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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Tinkering Farmer And A Lesson Learned

A Red Angus Calf at Acer Farm just East of Ottawa..

My grandfather was a visionary business man who made crazy purchases and deals which turned out to be great investments years later.  He was also an avid “tinkerer” and I remember hanging out with him as a child in his workshop as he made tools, odd contraptions, and other devices.  As an example, in his later years he was no longer capable of swinging an axe to chop firewood.  His house was in a rural area and wood was used to heat his home.  He could have hired someone, but they weren’t always reliable and he liked being outdoors.  He could have purchased his wood pre-cut and delivered but when you owned as much prime forest land covering a big chunk of central New Brunswick as he did, it was like asking an oil tycoon from Alberta  to only fill up his car with Saudi crude.  Instead, he built himself a wood splitter.  A simple gas-powered device where he would place a log onto a metal guide way and a piston would push it into an axe blade, the same one he had used for years by hand.  A similar device could have sold for over $2,000.  His device cost him $50.00, some scrap steel from recycled equipment, and a few days of labour, which he loved.

You are probably wondering when I will land this “story airplane” and get to my food related point.  Well, the fact is that my grandfather was a visionary “tinkerer” who found ways to be innovative, efficient, and adaptive to the times.  Last week, I had the opportunity to meet some great people right here in rural Ontario doing the exact same thing, but as farmers.

It all started with a trip out to Eastern Ontario to visit some farms in and around Ottawa.  I had not been to a farm in years and certainly not ones of this size.  With sensible shoes, my iPhone, and a desire to learn, I headed out with a group of fellow foodies to visit the source of much of the food found in Ottawa’s Byward Market.  The first stop was a Cranberry Bog called Upper Canada Cranberries.  Here, we were given a tour of the farm, the bogs, and the processing facility where they made cranberry juice, and learned about how they were farmed.  Next, a trip to Clarmell Farm where we met with some lovely goats and enjoyed a feast of 100% local fresh foods catered by The Branch Restaurant.  Finally, a trip to Kiwan Farm and a tour of their greenhouses full of eggplants, tomatoes, herbs, and zucchinis.

The next day, bright an early, we headed out on another trip.  This time we visited Rochon Garden Farm east of the city where greenhouse after greenhouse was filled with blueberries, strawberries, and other great in season goodness destined for the many farmers’ markets in and around Ottawa.  Next, a trip to Acer Farms to learn about Angus beef and a wet but informative visit to Proulx Berry Farm where we enjoyed some fresh corn.  At the end of the second day, I was full of great fresh food but I was also filled with great pride.  A pride in the ingenuity of the farmer to adapt and find innovation using the simplest of solutions, much like my now deceased grandfather.

A Three Day Old Goat at Clarmell Farm. Urban Goats, living inside Ottawa's City Limits..

You see, everywhere we went, innovation was on display.  Much is said about the farmer and the struggles they have to balance the books and survive but little is noted of their ability to perform and adapt to a changing world with limited resources.  Of the farms we visited, all of the owners were "tinkerers" and innovators.  Visionaries, if you will, on a smaller scale.

At Upper Canada Cranberries, Lyle Slater was a man who clearly loved to tinker.  His irrigation system, his methods for flooding the bogs, and the equipment he developed for harvesting were not readily available back in 1996 when he obtained 100 acres to grow cranberries.  What prompted him to start a Cranberry farm?  He got the idea after reading an article on them in a waiting room.  At the time, or even today, one could not pick up “Cranberries for Dummies” and get a step-by-step guide to growing, harvesting, and packaging.  Everything had to be done using basic sense and limited resources.  On our tour, he showed us the bogs, the techniques for flooding, and the unusual equipment he had built himself for extracting the berries and prepping them for juicing.  John Deere does not make a Cranberry harvester so you need to be a John Deere, or at least act like one of their engineers.

The same degree of tinkering could be found over at Rochon Garden Farm.  In 1956, Berchmans and Colombe Rochon began to live their dream when they purchased 100 acres in Edwards, which is approximately 25km south-east of Ottawa.  In 1990 Bert and Colombe retired while their son Gerry and his wife Diane took over the farm and today, it is home to over 12 greenhouses, 70 acres of produce, and 45 acres of berry fields.  While Diane held the fort back in Ottawa at the stand in the Byward Market, Gerry took us on a tour and showed us how you plant millions of seeds “by hand”.  In the centre of one of the greenhouses, he placed a wooden box on a table and laid a small tray of earth-filled cups inside it.  He then produced a lid with a tin sheet filled with tiny man-made wholes, and a nozzle sticking out the side.  He proceeded to pour a jar of seeds onto the sheet and we all looked at each other with bewilderment.  Then, out came a decades old household vacuum he attached to the nozzle and with the flip of a switch, the seeds scurried into neat little piles in and around the holes on the sheet.  He flipped it onto the tray of soil pots and by clicking the off switch on the vacuum, the process was over.  Each cup had just the right number of seeds and ready for watering.  Gerry told us that he invented this device one afternoon with $20.00 of materials after seeing one in a catalogue for over $500.00.

A mass seed-planter with a little tin, some plywood, and innovation.

While innovation was a theme on the trip, so too was the need to adapt to the times and to understand your audience.  For over 100 years, several generations of Mussels had farmed on the Clarmell Farm with a focus on cattle.  Paul Mussel had been raising cows for years before his eldest son headed off to agricultural college and came back with an idea to switch to goats, for economic reasons.  The rationale was simple.  They cost less to raise than cows and goats would allow them to enter a growing niche market.  Their ability to adapt has proven to be a smart one and they now provide goat’s milk to the thriving artisan cheese market and the meat to butchers in and around Ottawa.  

Meanwhile, over at Acer Farm, another type of visionary thinking was on display.  As the only exclusive Ontario Red Angus beef producer and breeder east of Ottawa, Marcel Lalonde has a pretty niche market to serve.  However, it wasn’t always this way.  The 350-acre farm has established a solid reputation not just for their quality Red Angus beef, but also for their efforts to connect with the growing Slow Food movement in and around Ottawa.  Marcel, and his wife Sylvie, have put every effort into understanding the needs of a niche market of chefs, and consumers for quality products.  The marbling of the meat, the cuts required, and the needs of the chef are incorporated into how they raise their grass-fed cattle.  How do a husband and wife team get inside the head of a chef?  Well, you become one.  Sylvie Lalonde had recently graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and while we were there, she served us a delicious meal of slow-roasted beef, summer salads, and a berry panacotta.  Her studies have taught her what to look for as a chef, and in turn, understand the demands of the market they are serving.

It was at this point that I realized that adapting and innovating, not just “tinkering,” was the key to being a successful farmer.  Of course, it wasn’t the only thing needed.  Diversification was also important.  In 1920, Napoléon Proulx purchased and built the current day Proulx Berry Farm which he operated as a dairy farm in addition to producing strawberries, raspberries and maple syrup.  Thirty seven years later, Gérard & Pauline Proulx took over the dairy operation which included a sugar bush. With the help of their six children, they opened up a pancake house serving fresh food with their farm-produced maple syrup.  Today, the next generation of Proulx “farmer-preneurs” has taken their farm to a new level offering family-oriented tours, activities, u-picks, and other “side businesses” where they are not just farmers, but entertainers.  On our visit, we took a hay-ride through the fields to learn about their crops, visited their boutique where they sell maple syrup and other farm-grown produce, as well as enjoyed some corn in their event facility.  The Proulx farm wasn’t just a place where good food was grown, it had become a place where people could come and learn about farming, the importance of local food, and the fun one can have getting dirty.

At the beginning of my article I talked about “tinkering”, innovation, and looking to the future.  My grandfather was inspirational in teaching me these values which I hold dear to this day.  Story after story is shared about the plight of the farmer and the decreasing number of farms.  We also put great emphasis on mega-farms and evil corporations who are destroying the traditional “farm life” many urbanites have etched into their heads as the idyllic vision of a time long forgotten.  However, in two short days, I realized that what we tend to do is focus on the evils and not celebrate the innovation.  Each and every day, farmers are showing the world that you can adapt to the times without re-inventing the wheel or spending money on technology. 

The farmers I visited were not waiting for a change that will never happen to the modern agricultural system.  Instead, they are adapting.  They were “tinkering” in their garage to find cost effective ways to be more efficient.  They were doing grass-roots outreach to understand the markets they serve.  They were expanding their knowledge to better understand the needs of their consumer and changing their focus to tap new markets of future growth.  They were just like my grandfather, and I enjoyed “tinkering” away at my laptop to tell their stories.

As a side, I would like to thank the wonderful folks over at Savour Ottawa for coordinating this great tour of the farms.  Many of them are available for visit by all of you on your next visit to Ottawa.  Just call ahead to confirm, they may be “tinkering” on something.

Posted by James Geneau at 5:46 PM  0 Comment(s)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Julie & Julia, Hotter Than A Stiff Cock.

Meryl Streep plays Julia Child in Julie & Julia.

Oh how I debated using this title for hours on end.  Should I dare use it?  What will people say?  Will it offend?  Will it draw attention?  Will it cause a buzz?

You see, I had the immense privilege of seeing the premiere of the new movie Julie & Julia this evening and this was a line from the movie.  Actually, it is supposedly a famous line Julia Child blurted to describe the feeling on her bare fingers as she pulled out a piece of semi-cooked pasta from a boiling pot.  In the scene, her husband Paul Cushing Child is describing Julia’s passion for cooking in a letter to a friend overseas.  The scene takes place in Paris during the 1940s and 50s; where Paul served as a foreign diplomat and when Julia fell in love with French cuisine.  In the next scene, a 29 year old Julie attempts to cook each of the 524 recipes from The Art of French Cooking (the original cookbook by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) within her personal goal of 365 days.  She is taking on the task of mastering French cooking in her small kitchen in Queens and writing the notes of her journey in a blog.  This is the story of Julie & Julia.

In 2002, a young woman started a blog to overcome her pre-30s anxieties of being “lost in her life” and in need of goals to challenge herself personally.  A dead-end job, a passion for writing, and a desire to find her own sense of place, forces her to take on the challenge of mastering each of Julia Child’s 524 recipes.  The screenplay for the movie, written and directed by Nora Ephron, was adapted from two books: My Life in France, Julia Child's autobiography, and a memoir by Julie Powell.   Julie Powell (aka Julie) was the young woman who created a blog and later re-wrote a novel entitled Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. 

To be fair, I had never read the book by Julie Powell nor did I read her blog.  I did, however, grow up with a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in our home and to this day have a copy of my own on the shelf next to my fridge.  I remember sitting in the kitchen as a child watching her on PBS with my mother and being fascinated by the many artful and intriguing steps required in the art of cooking.  Adding eggs, butter, and flour at just the right amount and time.  A little searing, some cream, then pop it in the oven.  I remember the omelet episode, the lobster controversy, and the signature “bon appétit” at the end of each episode.  However, the one thing I admired the most about Julia’s show while growing up was that it wasn’t an issue if it was a little bit messy.  Nobody was perfect, and Julia certainly wasn’t.  Her mantra in life, was to be persistent, never say never, and keep making mistakes until you succeed.  I could not think of a better role model.

And so, the title of role-model is exactly what Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) became for Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams).  In the film, the lives of the two women are intertwined in a story of passion and determination.  One side of the film shares the story of Julia’s life in Paris and her struggles to become a chef at Le Cordon Bleu, the creation of her iconic cookbook, and the long road to being published.  Many years later and on the other side of the Atlantic, Julie embarks on a different yet linked adventure requiring determination and patience. 

