China Latina

China Latina is not just the name of chef Julieta Ballesteros’s new NYC restaurant at the Hotel Indigo. It’s a  descriptor that also nails her fusion cuisine. Say hello to her wonton tacos. Photo: Ramsay de Give for WSJ.


A lovely mention by Renée Lavallée in her Chronicle-Herald column this week reminded me of how we met. She showed up at the back door of Cafe Henry Burger looking for work, tiny and seemingly timid. She was recently out of cooking school and had some interesting experience in Italy, which made it easy to recommend her. We were able to place her a few short weeks later, and once on her station, her talent instantly emerged. Strong, smart,  and fiercely protective of integrity in her work, she went to town, and the restaurant was better for it. That was 1997.

In Halifax last fall to cover the World Culinary Tourism Summit, I got the chance to sit at her table and taste what she was doing with what her beloved purveyors were giving her. Dinner was understated and brilliant at the same time. It made me think of my favourite quip from Alice Waters

“Humble yourself before your ingredients.”

Only a skilled hand knows how to let the ingredients tell us what to do. Only an insightful cook knows that embellishment is futile.. It can never make up for mastery.

Seven of us were gathered around the table that night: Jodi Lastman and Barry Martin of Hypenotic, Noelle Munaretto and Rebecca LeHeup of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, and lucky husband Doug Townsend of Taste of Nova Scotia . Zoe and Phillipe, their two little ones under two, were asleep upstairs.

We started with Metwurst, Whestphalia ham from Roselane Farms, and Dragon’s Breath blue cheese from “That Dutchman” in Economy, NS.

Then came bay scallops in white wine and herbs, cultivated by Nick Budreski and Père in Pictou. A stone’s throw from the bay in question, having lived land-locked all my life, I was pretty excited. These babies were glorious.

The rest of the meal deftly kept pace.

Harpoon-caught swordfish with sumac and coriander. Celery root and beet salad. Arugula with lemon juice, olive oil & shaved Old Growler gouda from “That Dutchman.” For dessert, salt-roasted Annapolis Valley pears with caramel sauce.

It’s been easy to admire Renée all these years. Share her gifts and adventures at FeistyChef.ca. You’ll come to admire her, too.




In my mind, I’m cutting into one of them to see the cross-section, thinking of tongue, which frankly, I don’t really like to do. But from a snout-to-tail point of view, I like that they won’t end up as waste.

At first, I thought they were clever beignets, which provoked a smile, but only briefly, because even though a sweet bit of fried dough is always an  expression of genius, I’d have to pass. For all you adventure-seekers, let me know.

This is the work of April Bloomfield of Breslin, a new NYC resto.

Via More Intellligent Life.

Here’s more on roasted snout.

A young German chef lost two hands in a liquid nitrogen accident.

Kids, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

“Tiradito is said to be the most cherished imprint the Japanese left on Peruvian cuisine. It’s often compared to sashimi for that reason, but it’s actually more like carpaccio.”

The soul of authentic Peruvian cuisine can be found in a humble place called Soñia’s, a popular Lima eatery that specializes in ceviche — fresh, raw fish dressed with lime juice and little else. The fish still carries the flavour of the ocean, and as a foil for the lime’s brightness, ceviche is traditionally served with sweet potato and corn.

In this neighbourhood, where there are cevicherí­as at every turn, Soñia’s, has endured because, for the last 30 years, she has been cooking the fish that her husband pulls from the Pacific that morning. You don’t dine at Soñia’s. You eat what is likely to be the best ceviche you’ve ever had and you’ll try other fish, too, like the fried calamari.

Gourmet advisory: not all Peruvian eating is like this — a little out of the way, very casual and relatively unchanged over three decades. [more]

Overkill on the Canadiana, but appropriate enough considering the event.

