Friday, 27 September 2013

Savour Stratford - A Quick Overview

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival
Stratford, ON

September 20 - 22, 2013

Property of

In her opinion:
How would I describe my experiences at this year's Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival? In a word...AWESOME! It helped reinforce my belief that we are indeed a global community and the world of food and drink is innovative, exciting and of course, delectable. Savour Stratford's theme this year of "globally inspired, locally grown" proved that any culture's cuisine can be made using locally grown products.

The Fanshawe College opening night highlighted cuisine from Latin America, Europe, Jamaica, Canada and Vietnam using local ingredients. This was executed wonderfully. The college, the chefs and the culinary students did an amazing job.

The celebrity chef factor was just right at this year's Savour Stratford...big names like Vikram Vij, Roger Mooking, Naomi Duguid, Mara Salles graced the Toronto Star Culinary Stage along with local favourites Tim Larsen and Sean Collins (their modernist Hollandaise was truly impressive as was their cured pig heart). Throughout the weekend different chefs gave different cooking demonstration about the many different flavours of this world including Burma, Trinidad, India, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Asian.

The farmer's market provided excellent locally grown produce, foods like pickled items and fresh breads, crafts and delicious eats. We managed to find some amazing walnut sourdough bread from Downie Street Bake House and awesome plums in the rain.

The Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley provided 10 VQA wines, 10 craft beers, 10 artisan cheese with 5 cask beers to sample. This was a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon of sampling.

Vikram Vij graced the City Hall Learning Centre with his expertise on "Hot Food, Cold Wine". Once told that you could never pair wine correctly with Indian food, Vikram went on to pass his sommelier exam and successfully pair wine with his absolutely delicious Indian cuisine. Guests were treated to Vij's food and two excellent choices of wine from Chateau des Charmes.

Unfortunately, a personal issue kept us from attending Savour Stratford's Sunday events but Edgar has provided a detailed account of the day below.

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival is a great foodie/craft beer/wine lover venue. It provides a plethora of events for every taste. I was honoured to have been asked to cover this fabulous event and would like to thank Susan Willemsen and Renee Lalonde of the Siren Group and Cathy Rehberg of Stratford Tourism for the opportunity and all their help.

In his opinion:
First of all, let me get his out of the way...I love Stratford! It is a city that caters to many likes and desires, mixing the arts, culture with an ever-growing outstanding culinary scene. Even though my visits are mainly to the Theatre for my fix of live performances, I do once in a while take advantage of the fabulous food scene in Stratford. I have even blogged about a couple of restaurants, with so many other great ones still to try.

Savour Stratford makes total sense as a food event in our area and its growth in popularity and magnitude attest to that fact. This year was bigger and better than ever and I was very excited to be able to cover it and somewhat be a part of it.

Day 1- The opening ceremonies were the highlight of this first night. Before that could take place there was already a lot happening at the Fanshawe College tent situated along the river, where culinary students were busy displaying foods from around the world. Inside the tent you could find food "stalls" from Vietnam, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Jamaica. This is where the students and chefs showcased and served world food made with local ingredients, tying this event to the overall theme of Savour Stratford of "globally inspired, locally grown".

The formal ribbon cutting ceremony was the culminating event of the evening but it didn't stop there as there were many parties and gatherings happening all over the city after the ribbon cutting. You can click HERE to read in detail our day 1 reporting post.

Day 2- This was an exciting day as there was so much going on all over the downtown area and even a bit of rain did not keep anyone away. Highlights of this day were the the "Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley" where 10 artisan cheese makers, 10 VQA wineries and 10 craft beer displayed and made available their products for some free sampling or purchased tastings. The venue spanned 3 massive tents located directly behind city hall and was very well organized and presented.

The other big events going on through out the day were the cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs. In the same tent as Friday's Fanshawe College demonstration, the Toronto Star Culinary Stage was set-up to allow the celebrity chefs to show us some tricks of their trade. Naomi Duguid, Mara Salles from Brazil, Sean Collins and the very charismatic Tim Larsen carried the "local" proverbial torch as the Stratford Chefs. Special mention to Food Network's Roger Mooking that wowed the audiences with his engaging presence. Unfortunately, there were no performances by MC Mystic, Roger's alter ego but it was all about the food anyway.