She is inspired by the life of a woman who took a male-dominated industry head-on.  She is moved by the passion of a woman who lived for food and the pleasures it could bring into our daily life.  In the film, the audience laughed at Streep’s portrayal of the giddy nature of Julia in Paris as she discovered fish drenched in butter, béarnaise sauce, and successfully flipped her first omelet.  The film shows the challenges one can overcome learning the art of cooking.  The big challenges and the smaller triumphs. Unlike any other sport, the success of the athlete in mastering the art of cooking can be whatever they desire and the rewards, almost instant.  It is completely up to the contender. 

The verdict?  It is a delightfully entertaining film about a two great women filled with passion and determination.  It shows the humorous and life-loving Julia Child and the influence she has on a 30-year old girl from Queens looking to better herself.  My personal hope for this film?  That it re-engages a new generation with the fine art of cooking.  We live in a time when the majority of young men and women don’t even know how to roast a chicken, boil an egg, or cook a roast.  Cooking involves emptying something from a bag, shaking it with a pre-made seasoning, or buying it ready for warm-up.  In 1961, Mastering the Art of French Cooking introduced the wonders of cooking at home to my mother’s generation.  It was what inspired her to pursue a degree in the same field and in turn, teach others to master as her students.  If this movie re-ignites Julia’s book and her passion for the art of cooking the same way it did countless others in the 1960s and 70s, it will be worth every penny spent by Hollywood.  In my opinion, if everyone took on the challenge of Julie Powell to master the art of cooking, then it would be hotter than…well, Julia says it best. 

And for those who think the title of my article is blasphemous, I “never apologize”.

Julie & Julia opens in Theatres August 7th.

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures.

Posted by James Geneau at 1:33 AM  1 Comment(s)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ruth Klahsen Says Flock Ewe!

A wall of colorful chevre cups at Monforte Dairy in Stratford.

There is something magical in the air this summer.  So many changes and so many good things happening in the local food movement.  Everywhere you look, there is a new story emerging about triumph, perseverance, and dedication.  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to witness one of these great stories in action and it left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.  You see, whenever I meet a person dedicated to good food and willing to take on big business and politics head on, I just want to hug them and get on their bus with support.  Last weekend, that person was Ruth Klahsen.

Ruth is the big cheese at Monforte Dairy, one of Ontario’s most celebrated artisan cheese producers.  She is dedicated to her craft, has a “kiss my ass” attitude when it comes to people trying to stop her, and is a visionary entrepreneur.  To her, cheese is the greatest expression of man’s ability to take god’s gifts and create something both delicious and life fulfilling.  She is not afraid of profanity, gets giddy at the opportunity to discuss anything related to chevre, and looks great in a hair net.  If circumstances were different, she would be just the kind of gal I’d love to marry.

Monforte has been on the scene in Ontario for a couple of years now as one of those underground artisan cheeses everyone had heard about but had limited access to.  Only the “in crowd” knew her personally and loved to have parties with Ruth where she showcased her latest creations.  Making cheese, especially raw goat cheese is a difficult task in Ontario.  This is the land of big business agriculture where cheese isn’t made in small artisanal batches but in large blocks for global distribution.  In Quebec, you can find artisan cheese in almost every region of the province.  In Ontario, not so much.  So when the time came for Monforte to expand and become a true artisan cheese company of a larger –scale, the bank doors didn’t exactly swing wide open for Ruth.

Starting a bigger cheese operation takes work and lots of money.  This isn’t something you simply decide to do in your garage one night after a couple of beers while browsing through a mail-order catalogue from Vermont.  Equipment, facilities, and raw-milk suppliers need to be procured.  Regulatory and legal procedures need to be examined and complied with an endless amount of paperwork to be filled out, copied, faxed, and notarized.  To help out, Ruth has brought in one of the best in the business, a man by the name of Neville McNaughton, a dairy consultant working out of St. Louis, Missouri.

Neville is an interesting man.  A wild graying pony-tail and a heavy New Zealand accent compliment this very tall man with a passion for cheese making.  At 50 years of age, Neville has 34 years in the dairy and cheese industry and has traveled to many parts of the world, manufactured a wide range of cheeses and understands them not as a series of steps in a process but as the result of nature’s intent.  According to Neville, “nature provided us the means to make great cheese, understanding and finding the harmony that exists in these natural processes is what leads to great cheese without stress”.  And so, Neville has joined Ruth in helping to execute two great projects, the establishment of Monforte Dairy and the curriculum for the cheese school, another passion for Ruth.

Monforte Renaissance 2018 is the suitable name given to the efforts of Ruth to take Monforte to the next level in its history.  To do this, she needed cash, lots of it.   She turned to the banks and they refused to help when the debt-to-equity calculators sitting on a server on Bay Street sent back a resounding “do not pass go” to the bank officer in Stratford.  Banks are a business and you have to understand that they are there to make money.  If the formula for credit does not work out, many dreams for success are crushed.  Not so for rugged ol’ Ruth.  When the traditional methods for financing failed, she turned to an innovative alternative, community supported agriculture or CSA.  The concept of a CSA is relatively new in Canada; however, it has been a big trend in the US for many years.  Essentially, consumers, restaurateurs, and retailers buy shares in a farm for an ongoing supply of fresh food.  In many cases, each $1.00 in subscription represents a $1.50 or $2.00 in actual value in terms of produce, meat, fruits or in this case, cheese.  The model serves two purposes.  First, it provides consumers with a reliable and secure source of farm-fresh food they can feel comfortable buying since they know where it comes from.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it ensures the farmer has a steady and reliable source of revenue for planting, nurturing, and harvesting their goods.  It is a win-win situation and something many farmers in Ontario have started to notice as a solution for keeping the farm alive.

For Ruth, the Monforte CSA represented an opportunity to raise the money she needed to expand the business and keep doing what she loves, making great cheese.  The plan for success is very strategic.  On January 2nd, 2018, all of these efforts must come together.  She has already planned her big hootenanny to celebrate the new business and the goal for raising funds via the CSA is well underway.  Subscriptions are open to the public and pretty straightforward.  For $1,000 you get $1,500 worth of Monforte cheese over 5 years and two baskets worth $150 each year.   For $500 you get $750 of Monforte Cheese over 5 years and two $75 baskets of cheese each year.  And finally, for as little as $200, you get $250 worth of Monforte cheese over 5 years - but no basket.  However, it is still a great value given that Ruth’s cheeses cost less than the imported and dull alternatives you would find in your local supermarket.

To date, Monforte Dairy has raised $210,000 of the $500,000 they need to build their business.  They have also had some great support from Perth Community Futures.  They have launched an innovative campaign with a local brand-guru in Stratford named Ron Bernard.  “Flock Ewe” may sound like a deeply political statement to the banks and government policy that had tried to keep Ruth down, however, its origins have nothing to do with it.  According to Ron, “the team was sitting at a table brainstorming Ruth’s ideas for a cheese school to be tied to Monforte Dairy, a sort of Cheese University if you will.”  Ruth refers to her family at Monforte as her “flock” and the idea landed on the table that the school should be more of a “flock university” or “Flock U”.  The rest is marketing genius.

Inside the new facility in Stratford where cheese magic will hapen.

With the success of the CSA, many government officials and banks are now having a change of heart for Ruth.  After all, when your business plan is able to raise $210,000 from 440 people crazy about cheese, it doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to figure out that there is something special here investment-wise.  But right now, Ruth is focused on her cheese, her business strategy, and what the future holds.  She recently secured a new building at 49 Griffith Road in Stratford, Ontario.  This coming Saturday, they will begin selling cheese from the new facility in addition to their booths at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and the Stratford Farmers’ Market.

Last Saturday, Ruth invited me to join her and her current CSA members for a good old fashioned pig roast and a tour of the new building.  Here, we sampled some of her great cheeses including my personal favorite, her Cups o’ Chevre.  These little cups of heaven come as plain goat’s milk chevre or blended with figs, sundried tomatoes, or an artisan Québec-based pesto.  A surprise for me, given my absolute disgust of blue cheese, was her Night Satin, one of their new goat cheeses with ash.  Imagine a very light blue cheese perfect for burgers and salads.  I looked at the blue-grey veins and thought I would be ill.  However, one taste and I was pleasantly surprised.  I immediately found myself thinking about Cobb salad and a tear came to my eye as I imagined the thrill of finally being able to enjoy one without the disgust of having blue cheese sprinkled on top.  Well, maybe it wasn’t that moving but still I was pleasantly surprised by the mild taste and creamy texture.  What also surprised me was the price.  A circle of Night Satin retailed for $8.00 while a log was a mere $6.00.  How could this be so affordable?

According to Ruth, “my prices are not about prestige or snobbery; I have no time for it”.  She continued to say that “I want my cheeses to be enjoyed by all and there is no need to make it unaffordable just to be elitist”.  That’s Ruth in a nutshell.  Proud of her craft, down to earth, and taking no bullshit.  I spent the rest of the afternoon touring the dairy building, chatting with some of the farmers, the CSA members, and her three sons.  By 4:00pm, the place was packed with cheese-loving foodies and the centre table was swarming with hungry hands gobbling up Ruth’s latest creations.  It was inspiring to see so many people as passionate about local and delicious artisan cheese as Ruth and it was at this moment that I realized that there was in fact something magical happening in the good food movement.

A lovely smoked pig served to the CSA members at the big celebration.

Dedication, loyalty, and perseverance are essential for leaders and visionaries when an industry is forming.  Remember the internet boom on the 1990s and all those kids with big ideas looking for ways to make the world a better place using the worldwide web?  Well, the same thing is happening in local food every day.  For years, it was something promoted by government with tax-payer dollars.  Then, over the past 2-3 years, something magical has happened.  An industry has started to evolve.  Everywhere you look, entrepreneurs with a passion for good food are building successful businesses and they are thriving.  It has taken some time but some great people are finally helping to build profitable and self-sustaining businesses focused on local food and guess what, the consumers are taking note.

As I noted earlier, Ruth is interested in the creation of a school program tied to the dairy.  The plans are to start a cheese making school which will start in September 2018 in conjunction with the Stratford Chefs’ School.  What is ironic is that the concept of Monforte’s Renaissance 2018 will probably be a lesson taught in business textbooks around the world 10 years from now.  After all, it is a perfect example of innovative entrepreneurship and creating a business financing model for the future development of an industry.   In fact, the Richard Ivey School of Business is already looking at them as a case-study.  Bravo Ruth!  Now start milking!

Posted by James Geneau at 11:32 PM  2 Comment(s)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cooking with Chef Michael Smith

Hello Folks…

If you missed it, today we did a LIVE Twitter with Chef Michael Smith from Food Network’s Chef at Home and Chef Abroad.  What an interesting chap and very passionate about food.  He was also recently named Prince Edward Island’s official Food Ambassador!  Anyhow, he prepared a lovely and easy dish for us with a PEI-focus.  Here is the recipe, enjoy!

Prince Edward Island Smoked Salmon with Pasta and Simple Lemon Dill Cream Cheese Sauce


Michael Smith: This is one of the most popular dishes on my table. Our friends love its bright, familiar flavours and we love how easy it is to make. You can toss steaming, wet, just cooked pasta with melting cream cheese to form an incredibly smooth luxurious sauce. The smoked salmon adds extravagance balanced by other familiar flavours: dill, lemon, onion, mustard and capers. A five star dish for sharing!


