Thursday, March 31, 2011

Self Service

I am worried about the future of the Okanagan hospitality industry. With our old farm house, I have been sneaking to Home Depot at every time of the day like it’s my mistress and I have started using the robot self checkout counter to make things faster when I only have two little things to buy.

With The Chef in Stead business I buy lots of food and I am at Save on Food every other day… they too have the robot self checkout counters to speed things up when you only have a few items. The idea of robots replacing jobs is not new at all, it’s been happening for 40 or 50 years. I have to say I never thought that the cute friendly cashiers at the grocery store would be replaced by a very uptight frigid computer voice which cannot for the love of God understand any of my jokes!

The other day, I went to our Canadian iconic store “Canadian Tire” and guess what they too now have - the same constipated computer voice self checkout counter. I totally understand why because businesses are having such a hard time finding good reliable staff since our younger generation of kids is not that keen to work in those stores. OK I get it, Canadian Tire and Home Depot is not a cool place, it’s a place for parents.

Now to the point that worries me! I had a dream last night that I was sitting at Moxies, (it could have been Earls, Milestone, Montana’s or any one of those type of restaurants.) Once the time came for me to pay my bill I was told to proceed to the cash area which you have guessed it, a frigid voice told me “Your bill is $49.25, please push the yellow button if you wish to leave a tip for robot #57 who served you your Caesar salad.” I did wake up in time to figure out that this is not here yet! But I got a feeling that this automation wave is only around the corner for Okanagan the hospitality industry. They are having huge issues finding staff, retaining staff or even having staff that care enough to show up for work everyday.

May God help us! Well as long as God doesn’t come down to give us a replacement robot with a constipated voice like everyone else!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Break

He says:

Last week I gave a cooking class to a bunch of 10 kids, aged 7 to 11 years old. I introduced them to some exotic fruits and vegetables, and had them taste these foods raw and cooked. Then for kids in the class that could see on top of the stove, I also had them learn the basic skills to make the perfect omelet.

I had a blast and I would like to tell all the parents out there, you should do the same during spring break. Any day is great, actually, but during the break usually there is a bit more time to spend together. Older children can also show younger siblings. Your children need to be introduced to different foods if you want them to be able to fend for themselves once they leave the family nest. Start as early as possible and force them to experience the kitchen. Yes, I use the word force because some kids need to be pushed until they do. Force them to touch food, cook food, and of course they have to taste everything too. It is also a great idea to have them read labels of what they eat to realize what’s in it. So many kids have health problems, weight problems, attention problems and energy problems. You are what you eat, so teach them to eat better and when they leave your house they will have the skills necessary to give themselves the proper nutrition they need to become our next world leaders.

If anything, do it for the same reason as I did - I just want to be able to have a great meal when I go visit her when she is living on her own.  I started teaching my daughter at 7 years old so she had lots of time to practice! Yes, it’s a selfish reason, but she eats well and knows how to cook basic meals at age 17.

She Says:

I hope I can help illustrate the Chef’s point, as I can tell you that many of my memories of Spring Break as a child did involve cooking. We didn’t go away when I was little, so entertaining ourselves in the kitchen was one of the ways we could entertain ourselves. Even when I got older and we did go on a ski holiday, I remember being in a condo that had a kitchen and making fun meals like gourmet pizzas and chili. It is memories like these that turned me into the Foodie I am today!

We need to be reminded on a regular basis that we are connected to the rest of the world, and what we do (or don’t do) makes a difference. One of the most basic ways we can do that is with our food. It is a product of our planet, and our culture. It is the history and the future all wrapped up in nice little packages. Doesn’t that sound a bit like our children? Such precious cargo, we need to remember to take good care of every single bit of it. Children need to know that every moment in their lives have the potential to make a difference so they can take all those moments in and value each one. So should it be with the food they eat.

I don’t mean to sound preachy, but since everything is connected, doesn’t it make sense that we should have good habits about how we fuel ourselves? And since we are a species that can enjoy an experience, should we not make the most of those experiences? We have to eat, so why not enjoy the process? If children learn to think about enjoying and respecting their food, then it naturally becomes a part of their lives, enriching them not just with nutrients but also with memories.

Please try to spend some extra time with your food this week or maybe try a new food this weekend that you see at the grocery store. If you don’t have kids to challenge you, see if you can think like a kid and make your food fun!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fire it up!

She says:

In our household, spring means different things to each of us. I get out the garden catalogs and plant the seedlings. This year I have a greenhouse to get me and the plants off to a roaring start. For Martin though, the roaring start is in the BBQ. As soon as the robins start to chirp, he starts to hum and think of what to cook outside.