Celebrity Chef Vikram Vij held an impromptu demonstration to the attending media before he cooked and amazed 40 guests to a traditional Indian lunch at the Local Community Food Centre.

The Farmer's Market (stalls situated along the river on both sides of the road) that showcased local ingredients, growers, crafts and some local food establishments was a big hit. Crowds walked up and down the street, buying good products, trying some good food, enjoying the beer tent and listening to some music being played live by a variety of artist throughout the day.

Day 3- Sunday kicked off with 5 panelists presented Women in Food Breakfast brought to you by Chatelaine. Chef Yva Santini presented an always intriguing topic as she showcased Mozzarella, an Italian tradition done Stratford style. Chef Vikram Vij took the stage at 11 AM to showcase Indian cuisine and his take on it.

We will not comment on the performance of the Spice Girls tribute band (Wannabe) for a plethora of reasons but especially because we actually didn't witness it. 

Other main highlights of the day were the Savour Stratford Tasting presented by Scotiabank. We all know that this was the event that many people anticipated and it didn't disappoint. This year's winners were:

*Best meat dish: Awarded to Stratford’s Mercer Hall chefs, Tim Larsen and Sean Collins paired with Fred and Ingrid de Martines of Perth Pork Products to create A Taste of Wild Boar.
*Best vegetarian dish: Awarded to Canadian Grub to Go where chef Robert Rose paired with Oak Grove Cheese created Ontario grains arancini.

*Best dessert: Awarded to Your Local Market Co-op chefs Tyson Everitt and Katelyn Vere paired with local dairy products presented a Harvest moon cookie, a fall twist on the Bengali dessert rasgulla.
*Most creative dish: Awarded to Aboriginal Culinary Concepts chef, Richard Francis paired with Sheldon Berries presented a Blueberry-cured salmon with pickled blueberries on bannock toast.
*Best alcohol beverage: Awarded to Revel Caffè, where Anne Campion paired with coffee roasters, Las Chicas Del Café to create Café con piquete.
*Best beverage: Tea Leaves Tea Bar, where tea sommelier Karen Hartwick paired with local forager Peter Blush of Puck’s Plenty to brew a Digestive fire tonic.
*GE Café People’s Choice: Awarded to Molly Blooms Irish Pub chef, Chris Huggins paired with Brendon Lyoness of Caveman Crops to create a fresh peach salsa with roasted jalapeno chevre.
There were again more demonstrations with Naomi Duguid presenting Food and Markets of Bruma and Francesco Alejandri showcasing Mexican food. There were plenty of other things going on from concerts to children's activities and even wine related workshops. A jam packed day with something for everyone led to the closing of the event late into the afternoon.

Savour Stratford event excels in amazing food, craft beer, wine, music and much more. Its reach and appeal grows every year and only gets bigger and better. If by any chance there was some reason why you did not attend this event previously or this year, you MUST mark it on your calendar for next year and come discover why Stratford is so much more than Shakespeare. 
See you next year!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

An Interview with Vikram Vij on his enRoute Magazine Nomination for Vij's Railway Express

Vij's Railway Express
Location Varies
Vancouver, B.C.

(604) 639-3335

Tips Are Included's (TAI) interview with Vikram Vij (VV) on his nomination of Vij's Railway Express for Air Canada's enRoute Magazine's People Choice Award for Canada's Best New Restaurant.

Photo property of Yelp.
With the final days upon us to vote for the enRoute Magazine's "People's Choice Award for Canada's Best New Restaurant", we took a drive to Toronto to meet with Vikram Vij on the heels of Savour Stratford and discussed his food truck or what he likes to call his "mobile kitchen", Vij's Railway Express. What ensued was a passionate conversation from a very charming, intelligent and wonderful representative of all things Indian.

TAI: Congratulations on placing in the top 35 for enRoute Magazine's People's Choice Award. Why did you pick the name Vij's Railway Express?

VV: Well the name Vij's Railway Express is to denote that there are small little towns in India that get huge accolades within their own country but no one knows about the cuisine outside of India. So what I wanted to do was highlight the cuisine from these small little towns. So if you actually look at it, it's like you are in Europe for example and you go to Salzburg, Salzburg does a certain kind of cuisine. Vienna does a certain kind of cuisine. Budapest does something different. I wanted to showcase theses cuisine from these small little towns, as delicious and as flavourful as any cuisine will be. So it was very important for me to showcase that. So Vij's Railway Express is a culinary journey of my travels through India for the people of Vancouver or wherever they are from.