Serves four


1 lb penne or your favourite shaped pasta like bowties, long pastas like spaghetti don’t work as well

1 cup room temperature cream cheese

1 bunch of fresh dill, chopped

4 green onions, sliced

1 lemon, juiced and zested

1 heaping spoonful of Dijon mustard

1/4 cup capers

8 ounces smoked salmon, or more

sprinkled sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste



Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Season it liberally with salt until tastes like a day at the beach on Prince Edward Island. As the pasta cooks it will absorb the salted water and become properly seasoned.  Cook al dente, until the pasta is cooked through but still pleasantly chewy.


Scoop out some of the starchy cooking water.  Drain the pasta but not quite all the way. Leave it a bit wet. Toss the pasta back into the pot along with a splash or two of the reserved water, perhaps a half-cup or so in total then immediately add the rest of the ingredients.  While the pasta is still steaming hot it will easily melt the cream cheese and form a rich creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper. 

Serve immediately.

Posted by James Geneau at 2:02 PM  1 Comment(s)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Learning a Lesson About Smoked Meat

Oh how I miss Montreal at times.  Especially when it comes to Smoked Meat.  Luckily, on a recent trip to Montreal, I was able to sneak into my favorite smoked meat joint, Schwartz's, for a little nibble and a lesson on making Montreal's legendary Smoked Meat Sandwich!  This was actually sent out to ALL of Gremolata's Twitter family members in a step-by-step broadcast.  Needless to say, the instant feedback we recieved was overwhelming with people sharing their thoughts on the many happy moments they had covered in smoked meat and mustard in Montreal's most famous deli.  And so, we have included some of our photos and the step-by-steps to making their famous sandwich!

Step One: Slice the smoked meat. Schwartz’s does not add any chemicals to their briskets.  Instead, they prepare smoked meat the old-fashioned way using a secret blend of fine herbs and spices marinated for 10 days. They smoke their meat daily and they contain no preservatives.

Step Two: Pile it on top of the bread.  Your choice, but rye is the best.

Step Three: Add some mustard.  You can use a variety of types here but for our sandwich, we used good old-fashioned American-style yellow mustard.  Of course, spicy is also a good choice.

Step Four: Assemble and lay flat.

Step Five: Slice and serve.  It is important to cut width-wise to keep the integrity of the bread to meat ratio.  When you pile this much smoked meat onto two thin slices of bread, it can hard to keep it all together.  Quickly wrap and serve.  OR plate and devour!  Either way, make sure you have plenty of napkins handy!

Posted by James Geneau at 6:45 PM  2 Comment(s)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Food Inc. The Little Film That Will Change The World?

The little film that just might change the world is an awful amount of pressure to put on Food Inc., a film being released in select Canadian theatres this Friday, June 19th, 2009. I had the opportunity to attend the screening this evening in Toronto and while I am an avid supporter of the good food movement, I entered the theater with skepticism regarding the ability for a documentary film to work in changing the way North Americans eat. 

I have read most of Michael Pollan’s major books (The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto to name two) along with Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.  Each book is a profound investigative piece and not an easy read.  They were written by intellectuals for intellectuals, one would argue.  The authors and their award winning books have certainly helped to advance the good food movement and put food back into the spotlight but again, I would argue that “the sale of the message” to the reader didn’t require a significant pitch.  It is much easier to sell a season subscription to the Metropolitan Opera by advertising on public radio than say during a 30-second spot between “The Bachelor” and “Little People, Big World”.

Many of you are reading this and thinking “what an arrogant ass”, but please allow me to explain.  We live in a society of mass-produced messages and media that is focused on scaring, shocking, and entertaining.  We all say how much we would love to hear happy stories for a change but are glued to CNN whenever a tragedy unfolds.   The majority of our society would rather sit on the sofa, eat a bag of potato chips, chug a beer, and watch reruns of Seinfeld than read Michael Pollan’s book.  Sorry Michael, I love you but these are the facts of life.  So when I heard that Food Inc. was influenced by the works of these two authors and heard the studio representatives’ pitch about how it was destined to change the way we look at food forever, I thought “good luck babe, you’ve clearly never read the Botany of Desire!”

You see, in order for Food Inc., to make a difference, it had to take the equivalent of ancient sand scrolls written by the disciples of the good food movement and translate it into something that was intellectual, profound, and more importantly - reasonable.  It had to speak to the masses without alienating them, boring them, or offending them.  It had to show what was happening to our food system, scare lots of people, start some buzz, and bring a much wider audience into the fold.  Not an easy feat for filmmaker Robert Kenner.  And so I entered the theatre waiting to see a disaster of a film full of complexity, arrogance, and messaging geared toward a niche crowd.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Robert Kenner took a highly complex yet important issue and put it onto the screen in manner all of society could relate to.  It did not preach.  It did not lecture.  Instead, it used graphic imagery, emotional stories of real people, and basic messaging to share the story of our food system in a way nobody else has been able to do thus far.  One would argue that Super Size Me did a pretty good job of making people think about the impact of fast food on their health.  But again, only a person living in a steel box on top of a mountain for 30 years would not have already thought, in the back of their head even at some point in their life, that greasy fast-food wasn’t good for them.  Besides, the works of Pollan and Schlosser speak of something bigger than the fast-food industry and our health. 

Their works are about our entire food-system and its impact on the environment, the people we rely on for food, politics, economics, and us as humanity.  It was impossible for Food Inc. to simply be a story about how fast food is bad for you.  It had to be a documentary about the entire industrial food system and our need to return to a simpler time focused on good wholesome food.  More importantly, it had to use messaging that would appeal to a larger audience.  This was critical if it was going to truly make a difference.  It had to speak to the larger members of society and provoke not a few people, but hundreds of millions of people.  Otherwise, the impact Food Inc. would have had in shifting society’s values would be modest at best.  This was the challenge Robert Kenner was faced with when making this movie.  And this was what he delivered.

This film did not change my thinking; it re-confirmed I was on the right path.  But what it did do for me personally is give me hope.  It gave me hope that maybe, after years of understanding by a few, the message of good, responsible, and sustainable food might finally be shared with the masses.  It did not provide any solutions, but that wasn’t important at this stage.  It needed to raise awareness amongst a larger audience, make them think, and encourage them to make even a simple change in their daily eating regime.   If this is accomplished, we all benefit.  And I for one believe that this little film might just do that.

Posted by James Geneau at 11:46 PM  1 Comment(s)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Weekly Food Round-up - June 11, 2009

We had some time to reflect on what was happening in the internet world today.  With Twitter, Facebook, mySpace, and e-mail it can be hard to stay on top of everything.  Anyhow, here is the first in our new daily updates of what is happening within the good food movement.

It was not a fun week for local food.  It was a week of questionable PR campaigns, battling journalists, and missing berries.

Before we discuss this week, it is important to note that last week for foodies on the Twitter front was all about the Hellman’s Eat Real and Eat Local Campaign.  Everyone was jumping on the anti-Hellman’s wave and many outspoken journalists took the digital world like a witch burning in Salem!  The anger was further fueled by an article on Grist.org by Paul Philpott entitled “Eat real. Eat local. Eat ... Hellman’s Mayo?” critiqued the campaign, the Web site, and the attempt by Hellman’s to repeat a failed campaign they previously tried in the United States.  The next day, an article by City Food Magazine in Vancouver entitled “Dear Hellman’s, Get Real!” slammed Unilever and the campaign.  Both of these articles fled through the internet like rabid beasts from a sci-fi fantasy flick.  Needless to say, it was a bad week for Unilever.  It goes to show that die-hard foodies are a tough crowd and don’t take any mayo from just anybody!  Who will win the battle?   Hard to say but will be watching with great interest.

On the local Toronto front, this week was all about Jamie Kennedy - the “pin-up” chef for local and sustainable fresh cuisine.  He invited the media to a goodbye lunch at his former Gardiner restaurant for a little nosh and discussion about himself, his business, and his troubles.  Inside the mix was also a clear message that he intends to support local food and encouraged others to do the same.  Gremolata found it to be inspirational, not sad Click Here for James Geneau’s Report.  Not so, with all of the guests.  The Globe and Mail publicized it as “the rapid decline of a slow food empire” which caused a flurry of Tweets around the article with the message that Slow Food was dead and a mixed-bag of opinions on the article, Jamie, and the need to support local food.

Finally, another big story for local foodies has been around Strawberries and “where the hell are they”?  We ran into Lucy Barnett from Compostellae on Saturday at the Withrow Park Farmers’ Market during our LIVE Twitter feed who informed us that they are forming, but need a warmer June to really take off.  On Wednesday, The Toronto Star published a good article entitled “Cool weather putting a chill on berry crop” stating the same thing, that the cooler months have kept the berries from reaching full potential.  Looks like we will just have to be patient!

Posted by James Geneau at 9:21 AM  0 Comment(s)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Jamie Kennedy's Farewell Launch

What an interesting day.  One door closed and another opened for Jamie Kennedy and his Gardiner Café.  A landmark on Toronto’s dining scene for several years, it appears that the times have changed and the man behind the restaurant has had to adapt to what we all recognize as the worst recession in a lifetime.  At the beginning of the economic downturn, I wrote an article about what restaurants were doing at the time to “weather” the storm.  Everywhere you looked, chefs and restaurateurs were looking for cheaper ingredients and lower price-point dishes to accommodate the needs of a more price conscious consumer.  They did this by sacrificing the use of the local and the seasonal for lower-cost wholesale and mass-produced ingredients.  Jamie Kennedy has taken a refreshingly different direction.

With the end of dinner service at Jamie Kennedy at The Gardiner on June 7th of this year, many felt that Toronto’s dining scene was on its last legs.  What they did not realize was that this was the re-birth of a new age for dining in this city.  Many of you may think I am being a little dramatic here, but hear me out.

Jamie has decided to go in a different direction from the “other” restaurants I discussed in my earlier article.  Yes, the times have changed and the need to stay lean is real.  However, does this mean sacrificing ones values in the good food revolution?  When it comes to Jamie Kennedy and his support of local and sustainable food, absolutely not.

Today, he invited the media to a lunch where he unveiled his new Weekly Lunch Series with Jamie Kennedy, a 3-course prix fixe lunch using local and seasonal ingredients for $25.00 per person.  Wait a minute.  A locally-sourced prix fixe lunch for the same price as the “specials” offered during Summerlicious or Winterlicious?  How could this be?  Well, when you are passionate about your art and the values you have for supporting local food, anything is possible.  Jamie has sacrificed the costly dinner service to bring the freshest in local and seasonal ingredients to Torontonians in the form of an affordable and casual lunch experience.  He could have gone against his values and started spooning out all kinds of imported low-cost alternatives.  Instead, he stuck to his values and for this, Torontonians should be thrilled.

Beginning on Friday, June 26th, Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner will also be opening its patio as an after-work playground.  Each and every Friday evening throughout the summer, they will serve small plates featuring the finest in local cuisine.  This will be provided along with a full bar service featuring Scotch Whiskey from "The Balvenie” and other seasonal cocktails.  Lunch with Jamie on Wednesdays.  Cocktails with Jamie on Fridays.  When it comes to getting my own weekly fix of local, fresh and seasonal food, this will do nicely.  Thank you Jamie for leading by example.  Good times are ahead for Toronto.