What fine history is made today


Pacific coast tuna w/chili & citrus vinaigrette


Maple-miso cured Nunavut Arctic char,

pickled vegetables, organic beet relish


Applewood-smoked plains bison, winter root vegetables, local mushrooms,

cauliflower rosemary purée & juniper Niagara red wine jus


Saugeen yogurt pot de crème w/lemon lavender syrup

wild blueberry & partridgeberry compote

Acadian buckwheat honey and sumac tuille


I’ll have a bite of that bison, pls.

“I wanted witnesses. I wanted to mark the moment so that we would remember it.”

— Jeff Crump

The book had modest beginnings. “We had in mind a little spiral-bound book,” says Jeff Crump, Executive Chef of Ancaster Old Mill. He wanted to document how his kitchen and a local farm had found an exciting way to work closely together. Then Random House got interested, then a New York agent, then Earth to Table: A restaurant and farm relationship began entertaining inquires about Chinese publishing rights.

“A lot of farmers are gun-shy about working with chefs,” says Crump. “Chefs are picky, and kitchens aren’t naturally geared toward buying from small farms. But Crump found his match in Chris Krucker of nearby ManoRun Organic Farm.

“Chris got it,” says Crump….more

“I don’t dig very fussy, highly manipulated plates.”

— Anne Yarymowich

Ask Anne Yarymowich for the most memorable meals she’s ever eaten, and the Executive Chef of the Art Gallery of Ontario will take you first to the Mediterranean and then to an unglamorous quarter in a world culinary capital.

At a Turkish outdoor, seaside café, she orders a striped bass plate that comes cured, like graavlax, to which she matches a glass of rosé. “The flavours,” reminisces Yarymowich, “the ambience, stopping there by chance — it blew my mind.”

In Paris she comes across a working-class cantina called Le Roi de Pot au Feu, the “king” of the humblest of everyday French meals. “They plop a bottle of wine on the table, a gamay, whether you want it or not,” says Yarymowich, and then came the specialty of the house. If you want something else, surmises Yarymowich, the message is clear, “Piss off! … Brilliant!” she laughs….more

Riffling through some research for a profile I’m writing about Anne Yarymowich, Executive Chef of the Art Gallery of Ontario, I came across a couple of those “Why-aren’t-there-more-women-chefs?” articles, and I have to ask: why are we still measuring women against men in terms of a body count?

The complaint is a half-empty glass, and in a gulp, all women cooking professionally are “not enough,” particularly the new 26-year-old chef being reviewed in said piece and whom the writer admired.

No one should enter a field to represent her gender. Our only purpose is to feed the fire in our bellies, whatever the work. The fire knows more than we do, and it’s not gender-specific.

Out of the Frying Pan is a memoir by Gillian Clark, who left a career in communications to become a chef. [Been there. Can quickly relate.]Despite some tender moments from her childhood — particularly her description of how her father inspired her love of cooking — Clark doesn’t sugar-coat a thing:

…the long hours and what that meant to her kids, whom she was raising alone

…the tenuous hold her restaurant owners often had on their businesses

…the struggle to build and train a great team, only to lose great key people, again and again

…those difficult cooks and kitchen helpers who turn out to be fiercely loyal, enduring and true, but still prickly…

I particularly enjoyed Clark’s most telling display of visionary womanhood: to open her own restaurant despite her kids’ challenges. She said her kids deserve a mother who has the courage to follow her dreams. This would show them how to follow theirs.

When I think of women and Harleys, I think of Lynn Crawford, the Four Season’s New York Executive Chef, who took on Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.

A few years ago, she told a reporter that her dream job would be to test-drive Harley Davidsons. Lynn’s a serious rider, and there are a couple of photos kicking around of her straddling her beloved ride.
Given her penchant for silver jewelry, I wondered what she’ d think about the new ring Harley’s putting out as part of a new venture into marketing specifically to women? Consumer Experience Expert Susan Abbott has taken a look at the new marketing terrain of women who ride, and from the book Riding Stories, she cites this quote:

“After a long day’s ride, dirty from the road, sunburned and windblown, I have to say that I’ve never felt more beautiful!”