TAI: Why did you decide to start a food truck?

VV: I really thought the food truck would be a great angle of bringing Vij's cuisine into the home. Not everyone can come to Vij's for dinner. And to be on the street and move around from one side to the other or we do a little catering from the other side, was being able to bring Vij's quality food to your own home. And bring the awareness to the culture that I'm so proud of.

TAI: What has the general response been to your food truck and the Indian food being served on the truck?

VV: Initially the response was overwhelming, people loved it, it was a great idea. And then it  mellows out like any good thing. It slows down. People were like, yeah, we love it, we love the flavours but we'll get to it. I think our biggest challenge was the winter because it was so cold and wet that people just wouldn't venture outside. Which meant that I would still keep it open because I had committed myself that I was going to keep it open. This year we decided not to keep it open because it just didn't make sense but we decided to do pockets of catering, functions or anything else from the Vij's Railway Express. It's almost like a mobile restaurant. It is kind of an extension of Vikram Vij and his style of cooking just in a different manner.

TAI: What's the best selling item on your food truck?

VV: Initially when we first opened it was halibut cheek curry but now I think it's the "lucknow" kabobs. These are like little naans with homemade sausages wrapped up with some Indian flavours and some chutney and people enjoy that. And one thing to look at whether you are in Greece and having a sandwich that has roasted chicken in it or you are in Lebanon and you are having a falafel sandwiches. Sandwiches, people love. They love grabbing that food with their hands and the juiciness of it and the flavours. That is why the lamb kabob is the most popular dish on the menu right now.

TAI: Any plans to expand the Vij's empire to Toronto?

VV: Not at the moment. You know it's always in the back of my head because I always believe that Toronto is a great city. It's a great culinary city. I find that the chefs are doing great work in this area but not only just in Toronto but around the neighbourhoods, that's the most beautiful part of it. I go to small little towns like Stratford or anywhere else, the chefs that are there are so focused, so humble and so that I would eventually love to. I am actually coming back to Niagara next week to teach at the Niagara College and this is a first year program at the Niagara College where there will be three sections of it. One will be for the students, one will be a sit down dinner almost like a pop up restaurant sit down dinner there and then the other one will be a dinner for the chefs around the neighbourhood who just want to incorporate one or two dishes on their menus and learn something. So this is gonna happen 14, 15 and 16 at Niagara College.

TAI: And you mentioned Stratford. How was your time at Savour Stratford? What was the highlight? And would you consider coming back next year?

VV: I think my biggest love was when I got there I felt that Stratford was this little jewel on the crown of Canada! So unique, so beautiful, so different. People were so nice. When I went to the coffee shop, Revel, the passion of the people making coffee was right there. You know, when you went to Mercer Hall or some other place, the food was so generally sourced. And the small little town feel but in the end a big city on their own level. And will I ever come back, if I get asked, I will come back in a minute.

TAI: What are the main struggles in trying to make people see and believe that Indian cuisine is as good as French, Italian or Spanish?

VV: I don't think it's a struggle. I think we should call it bringing awareness to the cuisine. It's not a struggle. A struggle would be someone that didn't like it but awareness is "oh I didn't really know that there are so many unique flavours of Indian cooking". They were not use to it. So now when they taste it and they taste the nuances of it then they will say, "oh yes, I love it, I love it, I love it." So I don't think they are struggles more it's my job to bring the awareness of this cuisine up and keep telling people and I think that is why for me it was so important when I went to Savour Stratford and I talked to everybody and to look into everybody's eyes and say, "Just try my food, just do me a favour, just try it. you will not be disappointed". That's the angle that I ran with and that's the angle I go with everywhere. I never go in as a struggle, this is not like I am going to bang my head against the wall and say, "You must do something". My angle is "Guys do me a favour, taste the food, who cares if you don't like it or not. do me a favour and give me the chance to at least taste the food".

TAI: Do you believe that non-Indian chefs can make Indian food as well as an Indian chef?