As someone who is more the moral support for the BBQ-er in the household, I will not profess to have any expertise except perhaps in the potato salad or the table set-up. I just stand back and watch, and enjoy the results. I really do love preparing the accompaniments too, so we make a good team. But if you want to know a secret, the part I find really sexy about having my husband barbecue is how he smells like a Ranger Scout afterwards. It’s like the best part of summer camp. Hooray for BBQ season!

He says:

The barbecue season is finally here, we had our first grilled meat of the season. My daughter Chloae came visit with her boyfriend last weekend for spring break. We ended up grilling a boneless leg of lamb with some of my Moroccan spices. It was a great meal and fun to hang out with my little girl who gets older and smarter every time I see her...  where does time go?

I know many of you BBQ year-round with your fancy super gas devices while I still make a fire and burn wood to cook my steak. I respect your choice but I cook in a different league than you. The league is not a professional league, but more a group of people who believe and appreciate that good things take time. It takes me a good 15 minutes before I can start grilling, but hey! While I wait for the red-hot coals to form I can enjoy a cold one. 

In honour of the season starting, I thought I would share my passion and pass on some easy-to-use steps to help you improve your game this coming summer.

Testing your meat for “doneness” with your thermometer

Once you suspect that your meat may be done, take your instant read thermometer (approximately $8 each), poke it into the center of the meat and allow it to take a reading. Based on the internal temperature of the meat, you can tell when the steak is done to your liking. Please note, over-poking with your thermometer is prohibited as you will lose all the juices.

How to know when your meat is done

 Beef - Veal - Lamb - Bison - Elk 
Very Rare - 120° - blood red in the center and barely warm (a good vet might still save the cow J)
Rare - 125° - red in the center and warm throughout
Medium-Rare - 130° - 135° - pinkish red in the center and fairly hot
Medium - 140° - 145° - pink in the center, grayish brown surrounding, hot throughout
Medium-Well - 150° - 155° - grayish brown center, only a trace of pink
Well-Done - 160° - gray in the center

Poultry whole - 180°F - cook until juices run clear

Medium - 140° - 145° - pink in the center, grayish brown surrounding, hot throughout
Well-Done - 160° - gray in the center

Ground meat & Sausage - 160° to 165°F – no pink at all

Fish - (steaks, filleted or whole) 140°F – Tuna - Swordfish - Marlin 125F

I am always ready for questions if you have any!!

Have fun.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Joys of Eating Alone?

Eating alone is something that does not happen too often for most of us. We are by nature a social species and eating is very much a part of our social culture. Even with the hectic pace of today, meals are often consumed with others around. For example, we still eat lunch at our desks in an open office, chatting over cubicle walls to our colleagues. However, there are people out there who are alone, and it seems for them food often becomes more of a necessity. I saw a movie recently where
Diane Lane
plays a recently divorced woman living a lonely life, and she tells the butcher she isn’t interested in hearing the specials because she eats alone, standing up at the sink. It is a sad truth that eating by yourself can often take some of the joy out of the process.

The good thing to remember about eating alone is that you can bend the rules much more than you could in a group situation! Sitting on the couch with a sandwich is OK if the only one watching you is your pet. Eating ice cream out of the tub can be a liberating experience as long as you don’t make it a daily occurrence! And let’s face it, who doesn’t enjoy the slurping sound you get when you suck the bottom of a milkshake out with your straw? Dining companions will frown at best, and may even cuff you on the back of the head if you try it in public.

I would like to take this opportunity to crusade for single diners everywhere, and ask that you offer them not sympathy but admiration. If you notice someone at the local shops buying for one, offer them a smile that says “Good for you!” If you see a lone diner in a restaurant, toast their good health and celebrate the fact that they are still making an effort to enjoy food and the rituals of dining. Let’s all do our part to minimize the number of people eating over the sink!

In closing, may I offer this sentiment from the French writer, Voltaire: “Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” Pleasures are best shared, but there is nothing that says you cannot share them with yourself. For those of us who do share our meals with people, let’s be grateful for their company. For the times we share the food only with our thoughts, let’s make sure they are still happy thoughts.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Go ahead, open a restaurant!

I am proud to be living in the beautiful Okanagan and this area is often talked about by the media and the  real estate world as a place of major economic growth. Yes, we have seen lots of fast growth and it is often seen by many as the land of opportunities where you can just open your doors and your restaurant will be full from day one.

So you want to open up a restaurant in the Okanagan? For the purpose of this example, I will assume that you have some experience in the industry but never own a restaurant. I would like to give you an idea of what you should expect before you cash out and come here to invest in a restaurant. First of all, a good realtor should be able find you a location pretty quickly, but you will most likely need improvements before you can start cooking. I have to say, the housing industry is fairly busy here! So if you dream of opening a restaurant in our area, plan way ahead or there may not be anybody to build or even renovate your walls before you open.