Posted by James Geneau at 8:38 PM  4 Comment(s)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

My Life Changing Day at The Stop

Every day, in cities all over the world, chef’s kitchen’s are in full gear by 10:00am.  Chopping, boiling, and braising occurs in anticipation for the lunch rush or evening dinner service.  However, in Toronto, in a small little kitchen in the middle of a food centre for those in need, I had the opportunity to witness something fantastic.

Here, amongst ten local residents of the Davenport West community, I participated in a communal cooking class and dinner.  The Stop Community Food Centre has been a favorite of Gremolata’s for many years.  Their work is truly groundbreaking and their passion for helping those in need with good food is something we always admired.  However, I had never had a chance to be a part of their work “hands on”.  And so, as part of our Gremolata Twitter fundraiser for Charity Tuesday, I had the opportunity to sit in on this great weekly tradition at The Stop and share the story live in order to build awareness for their work and help them raise money for their initiatives.

Today, I was blessed to meet a great group of lively and entertaining people whose lives may be an endless barrage of challenges but whose spirits can never be broken.   The Stop Community Food Centre strives to increase access to healthy food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds community and challenges inequality.  They offer the opportunity for people to connect with each other over good food. This includes community kitchens, which attempt to build food skills and reduce social isolation while increasing the participants’ access to healthy food.  In essence, it teaches the basics of coming together, communicating, and sharing over good food.  Our society as a whole has lost their way when it comes to embracing these values.  We are too tied up with our cars, our jobs, our bank accounts and our golf club memberships to enjoy the basics of good food and what it can bring to the table.  In a mere two hours, with the help of my new friends at The Stop, I discovered the secret of why food is important.

Around a giant table, we chopped, sliced, diced, and coated.  We shared stories and laughed at the antics of each other.  We were old, young, and in between.  African, Indian, White, and Latino, none of this mattered.  What mattered was the task at hand, creating our Warm Sesame Chicken Salad.  The people around the table came from many different backgrounds and while the task was to cook a meal, the larger-scale challenges were far more profound.  For some, it was the challenge of understanding written instructions.  For others, it was accessibility due to a physical handicap.  For others, it was meeting new people for the first time and opening up to new experiences.  This was more than a meal, it was a major step towards meeting new people and learning new things.  And the fact they had fun doing it only made it that more profound!

I have had the opportunity to attend many great events and eat at some phenomenal restaurants around the world.  Today’s meal however, was one of the best I ever ate.  It was made with love, through teamwork, and with a passion from everyone involved.  We cooked it together, and then we sat down and ate it together like a big family.  We discussed it together and thought of new challenges for next week’s dish.  It had all the elements of a perfect meal.  It was made with love, it was wholesome, and it brought us together.

And so, I left my new friends after the session with a full belly but also a full heart.  I also left with a sense of pride in what I had been allowed to be a part of.  I had helped and watched a great group of new friends create a delicious meal and was blessed that they would let me participate in it as well.   And for this, I cannot thank The Stop Community Food Centre enough.

This, and the many other programs run by The Stop Community Food Centre rely on donations and sponsorships from the public.  Gremolata has helped, and you can too.  To learn more and to make a donation, simply visit http://www.thestop.org/.

Oh, and for those interested in what we cooked, feel free to sign up to Gremolata’s Twitter page to read the minute-by minute photos and comments at http://www.twitter.com/gremolata. 

And here is the recipe...

Warm Sesame Chicken Salad



1 lb. chicken breast

½ cup flour

2 eggs

½ cup breadcrumbs

2 cups cornflakes, lightly crushed

4 tsp sesame seeds, plus extra for garnish

1 tsp chili powder


¼ nappa cabbage

½ chicory

2 heads endive

1 purple onion, sliced paper thin

1 cup red wine vinegar


1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, oregano, tarragon

1 tbls rice wine vinegar

4 tbls olive oil

1 tbls sesame seed oil

1 tsp honey

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice each chicken breast in half horizontally, then cut lengthwise into strips

Prepare pickled onions by thinly slicing onion.  Bring red wine vinegar to a boil.  Take vinegar off the heat, add onions and allow to sit and cool for a half hour.

Place flour in a wide bowl. 

Beat eggs and place into a wide bowl

Mix breadcrumbs, cornflakes, sesame seeds and chili powder  and place in a wide bowl

Coat chicken in flour, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture.  Once chicken is well coated, place on baking sheet

Bake chicken for 15 – 20 minutes – turning pieces over halfway through baking time

For salad, finely shred cabbage, chicory and endive, add to mixing bowl.  Add pickled onions

In a small bowl mix together dressing ingredients.  Pour over salad and toss well.

 Add chicken on top. 

Posted by James Geneau at 9:45 PM  0 Comment(s)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Happy Freshness Season, Toronto

Local Asparagus at Brickworks Market

Tis the season to be farming, fa la la la la, la la, la la!  Wouldn’t it be great if we embraced spring and the bounty of Ontario produce the same way we commercialized Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day?  Imagine, every year a fantabulous festival of sharing with friends and family the bounty of the season’s first new crops.  I myself would love to get my “first strawberry” card of the season or a lovely e-vite to a “rhubarb-eve” at a friend’s place.  Well, luckily we do have one thing to celebrate, the annual explosion of farmers’ markets here in Toronto!

That’s right; it is farmers’ market season and everywhere you look abandoned parking lots are being re-born one day a week into beautiful shopping meccas for the fresh and delicious.  And as always, we have you covered when it comes to where you can find the freshest and most delicious goodies from within 100 kms of our glorious city!  We are thrilled to release our 2009 guide to freshness, if you will.  Our list of the hottest farmers’ markets in Toronto!


Riverdale Farmers’ Market – Tuesdays, 3pm-7pm
When it comes to locally-sourced, the Riverdale market is probably tops. Market management personally visits each farm to ensure the products are fresh and organic and nothing is being disguised as local. A rigorous process but the end result is great food in the centre of one of Toronto's prettiest neighborhoods.

MyMarket at Sick Kids Hospital – Tuesdays, 9am-2pm
Canada's first certified local farmers' market is back for a new season starting in June! MyMarket is focused on providing real farmers' selling what they grow, right here in the city. Check out their great weekly market at the Sick Kids Hospital and their neighborhood special events!  Visit their markets and purchase the best in fresh products!

MyMarket Bloor Borden – Wednesdays, 3-7pm
Canada's first certified local farmers' market is back for a new season starting in June! MyMarket is focused on providing real farmers' selling what they grow right here in the city. Check out their great weekly market at the Bloor-Borden Parkade and their neighborhood special events!  

City Hall Farmers’ Market at Nathan Phillips Square – Wednesdays, 8am-2:30pm
Fresh Wednesdays features free, live noon-hour concerts to complement shopping at Nathan Phillips Square's annual Farmers' Market.  Savour your favorite fruits and vegetables at their peak of perfection while listening to the great Canadian music.

Metro Hall Farmers’ Market – Thursdays, 8am-2pm
A great local market held weekly at Toronto's Metro Hall in the King West neighborhood.  Why do we love it?  It is a quick walk from the financial district so you can pick up some freshness on your lunch break!  Hoorah!

Brickworks Evergreen Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 8am-1pm
This market offers a fabulous assortment of fruits, vegetables, wild fish, meat, cheese, milled flours, eggs and oils - all from local farmers. Evergreen is also growing its educational program offerings this year, including new shop and cook with the chefs programs and artist-led, hands-on children's programs.

St. Lawrence North Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 5am-5pm
In 1803, Governor Peter Hunter issued a proclamation that the land bounded by Front, Jarvis, King and Church streets be officially designated the "Market Block." Every Saturday, the North market building is home to a variety of local farmers and food artisans providing the freshest produce, meats, and products from Ontario.

St. George Farmers’ Organic Market – Saturdays, 9am-3pm
Located at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church in Downtown Toronto, this market provides great locally sourced food along with some great locals. A small walk from the Art Gallery of Ontario means this market can be a great culture and culinary visit every Saturday!

The Evergreen Brickworks Market


East York Farmers’ Market – Tuesdays, 8am-2pm

A great place for the east end of Toronto to grab some wholesome, locally-sourced food.  Held every Tuesday, this market is a favorite for locals and even a couple of the city's top chefs - try and guess who!

MyMarket East Lynn Park – Thursdays, 3-7pm  
Canada's first certified local farmers' market is back for a new season starting in June! MyMarket is focused on providing real farmers' selling what they grow right here in the city. Check out their great weekly market at East Lynn Park and their neighborhood special events!  This is a great way to spend an after work stroll on a Thursday night for those living in the East End of the city!

Withrow Park Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 9am-1pm
The Withrow Park Farmers' Market is a community based initiative that arose out of citizen concern over the declining control over the food we eat. The majority of fruits and veggies stacked on grocery shelves at supermarkets travel thousands of kilometers - a process that hides the social and environmental links that bring food from the farm to the plate. Their mandate is to change this behavior! The market is held each week at Withrow Park, south of Danforth Avenue between Logan & Carlaw.


Sorauren Farmers’ Market – Mondays, 3-7pm
The Market is a project of the West End Food Coop (WEFC), a multi-stakeholder co-operative committed to the development of community food culture in Toronto's West End.   As part of their commitment to local food, preference is given to Greenbelt farmers, and they actively promote new farmers and small, local and sustainable producers. They offer a full selection of local, organic, and sustainable vegetables, fruits, natural meats, artisan cheeses, and flour/grain products with 15-20 vendors, more than half of which are from the Greenbelt and GTA foodshed.

Trinity Bellwoods Farmers’ Market – Tuesdays, 3-7pm
This market offers fresh, local organic produce, as well as sustainable goods. The location for the market is Trinity Bellwoods Park's north end at Dundas Street West between Shaw/Crawford Streets. It is fully accessible by TTC, foot, or bicycle. Don't forget to bring your own re-useable shopping bags!

Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market – Thursdays, 3-7pm
Held every Thursday, this organic market has a very loyal fan-base in Toronto's West end. Located within the Dufferin Grove Park rink house (875 Dufferin, S of Bloor), across from the Dufferin Mall. The rink house is in the northwest corner of the park, just off Dufferin. The closest subway stop is Dufferin Station (one block north). The Dufferin buses, both northbound and southbound, stop every three minutes right outside the rink house.

Sherway Gardens Farmers’ Market – Fridays, 8am-2pm
Fresh Ontario produce only five short steps away from Holt Renfrew? Yes, it is true! The Sherway Gardens market has been a local favorite for many years offering locally-produced pies and farm-fresh vegetables to go great with those new shoes or that great pair of designer jeans.

High Park Organic Farmers’ Market – Fridays & Saturdays, Noon-7pm
A great little market in one of Toronto's most elaborate parks. Conveniently located at the Grenadier restaurant. Why not pick up some items and enjoy a picnic next to Grenadier Pond?

Square One Farmers’ Market – Fridays & Sundays, 8am-4pm
Operated by the Mississauga Central Lions Club, the GTA's largest open-air Farmers' Market is a long-standing annual tradition where over 150 farmers gather every Friday and Sunday. Shoppers can choose from a variety of items from homemade preserves, baked goods, fresh flower bouquets, and Ontario's finest fruits and vegetables.

Etobicoke Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 8am-2pm
A tradition for many Etobicoke residents, this is a must see and attend market in the West end of Toronto.  It is also home to some great artisan producers from Eastern Europe, reflective of the local communities of Toronto’s West End.

The Stop’s Green Barns Farmers’ Market – Saturdays, 9am-Noon
Produced by The Stop Community Food Centre, this market not only delivers great locally-sourced food but supports a worthy cause as well. Certainly worth a visit. And the Green Barns location is possibly the best venue in town!