VV: You know if you had asked me this question 15 years ago, I would have been "No, not ready!" I would have said, "No, Indian food can not be cooked by non-Indians". But now, the younger chefs coming down the pipeline, you look at them in the schools, what they are learning and how they are broadening their horizons and how multi-cultural they've become. I definitely think that a day will come when a non-Indian is gonna open up an excellent Indian restaurant and create their own style. It will still be rooted in India with the spices and everything, with the roasting and the grinding and everything else with a little modern twist to it which they will create their own style. So I do not think that only an Indian can cook Indian food. I think the time has come that the younger chefs will take the baton from me and create their own style of cuisine.

TIA: In a world mostly dominated by male chefs in the kitchen, your restaurants are known to employ predominately females. What is the reason for that decision?

VV: It was twofold. One was when we opened the restaurant up my head chef "Auntie" had said to me, "I will like you to have women work in the kitchen because it's a little bit like therapy for us. We can talk about our husbands and our mother in laws and everything else in the kitchen without feeling oh my god there's a guy listening". And I kind of like that. It was more of a love gesture for her, it was more to say "Okay "Auntie" I won't put anybody else if you don't want". But, I do think that at a certain level the style of cooking that we do, Indian women do understand this because these are not women who have gone to school or anything else. These are women who are passionate home cooks who are learning how to cook it. It's like if your mother is a great cook at home and then your aunt is a good cook and her sister is a good cook, then you don't need to bring anyone else in. There's nothing against that, I mean, I love guys in the kitchen and that's one thing about Stratford, I met a couple of guys that were so passionate about Indian food and I was impressed by that.

TAI: How do you feel about being nominated for enRoute Magazine's People's Choice Award for Best New Restaurant?

VV: To be honest with you, I am humbled and I love the fact that you know enRoute was willing to give a mobile restaurant like mine a chance. I would say it's not just a cart, I would say it's a mobile restaurant to give it a little chance to be playing in the same playing field. I always said this to everybody, " You don't always have to win but give me the chance and honour to give me the same playing field as everybody else does. I do not need to be better than anybody else, that's fine but give me the playing field. Even in Vancouver, I tell people do not categorize me as one style of restaurant, tell me that I'm a restaurant because I provide the same love and the passion that any other restaurant does.

TAI: How does it feel to be the only food truck to ever make the list? That is very impressive.

VV: Yes, it is very impressive because everyone always calls it a food truck. And I always say, for me it is my mobile restaurant. It is like if I took a part of my curry and I sat on a side street somewhere and I opened up a small little restaurant on my own. A small little shack and I sold that curry to you, that's my restaurant! Restaurants are not just a restaurant it's an extension of who I am as Vikram Vij!

TAI: And our last questions that we have for you is...with such a great profile and numerous TV appearances, do you have any plans to have you own food show? Perhaps with your wife?

VV: That's a million dollar question on its own and I'm glad that you asked me that. A few years ago I was asked by Food Television Network to go to India and talk about Indian diaspora. How Indians have moved from India to Uganda to Kenya to East Africa, to all these places and to create cuisines to see what they have done and to bring it back here. Somehow, from a marketing point of view this did not make sense for them. But would I love it, yes. Yes, I would love it because I would love to showcase my country to the world and say come and visit it once in your lifetime and see how beautiful this country is. How different it is. How unique it is. But more then that, there's a lot of love and passion behind this county and the cuisine.

Don't forget to click on the link below and vote for Vij's Railway Express for the enRoute Magazine's People's Choice Award of Canada's best new restaurant. 

Vij's Railway Express on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Indian Cuisine with Vikram Vij at Savour Stratford

Vikram Vij at Savour Stratford
Vij's Restaurant
1480 W 11th Avenue
Vancouver, BC


In her opinion:
I love Indian one time that wasn't true but my taste buds have matured and now I crave the exotic, the complex and the delicious. To me that is what Indian cuisine represents.  It is a fairly common cuisine to find in Canada due to the amount of immigration that has occurred from that part of Asia. Even in our region, it has become much more popular but there are still individuals that refuse to try it because it's still considered somewhat out of the norm. They don't know what they are missing and those are the people that Vikram Vij hopes to sway.

