Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A sea bass duet at Canadian Celebrity Chefs

From left to right, Chef Norm Aitken, emcee Kevin Brauch and Chef Mike Howell demonstrate how to cook sea bass at the first-ever Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event.

When I was a journalism student in Montreal, I bought a Chilean sea bass and cooked it in the kitchen of my shoebox apartment. The next day I told my classmates about my delicious fish and was on culinary cloud nine until one of them crashed me down to earth by saying “but Chilean sea bass are endangered!”

I really had no idea, and I felt terrible for contributing to the slow demise of a species at risk.

Nine years later, sitting in the audience at Ottawa's first-ever Celebrity Chefs Event at the National Arts Centre, I am reminded of my delicious environmental transgression. Norm Aitken and Mike Howell have just announced they are going to show the audience how to cook sea bass, but they are better informed that I and have chosen the non-endangered European species.

So let me tell you about their dish. They prepared the fish in two different ways using cooking methods that they've used to great success at their respective restaurants (Aitken works at Juniper in Ottawa and Howell at Tempest in Wolfville N.S.).

Aitken pan-seared his fillet in a very hot skillet with butter, and salt and pepper, and Howell cured his in a mixture of mostly salt and a little sugar, and lime and orange zest. “Fish is particularly suited to curing,” he said. “The longer you do it, the firmer it will become.”

They also made a citrus and fennel salad, a golden beet coulis made with a maritime seaweed called dulse, and married the two fishes on the plate with a little applewood-smoked mussel. It was the first thing that I ate at the reception later that evening and it was lovely.

In telling the audience they do not serve farmed salmon at their restaurants, Howell and Aitken provoked a lot of discussion. They are both environmentalists, and Howell recommended that consumers choose Sea Choice or Ocean Wise certified products if they are interested in supporting sustainable fish farming.

I wish I had known this before I feasted on endangered Chilean sea bass in Montreal!

After journalism school, I became an editor at the Canadian Wildlife Federation and discovered two great websites with searchable databases on species at risk: COSEWIC, which focuses species in Canada, and the IUCN's Red List, which covers species worldwide. I've since used them to make sure I'm not buying anything endangered for my next meal!

In short, I had a great time at this event. It was a lot of fun, and Howell and Aitken's dish are but one of several tasty creations that I got to sample. In my next post, I'll publish an overview of the day in pictures … and more food porn! In the meantime, you can read more fine coverage on these other blogs:

The Lemon Kitchen
Whisk: a food blog
Simply Fresh
The Twisted Chef
Rachelle Eats Food
If Music be the Food of Love, Play On

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canada's celebrity chefs are coming to the NAC!

Canadian celebrity chefs Michael Howell (left) of Tempest and Norm Aitken of Juniper.

Tomorrow is going to be so exciting! I've been invited, along with several other Ottawa food bloggers, to shadow the chefs at the first-ever Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event at the National Arts Centre, and guest blog about the proceedings.

This event is a Canadian first and the brainchild of Michael Blackie, executive chef of Le Café at the NAC. The premise is really clever: A visiting chef from elsewhere in Canada is paired up with a local Ottawa chef to collaborate and produce a main that showcases the best of Canadian flavours.

Each blogger has been assigned to a chef pair and I'm happy to introduce my talented duo as Norm Aitken of Ottawa's Juniper restaurant and Michael Howell of Tempest in Wolfville, N.S.

They are making a crispy-seared transverse Nova Scotian sea bass with a cool fennel and citrus salad, warm gold-beet puree and hay brown butter, dulse and beetroot coulis, and an applewood smoked mussel bridge.

I'm a big fish fan and this sounds absolutely amazing! I can only hope I'll have the pleasure of tasting it on top of seeing how it's made :)

Here's the lineup of all the delicious demonstrations:

Transverse Nova Scotia sea bass crispy seared | citrus cured cool fennel and citrus salad | warm gold beet puree and hay brown butter | dulse and beetroot coulis | applewood smoked mussel bridge by Norm Aitken (Juniper) and Michael Howell (Tempest).