You’ll very likely get the same response, but with different scenery, from a happy cook at the end of a long, demanding, satisfying shift of putting out 100 inspired plates, with a 12-burner stove blazing behind her.

Well, it finally happened.
James Chatto

It has indeed.

Susur Lee is going to New York City to open a new restaurant for a tony boutique hotel chain. He’s closing “Susur,” the higher-end of his two eponymous restaurants. and leaving open the more casual “Lee,” for his up-market hipster crowd.

Big surprise.

There are only a handful of Toronto chefs who would make that move, but also make it successful from a business point of view. And none is more likely to succeed than Lee.

His stature extends far outside national, never mind metropolitan, borders. Although he’s greatly admired at home, his American recognition carries considerably more heft from a sheer number’s point of view. There are easily 10 times the industry watchers passing judgment in the U.S., and 10 times more chefs at Lee’s level of skill, most of whom likely covet Lee’s opportunity.

Also, gotta say it: he’s handsome, stylish and exotic. New Yorkers are going to love that, too. But he’s going to deliver. He’s a gifted powerhouse, and we love that he’s ours, if he doesn’t mind me saying so.

One by one, thanks to the media for eliciting comment, Lee’s peers have begun to chime in.

There was a vague sense of sour grapes when Mark McEwan stated the obvious. “It’s a tough town,” he said, but then briskly wished him well. McEwan is still fresh into his gorgeous One experience at the new luxury Hazelton Hotel. With New York City a chef’s mecca, I wouldn’t be surprised if McEwan wishes he, too, could make a run at it, but his hands are full of success here at home.

Claudio Aprile spoke of Lee as an artist, which reveals Aprile’s values about his own work. Art, science, craft, skill, gift. I stay away from this debate. My interest is in the business side of things. Can the chef-owner keep them coming back, covering costs, paying all the bills, growing the business and keep head, heart and life together?

The business side of being a chef is the final frontier for any cook who has ever dreamt of opening his or her own place. The sad and sometimes swift demise of so many sweet spots proves how elusive it is to be a successful restaurateur.

I don’t doubt for a minute that there’s a sweet slice of the Manhattan pie for Lee. He’s clearly up for the challenge, and no one deserves it more.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
— DaVinci

I met Jeff in 1999, when we were both sous chefs at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He worked in the restaurant, and I was on special events, so we never worked side by side, but I kept my eye on him, because his ideas were always very interesting to me.

He favoured simple executions with high-quality ingredients, constant reminders of the influence of Alice Waters, of one of his culinary heroes, and mine as well.

Waters was famous for telling her cooks, “Humble yourself in front of your ingredients,” which made a lot of sense to me. It was about how the cook would honour the ingredient’s best qualities and bring that to the plate.

Often, just before lunch service, I’d wander over to Jeff’s station to see what he’d done for the day’s special. My favourite was a treatment for the fish of the day, a sauce of olive oil, lemon, parsley, currents, capers and pine nuts.

As he showed it to me, he ran his spoon through the sauce to show its characteristics. Everything was fresh, balanced and simple. I knew immediately how it would taste and saw that each ingredient’s flavour had been given its due, and that all together, they would deliver something they couldn’t on their own.

It’s rare to be captivated by a dish in this way and for so long, but then, simplicity and elegance are irresistible.


Jeff’s talk at the September Women in Food Industry Management meeting caused a bit of a stir. A slide of his winter salad of root vegetables begged the question: where was the lettuce and tomato?. There wasn’t a speck of each “because they aren’t the best of what earth is producing for us in winter,”  he told the crowd.

WWe have to reconsider our notion of salad,” said the chef of The Ancaster Old Mill Restaurant. In fact, Jeff would also like us to reconsider our notion of food in general. As the person who brought Slow Food to Ontario, Jeff is an advocate and ambassador for the international movement, which is named for the antithesis of fast food.