If you know anything about Indian cuisine, you know that there are "heroes, icons or spokespersons" who represent it well...and in Canada, it's the one and only, Vikram Vij. Vikram was born in India, studied in Europe and eventually ended up in Canada were he finally settled in Vancouver, British Columbia. He opened up a fine dining restaurant, Vij's in 1994 with his wife Meeru Dhalwala. By 2003, Mark Bittman (of the New York Times and one of my culinary favourites) was praising Vij's as "easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world". Having said all that, I knew who Vikram Vij was thanks to The Globe and Mail, Food Network (he was a guest judge on Top Chef Canada Season 1 and 2) and Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation. So when Savour Stratford announced that he would be one of their celebrity chefs, I was excited. As I've mentioned before chefs are the rock stars of my culinary world and after meeting Vikram Vij, I would say he is the equivalent of Neil Young (of course much younger) as far as I'm concerned. Super hip and super cool.

Vikram Vij is so super cool. Did I mention that before. He likes to drop the F-bomb as much as I do and he's emotional about his dadi (grandma)! He also proudly says that "there is nothing low fat about him". Which caused me to adore him even more. I met him several times during the weekend (he always remembered us, was super charming and gracious) beginning with a brief introduction on Savour Stratford's opening night. He was there to cut the ribbon and get the festival started...this was something that he didn't take lightly. He mentioned this fact in one of Savour Stratford's Culinary Talks "Hot Food, Cold wine" where he discussed the best wine to pair with Indian cuisine. His dream of making Indian cuisine as common as Italian or French food has been realized. Indian cuisine is wonderful and Vikram is the perfect spokesperson.

My second meeting was scheduled for early Saturday morning; however, the weather wasn't cooperative and the media event of going on a market shopping trip with Vikram could not go through as planned. Instead, the organizers took us to the Local Community Food Centre to watch as Vikram prepared for the "GE Cafe Chef Series' lunch and cooking demonstration with Vikram Vij". He talked spices and his belief in Ayurveda (the Indian belief of using spices for health). He also equated butter chicken or chicken tikka masala to pancakes in the North American diet. It's not's a stable. I was pretty impressed with this statement...Indian food is so much more then butter chicken (unless it's coming from the Bombay Grill). 

During my different interactions with Chef Vij, I learned the following:
-The base of Indian food is the trinity of onion, ginger and garlic...which causes a wonderful aroma of flavour and is a starting point for most Indian dishes where you can build from! 
-That if anyone says they are allergic to curry - they are full of "bullshit". Curry is not a spice but a combination of spices...coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, cloves, cinnamon, etc. 
-Vikram compared himself to Ghandi...much like Ghandi whose mission was to liberate India from the English...he wanted to bring awareness to the cuisine and culture. This is what he describes as his calling.
-He's passionate about his craft and does an excellent job of representing Indian cuisine.
-Vij's Restaurant doesn't take's a first come first serve and there are no exceptions even for the queen! Everyone is equal...every person is the same. Robin Williams waited in line...ended up giving an impromptu show in the courtyard at Vij's. Pierre Trudeau waited in line at Vij's silencing a room before they returned to their meals. I love this attitude.
-Every Indian chef has their way of cooking a particular recipe.
-Indian cuisine is the best for vegetarians and people on a gluten free diet.
-He believes in having a little less of something then taking the flavour out of it by substituting a lower fat ingredient.
-Most importantly his cuisine is excellent. The small amount that I tasted made me want to travel to Vancouver and visit Vij's. It was by far some of the best I have ever eaten.

Overall, I would say that Vikram Vij only helped confirm my passion for Indian cuisine. He was the prefect representative of Savour Stratford's theme of "globally inspired, locally grown"...a philosophy that Vij and Dhalwala pratice in their restaurant, where they use traditional spices and techniques with locally grown produce, meats and seafood. Namaste.

In his opinion:
I would be lying if I said that as soon as I heard that Vikram Vij was to be one of the headliners at Savour Stratford, that I wasn't excited. Not only is he the face of Indian Cuisine in Canada, but he is also a passionate chef, a legend in the Canadian Food scene and one of the most electrifying people you will ever met.

