Posts Tagged ‘Top Chef Canada’

Over on 4th, in the spot once occupied by one of my favorite Vancouver restaurants, Refuel (and my absolute favorite Vancouver restaurant, Fuel, before that), a new restaurant has opened its doors. Almost.  The official opening is apparently a couple of weeks off, but lunches and dinners are being served as part of Fable’s soft opening.  Given my disdain for waiting, I decided to go ahead and check it out last night, ever-mindful that the place was probablyy still in the process of working out a few kinks.  Sure enough, there were a few hiccups over the course of our meal but, overall, Fable shows great promise.

The restaurant is the brainchild of Trevor Bird, one of the three remaining chefs competing in this season’s Top Chef Canada finale.  Its farm to table concept (Farm + Table = Fable.  Get it?) is reflected in a menu highlighting local, seasonal ingredients.  Joining Trevor in kitchen is fellow Top Chef competitor Curtis Luk, the master of the macaron, an avowed Stargate fan who dropped by this blog last month to set the record straight (April 22, 2012: Beta 5! A Top Chef contestant checks in! Switching over from horror to mini-series mode!).

Come on in!  It’s (almost officially) open!

The room has been transformed but there are still recognizable elements that made me nostalgic for Refuel.  The wait and kitchen staff, however, are all new.

We walked in and were promptly greeted by Trevor who was overseeing the action (and, on this night, the kitchen would see a lot of it).  After perusing the menu, we elected to leave our respective foodie fates in the hands of the head chef by going with the seven course Chef’s Tasting Menu.  Trevor swung by the table to discuss any food issues we might have  (allergies, vegetarianism, and other similar illnesses).  We informed him he had carte blanche – with one request. We had to try Curtis’s famed macarons for dessert.

Our server was pleasant and informative, checking in on us throughout the meal without being intrusive.  That said, there were a couple of – well, I hesitate to call them snafus.  They were more odd choices. For instance, we ordered bottle water for the table and received two – one for each of us.

Hope you’re thirsty!

Ultimately, not a big deal because Akemi and I like to stay hydrated through our dinners, but certainly unexpected.

On to the meal:

Local and sustainable Sawmill Bay oysters with citrus and vodka mignonette.  Akemi is a huge fan of oysters and loved this little bite.  They’re tiny so, next time, we might consider starting with a dozen. 

Chickpea fritters with curry mayo, pickled red onions and pea shoots.  The combination of the ingredients really made this dish.  The pickled red onions were a genius element.

Canned Tuna.  No, really.  The tuna is poached, then served up – canned – with a pinch of maldon salt and toast.  Sprinkle the salt on top of the tuna, mix, and – bon appetit.  Actually, it was better then bon.  It was one of the best dishes of the night.  As someone who has always considered cooked tuna inferior to raw, I was pleasantly surprised.  Very tasty with a texture akin to a fine pate.

Akemi goes wild over the canned tuna.

Crispy chorizo-topped halibut on clam chowder.  This one had a nice smoky kick compliments of the chorizo, and the halibut (my least favorite fish) was moist and perfectly prepared.  

Pemberton Farms flat iron steak with brocollini, potato fondant, and black pepper jam.  I’m not a big fan of the flat iron cut, preferring the marbling of a good ribeye, but this admittedly tender meat was greatly elevated by the sweet and spicy black pepper jam that accompanied it.  Wow.  That jam was another highlight of the night.  The potato fondant was overseasoned, a little too salty, but that didn’t stop Akemi from finishing mine.   

I asked the waiter about dessert and he told me we would be having the bread pudding along with the macarons (as per our request).  After confirming that we would be served two dishes (a bread pudding and a macaron plate), I went ahead and ordered two extra desserts I’d been eyeing: the lemon pot de creme and the flourless chocolate cake. Moments later, our next course arrived: TWO servings of bread puddings.  Fortunately, I’m a professional when it comes to eating desserts…

The bread pudding with vanilla and rhubarb ice cream.  The bread pudding was unlike any bread pudding I’ve tried before, both in presentation and taste.  It was actually very good!  The rhubarb component offered a tart contrast to the sweetness of the pudding – if you like that sort of thing.  

The lemon pot de creme was excellent.  I was kind of hoping Akemi would have been full by this point, but she had no trouble polishing it off.  Betsu bara as they say in Japan.

The flourless chocolate cake with rhubarb cream.  The only misstep of the night.  I was looking forward to the rich denseness of a true flourless cake but was disappointed by the   alternating layers of white chocolate ganache that reminded me of a buttercream birthday cake. 

And the macarons: lime on the left and dulce de leche on the right.  The former was a little chewy and could have used some tarting up with more of a lime kick but the latter was perfect in flavor and texture.

Akemi and her macaron-burger.