Ok, you have your dream location, now what concept are you going for. You may have the best idea in the world but in reality the Okanagan may not be ready for it. I have seen 4 restaurants closed their doors within the last year and two more are rumored to be for sale. All of these restaurants thought they had the best concept in the world just like you. There is never any shortage of ideas in the hospitality industry, and many actually managed to survive and stay open pass the crucial 3 year mark. All I can say is do your research and be flexible and don’t be shy to adjust your concept according to your market, wherever you’ll put up roof. Example, you may have always dreamed of having a very progressive concept and serve ostrich meat or even alligator meat. All of your passion and hard work can only take you so far if the people of the Okanagan do not want to eat any of it. So do your market research before.

There are many young families in the Okanagan, but there are way more semi-retirees and seniors people living in this beautiful corner of the world. When it comes down to food, as a general comment, young people are adventurous and older people not so much! If you plan to cater only to one generation, make sure that there are enough of those to pay rent in your business plan. I have seen a great concept open 2 years ago and it’s now for sale, not because they did not do good food, but more because they could not find a market big enough to pay the bills and they did not adjust their concept accordingly fast enough.

You are now ready to open and operate your restaurant selling food and wine, bravo! Now you need servers, cooks, chefs, bartenders and yes dishwashers too, the real challenges starts. In the Okanagan any of your low paying - low skills positions will be extremely hard to fill. Some restaurateurs in our area with years of experience can’t find enough staff and some even have to close their restaurant part of the week because they can’t find enough people to operate their business. If you think I exaggerate, during your market research ask around, you will find out that KFC pays $10.50 an hour and they can’t find enough people. Pubs can go throw 20 dishwashing people in a calendar year for the same position. The Okanagan labor problem is not just in the hospitality industry but in every business in our area who needs workers. The cost of living/housing is so high that young people can’t hardly afford to live here now. So it’s harder to attract people to come work for you. Why would a dishwasher keep working for you if he can go dig wholes in the construction industry for more money? Once you do find your dream team, make sure to hold on to them at all cost. I don’t mean to keep paying more and more and more salaries, but try to create an environment that people learn, thrive and enjoy. If employees are learning lots they are less likely to ditch you in a flash. If employees have opportunity to be promoted they are less likely to leave you high and dry. The number one thing to adjust to each employees is there work schedule. Really try to give them days off that will allow them to be with their family. A young worker wants to be able to go out and have a drink with friends, older work force wants to be able to go see the kids play soccer and way older semi-retired employees will want time off to travel for extended period, so adjust your schedule to meet the demand of your Okanagan work force.

Ok, by now you should be pretty freaked out or if you have one of those hyperactive type personality indigenous to our industry (like me) you may have managed to persuade yourself that you can still do it and be successful. Our growth will not stop anytime soon, and people are not eating more meals in their house but are looking at going out more and more to spend that retirement disposable income they have saved all their lives.  So welcome to the Okanagan, we sure can use more good places to eat!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What next?