The Stop’s Green Barn Market


North York Farmers’ Market – Thursdays, 8am-2pm
Where North York goes to find fresh local produce and baked goods.  Held each week in Mel Lastman Square and a quick hop off the subway line!

AppleTree Market at North Toronto Memorial Centre - Thursdays 3pm-7pm
One of the city's newest markets at Eglinton Park.  Vendors like Scotch Mountain Meats, St John’s Bakery, Riverside Foods and Kawartha Ecological Growers promote AppleTree's 'Eco-Market' concept to North Toronto.

The Village Market – Saturdays, 8:30am-1:30pm
Open every Saturday with more than 25 vendors including six farmers, they offer an unusually wide selection of organic foods, from fresh greens to root vegetables, apples, citrus fruits, milk, yogurt, beef, chicken and salami.


Why not rate and comment on each of these markets and let others know what is great about each of these markets?  Simply follow one of the links above and leave your comments, add them to your favorites, or share them with friends on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace!  Get the word out and help support our farmers’ markets in Toronto!

We do LIVE reports from many of Toronto’s Farmers’ Markets each week!  Join us at www.twitter.com/gremolata and see what great things we discover!

Posted by James Geneau at 5:39 PM  0 Comment(s)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Super Easy Bacon Asparagus Soup

It is spring and that means Asparagus is in season!  When the weather forecast is calling for showers, nothing beats a good soup while curling up with a book or a movie.  One of my favorites is this super easy Bacon Asparagus Soup!

2-3 Bunches of fresh Asparagus
Roughly 10-15 strips of thick-cut bacon cut into 1 inch pieces
Olive Oil
Half an Onion, Diced
Salt & Pepper freshly cracked of course!

In a big pot, add some olive oil and throw in your bacon.  Sautee these until delicious and crisp.  Add your onions and let them soften.  Meanwhile, cut some Asparagus up and boil some in a separate pot - just enough so they soften but don’t lose their flavor.  Strain, then add them to the bacon and onions and sautee some more.  Add about a cup of water to the pot and then turn off the heat.

Grab your blender and transfer everything from the pot into it.  You may have to do more than one batch here.  Puree the mixture until all of the strands from the Asparagus have become smooth little pieces.  Add water as needed in the process so it is a thick yet fluid consistency.

Pour the pureed bacon and asparagus back into the pot and add some more water to liquefy.  Turn up the heat and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Add fresh cracked salt and pepper.  Voila!

This is a great soup and the bacon flavor really makes the asparagus sing!  It also serves about 4-5 people.  And the best part, it takes no more than 30 minutes to make and is oh so wholesome! 

Enjoy!  And remember to tell me how it worked for you!  Leave comments below!

Posted by James Geneau at 2:38 PM  0 Comment(s)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend Wine Battle: East vs. West

It is the long weekend in the United States and I thought it would be fun to share the best-rated bottles from liberty-land as defined by Gremolata members.  Every day, myGremolata members rate wines and add them to their favorites.  So what should you serve at your Memorial Day barbeque?  How about these top member rated wines from the east coast and west coasts of the USA?

East Coast:

For those out there thinking there is no competition from the East Coast, bow your head in shame.  These top five wines are big favorites with our members, and have certainly put the east coast on the map for wine!

2006 Dr. Konstatine Frank Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes NY

Dr. Frank was the pioneer who jump started modern New York winemaking when he planted Riesling in the Finger Lakes. This wine is bone dry with a pronounced petrol note and lots of lemony, oily fragrance. Wonderfully minerally.  Would be a great weekend lunch wine.

2001 Raphael First Label Merlot, Long Island NY

Raphael's 2001 Merlot was picked only weeks after September 11th in nearby Long Island and the grapes benefitted from that sunny September that world saw with horror on their TV screens. Despite it's very American terroir, this wine could be taken blind as a very serious Bordeaux, and it is no surprise that the consulting oenologist, Paul Pontallier comes from Chateau Margaux. The 95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon stands out among the Long Island Meritages, and its blackberry mixed subtly with leather and a light touch of smoke make it a fantastically elegant wine.

2006 Peconic Bay Riesling, Long Island NY

This Long Island Riesling has a remarkably sweet attack, that then dissolves into a tangy and bracing acidity. There's the characteristic Riesling petrol note, but also citrus and some red fruit - strawberries, even.

2006 Millbrook Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Hudson River NY

The peppery spiciness of this pure Cabernet Franc is balanced by blackberries and plums and strong tannic structure. Would do to let it breath, if drinking now. Could be taken as a Bordeaux in a blind taste.

2006 Prejean Winery Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes NY

A touch of vanilla tips off the palate that this is a New World wine, but its clear edge without harsh tannins brings up cherry and even strawberry notes, with a touch of peppery spice. This wine is meant to be drunk at dinner.


West Coast:

It isn’t just California taking top prize according to our members; take a look at these favorites from the Wild West…

2005 Clos du Bois Merlot, Sonoma County CA

A northern California Merlot.  This should be enough to say about this great bottle from Sonoma.  But it is also important to note that the fruit for Clos du Bois's classic Merlot comes from vineyards within Sonoma County's Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys and that it is aged for 18 months in oak. They then add a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon to spice it up a little. The end result is a complex and well-structured wine full of ripe plums and berry aromas and flavors, with a touch of spice.  And the best part, it sells on average for under $20.00.  Bravo!

2006 Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles CA

A pleasant California wine that could easily make its way into your general rotation of stock.  The grapes come from Paso Robles and a selection of other appellations in California. It has a strong aroma of blackberry with dark cherry, chocolate and cassis which follows through on the palate.  A nice evening wine for watching the news or your favorite drama.

2007 Shooting Star Aligote Washington State, Yakima Valley WA

The California winemaker Jed Steele sources grapes from Washinton's Yakima Valley for this minerally white with pineapple notes. Aligote is the 'second' white wine varietal from Burgundy and the 2007 Shooting Star has an Old World charm to compliment its New World boldness. Great wine by the glass for a drink with a friend after work.

2007 Copain "Tous Ensemble" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, Mendocino CA

This could very well be the best example of a California Pinot Noir. Deliciously delicate, this wine offers aromas of sour cherry fruit on the nose and plenty of tannins. On the tongue, expect some fresh bread, tea and lots of earthy notes.  The tannins and sparkling accidity brings this wine together and creates a perfectly tuned and well made Pinot Noir. 

2001 Mystic Wines Columbia Valley Merlot, Oregon

Mystic Wines Columbia Valley 2001 Merlot is a classic with wild blackberry and vanilla oak spice lending mature fruit flavours to the soft yet solid balance and lingering finish. Mystic Wines was started in Oregon by Rick Mafit in 1992. Rick spent the 80's making wine in California's Sonoma and Mendocino counties and came north eager to find sites where big flavor reds would thrive. After scouring the state he found The Dalles region (Columbia Valley) in the Columbia Gorge near the Washington Border. This area has a longer growing season and the heat necessary to fully ripen Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Barbera, and Zinfandel varieties.

And there you have it, some great wines for the Memorial Day Weekend.  Have your own opinion?  You can always rate and review any of our wines by becoming a myGremolata member.  It is free, and fun!  Simply sign up here!

Have a great long weekend America!

Posted by James Geneau at 12:21 PM  0 Comment(s)

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Simple Beet, Potato, and Goat Cheese Salad

Do you pickle beets every season?  Tired of them being a simple side in a jar at the table?  I sure am.  I love pickled beets and have enjoyed them since I was a child.  But they have always been something I simply plopped on the table as a condiment or side and never received the full appreciation as a course they deserved.  Well, that was until I visited Auberge de Sedona in Arizona last January.

Here, I discovered a really tasty and simple dish perfect for the summer patio.  One that puts pickled beets front and center where they belong!  A simple and delicious pickled beet, potato, and goat cheese salad. 

You will need:

1 potato (for every 2 people)
Pickled Beets (Red, Yellow, or both), sliced
Goat Cheese (sliced or crumbled)
Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper

First off, the beets.  If you have some red/purple and yellow beets sitting in a jar from your last big pickling and preserving party, great.  If not, you can always buy some.  Of course, the ones made by you or your mom or grandmother are always better.  Remove roughly six sliced beets per person.  If you are using both yellow and red beets, you can alternate with three each per person.  Set them on some paper towel so they can lose some of their juices.  Next, you will need a good old plain potato. 

Slice the potato into thin slices (skin on) and plop it into a pot of boiling water.  Meanwhile, grab another bowl and fill it with ice water.  Let the potato cook for a few minutes.  Just enough so that they are firm but not raw, say 5 minutes.  Then, pull them out and plop them into the cold water bath to stop the cooking process.  After another 5 minutes, remove them and dry them with a paper towel.

Assembly time!  Using a long plate, start alternating the ingredients in a long row like a deck of cards displayed when you show your winning hand in poker (smile), or fallen dominos.  One beet, then some goat cheese, then a potato.  Keep alternating until you have six slices of each displayed like a fallen pile of dominos.

 Next, grab your virgin olive oil and drizzle a line or two along the length of your presentation.  Follow this with some fresh cracked pepper and salt.  You can even garnish it with an edible flower if you have some!  Voila, a pretty and delicious summer patio lunch.  The goat cheese is amazing with the cold potatoes and the vinegar from the pickled beets offers a great little zing!  So simple and so good!  Try it this weekend as an appetizer while the steaks sizzle on the barbecue!

And as always, let me know below how it turned out!

Posted by James Geneau at 11:29 AM  0 Comment(s)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Toast 2009 - Good Eats for a Good Cause

Well, it was another great night of food and drink for another worthy cause.  Gremolata had the privilege of being a sponsor of this year’s Toast 2009 benefit for the Canadian Cancer Society.  The event, held at Toronto’s Distillery District, offered some great wines paired with some food from local restaurants and caterers. 

This year’s theme was “Springtime in Paris” and the 9th edition of this event featured street magicians, dancers, and a complete recreation of a Parisian streetscape within the lofty surroundings of the Fermenting Cellar.  To round out the evening, Toast featured DJ Piers Baker and a superb silent auction.  Each year, the event helps to raise funds for cancer research and service delivery programs in the Toronto area and draws a who’s who of Toronto’s young and fashionable.   

But what about the food?  Well, Dhaba Indian Excellence was there with some of their delicious butter chicken which went perfectly with a glass of the William Fevre Champs Royaux 2007 over at the booth provided by Woodman Wines.  Steamwhistle beer and a cocktail bar by Churchill Cellars offered alternatives to wine.  Next up, we grabbed a glass of the 2007 Wilm Riesling and strutted over to Oyster Boy for a shucking demo and a couple of fresh jewels of the sea.  It was a great pairing!  And finally it came time for some dessert and Dufflet’s Pastries certainly offered some great tarts to end a fun evening.

Missed out on the action this year?  No worries, the event will be in full swing next year and we will keep you posted!  If you want to see some highlights of this year’s event, why not check out our Twitter updates sent out live from the event this evening!  Start following us to see more updates from what we attend in and around the foodie scene.

To learn more about the Canadian Cancer Society, and make a donation, click HERE.

Posted by James Geneau at 12:11 AM  0 Comment(s)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Bon Appetit Ottawa

Wow, what a great evening for a great cause.  Gremolata was invited to attend the 2009 Bon Appetit Ottawa fundraiser, an annual event showcasing the best in food and drink in the region.  With our plates, we toured the over 90 restaurants and caterers and dozens of wineries and breweries. Over 1,600 people enjoyed the delicious creations of the region's top chefs and samplings of renowned wineries served up in the beautiful and historic setting of the Aberdeen Pavilion.