This year's Savour Stratford event was titled "globally inspired, locally grown" and that is exactly what Chef Vij is. Born in India, trained in traditional French Cuisine and made a name for himself at the least likely place for an
Indian man in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

One of the first things that strike you about Chef Vij is the passion in which he talks about food in general but particularly about food from his homeland India. He strives to bring education and information about this cuisine, that as far as he is concerned, is among the best in the world and I tend to agree. 

His demonstrations at the Savour Stratford event surely converted quite a few people to try and enjoy Indian cuisine because as he puts it, "it is the best cuisine for vegetarians and dietary types, the heat from the spices is a natural way for the body to cool down and because no one can say they are allergic to curry, being that curry is a blend of spices".

His views on the world of Indian cuisine are pretty simple and are in line with the trends of many other chefs Canada wide. Use top quality fresh ingredients, prepare them with the best spices possible and make it accessible to anyone and everyone. Vij's Restaurant, even though considered an upscale restaurant does just that. It brings Vikram's passion for food to the masses and it just happen to be Indian cuisine which is what Chef Vij grew up with and loves.

Savour Stratford had Chef Vij in a few of it's highlight events and he single handily stole the show, everywhere he went. It is impossible not to give your full attention to a man that speaks from his heart and has as his most important goals in life, to dismiss the fact that Indian cuisine is hard to cook, to educate people that think that Indian food is "Butter Chicken" and to delight everyone with his food and his beloved Indian food culture.

In my opinion, Savour Stratford could not have picked a better spokesperson for this event. Vikram Vij is the perfect person to spearhead a collection of chefs and foodies alike in the direction of wanting more Indian food done the good old way. Cooked with love and without cutting corners. Just like Vikram's inspiration, his grandmother used to do and taught him to.

Vij's on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival
Stratford, Ontario

September 21, 2013

The Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley was a new event for the 2013 Savour Stratford Culinary Festival. It gave festival goers an opportunity to try out 10 VQA wines, 10 craft beers and 10 varieties of cheese with five cask beers.

In her opinion:
I will start by saying that I didn't try all of the craft beers, wines or cheeses or else I wouldn't have been able to do my job and cover this event for the blog, but I did try a few. 

This event was great since it was fairly inexpensive...$1 per ticket and each item was priced by the vendor with most being about 1 or 2 tickets per item. For a few dollars, visitors could stroll through the different tents trying and enjoying a lot of wine, cheese and beer.

My favourites from my tastings were Riesling from Chateau des Charmes, the pear cider from Spirit Tree and the Highland Blue cheese (Back Forty Artisan Cheese) from the Milky Whey Cheese Shop.

This was a great addition to Savour Stratford! It reinforced my belief that Ontario produces some of the best wines, craft beers and cheese out on the market. I look forward to returning next year and sampling more offerings from the different Ontario winemakers, brewers and artisan cheese makers!

In his opinion:
The Artisan Alley is a great addition to the Savour Stratford event. It allowed the public to sample so many things under one roof (not literally), and is a great way for craft beer, artisanal cheeses and regional wines to be on display and consumed or tried.

The location was perfect, directly behind City Hall in a triangle of closed streets to the public that allowed pedestrians to roam the many stalls and food vendors that lined the surrounding streets. The entry to the "Alley" was well appointed with security checks and bracelets for the ones consuming alcohol. In the name of science and only so I could relay the details to our readers. I was put through the arduous task of sampling as many of these offered delicacies as possible.

The exhibitors were plentiful and with the tickets at $1 each, they were also pretty busy with customers. There were a total of 31 stalls, 1 having some specialty beers crafted especially for the event and the other 30 split evenly between VQA Wines, Craft Breweries and Cheese Artisans.

Some of the highlights for me were: Mill Street just because they are my Beer of Choice for the Summer...and also maybe Winter, especially the Organic, the Mountain Oak Cheese samples, and the Pear Cider from the Spirit Tree.

This was surely one of the big highlights of Savour Stratford and not even the wet weather could keep people away from it. Kudos to the event organizers that are always upping the profile and standards of this event and the Artisans Alley is a product of that.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Savour Stratford - Opening Night Presented by Fanshawe College

Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival
Stratford, ON

September 20, 2013

Tonight marked the start of the Savour Stratford Culinary Festival and the opening night was brought to you by the chefs and students from Fanshawe College. They served cuisine keeping in mind the Festival's theme for this year..."globally inspired, locally grown".