She says:
The headlines this week included all kinds of things that I only thought I would see in movies: nuclear leaks, tsunami, uprising, food prices skyrocketing…yes, it’s all true, and some of it is even happening here. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be in Japan, and I so admire their sense of community, looking out for each other and managing to be gracious to media as their world seems to disappear around them. But I also didn’t think I would see in my lifetime the headlines that talked of rising food prices causing riots and uprisings, and affecting the part of the world where I live. It is true the world is getting smaller; we are all affected by its changes.
Perhaps this is all very Darwinian; it’s Nature’s way of re-establishing balance, having poor weather for crops and causing supplies to shrink against the rising demand of growing populations. Perhaps it is a grim reminder of the consequences of putting all our eggs in one basket… did you know that in the USA, 50% of the corn crop is used for ethanol production and 40% is used for animal feed? So that means it doesn’t directly get used to feed people. That’s a lot of farm land that doesn’t count in the tally. The amount of land it takes to create meat for food is much higher than what it takes for vegetables (you grow the vegetables and you have to put the animals somewhere too, so it’s a double whammy). As we share our habits and more countries that didn’t used to eat meat increase their consumption, we tip the scales on having land available for growing food. If all the food that is available is cheap, then people keep buying it, but how do farmers manage to make a living growing the food if they can’t get paid enough to get groceries for their families? There is a vicious circle that becomes more and more prevalent the more you pursue this line of thinking.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t believe we should all head for the woods and aim to create communes. I just think it’s important to remember there are consequences for our actions. As much as things change because of world events, they can also change when we take action as individuals. Every little bit really does make a difference. After all, if Wendy’s Restaurants can change to put tomatoes on burgers only on request, can’t we all grow one tomato plant on our balcony or in an office window?  If mass production of certain crops means they might get wiped out and skyrocket in price, doesn’t that mean we could look at alternative items to buy? Here in the Okanagan if lettuce or green peppers get expensive, we could easily add a pot on our deck and supply our house through the summer if we wanted. In the winter, we could switch to kale or frozen beans. As the young Pathfinders I work with are fond of uttering, “I’m just sayin…”
My father used to say, “Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution”. Prices will rise. The ozone hole will get bigger. More uprisings will occur. (It makes me think of that song from years ago, “Don’t Forget the Sunscreen”.) The important thing is, we can still do something positive. We can still enjoy the moment we are in. Find your way to take positive action. For those of you into social media - #shameless plug (it’s my cause) Join Slow Food Okanagan to support local producers and growers. Plant a garden. Treat food as the valuable commodity that it is.
He says:
“General food prices in America rose 3.9 percent last month, the highest since November 1974”. (quoted from an AP article in the Washington Post, March 16, 2011)
The world’s prices for coffee have shot way up, so expect your Grande Latte to shoot up too. Blame winter freezes damaging crops in Florida, Texas and other Southern states. Wheat, corn and soybeans have also shot up, raising the price for animal feed making the cost of eggs, ground beef and milk higher. If a family can’t use ground meat for a cheaper meal, what is left?
Gas prices are also at a crazy high, making driving food around even more expensive. Many companies are raising their minimum order charges or increasing their delivery fuel charge which will be passed on to the clients…. YOU… The whole idea of the planet being smaller today is great as long as everything is going well, but as soon as something goes wrong in Florida, Lybia or Japan everyone feels it instantly. I thought the recession was over.
We are very fortunate to be able to have access to products like oranges from Florida, pineapples from Hawaii, kiwis from Australia and New Zealand or even Chilean green peppers and grapes. But let’s not forget our local producers who will be affected by all these food price increases. If you farm vegetables in the Okanagan, it is just about impossible to compete with prices for your carrots and peas, but the one thing our local farmers can offer is quality. Their vegetables don’t travel too far, they are usually picked when ripe and sold in top condition.
“Last month, the World Bank came out with an estimate that higher prices for corn, wheat and oil have pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty since last June.”
With that said, I would also like to make you all feel a bit guilty for the next time you throw away or waist good food. Follow this very interesting link:
Let us remember that we are very lucky to be living in Canada because we have options… unlike other countries.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pork Tenderloin wrapped in Prosciutto with a Fall Chutney

Simple Recipe idea for dinner this weekend

Pork tenderloin
Olive oil
Chopped Garlic
Chopped Parsley
6 slices of Prosciutto

1 onion chopped
2 lbs. apples, plums and even firm peaches
1 cup white sugar
1 cup white vinegar or apple cider
fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Rub your pork tenderloin with the garlic and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap your pork with the prosciutto as tight as possible. Using plastic film, wrap your tenderloin very tightly and let it rest 8 to 12 hours minimum. Overnight is fine.

Start your chutney by cooking the onions until soft and transparent. Add all the other ingredients in the saucepan and let cook at medium heat until everything is cooked and starting to be thick. Adjust your seasoning if necessary with salt, pepper, sugar and/or vinegar.

Remove the plastic film and grill your tenderloins on at medium heat. Cook for 12 to 18 minutes or until done at 135F internal temperature, turning a few time to avoid burning the outer layer of Prosciutto. Calculate 2- 3 people per tenderloin.

Serve with warm or cold chutney.


Stuffed part
2 small loafs of sliced raisin bread
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened

French Toast mixture
4 eggs
1 c. coffee cream 18%
1/2 cup of milk 2% minimum
a touch of vanilla
A pinch of sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
1 orange zest

Apple Goop
6 to 8 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced in wedges.
1 cup brown sugar
A touch of water
Cinnamon to taste
A touch of cornstarch to thicken it up 

Optional Topping
Chopped roasted walnuts

Take your slices of bread and make cream cheese sandwiches with about 2 tablespoons of cheese in each or as much as you wish. Cut in triangle or in which ever shape you want and set aside. You could assemble these the night before if you wish.
Beat together eggs, cream, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Dip bread sandwiches in egg mixture. Cook on lightly greased griddle until golden brown just as you would for normal boring French toast. Do not over cook.  (To keep warm place on baking sheet in warm oven at 200F)
Meanwhile, heat together your ingredients for your apple goop, and thicken it up with your cornstarch. To serve, drizzle apple mixture over hot French toast.
Makes enough for 3 to 4 people

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chickens don’t have fingers!