As I said, Fable is still a week or two away from its official opening so I’m sure that it’s still in the process of testing, refining, and perfecting. If I was in charge of fine-tuning, I’d double-check the seasoning, swap out the flat iron cut for a sexier cut, lose that white chocolate ganache and, in the unfortunate event one of my servers broke a glass, I’d make sure he apologized to the neighboring table (not us on this night).

Overall though, this restaurant holds a lot of promise.  I look forward to checking out its lunch offerings sometime next week.  After Trevor, no doubt, wins the Top Chef title.

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Akemi and I paid a follow-up visit to Beta 5, a bold new addition to the Vancouver chocolate scene.  Located in the out-of-the-way industrial area off Main Street (appropriately enough, on Industrial Avenue), the shop/factory offers up a variety of intriguing products, from bars to caramels, marmalade to caramelized Marcona almonds.

No seating, just a counter selection and a view of the chocolate-making process.

I picked up a chocolate selection for Akemi’s birthday and she was wowed by the expert thin shells.  For my part, I was bowled over by their bars.  The 63% dark + choconut granola and the 67% Dominican dark with cocoa nibs was particular stand-outs.

A little out of the way, but well worth the trip: BETA 5 (413 Industrial Avenue).

The marmalades make use of citrus from Rising C Ranches in Reedley, California. I was tempted by the seville orange and the meyer lemon. Maybe next time.

Almost finished the rewrite of the horror script.  I’ll give it one more read-through tomorrow, then send it on its way – after which I have to switch gears and start thinking about this mini-series.  We’re looking at 2 x 2 hours with a very tight delivery schedule.  Paul’s worried but I figure that if we can get together and bang out an outline by early next week, we’ll be in pretty good shape.  I mean, if i was able to write three SG-1 scripts in two weeks, I should be able to write the equivalent of four in eight.  Well, maybe more like six.

Back on April 10th, I wrote a blog post about macarons and complained about people who referred to “macarons” as “macaroons”.  I mentioned a recent episode of Top Chef Canada in which a competing chef won by making a macaron, which he referred to as a macaroon. Well, the other day, Curtis Luk, the competing chef in question (and a self-proclaimed food nerd according to his show bio), left a note in the comments section of that post in which he explained the circumstances of the macaron/macaroon perceived flub (check it out here: April 10, 2012: Getting my macaron fix! Full Preview Dark Matter #4!).  And, for the record, he’s a fan of Stargate but not such a big fan of macaroons. According to Curtis: “Also for the record I hate macaroons and given the choice I wouldn’t make them, unless someone pointed a staff weapon at me.”

If you haven’t watched the 1990 version of Captain America yet, please do so before tomorrow when our Superhmovie of the Week Club reconvenes and guest film critic Cookie Monster weighs in with his review.  From what I hear, it’s a doozy.

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Everyone has their weaknesses.  For some it’s drugs.  For others it’s drink.  For still others, it can be something as seemingly innocuous as surfing the internet, head massages, or shirtless albino guys.  For me, it’s ice cream and macarons.  I’ve never been much of a drinker and, to be honest, golf and drugs hold equal non-appeal as both expensive and uninteresting, but there’s nothing like the rush of partially melted vanilla Haagen Dazs ice cream with a spoonful of Nutella or the exquisite delight of a Pierre Herme pistachio macaron.

I’ve been a lifelong ice cream addict but it wasn’t until five years ago that I made the leap from casual user to manufacturer.  At first, it started with those quickie frozen dessert recipes I’d found online.  I soon graduated to actual ice cream makers with special freezer storage components,  motorized units and built-in timers that would allow me to produce 2 liter batches at a time.  I went beyond the gateway flavors and began experimenting with unique particulates and liquors: caramel popcorn vanilla-galliano, maple butterscotch schnapps bacon, bananas foster.  I tried to get my friends hooked, mass-producing three, often four flavors a week and bringing them into the office for lunch on Fridays.  I was out of control.

My wake-up call finally came on the evening my ex hosted a dinner party in which I served 13 different flavors of home made ice cream. Of course, I had to sample them all.  As if that wasn’t enough, one flavor so impressed, it proved to be my undoing because one bowl of the Michel Cluizel premium milk chocolate with crumbled Flake chocolate topped with Advokaat (eggnog) liqueur just wasn’t enough.  Neither was two.  I hit the wall at three – but only because I’d already sampled those thirteen other flavors.  By the time the party wrapped, I was physically ill.  I’d hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, with the support of friends and family, I’ve been able to overcome my addiction.  I still make ice cream, but rarely more than two flavors at a time, and now limit myself to a mere five bowls a week.

As for macarons, my passion for the little meringue and buttercream/ganache confections began during a business trip to Paris. It’s there I sampled one for the first time – the  Pierre Herme pistachio that still ranks as my favorite.  Since then, I’ve become a little obsessed, tracking them down in every city I visit, sampling flavors ranging from straight vanilla bean (revelatory in its simplicity) to foie grass and white truffle, and now – progressing to the obvious next step – making them myself, again graduating from recreational user to manufacturer.