Oyster | honey flavour roasted foie gras terrine | marrow bones and Chardonnay vinaigrette | bacon foam by Marc Lepine (Atelier) and Mathieu Cloutier (Kitchen Galerie).

Shiitake poached pickerel | beurre noissette | dressed grains and greens | crispy crème fraiche oyster by Charlotte Langley (Whalesbone) and Brad Long (Café Belong).

Sweet grass cold smoked Charlevoix veal | crisp potato girdle | Clarmell on the Rideau feta + sage infused retention firecracker spotted prawn crisp | Cloud Horse mead-lychee sting by Michael Blackie (NAC's Le Café) and Michael Lyon (Hotel Eldorado).

Poached Atlantic lobster | Bridge sparkling wine beurre blanc | Le Coprin mushrooms | sweetbreads with candied fennel corn flan, water cress sprouts | black olive purée by Clifford Lyness (Perspectives) and Ray Bear (MIX).

Drunken squab and Newfie screech | tatin of sunchokes | foie gras crepinette by Michael Moffatt (Beckta) and Anthony Walsh (Canoe).

Beet risotto | crispy pig cheek | seared Qualicum beach scallop | Granny smith slaw by Cesare Santaguida (Vittoria Trattoria) and David Rocco (Dolce Vita).

North country bison hash | Quebec goat cheese and cauliflower ravioli | preserved lemon and rendered bacon hollandaise | ancho chili plum gastrique by Robyn Bowen (Empire Grill) and Paul Rogalski (ROUGE).

There will also be a food and wine tasting and reception in the evening. You can buy tickets for the demos and the reception through the NAC's webpage. You can also follow the day's events on Twitter at celebchefott and on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Chez Edgar, a food blogger's restaurant in Gatineau

Marysol, author of food blog She Eats Bears, has recently opened her own restaurant called Edgar in Gatineau, Que. It's a sweet little place where you can sit down for a coffee, and buy sandwiches and innumerable baked goods, all made fresh daily. You can also get garden-fresh soups and dips and pasta dinners to go.

S and I took some friends there recently and we all tucked into some wonderful paninis: big, toasted sandwiches full of quality ingredients like spicy eggplant, apples, cheddar and homemade aioli. They're delicious and an incredible value at less than six dollars!

Edgar's treat counter is a feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. A popular item is the brioche, which comes in unique flavour combinations, such as dates and bacon topped with an orange glaze. There's row upon row of apple and chocolate/walnut tarts, yummy muffins of the day, big sugar cookies and Edgar's signature bars.

Marysol has a lot of experience cooking and baking in various kitchens. Before she opened Edgar, she used to work at the The Urban Element where she would help local chefs test their recipes and make them user-friendly for cooking classes.

Today, she oversees all the cooking and baking at Edgar. In fact, she does most of it herself with the help of a few volunteers, an incredible feat given how hard it is to run a kitchen. For paying customers, her attention to detail is worth it. You can taste the love and tenderness that has gone into her food in every bite.

When Edgar was only a few weeks old, Rachelle gathered a few of us Ottawa-area food bloggers together to visit Marysol after-hours. We helped her prep for the next day and brought her some much-needed food. Rachelle put together a sumptuous cheese and cracker spread, and Lynne, who volunteers at Edgar and is also an accomplished baker, made a delectable sugar pie. (You can see Marysol making the first cut in the photo at the top of this post.) I brought some shrimp with a chili-lime drizzle, a tried and true party recipe. I had such a great time getting to know everyone and helping out! Thanks for a wonderful evening ladies!

60, rue Bégin
Gatineau, Que.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Salmon potato patties

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! These little salmon potato patties are a nice way to turn boring leftovers into something new and exciting. I combine mashed potatoes (and/or stuffing) and canned salmon in roughly equal parts, and then add an egg, a tablespoon of breadcrumbs, some herbs, and salt and pepper, and then fry the patties until they are golden on both sides. I hope you like them!

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