I read an article recently in the New York Times that maligned the ubiquitous children’s menus you see in most restaurants today, with the same old chicken fingers, fries and pizza listed whether you are at Earl’s or a much more independent establishment. The part that struck a chord with me was that they condition children’s palates to those industrial flavours that have few identifying characteristics, except that they taste the same everywhere you go. They also encourage the idea that kids eat different foods than adults, which of course for those of us who are adults was not how we remember it.

Don’t get me wrong – fries or chicken fingers are not the root of all culinary evil. But couldn’t we at the very least encourage the kids to taste a new sauce with those fingers instead of honey mustard? We tell them that they should not be lazy and just watch TV or play video games; they need to keep up with activities and hobbies if they are to enjoy life to its fullest. Should we then not be lazy either and ensure they keep up with developing their palates? I know that today is not the world of yesteryear with simple homemade meals as the norm, but shouldn’t the availability of more kinds of food make it even more fun? If we can eat avocadoes or wild greens or lamb or basa fish, then why can’t our children? And, if we are getting lazy, then maybe the kids can help us snap out of our rut!

 Yes, we could make chicken fingers and fries from scratch, but we are trying to teach the kids to try new food, so it's not a good option. What do you say we let the chickens keep their fingers and we encourage the children to try some new things over the summer? Consider it not as homework, but rather as something exciting adventure that may lead to new adventures…

-          Pita Chips – cut up pita pockets into wedge shapes (they can even be a bit less fresh!) Put them in a bowl and drizzle them with olive oil. Sprinkle with your choice of herbs and/or spices (chili powder and sumac, thyme and oregano with sea salt, cumin and oregano…) Bake on a baking sheet for 3-5 minutes at 400F or until just golden brown. Serve with hommous or other dips. They can even substitute for fries!

-          Quesadillas – take tortillas and a whole selection of fillings (sauté veggies first for added flavour, use leftover meat if you like!) – heat a skillet pan and place one tortilla in the bottom, then sprinkle fillings over top and after 30 seconds add second tortilla to create a “sandwich”. Flip carefully to toast the other side and then slide out of pan. Serve cut in wedges with salsa, guacamole, sour cream… You can include cheese in the filling to help it stick together if you like but they can be made without cheese too. (You can also roll them once they are out of the pan, creating a burrito – this is easier to manage if there is no cheese).

-          Dagwood Sandwiches – check out what is in the fridge for leftovers – start with a main ingredient that has substance (meat, cheese, fish, even a tomato can inspire you!). Add what you think would be interesting combining flavours and stop when the pile of ingredients between the two slices of bread is as wide as you can spread your mouth! Some of my favourites are below:

o   Sandwich meat (anything leftover will do, or salami, corned beef, etc.) with thinly sliced onions, lettuce, Havarti cheese, mustard and mayo, and a pickle on the side
o   Canned tuna mixed with mayo or yogurt and lemon zest and thyme, on toasted bread with arugula and tomatoes
o   Pita pocket or tortilla stuffed with avocado, mushrooms, radish, alfalfa or other sprouts, maybe a bit of grated cheese or chopped egg, and a drizzle of your favourite salad vinaigrette

He says:
Remember, if you don’t buy crappy ingredients your kids won’t learn to eat them as much. If you fill your fridge and cupboards with fresh and chemical free foods/ingredients, your children will benefit and so will you. Take ketchup for example: some parents see this as poison for their kids, but really the only thing negative in it is the high sugar content. Many parents won’t give ketchup to their children, but canned soup and/or ravioli is fine even if it has MSG in it. The number one thing for parents is to read the label and teach your kids to read them too. Buy only chemical free products and your kids may stop getting so many colds. Teach your kids that in order to eat well, you need to use fresh ingredients so that when they move out of the house, they will be set for a healthy life.

About the restaurant menu, it is up to the parents to ask for change. The restaurateur will have to adjust if no one wants to eat fast fried food as a kid’s meal. Most decent restaurants would grill a chicken breast served with some kind of rice if you asked them, which makes a great menu choice for your children. For years now even MacDonald’s has had to adjust with salads and other types of healthier options.
Create a rule at home where kids have to taste something new every week, whether it is a fruit, a spice or a whole new dish. Your kids need to discover food just like math, English and geography. Quiz your children at dinner time about the meal you just prepared. Ask them if they know what’s in it and how it is made. Be a responsible parent and make their food education a priority.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Oreo Cookie Cheesecake

10 inch pan, buttered

1250 g cream cheese (5pack)
2 cups of sugar
1 whole lemon juice and zest
250ml whipping cream (35%)
6 eggs
12 Oreo cookies

Preheat your oven at 325F.The cheesecake will bake on the middle rack, and you also need a pan with water on the bottom rack to create steam inside.