“My idea of fast food,” says Jeff, “is prosciutto and the other charcuterie we make at the inn, which illustrates the Slow Food principle rather well. Charcuterie is traditionally made during the winter months, so that it can cure in a cold cellar and continue to develop in flavour until it’s ready to eat in the fall. It’s fast, because you simply slice and serve, ideally with good bread and some wine.

The Slow Food Movement was born in Italy in 1989. It calls itself ‘a non-profit, eco-gastronomic organization to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

Showing us the gorgeous slides that will illustrate his upcoming book, Jeff also took us on a tour of how he and his kitchen brigade forge relationships with local farms or compete for culinary recognition in Europe.

Watch for From Earth to Table, to be published by Random House March 2009

Drop by to see Jeff at The Ancaster Old Mill.
Check in with Toronto’s Slow Food Movement
Subscribe to Jeff’s gorgeous blog Earth to Table.

As promised, here’s the Foodservice & Hospitality profile of Cindy and Dominuqe Duby and their creative approach to ambrosia …


Cooking class highlights with Bonnie Stern, as promised:

Challah making and shaping
We’re using Jenny Stolz’s recipe, Bonnie’s grandmother, who had 11 children. She was famous for repeatedly winning top honours for her challah at the county fair. The prize? Enough flour to feed the family another year.

Should I make a three-, four-, five- or six-strand braid for challah? Bonnie gave us drawings and clear instructions, but it was Bonnie’s hands themselves that sorted out each of our challahs.

Shakshuka [eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce]
Her descriptive phrase above describes this dish perfectly. Shakshuka is one of Israel’s most popular dishes. Although it’s simple, Bonnie’s rendition shows a fine sensibility and requires restraint and a light touch. The sauce is a gentle cook-up of mashed tomatoes, not a homogeneous puree. The heat comes from harissa and the ancient flavour accent from cumin. Bonnie says she’s eaten versions of the dish from Jerusalem to Australia. Some break the eggs [Shakshuka means “all mixed up], but the dish is much more elegant following Bonnie’s technique, leaving the eggs undisturbed.

Soufflé rolls with smoked salmon
The foundation of this dish is classic soufflé: béchamel, separated eggs, beaten whites folded in to aerate. The mixture is cooked on a shallow tray and becomes a sheet of soufflé Once cooled, spread with mascarpone/sour scream/yogurt in the combination you prefer [we had mascarpone] and lay down some smoked salmon. The roll is then sliced to showcase the spiral filling.

Bonnie’s suggestions for substitute fillings: cold shrimp, crab salad, a hot seafood mix or even creamed broccoli.

French toast casserole
Bonnie calls this a cross between French toast and bread pudding. Nuff said. Except maybe a teasing mention of brown sugar and maple syrup.

On patriot maple syrup
A third of the students were expat Canadians, which made it interesting to hear one of them pipe up about how silly we are in our nationalistic zeal to make it sound like Canadian maple syrup is the best.

“Vermont produces great maple syrup,” he rightly points out. In terms of terroir, there can’t be that much difference between Vermont and Quebec maples.

But why self-deprecate? It was an odd little moment away from home. It’s impossible not to compare your destination to it, but really, we don’t need to pit an apple with an orange. Vive notre difference.

The best part of watching Bonnie Stern teach a class at James Beard House in New York City is not having my own ball of challah dough to play with, although that was fun. The best part is watching Bonnie spar affectionately with co-instructor Mitchell Davis.

To celebrate the new book each of them published this year, they put together this cooking-class weekend: a workshop on Saturday and a multi-course brunch the next day.

Mitchell grew up in Toronto and moved to New York in the mid-1980s. He has been the Beard Foundation’s communications executive for 14 years. They met when Bonnie started keeping the Foundation abreast of Toronto’s restaurant news. [It turned out their parents spend summer vacations at the same resort.]