In her opinion:
Tonight was a good appetizer to what lies ahead. After checking in with the Siren Group at Stratford Tourism, Edgar and I headed down to Veterans Drive and the Fanshawe College kick off! The chefs and students prepared little bites keeping in mind the theme of globally inspired, locally grown. 

We tried something from each global offering. After all the sampling, I will say that my favourites were the Jamaican, Canadian and Latin American offerings.

The Jamaican "BBQ'd jerked pork spare ribs with pineapple gastrique" were absolutely delicious. The flavours were perfection.

The Canadian offering of "bacon and waffle with bourbon and vanilla cream" was pure comfort. Truly delectable. 

Finally, I absolutely loved the Latin American offering of "Mexican spiced pulled beef soft taco with lime yogurt and chili glaze". The flavour of the pulled beef was excellent and the lime yogurt provided the right amount of sourness to balance out all the flavours.

I can't wait for the rest of the weekend and what delicious fare awaits. Take the drive to Stratford and enjoy!

In his opinion:
Kicking off this year's Savour Stratford was the Fanshawe College Tent where most of the fun was happening. The rest of the fun was happening at the Beer Tent, which oddly enough took a while to get going, maybe because bad weather was looming.

In the tasting tent you could find food from around the world and that's how the tasting stations were set up. Tastes of Europe, India, Vietnam, Latin America, Jamaica and Canada were the highlighted ones. Each with a specialized dish that symbolized their ethnic group. They fed the masses quickly and well.

I enjoyed all the stations but if I had to pick a clear winner it would have to be the Jamaican, that served "BBQ'd Pork Spare Ribs with Pineapple Gastrique". The ribs were outstanding and the jerk spice was just perfect. The Canadian tasting came a close second with their "Bacon and Waffle with Maple Syrup & Bourbon Vanilla Cream". From that description I should not need to add anything but I will add that as I cut through the waffle, the maple syrup just poured through the indented squares filling every bite with that sweet nectar of the gods.

We topped the night with some cotton candy. This was a deliciously sweet treat that was as good at giving us flashbacks to our youth as it as was good at turning our teeth blue. Great indulgence, nevertheless.

The beer tent was also along the river and wasn't very populated early on. I'm sure the weather didn't help but surely the thirsty ones made their way to that spot later on. Vikram Vij was spot on in his appearances and bringing joy to those that attended. This opening night promises to be a good preview of what's to come for the weekend. Get going already...there is so much to experience at Savour Stratford...See you there!

With the cutting of this ribbon the festival is opened...don't miss out...visit Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Red House Restaurant

30 William Street West
Waterloo, Ontario


In her opinion:

Last weekend we were trying to figure out where to have lunch in our region...since we have a lot (and I mean a lot) of unfinished blog posts, we didn't really care where we were going as long as they had good food. The usual suggestions came up...Lancaster Smokehouse, Veslo Family Restaurant or Frat Burger...but Edgar was holding out on me...he had remembered a suggestion and wanted to try it out..Red House Restaurant! We would definitely need to blog about it...

Red House Restaurant is located in Uptown Waterloo. Chef Dan McCowan and sommelier Rebecca Pettigrew have managed to open a really a great looking place. The red exterior is bright and flashy! The front patio is cool and inviting and as you walk in you can't help but feel welcomed by the homey yet contemporary decor. 

We were greeted by our waiter Ryan who told us to pick any table. We picked a back table near the kitchen. Ryan filled our water glasses and brought over menus. He also filled us in on what the daily features were and left us to make up our mind.

When you peruse the menu you will see a lot of bistro favourites to pick from. Basically. the idea at Red House is to provide fresh food inspired by quality ingredients. We decided to stick with the water (possibly because we knew that there would be an abundance at the 2013 Feast of Fields event the next day)! Ryan brought us some hummus to snack on while we made our choices.

We opted to share an appetizer. We ordered the "Avocado and Bacon Pizza". This consisted of "grilled pizza dough, San Marzano tomatoes, Italian mozzarella, bacon, avocado, chilpotle and lime ailoi and fresh cilantro." 