In your food processor, mix together cream cheese, sugar and lemon juice. Once you have a smooth mixture, add your cream and eggs by hand in a large bowl.

Pour the batter in your greased pan and add 6 to 8 cookies in chopped in pieces all over the pan.

Bake until the filling has a uniformed jiggling, around 2 hours but it could take longer.

Let it rest in the fridge over night or for best results, two days. Decorate with fresh whipped cream and the remaining Oreo cookies on top.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Food report from Cancun

He says:
Last week I mentioned that we were in Cancun for some R&R. I had done some reading on Trip Advisor about the resort we were going to stay at to find out about the food. Most people were happy with the food and some others were not.
First of all, in general keep in mind that people do not trek to Mexico for the food; it’s not exactly known as a culinary destination. Their food is not always spicy, contrary to popular belief and most of their food is fairly healthy although they do like their fryer.
Point number one, if you have a giant buffet you will probably find some food to feed you enough so that you can go back snorkeling the next day. I was listening to people at the pool one day and they were talking about the steak they had the night before… it was tough. I don’t get this… you are staying at a resort facing the ocean and you complain about the meat. Why not eat fish, since you are so close to the ocean and all. They offer deep sea fishing tours, where do you think the fish you caught ends up? And while you are at it, why not stick to Mexican dishes since that’s really what the cooks will be best at making. I am not saying that Mexican cooks can’t make anything else, but you don’t usually go to a Sushi restaurant to experience a good burger. We had some really nice grilled fish with fresh salsas, flavourful rices, nice vegetables – I mean what else do you want? You are there for the sun, the cheap drinks, and the bed.
Breakfast was plentiful, eggs any way you want, quesadillas type items, exotic fruits, pancakes, waffles or French toast… I mean if you can’t find enough to feed yourself for breakfast there is something seriously wrong with your eating habits.
At lunch I was looking at the same people eating burgers every single day, chicken wings, I even saw a kid eating chicken nugget- type stuff. Why take your kids to a foreign country and have them eat the same crap they get to eat at home? Why not use this experience to make them… yes, MAKE THEM eat other food so that when they come back home they will have learned something new. Why not start by introducing some fresh handmade tortillas as a snack to your kids just like you would normally eat a Kit Kat or a granola bar in the middle of the afternoon that’s what they eat.

She says:

If you read our column regularly, you won’t be surprised at Chef’s dismay towards some people’s lack of adventure. You know we are curious eaters, and hopefully we have encouraged or maybe even inspired you. We don’t travel to experience the same kind of things we have at home; we enjoy
trying new things and discovering other cultures. I was quite frankly surprised when Martin told me he wanted to stay at an all-inclusive resort, as I thought that would be too boring for him. (He’s not much for lying on a beach chair all day.) But for getting a break and really having a chance to just turn our brains off and relax, this was the perfect holiday. We only had one week but it felt like more because we just hung out. I love tropical food so for me, the decadence started at breakfast…
I drink fruit juice every morning at home but I have never seen (even in a container) papaya juice in Canada. In Cancun, I had a glass of it every morning! How cool is that?! Fresh fruit is the best, however, and I could smell one of my favourites as soon as I got near the buffet … guava. It has an enticing perfumed aroma to it that makes me think of palm trees and a hammock and drinks with umbrellas in them. It tastes like a combination of banana, lime and mango. A few pieces of that with my yogurt (maybe over top of a waffle – I was on holidays after all) and I was in heaven.

For lunch, most days we had a plate of tortilla chips (freshly fried) with guacamole and fresh salsa. One day we did try the lunch buffet though (we had walked half of the 12 km beach strip, so we felt we deserved it).  The coolest tasting thing on the buffet was the grilled octopus – tender and tasty, especially with salsa verde.
For dinner, we tried lots of things – every night was a different theme. Sometimes dishes on the buffet had no sign but looked interesting. I had pickled cactus, jicama spiced with smoked paprika (that was hard to decipher from the waiter!) and even black bean bread! (It was really good with scrambled eggs and salsa in the morning.)
 In Mexico, there are many types of salsa, so you can change things up easily. Martin and I liked the salsa verde (green salsa) made from tomatillos with fish or on tacos, and we liked the salsa molcajete (roasted tomato salsa) with pork and as a change from fresh salsa (uncooked tomatoes & onions and chiles, with lime juice). If you want a good recipe for this salsa, here is a link from Rick Bayless, one of the best known chefs for authentic Mexican cuisine.
So even if you go to a resort where everything is supplied, try to step out of the box just a little bit. If you go to enjoy a real adventure, ask where the locals go. We went to the market and discovered it was full of only tourist souvenirs – if you go to Cancun, ask for directions to Market 23. They will tell you it’s for the locals like you must be nuts to want to go there – just smile, nod and enjoy the bus ride. It’s worth the trip!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cashew and Rosemary Crusted Fresh Halibut

The fishing season is approaching very fast and I thought I would give a simple yet delicious halibut recipe I use to do for the brunch at The Banff Springs Hotel a few years back.

