than having a preconceived idea of what I’d like them to bring in.”
Menu Potager is not only a vegetarian menu but also another option for any guest looking for a refreshing alternative or for a couple to sample even more dishes. By offering two tasting menus, one with protein and one without, Marc is able to maximize the best of seasonal produce as well offer a more personalized approach to cooking for guests. “‘Vegetarian’ can mean different things – a root vegetable dish is very different from gnocchi with cream sauce. More questions have to be asked in order to cook for guests more thoughtfully and to customize the experience. This is a menu that I want to change weekly, based on what vegetables are in season. The dishes should be a reflection of what these farmers have on their farms at any given moment,” says Marc.
Viva les vegetables.
You can taste Menu Potager by calling 416.222.2220 or booking online. The menu is constantly evolving, but here are photos from the first iteration of this Tasting of Vegetables. The current menu can be viewed here.
Poire - pear & ginger mille-feuille, pickled cabbage, celery, warm pear vinaigrette
Betterave - roasted beet tarte, broccoli mousse, cashews, yuzu
Navet - salt-baked turnip, garlic glazed lettuces, hot mustard, black bean condiment
Choux Fleur - cauliflower agnolotti, hazelnut, cocoa nib, dried fruits, sauce mole negro
Lilet - tasting of citrus