At $75.00 a person, the event raises money for several charities focused on both hunger and poverty relief in the National Capital Region.  Driven by the hospitality industry to support the operational needs of local charities this event has a particular focus on children and the elderly.

Some highlights this year culinary wise included a spectacular assortment of scones from a unique little purveyor called The Scone Witch.  Their strawberry shortcake scones were amazing.  Next up we thoroughly enjoyed the raspberry squares from The Green Door, one of Ottawa’s oldest and best known vegetarian restaurants. They, along with the fourteen other participants from Savour Ottawa at the event, specialize in high quality foods made from ingredients that are locally grown and produced.  Next up was another Savour Ontario member, the Urban Element.  They offered a delicious micro-sandwich with fresh local tomatoes and arugula and a line-up a good 20 people long waited to try them with a local wine.

Overall, a fun time.  Lots of food and great people supporting a worthy cause!  You can learn more about Bon Appétit Ottawa by visiting their Web site.  For up to the minute coverage, why not follow Gremolata on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gremolata. Au Revoir!

Posted by James Geneau at 8:10 PM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bison Burgers. Bring Em On!

Had to share one of my favorite treats of barbecue season.  Bison burgers of course.  With the weather being nice I finally found myself with a weekend where I could do some grilling and on a walk along Bloor Street today, stumbled into the Bloor Meat Market (2283 Bloor St. West).  Luckily for me, they had just received some Bison burgers from a local producer and I snatched a couple of fresh patties for Saturday night grilling.

Now, Bison is a spicy and earthy meat.  It can also be a little dry if you are not careful, and by that I mean keeping the juices inside and not using them to stir up flames on the grill.  But the spicy, earthy taste is what normally throws people off.  These burgers are not made for ketchup and mustard...but then again, are any?  You need something a little sweet to balance out the flavor.

My favorite way to prepare them?  Well, first I sweat some onions and garlic in a pan with a little (I mean lots) of unsalted butter.  Once the kitchen is full of the smell of garlic and onions I add a handful of chopped dates to the pan and start to sautee them.  The sugars from the dates cause everything to caramelize perfectly.  Meanwhile, the burgers are grilling away.  Before the end, I throw a splash of red wine into the dates, onions, and garlic and let it boil off.  When it is a beautiful gooey sugary glop, I know it is done.

Assembly time.  A fresh sourdough bun, a juicy Bison burger patty, some extra sharp or smoked cheddar cheese, and a big gob of caramelized dates and onions.  Voila!  A perfect dish.  Sometimes I use goat cheese as an alternative.  Either way, it is a great burger every time!

Happy Grilling!

Posted by James Geneau at 12:03 AM  1 Comment(s)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Happy Diabetes Timmy, Love The Easter Bunny!

Happy early onset diabetes day little Timmy!  That is the first thing that crossed my mind when I saw the television ad for Wal-mart this week offering a 1 pound chocolate Easter Bunny for $1.84.  That’s right, a pound of “chocolate” for one dollar and eighty four cents.  Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.  First of all, their flyer calls it a Milk Chocolate Easter Bunny.  Don’t get me wrong, when I was little I would eye these for months at the store hoping I would get one and sure, they are probably quite delicious.  But it is going to take a lot of convincing by Wal-mart Executives for me to believe that this is a 100% Milk Chocolate bunny and the finest of artisanship from Switzerland. 

First, let’s look at the economics of this.  For starters, a pound of chocolate is equal to 454 grams.  A carton of milk from my local store which measures 1 litre costs $2.99 CDN.  This is the equivalent of 1,000 grams of milk or a price per gram of 0.003 cents per gram.  Our chocolate bunny on the television would have a price per gram of 0.004 cents per gram.  OK, I can live with that.  But then you need to strip out the packaging, the shipping, the advertising costs, and the manufacturing.  Using a general rule of thumb, retailers strive for at least a 50% mark-up.  Let’s assume that this bunny cost Wal-Mart $1.00 each.  I am sure it was lower.  But with a $1.00 per pound fixed costs less shipping, raw materials, labour, packaging, and branding, I am having my reservations about how much milk is in this puppy, I mean bunny.

So, now you are probably saying “Fine Mister I like real chocolate – where would you go?”.  Well, easy.  My pics would be any of your local artisan chocolate makers.  Every major city has one.  In Toronto, I like Delight Organic in The Junction or Stubbe on Dupont Street (FYI - an 18” hollow bunny is $36.00) or even Swiss Master  (2538 Bayview Avenue) offers bunnies made of chocolate with a little bit or artisanship thrown in.  Hey, if you are going to give your child diabetes, you might as well go out with a bang.  It’s freakin Easter after all!  Do you really want them to think the Easter Bunny is cheap?

Posted by James Geneau at 12:55 PM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 006

This week, I am heading to South Africa for two wines in the $10.00 range from Nederburg.  This vineyard is located in the Paarl region and they offer two bargain priced wines certainly worth trying during these recessionary times. 

The first, the Cabernet Sauvignon, is a clear front-runner in my opinion.  If you served this to your guests they would never know it was an affordable wine.  The second, the Shiraz, is a little less fabulous in my opinion but still worth the purchase given the price.  But hey, for $20.00 you can grab both of them this weekend and let me know your comments.

Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

This wine comes from South Africa's Paarl region and is a very reasonably priced vintage from this area.  Price is not the only thing going for this wine.  It has a lovey deep ruby color and offers aromas of blackberries and currants.  On the tongue, expect a full-bodied wine with ripe fruit and some mild oak spice.  This wine has been released along-side their Shiraz and to be honest, this is a far more complex and sophisticated wine than it's counterpart.  But for the price (roughly $10.00) you cannot go wrong with either as a day-today sipper for family meals at home.

Nederburg Winemasters Reserve Shiraz 2007

Another well-priced wine from South Africa's Nederburg Vineyards.  Not as fabulous as their Cabernet Sauvignon but still a decent wine given the price.  It has a lovey deep ruby color and offers aromas of ripe fruit, berries and oak spice.  Perhaps even a little chocolate if you linger long enough.  On the tongue, expect great layers of berries and plums with some mild oak spice.  For the price, you cannot go wrong with this wine and certainly a refreshing change from the bargain wines found from Chile, Australia, Argentina, and Spain.  Grab a case and save them for nights at home with a roast chicken dinner or pork chops.

Posted by James Geneau at 11:47 AM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 005

This weekend, let's head south to Argentina for a wine that is not the cheapest out there but still a bargain for around $14.00 at your local wine store.  Again, this will not blow you off your seat, but is still a decent vintage for day to day use.

2006 Trumpeter Malbec

When it comes to value, Malbec is probably the best choice these days, especially those coming from Argentina.  The 2006 Trumpeter Malbec is one of these value-focused vintages suitable for day-to-day enjoyment when you are looking to save a few dollars while still enjoying a half-decent bottle of vino.  This wine has a deep violet colour, berry aromas, and hints of spice on the nose.  Expect lots of cherries and dark berries on the tongue with perhaps a splash of spice.  This is your everyday weekly dinner at home wine, especially with something spicy.


Posted by James Geneau at 12:08 PM  0 Comment(s)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 004

Wow, another contestant from Italy!

It has been a few days and I was thrilled to come across another Italian red full of flavor for little bling.  After all, we all have to save these days...well, that's debatable when it comes to good wine.  Spend the savings on some good quality grass-fed meat for this weekend's Winter hibernation stew.  And at around $8.00, pick up two bottles of this wine to compliment it.
Mezzomondo Negroamaro Rosso 2007

The next contestant on "The Price is Right" is Mezzomondo Negroamaro Rosso, Come on Down!  What else can we say.  Another Italian wine full of flavor at a price that cannot be beat.  Look for a deep ruby-red colour, aromas of cherry and a hint of vanilla.  On the tongue, expect ripe cherries, plum, and woody oak.  A pleasant wine for pizza and games night or curled up watching your favorite game show.

Posted by James Geneau at 4:58 PM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 003

Let's go Italian this Super Bowl Weekend!

Another great wine for the tough economic times comes from Italy and in Ontario at least, retails for a bargain price of $7.15 CDN.  Not bad for an everyday staple in the house.  Imagine, you can get two bottles for the price of a traditional starter Vintages brand.  Sweet!

Casal Thaulero Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon

A cheap and cheerful Italian wine suitable for every day meals where price is an option.  It has a lovely brick red color with aromas of cherry and spice.  These aromas follow on the tongue along with hints of tobacco.  It is a dry, medium bodied, wine suitable for pasta, pizza, or red meat.  And the price is certainly one of its best features.

Have fun!

Posted by James Geneau at 1:58 PM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 002

I had the pleasure of hanging out with Alan McGinty this month and we started talking about affordable wines for the times.  That being said, he reviewed the darling of affordable wine for 2008/2009, The Fuzion from Argentina. 

As Alan McGinty states in his review:

Fuzion Shiraz-Malbec 2008

Rich nose of dark red fruit - cherries and plums -  and a decent helping of earthy notes. It's fairly full bodied and quite soft, but there's good acidity and the tannins haven't quite been beaten down to "easy drinking". There is some of the candied quality to the cherry and plum fruit that often comes at the bottom end of the price scale, but the woody notes and tannins do a good job of mitigating it. Very fruity overall, with a bit of sweetness and a modest but pleasant finish. Great value.


"I do think it's not just hype (and the low price) that's making it such a hit - it really is better than the other super cheap wines that have always been available." - Alan McGinty

Thanks Alan for providing us with a great cheap wine for a cheap pocket! 

Posted by James Geneau at 11:01 AM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cheap Wines for a Cheap Pocket 001

So, we are officially in a recession and god only knows when we will be out of it.  So, like everyone else on the block...I am looking for economical day-to-day wines we can all enjoy without breaking the bank.  Or, as I like to call it...methods to save some money so you can splurge on the weekend!

So, here are two picks I found at my local LCBO.  Now, keep in mind that these are not the best vintages, but they are not half bad considering everyone's desire to keep things a little less bling these days.  After all, saving money from Monday to Thursday means you can go nuts on the weekend...true consumerism!

So, here are my bargain picks of the week...

Trapiche Cabernet Sauvignon

Average Price: $8.00-9.00

A bargain wine from Argentina offering a brilliant red colour, with aromas of black fruit and a hint of spice.  When it comes to wines at a lower price point, this one is top-notch.  Sure, it will never be the choice selection at the private clubs - but this is a great little wine for the home.  A glass while cooking, reading a good book, or watching the boob tube works just fine.  Look for hints of blackberry and red fruits.

Trapiche Malbec

Average Price: $8.00-9.00

Another wine from Trapiche that is well priced for the times.  This is the most well respected grape from Argentina and this wine is a decent representation.  It has a violet colour with aromas of plum and cherries.  This is carried through into the palate along side hints of vanilla.  Given the price, this wine could become a daily ritual.  Enjoy!

There you have it, some great wines for the recession times.  Buy a bottle then come back and share your thoughts on Gremolata.com!!!  We value your feedback!

Posted by James Geneau at 6:27 PM  1 Comment(s)

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Holiday Miracle on Summerhill Avenue

Before the holidays, I headed down to Florida for a little time with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy and two very excited 6 and 7 year old boys.  Let me tell you, nothing is more exhausting than a trip around 4 theme parks in 4 days with two children either scared of a ride or wanting to go on it over, and over, and over again.  Luckily, at the end of the day, you could be assured that they would be passed out on the car ride home and the adults on the trip would get some much needed drinking done when the car got home!