700g halibut
250g grounded toasted cashews
125g breadcrumbs
125g fresh rosemary
125g cream (35%)
1 egg
Salt & pepper

125g chopped shallots
500ml yogurt
125g sour cream
50g chopped rosemary
Salt & pepper

You can portion the halibut or leave it in one large piece.

In a bowl, mix cashews, breadcrumb, chopped rosemary and salt & pepper. Season the halibut and dip it in a mixture of cream and egg. Immediately tap down the crust all around and place it on a baking tray with parchment paper.

Bake at 400F. Cook to internal temperature of 145F maximum and use your broiler to finish coloring the crust on top if needed.

Mix all the sauce ingredients together and set aside for an hour. Serve the halibut hot or cold with lemon wedges and the sauce on the side.

P.S.this is also nice with salmon
Serves 4 portions

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Culinary Art

Restaurant versus art gallery

When I go to an art show I see the same behavior from the people at the show as I see in a fine dinning restaurant. There are lots of oohs and ahs, and even some big smiles or sometimes even tears. Food can move your spirit just like a Renoir painting or a Da Vinci sculpture. (At my house, emotions can be stirred with an amazing chocolate dessert.) The owner of an art gallery who showcases art for a living has to keep in mind what the clients are interested to buy and not necessarily showcase only what is nice to look at according to the owner. The chef of a restaurant has to keep in mind what people want or the restaurant will not make it. I am sure that some artists don’t care if a certain art work does not sell, but as a chef, your art needs to sell or you are out of a job. So a chef creates art with a very specific target audience in mind where many artists create without any thought of who is going to buy it…

Painter versus cook, struggling financially

Most famous painters become famous after their death and many famous chefs have had their creations become classics long after their death, too. For artists, there seems to be an unwritten law that you need to struggle financially for many years and sometimes all your life for success to truly find you. Most cooks struggle to make a decent living, sometimes for many years or other times learning quickly that “making it” is tough work. Here too, the similarities between culinary art and any other art can be striking. Think about musicians for a minute… many young musicians produce one hit and that’s it. Some actors will have one or two good movies and disappear. And of course, many cooks and chefs can go up as fast as they can come down in popularity.
All cooks will be influenced by their surroundings when it comes to creating, just like any other artist. I have seen many young cooks make amazing creations either in taste or looks, but in general a cook needs to learn from a good chef to put the whole picture together. In the right hands, a cook can become an incredible artist and in the wrong hands a cook will never get a chance to develop to a full potential.

Not many arts actually touch as many senses as the art of food

Most arts, whether you are talking about music, theater, painting, sculpting or any other you can mention, will usually stimulate your eyes, ears and in many cases stir some emotions inside you. A great dish in a restaurant can affect these senses and others as well. When you enter culinary school, one of the first things you are told is that people eat with their eyes first, so you must make sure that the plate looks good. Where actors, musicians and writers must rely on emotions evoked from what you see and hear, culinary artists can also persuade you with what you taste and smell. The power of this complete and all-encompassing sensory experience can also evoke memories of other experiences, as eating is an intrinsic part of life itself.

In a professional kitchen, a great chef always tries to get your mind going with not only flavors, but also architecture and colors; and they hope that you will leave with a feeling of wanting more. Even amateurs however, can take a stab at being artists, for they too can evoke a response with a dish that has special significance or tradition.

Expressive work

Just like any other art form, culinary art can be expressed in various ways. In different cultures there are unique base traditions and styles that develop, and they evolve not only within those cultures but also from the blending of other cultures. This fusion creates whole new styles that then evolve as well. As painters have been influenced by political events, so are chefs influenced by lifestyle changes and events such as global warming. Science has also had effects on this art as it has on others; molecular gastronomy shows how the combination of chemistry and creativity can create foods like warm ice cream. This could be compared to the development of the air brush or the electronic keyboard.

As long as there is no law stating how much salt or pepper you can put in your food, there will be an element of creativity in cooking. And the people who make a career of cooking are by nature creative people who express themselves with their creations. Who are we not to call them artists when we enjoy their art on the Food Network and in numerous magazines and at tables around the world?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Has Del Monte totally gone banana?