Simply on his own, Mitchell is impressive. He’s an adjunct professor and PhD candidate in New York University’s food studies program, which would explain his encyclopedic knowledge smattered throughout the workshop. He’s published four books and contributes to GQ and Food & Wine. Worth mentioning: he makes his own butter and his own vanilla extract.

Ten years of friendship have Bonnie and Mitchell finishing one anotherss sentences, good-naturedly disagreeing on cooking times and piping up with, ” didn’t know that” when the other has offered up a choice bit of information, and all of it ego-free.

Mitchell was the day’s value-added, but it was Bonnie I came to see, and she didn’t disappoint. Her understanding of food is visceral. It’s a pleasure to watch her hands, and she’s comfortable under close scrutiny.

The set-up is intimate, with instructors surrounded by a U-shaped butcher-block counter that puts their students less that a meter away. She’s warm and has her students bursting into laughter more that a couple of times.

Favourite lesson of the day:
The challah dough should feel like the inside of a woman’s thigh.

“Or the underside of a man’s forearm,” Mitchell pipes up.

Tomorrow: reports from the class


How many ways has Bonnie Stern distinguished herself?

I can confidently say …

:: no other Canadian cooking teacher has written as many books,

:: invited as many acclaimed chefs and cooking instructors to teach at her school

:: or hosted as many respected authors to discuss their work with a dozen of their fans at a time — while serving them a meal inspired by the book.

I’d like to know which American would match her accomplishments. [An unofficial mission beginning today]


Food Processor Cuisine, 1978
At My Table, 1980
Cuisinart Cookbook, 1985
The Bonnie Stern Cookbook, 1987

Appetizers, 1990
Simply HeartSmart Cooking, 1994
In the Kitchen with Bonnie Stern, 1995
Cooking with Bonnie Stern, 1996
More HeartSmart Cooking with Bonnie Stern, 1997
Simply HeartSmart, 1997
Desserts, 1998
HeartSmart Cooking, 2000
HeartSmart Cooking for Friends and Family, 2000
Simply Heart Smart Cooking, 2003
Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking, 2003
HeartSmart: The Best of Bonnie Stern, 2006

Chef/Cooking Teachers
[a partial list]

Marcella Hazan
Giuliano Bugialli
Carlo Middione
Thomas Haas
Rick Bayless
Rob Feenie
Nina Simonds
Madhur Jaffrey
Caprial Pence
Susur Lee
Mark McEwan
Mark Bittman
and more

[another partial list]

Vincent Lam
Stuart McLean
Margaret Atwood
James Chatto
Margaret MacMillan
Marnie Woodrow
Lori Lansens
Camilla Scott
Nino Ricci and more

Everything is relative.

Cooking school means one thing to the would-be professional chef, and another to the home cook. Bonnie Stern’s School of Cooking is one of the latter. She opened it in 1973, long before there were foodies, foodtv or molecular gastronomy. She was a pioneer for selling the city on the idea of cooking classes long before we got the choices we have today. She also gets kudos for lasting as long as she has. There’s a lot of to be said for constancy, and she’s a great example of that.

Because my training was for the professional kitchen, I knew little about Bonnie, until now. I was going to be in New York for a few days, so I looked into which celebrity chef would be cooking at James Beard House. The Greenwich Village home of the father of American gastronomy is a culinary destination. And there was Bonnie, doing a Saturday workshop and cooking a Sunday brunch during my stay there. I quickly signed up for both, and in the meantime made an appointment to interview her here before watching her in action away from home.

I met with Bonnie on Valentine’s Day, ostensibly to talk about her school from a business point of view, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Which is not to say she didn’t give me a warm welcome. She certainly did. She put on a friendly pot of coffee, laid out some cookies, set me down in her dining/classroom, with the kitchen at one end, where two women were doing some prep for an upcoming class.

But she didn’t want to talk about business, no matter how I approached it.

“For me, it,s all about food and cooking,” she says. “I’m passionate about it. I love it.”

Happy Valentine’s, Bonnie.

More on Bonnie to come.