In a word - perfection. Actually delicious perfection. This was so so good. The combination of bacon and avocado is a natural winner. By adding the chilpotle and lime ailoi to the traditional tomato and mozzarella the flavours were heightened even more! 

For my main, I went with "Chef Dan's Curry Bowl". This is a daily feature and on this day the kitchen was serving up a coconut lamb curry over basmati rice.

I love curries and this one was exceptional. The coconut milk and curry spices melded perfectly with the rustic flavours of the lamb. The basmati rice was cooked perfectly. This was just excellent.

I actually let Edgar finish my main so that I could order coffee and dessert...after all, since we were blogging, we should have a full meal to write about! Any excuse for dessert! After checking out the dessert menu, we decided to share the "Coconut Creme Brulee with Bruleéd Bananas.

The coconut creme brulee was creamy, light and delicious. The brulee bananas were a nice addition to the plate. I really enjoyed my dessert. The coffee was organic fair trade and very good as well. 

Overall, this was a great meal. I thought that the food was very fresh and delicious, the service was warm and friendly - both Ryan and Becca were great hosts and servers and the atmosphere inviting. This is a great place for an intimate dinner for two or a family of six. Check out Red House, you'll be very happy you did! 

In his opinion:
Lately, I find it a bit hard to get enthusiastic about trying a restaurant for the first time in Waterloo Region, not for the lack of them but for the lack of excitement and good meals that one would think they provide. This one had come highly recommended from a fellow co-worker (Raph Kanai) and because I trust his judgement, I was looking forward to this adventure.

It is a very simple, bright red building on William Street that may catch your attention for the obvious colour reason, and not for the potential meal that awaits. This is the personal incarnation of former Charcoal Steak House Chef Dan McCowan.

The restaurant boasts a nice patio up front and an inviting, well appointed yet minimalist interior that feels welcoming and fresh. The staff was very cordial, friendly yet professional in their approach and added to the inviting aura that the restaurant exhibits.

While browsing the menu, I found myself nibbling on the complimentary humus platter that was brought to us, a nice gesture but a delicious one at that. The chef reminds you on the website that the food and drink menus will change regularly so please do check back regularly as the one you encounter on the site might be slightly different from the one at the restaurant.

There was one item that stood out from the rest for an appetizer but not for the usual reason of it "calling my name silently" but for the intriguing nature of its placement (pizza as an appetizer) but also for its appealing ingredients and composition. We opted for the Avocado & Bacon Pizza.

Apart form the alluring nature of its name, this pizza was served on grilled pizza dough with Italian mozzarella, bacon, avocado, San Marzano tomatoes, chipotle & lime aioli and fresh cilantro. Each bite was a delight and the ingredients/topping were extremely fresh adding to the deliciousness of the dish. The colours in each slice seemed to be from an impressionist painting, adding to the visual impact of the pizza.

For my entree, I opted for the "BBQ-Bacon Wrapped Quail" at the risk of a bacon overdose day, I couldn't pass up on that opportunity of having quail and bacon together. This dish is served with balsamic BBQ sauce, succulent roasted fingerling potatoes and a small fennel salad in the midst of the dish. The star of the dish was the quail and it was very well done. The slightly crispy bacon that was wrapped around it, acted as its crispy skin "per se" and gave the bird a more contrast of texture than I expected but I enjoyed. 

After a bigger than usual and more filling than expected appetizer and a good portion entree, I found myself lacking room for dessert but still was able to accommodate some room to share the Coconut Creme Brulee.

The creme brulee was served with deliciously fresh brulee bananas. The creme was very light and creamy as I expected. The coconut flavour was just right, not overpowering enough to overtake the dessert. I really enjoyed it and it was the perfect curtain call of our meal.

The Good: This great location is already pretty busy throughout the week and it certainly shows why. Great bistro style food combined with a simple and inviting setting and great customer service are a recipe for success and a winning combination.
The Bad: Not a lot of bad to highlight. After saying we needed a minute to decide on drinks and getting some water, we were never asked if we wanted a drink again.
The Verdict: Chef Dan McCowan has opened a winning spot in my opinion. This is exactly the right amount of fresh, appealing and unique type of restaurant that our Region needs so much. His creative no nonsense approach to the menu leaves you with great options to choose from and a satisfied palate.

I give it 4 out of 5 Olives as rating