Of course, nothing is more frustrating for an Ontario resident than visiting the grocery or liquor store in Florida (or any other state for that matter).  On this trip, I could be heard cursing a good ten aisles away by family members when I hit the wine section.  A bottle for $9.99 which retails for $18.99 back home.  Oh, another one retailing for $16.99 in Ontario with an in-store weekend special in Florida of 2 for $12.00.  I have family in Florida and travel down 2-3 times a year for some fun in the sun.  Every year I get angry at how the free-market model for alcohol retailing in Florida makes for some great pricing on some great vintages.  I even have a favorite store in Tampa Bay where I can be found every 3 days stocking up on great wines for bargain basement prices.  On my last trip, the icing on the cake was a bottle of a decent California merlot for everyday use at the ridiculously low price of $5.29 a bottle.  FYI, a jug of Tropicana orange juice retails for more back in Ontario.

A week before Christmas I returned home to the great white north.  And so, I headed out to buy some wine for the holidays at the LCBO with resentment and a hum-bug attitude to all of the staff when I was greeted by a Christmas miracle only Santa Claus himself could have produced.  There, in the Spanish wines, sitting on the bottom shelf, like a new born baby.  I blinked; the first number looked like a seven.  I bent down to look, could it be true?  It was!  A Christmas miracle!  A bottle of wine for under $8.00 at the LCBO!

But how would it taste?  I remembered the Simpson’s episode where Sideshow Bob was released from jail and his brother Cecil offered him a choice of wine to which he replied “Anything will taste good as long as it is not Tang fermented under a radiator”.  At $7.95 I was willing to take the chance on the Candidato Oro 2005, and so I did.  In fact, it was not bad.  It was not the best bottle I had ever tasted.  But it also wasn’t the worst.  In fact, it was pretty pleasant, especially given the price.  I offered it to some friends to test it out - well received by all.  What a gem.

And so, a holiday miracle occurred on Summerhill Avenue this year.  Somebody must have pulled a Christmas miracle (or extreme pricing muck up) at the LCBO and delivered a Florida-priced daily wine for the good people of Ontario.  God bless you kind sir or madam, god bless you all.  Now, what can you do for the rest of the bottles on the shelf?

Posted by James Geneau at 4:18 PM  0 Comment(s)

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Ranting Blog About Fat Free Nog!

Well, the holidays are officially over and every year, I come across the one thing that makes me so buggered I have to restrain myself from exploding during holiday cocktail parties.  Well, now that I have a blog at Gremolata I can finally rant about my least favorite holiday beverage...fat free egg nog.

Who the hell invented this and what did we do as a society to deserve this?  I mean, egg nog is a classic holiday beverage - full of fat and creaminess, the way Santa intended it.  Then a few years ago somebody decided that we had too much fat in our holiday celebrations and sucked every last ounce of it from the store shelves.  At first, it was an alternative offering.  Today, you can barely find any full-fat egg nog during the holiday season - unless you make it yourself.

Fat-free egg nog is useless.  Have you ever poured rum into a glass of fat-free egg nog?  It is about as easy to mix as vinegar and oil.  And there is no creamy texture to it...it is just low-flavored milk with rum.  Awful.  If hell ever had a Christmas party, highly unlikely given the history there...but if they did, you can be certain that the only beverage of the evening would be fat-free egg nog.

But what really bugs me is how people take such pride in the fact that they are drinking and serving it.  Every year you can be sure that at least one house, a hostess or host will start serving the fat-free egg nog with pride knowing that they are enjoying a sinful treat without putting on the pounds.  This is usually followed by them waddling over to the dessert table an shoveling butter tarts and shortbread into their mouth until they go cross-eyed.  But at least they have their fat-free egg nog...thank god for that.

And so, I have endured another holiday with my nemesis and have now started planning on how I will rid the world of this evil beverage by the end of 2009.  Perhaps a letter campaign to my MP to ban it.  Or a fake study showing it causes cancer.  Yes, yes, these will do just fine.

Watch out low-fat egg nog, your days are numbered!

Posted by James Geneau at 2:58 PM  1 Comment(s)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Whatever Happened to Dean and Deluca?

It was 1995 and I was on one of my frequent trips to NYC when, as a late blooming foodie, I walked into New York’s grande-dame of gourmet food, Dean & Deluca.  The experience was overwhelming and I immediately fell in love with one item in particular, their fabulous spices.  I stocked up and went home to Montreal filled with this new found urge to cook.  The packaging was brilliant, the scent was amazing.  All I wanted to do was use every last spice until every morsel of chicken, beef and fish in a ten block radius of my flat was devoured.

When I moved to Toronto in 1998, I knew I was in Canada’s foodie capital when, while walking along Bloor Street, I found a shop with a window filled with Dean and Deluca spices.  The store eventually closed a few years later, but I was loyal to the spices and oils imported from New York until the shop finally closed.  Then, the other day, as I was cleaning out my pantry, I found an old tin of Dean & Deluca Greek Oregano.  It looked foreign to me for a moment before a flood of memories came back.  At the same time, I could not help but wonder...whatever happened to Dean & Deluca?

In 1977, Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca opened a shop in the heart of SoHo with the goal of bringing artisan-produced foods from around the world to the people of New York.  They wanted products that fired their imaginations, challenged their tastes, and turned dinner into a creative exercise.  Jack Ceglic, one of the founding partners, designed the original store to evoke a turn of the century food hall, with high ceiling fans spinning over a vast array of products that lined the high, white walls.   The design of the shop combined with the finest in artisan foods from around the world made Dean & Deluca an instant success.

My first visit to their shop in SoHo was wonderful.  Believe it or not, it was the first time I had actually stepped foot in a gourmet shop where I actually felt comfortable.  I was young and knew little about food.  I was impressed by how everything was presented and the friendly food specialists who guided me to find the right spices and oils.  It was as if they knew I was a newbie and their goal was to educate me.  I was in The Banana Republic of Spices and Oils and they had me at hello!  I think this was what made the biggest impression on me.  To this day, I have yet to walk into a shop where the staff wanted to take me on a journey to learn, not just make a sale.  Sure, if I go out shopping today I am bombarded with samples and delectable items to try.  But when I walked into Dean & Deluca I wasn’t asked to try something they thought I should buy.  Instead, I was asked...”What would you like to learn today?”

Throughout the 1980’s Dean & Deluca expanded to several locations within Manhattan and an additional location in Washington DC.  They were the toast of gourmet food in America.  Their coffee, spices, oils, and sauces became famous and in the 1990’s everyone wanted to have a bit of Dean & Deluca in their home.  It was cool, chic, and happening for every yuppie to have a Dean & Deluca spice rack in their kitchen, even up until 2000.  Then, something happened.  At least in my kitchen it did.

Accessibility was the biggest issue for myself and many others.  For most people outside of New York, access to their spices was limited to select gourmet shops carrying a modest supply in select markets.  Outside the US, Dean & Deluca was a phenomenon very few had the privilege of participating in.  Perhaps that was part of their success?  As the internet took over, they moved online allowing people to buy their products from anywhere within the 50 US states.  Alas, the internet was of no help to anyone outside of America.

So, with limited access the phenomenon fizzled, at least in Canada.  They are still running as strong as ever in America and their international shops include locations in Japan and Dubai, but none in Canada, the UK, or continental Europe.  A shame really when you think about it.  After all, they were pioneers in the development of the modern day gourmet shop.  They made artisan food exciting back in the 1970s and taught the world that yes, you can experience the best the world has to offer from the comfort of your home.  If anything, I guess we should be happy that their pioneering efforts lead to several copy-cat shops opening in local markets and that their globally recognized brand lead to a new appreciation for specialty food world-wide.  But still, it would be nice to experience the original Dean & Deluca without having to catch a flight into LaGuardia.  Oh well, perhaps they will read this and reconsider their domestic marketing strategy.  Until then, I will hang onto my tin of Oregano as a memento, but will probably refrain from using it given the expiry date.

Posted by James Geneau at 10:48 AM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ti's The Season for Stew

I have been craving something filling, spicy, and warm the past two weeks.  As soon as it starts to get chilly outside, I start to nest.  I don’t handle the cold very well.  And when I first felt the temperature dip below zero celsius one evening out in rural Ontario – I knew it was time for stew.  But what kind?  There are many variations out there but I knew I had to narrow it down to beef or lamb.  I decided a nice traditional Irish stew was what I needed.  I had never made one, so I grabbed a cookbook, glanced over it, then decided to wing it – just like my mother would have.

I decided on lamb and went to my butcher for a nice shank which he cut into pieces for me.  I coated them with flour, salt and pepper, seared them in some olive oil, and then roasted them in the oven with some potatoes, onions and garlic.  Then I sautéed some carrots in the bottom of a big pot, removed the lamb and roasted vegetables from the oven, and added them to the pot.  Along with some water, salt, pepper, and the roasted garlic I added a fresh sprig of Thyme.  Now it needed booze.  And then it hit me.  I didn’t have any beer as per the recipe.  I was up an Irish creek without a paddle!

Time to improvise, and I quickly ran to my wine rack to find the cheapest bottle.  An Australian shiraz made sense to me, but not at $23.00 a bottle.  Then I noticed a bottle of Montecillo Crianza 2005 from Spain.   I justified it as a good choice as I pictured the countless Aer Lingus daily flights from Dublin to Rioja filled with Irish nationals looking for some sun.  I added ¾ of the bottle and saved enough for me to enjoy with my stew.  The aroma was unbelievable and I am sure the entire floor of my condo building was drooling.

A few hours of simmering later, I decided to taste my creation.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.  Pretty good actually.  And enough to last a few days.  Looks like I will be nesting at least until Wednesday.

Posted by James Geneau at 12:15 AM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kam Shing-dig

I love being in the country, especially when it is only an hour from Montreal.  Nothing is better than sneaking off to the city for an afternoon and exploring this great city.  Last evening was no exception, as we drove into the city to celebrate a birthday at Kam Shing, a great Cantonese and Schechuan restaurant on Côte des Neiges. 

It had been years since I had ventured along Côte des Neiges and I was glad someone had suggested this place.  I love a good Chinese banquet with family and friends.  Especially when it is good.  OK, so the surroundings were not going to win any awards, but the food was fresh and tasty.  I was introduced to a great soup I had never tried before called Seven Happiness Soup.  I think I fell in love last evening with this delicious chicken soup with carrots, tofu, Chinese cabbage, snow peas, and flavors of ginger and garlic.  Kam Shing added pork to the mix which gave it a somewhat salty taste.

Afterwards, we moved onto our banquet of classics.  General Tso’s chicken, orange beef, sautéed shrimp and water chestnuts, Snow Peas with Mushrooms, and Chinese broccoli with Oyster sauce.  So much great food to enjoy and lucky for us, all the time in the world.  We passed dishes and laughed and shared stories.  It was a great evening and the company was just as wonderful as the food.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when my fortune cookie arrived.  I cracked it open and read the tiny scroll of paper.  It read “Good friends make good food even better.” – it could not have been more perfect to describe the evening.  Needless to say, we will be returning soon to have another shindig at Kam Shing.