First things first though.

THIS is a macaroon:

And THIS is a macaron:

They’re two very different things and yet people confuse them all the time.  They sound very similar, so I suppose it’s forgivable for someone who doesn’t know any better to refer to a macaron as a macaroon, but what drives me nuts is when professionals (a.k.a. people who SHOULD know better), can’t distinguish between the two.  In a recent episode of Top Chef Canada, one of the competing chefs won a challenge by making what he called a “macaroon” that was actually a “macaron”. When it came time for the judges to weigh in on his creation, not one of them corrected him.  In fact, head judge Mark McEwan even called it a macaroon!   On another Food Network show, Cupcake Wars, one of the judges (a pastry chef and Frenchman no less!) is introduced as the owner of Mad Mac Macaroons.  A 2010 Wall Street Journal article on the macaron’s rise in popularity concludes with a quote from yours truly. Asked if I saw a silver lining to its popularization, I answered: “”Maybe people will stop calling them ‘macaroons.’ ” [Macarons New Popularity Worries Fans – WSJ.com].

And then again, maybe not.

I was surfing the net a couple of weeks ago in search of untested macarons offerings in Vancouver, when I happened to come across the website J’adore les Macarons – French Macarons & Macaron Baking Classes …, a home/online business that not only sells macarons, but offers classes in macaron-making as well!  I signed us up and, yesterday, Akemi and I attended the class.

We were told to bring a big container to hold the 20 (in our case, 40) macarons we’d be making over the course of the four hour lesson. “And an apron,”Akemi suggested before we left the house.  I assured her that aprons weren’t required, but she brought one anyway – along with her fluffy dalmation slippers.

We arrived for our lesson five minutes early, met the two women who would be taking the class with us, one a parole officer (Great connection.  You never know.), the other the owner of her own custom cake pops and cupcakes business (Beautiful creations: http://www.carmensediblecreations.com/).  We were instructed to wash our hands and choose an apron.  “See?!”I was reproached.

Akemi - BYOA.

Okay, granted, aprons aren’t exactly manly, but I figured I might be able to salvage some of my pride with something remotely masculine like, say, one with a “Real Men Don’t Use Recipes” message emblazoned on the front or a “Hook ’em and Cook ’em” alternative or even a simple “Licensed to Grill.”  No such luck.  “Take the black one!”advised our instructor, Connie.  I grabbed the black one, put it on, and started toward the kitchen island when she stopped me with a: “Oh God!  Not THAT one!”.  I looked down.  It was plain black – with darling little white ribbons on the front.  I returned to the rack and perused the selection, passing on the pink cherry motif and “Will Cook for Bling” in favor a relatively inoffensive green and yellow lemon apron.


 Some of the highlights of our instructive afternoon:

Waiting for each of us were samples of the chocolate options for our ganache (Valrhona) and two of Connie's macarons: a lavander-cassis (L) and a chocolate (R). They'd just come out of the freezer so we had to wait an interminable 45 minutes before we could try them. Akemi could only hold off for 44 and change.

It was decided to go with blue shells. Not that it really matters since the shell are never flavored. They're sugar, egg whites, and almond powder. And food coloring, if you so choose. A lot of macaron shops get fancy and mix shells - something I've never been a fan of, unlike Akemi.

We took turns using the piping bag. Akemi went first and everyone was very critical of her not quite perfect form. And then we all ended up eating our words when it came time for us to step up to the plate/pan.

I try my hand at pastry making. Think I'll stick to braising short ribs.

Akemi's words of encouragement: "It looks like a poopy."

Into the oven they go!

And out of the oven they come!

We use the (damn) piping bag again to top the inside of one shell with ganache/buttercream filling, then cap it with a twisting motion.

Et voila. Magnifique!

We topped the shells with crushed pistcahios, cocoa powder, and edible silver sparkles applied with a silver toothbrush ("It's what Britney Spears brushes her teeth with,"I told them).

Our fearless leader: Connie.

A great time was had by all.  We packed up our macarons and headed out, looking forward to sampling the fruits of our labor.  But only after the macarons had rested for 24-48 hours.

Or on the car ride home.

If you’re interested in taking the course, go here: http://www.jadorelesmacarons.com/index.html

And if you’re looking to sit down to some tea and Vancouver’s best macarons, might I suggest:

Welcome | Bel Cafe Bel Cafe

Soirette Macarons and Tea

Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates and Patisserie, fine handmade …

With the fourth issue of SF comic book series, Dark Matter, poised to hit the shelves tomorrow, I give you the full preview of the opening arc’s final installment.  Say the gang at http://www.mtv.com/geek/: “DARK MATTER #4 wraps up an intriguing new scifi universe series with a rather big twist, that demands we get a Dark Matter #5 ASAP.”

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