Posted by James Geneau at 10:20 PM  0 Comment(s)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Maritimes' Top 5 Comfort Foods

In my previous entry I mentioned my brief trip to the east coast to attend a funeral.  One evening, over dinner, we started talking about the common food items (good or bad) that native residents of the east coast secretly indulge in when they return from abroad.  Essentially, the items consumed within 24 hours of landing at the airport when a son or daughter comes home to visit friends and family.  It was a humorous discussion considering half of these secret cravings were low on the locally-sourced, sustainable, or gourmet categories but no matter the person’s degree of culinary sophistication, they were considered acceptable.  After all, they were the comfort foods everyone grew up with and loved. 

And so, we created a list at the dinner table, in order of priority…

1 – Donairs

Donairs are an east coast favorite developed by Pizza Delight, a chain found throughout the eastern provinces.  Nobody really knows what nationality they may have come from, Lebanese is a good start, but they are essentially shaved donair meat (beef, pork) steamed and placed onto a pita with shredded lettuce, onions, and tomatoes.  This sounds pretty normal but it is the sweet sauce that makes it different.  It is made from evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar and garlic.  Not the healthiest food, but certainly a hit for anyone who lives out east.

2 – Sussex Golden Ginger Ale

Originating from Sussex, New Brunswick, this is probably the most potent Ginger Ale you have ever tasted.  As a child, I remember having sneezing fits simply by getting my nose too close to the bubbles erupting from the top of the glass.  This is probably the best ginger-ale on earth and certainly one of the items on any check-list given it is sold exclusively on the east coast.  For the record, it is a Golden Ginger Ale which differs from the traditional Dry Ginger Ales developed during prohibition.

3 – Deluxe Fish and Chips

Originally a chip stand, Deluxe has grown to become a local chain of fish and chip stores across New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  What makes them so special?  Fresh cut New Brunswick and PEI fries deep-fried golden brown and probably the best batter to fish ratio of any place on the east coast.  The batter to fish ratio in fish and chips is a big thing out east and many a debate has been had over who reigns supreme.  One thing is for sure, Deluxe always makes it into the top spot no matter who you talk to.

4 – Whoopie Pies

If you grew up on the east coast, your mother probably made you Whoopie Pies at least twice a year.  Or at least you could be guaranteed that your grandmother, your favorite aunt, or the neighbor’s mom did.  These mini sandwiches of chocolate cake pressed together with an uber-sweet icing-sugar frosting were big hits, especially with a big glass of cold milk.  Even to this day I can be guaranteed that with 24 hours notice of my visit, my aunt Judy will have these ready for me.  Clearly she is my favorite Aunt of all time!

And finally…

5 – Cheese Fingers

Another creation of the Pizza Delight franchise quickly adopted by Greco and every other pizzeria on the east coast are cheese fingers.  Why so popular?  Well, they take two of the best hockey-watching foods (pizza and donairs) and bring them together in perfect harmony.  Essentially, a pizza crust is brushed with olive oil and garlic then covered with mozzarella cheese.  It is then baked like a pizza until the dough rises and the cheese is golden brown.  It is then cut in half and then re-segmented into long strips to create two-bite portions.  The decadent finish, they are served with the sweet garlicky donair sauce and you dunk them before devouring.  No double-dipping allowed.  It is the Maritimes, not some savage jungle outpost.

And there you have it, the Top 5 most sinful food staples every east coast raised foodie will indulge in whenever they are on back home visiting family.  Hey, nobody is perfect and you cannot be expected to eat whole and natural foods every day.  These are treats.  And if you ask anyone from the east coast to name their favorite sins, these will surely be on their list.  Now where did I put that bottle of Pepto Bismal?  The flight home was brutal.

Posted by James Geneau at 10:59 PM  0 Comment(s)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ode to Lady Ashburnham

I had to fly out to the east coast earlier this week, Fredericton to be precise, for a death in the family.  While it was a sad occasion, it was nice to see family from across the country gathered and catching up.  While there, I had the opportunity to catch up with one of my favorite traditions from the east coast, pickles.

Pickles are everywhere in The Maritimes.  They are made each summer and fall (depending on the season) and are served with almost every dinner.  On one evening during my short trip to Fredericton, I was thrilled to see my childhood favorite being served with our family dinner, those of course being Lady Ashburnham’s famous pickles.

The story of these pickles is as interesting as their tangy and sweet taste.  It all started in Fredericton on November 25, 1858, with the birth of Maria Anderson.  According to historical records, Maria grew up in a spacious home on Brunswick Street in the centre of what is now known as the historic “Town Plat”.  When she turned 30, she landed a job at the New Brunswick Telephone Company and became the night operator at the Central Exchange.  Her lovely voice and soft laughter on the line caught the interest of a local gent named Thomas Ashburnham who, after a somewhat longer than normal courtship, married Maria in 1903.  The two lived somewhat modest lives in Fredericton and entertained at home quite often. 

Then, ten years after their marriage, word came from England that Thomas’s last surviving brother had passed away and he had inherited the English title of Lord Ashburnham, and his wife the title of Lady Ashburnham.  The news was the top event of the season in Fredericton and soon everyone wanted the opportunity to dine with the Lord and Lady at their house on Brunswick Street.  Maria was not much of a domestic goddess; however, her sister Lucy was a lovely cook and was particularly good at making mustard pickles.  One such recipe was a hit with Fredericton society and Maria would often take them to socials, fundraisers, and picnics.  This recipe of mustard pickles became known as the now famous Lady Ashburnham Pickles – even though her sister Lucy should have received the recognition.

And there you have it, the story behind my favorite pickles.  But don’t take my word, try them on your own this weekend.  They go great with any family dinner…

Lady Ashburnham Pickles

6 large cucumbers (cut small)
1/4 cup salt
4 cups onions, chopped fine
2 cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
3 Tbsps. flour
1 Tbsp. mustard
1 Tbsp. tumeric
1 Tbsp. mustard seed
1 Tbsp. celery seed

This is a two day process.  First, add salt to cucumbers in large pot and let stand overnight.  The next morning, drain and add other ingredients, mixing all together. Cook for 30 minutes. Bottle and refrigerate.

Posted by James Geneau at 9:52 AM  0 Comment(s)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Perfect Thanksgiving Morning!

What a great morning.  I love Eastern Ontario!  Where else could you wake up at 8:00am, perk your coffee, and sit outside on the back porch enjoying the crisp air and the beautiful Fall leaves around you.  That's what I did this morning.  It was perfect.  But then, it got even better.

As I was sitting in the cool fall air as the sun started to warm the back-yard with its rays, I heard rustling coming from the bushes.  One by one, our friendly family of Wild Turkeys started to appear, all five of them.  Single file, one after another, they congregated on the lawn to pick at grubs and other buffet items having paraded around the ground the night before.  Almost scripted, an arrow of honking Canada Geese suddenly appeared over the horizon and passed directly overhead a few seconds later.  If a deer and a family of rabbits had decided to join the party I would have probably double-checked the coffee to see if it was Irish.  It was that perfect a morning!

But back to the Wild Turkeys.  They are silly creatures to watch.  We have one we call "Limpy".  He clearly injured himself halfway through the summer and since then he has had a bit of a hobble about him as he follows the rest of his gang each morning through the back yard.  It is hard to imagine that these very birds would be considered dinner only a few hours later.  I always thought that I could never eat one of our daily backyard guests, especially "Limpy".  I always preferred to see my dinner the old-fashioned way, fresh from the butcher with no signs of a personality.  I imagine many people feel the same way. 

Watching them go about their business, happy and content, made me think about the Turkey I would be enjoying later in the day.  I certainly hope it had as pleasant a life before being drenched in gravy with a side of cranberry sauce as my backyard friends.  Hanging out with friends, eating fresh grubs, and exploring the woods as a family.  I can do my best to buy a Turkey from an organic supplier promising to raise their birds humanely, but not everyone takes the same steps to ensure they are doing the right thing. 

As I was thinking about this, I heard gun shots being fired in the distance.  Was the gun being aimed at someone's Thanksgiving dinner?  Was this a cruel and brutal act?  I reflected on this and thought no, not if it was one of my friends in the backyard.  They had lived a full life and were happy.  They had an ample supply of food and were free to roam wherever their heart desired.  It was then that I realized that not all of my food had lived such a happy existence and that the act of a hunter to feed their family was probably a better option for a Turkey than having spent 6 months being plumped up in a caged space eating corn.

I still could not point a gun at "Limpy".  But I value the sacrifice he would make to feed a family.  After all, he lived a good life and enjoyed it while alive - even with a wounded leg.  And if a family chose to eat him after his over 12 months of happiness, it meant one less Turkey being held captive in solitary confinement waiting for the day he would die.  Luckily, he was spared by hanging out in our backyard and I will see him again tomorrow.  He will never be on my dinner plate and the only stuffing he is going to get will be from the breadcrumbs I left out for them this evening.  Ahh, the life of a Wild Eastern Ontario Turkey.  Well, those that happen to hang out at my place anyways.

Happy Holidays Everyone! 

Posted by James Geneau at 8:21 PM  0 Comment(s)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

It is Alive! Gremolata That Is...

Wow, what a week.  I have to say that I am a little overwhelmed by the new platform we launched on September 25th.  You see, I am Malcolm Jolley's business partner with Gremolata.com.  It is really a "Foodie & The Geek" relationship.  Malcolm is the big foodie with the passion for exceptional food and drink where I am the technology geek, always looking for new and better ways to use the Web and bring people together.  It works well, and we have both been swamped this past year getting ready for the new Gremolata.com.

Don't get me wrong, I also LOVE good food and drink.  This is the main reason I started this project with Malcolm.  You see, when we decided to change Gremolata into a one-stop source for foodies, we sat back and asked our loyal members what they thought of the current site and what they would like to see more of.  The response was overwhelmingly in favor of connecting people with good food and drink.  And so, we changed our business model and our tag-line to "Good Food & Drink.  Connecting People."

Great tag-line, but what does this mean?  Well, we at Gremolata believe that the world of good food and drink is in a crisis.  The days when people understood where their food came from, the journey it took from farm to table, and the basics of preparation are long gone.  Food has become a burden and not a priority.  A shame given that the one thing we need more than anything on earth to survive is food.  It is my personal belief that we stopped looking at our food as a priority when we stopped talking about it on a daily basis.  As society grew, cities became larger, and cultures changed, we lost the daily local connection with the farmer and the soil.

So, what happened?  Well, we had other priorities and bigger things to talk about as members of the human race.  Many, many, years ago, we would have bought our food from a farmer directly or shopped in the town square.  It was our one place where we gathered and interacted with the other member of our town or village.  We bought or traded goods for our food, went home, cooked a meal for our families and ate it together.  The key thing here is that food played an important role in how we communicated with each other.

This is what we want to recreate with the new Gremolata.com.  We can't bring back the good old days of town squares and their role in helping us connect with food.  We can try, but it is a long hard battle.  What we can do, however, is use Web technology to recreate it.  The new Gremolata.com is society's new "town square" for good food and drink.  Here, members can find all the resources they need to make good decisions about food and drink.  In the coming months, we will be adding even more features allowing people to connect and share with others and start an important dialogue about where our food comes from, and meet new people with a passion for good food and drink.

This is what makes the internet so powerful.  Four years ago, Gremolata started as a simple e-mail to 150 friends.  Today, it is a place where millions of people can connect with food, drink, and each other.  Last Thursday, we launched a great new tool for humans to reconnect with the basic necessity of life, and it is only going to get better!  We look forward to the future this new platform is going to bring.  Come join us on the journey.

Posted by James Geneau at 11:51 AM  0 Comment(s)

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