Last night I was sitting watching John Stewart Daily show and he starts talking about individually wrapped banana, so today I spend a few minutes searching for more info on this subject. It would seem like Del Monte has been not happy with how banana has been sold for hundreds of years and want to improve the banana sells.


Del Monte is using a Controlled Ripening Technology" (CRT). I know it does sound crazy…
The goal is to increase shelf life and sells a better tastier top quality banana. Producers will place a green banana in a plastic bag so that the banana while traveling or sitting on the store shelf will ripens slowly and according to Del Monte give you a more tasty banana.  

“According to the Daily Mail, James Harvey, the company's UK managing director said "Del Monte's new CRT packaging is designed to provide significant carbon footprint savings by reducing the frequency of deliveries and the amount of waste going to landfill. The packaging is also recyclable." He adds, "It is a great product and consumer feedback shows a marked taste benefit too."

The banana is just fine the way it is… it has a nice yellow package build around it. I am guessing that some pencil pushing scientist in a lab somewhere after 10 years of research and millions of dollar came up with this CRT technologies and manage to persuade the company that it will be better for the environment but more like better for profits and also a great way to make the many years of research not wasted time.

Also did you ever notice, many organic products often has twice as much packaging as any other products. While we were walking on the beach last week, in a 16 minute walk I manage to fill a bag full of plastic piece of all kinds lying on the beach. Plastic is great in many ways, but it is also often end up in our landfill and will remain there forever.

What about the most basic thing about the banana, what will cartoonists use to make somebody slip on their ass, Bags?

Saturday, March 5, 2011


At the time you are reading this my feet will be in the sand of a Cancun beach. Kristin and I are taking a well deserved and much needed 7 days of all inclusive “RnR”.
I have never been to a vacation where all my meals are to come from the same 3 restaurants all week. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I am a little worried that the selection may not be all that great and on the other hand I really look forward to not cooking anything for a week. Even if you are a chef who enjoys eating as much as cooking, you may not necessarily want to have to cook every single day.  Once in a while each year I get in a blasé mood where I can’t find anything exciting to eat. Nothing works, nothing is really blowing my mind or nothing really sparks my chef’s taste buds.
This is usually when I go back to basics and cook dishes that resonate with me from my past. Comfort food from when I was a child or maybe a dish I ate once when I was having a pleasurable holiday somewhere. While you’re on holiday things are great but a few months later you are back into your routine and not thinking about those great feelings you were having while on holiday. Cooking dishes usually brings back those memories for me and helps me get out of that culinary rut I get into.
I understand that in an inclusive holiday package a big portion of the money saved can be the alcohol consumption from 11am to 11pm.  My buddy Neil did mention one good point to me the other day - he said “you chose an all inclusive resort, but why, you don’t drink or barely drink.” I guess my 4 beers a month aren’t considered enough to be qualified as a drinker. Well, I plan on having a good time and letting loose, I might even have a beer a day since it is included in my package J
uno más cerveza por favor (one more beer please)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Food Dilemma!

I was having this discussion with a client last week and the subject of butter versus margarine came up. They say margarine is better for you… who are they?? That’s my questions.

I always answer the same way for those types of culinary questions. First, I am not a health expert or would pretend to know what is good or not for your health, I am just a cook, so you decide!

Butter versus margarine?
It’s a no brainer to me, what would you prefer to eat, a cup of dairy or a cup of oil? You make butter by stirring cream until it becomes butter… you make margarine from a plant and process the crap out of it until it looks like a spreadable creamy margarine. If yuo go on You Tube "butter vs margarine", there is a very entertaining guy who can extlain why butter is better for you. 

100% olive oil versus extra virgin olive oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is press first from the olive and then they repress the olive paste to get even more oil… both oils are from the olive and 100% pure, but the extra virgin olive oil has all the good nutrients and the second not much is left.

White flour versus whole wheat?
I like unbleached white flour for certain recipes and whole wheat for other recipes… all good

Sugar versus aspartame?  It’s an easy one, very simple, what would you prefer to eat, a cup of sugar or a cup of chemicals?

Cheese versus soya cheese?
How much chemicals and machine processing do you need to put that soya bean through to make it look like cheese.

White rice versus brown rice?
I like unbleached white rice for certain recipes and brown for other recipes… all good

French fries versus roasted potatoes?
If they are well prepared, I love them both equally.

Maple syrup versus Aunt Jemima?
No question, maple syrup all the way. If I was on a very tight budget I would prefer to buy maple syrup and control how much I use versus buying something that has nothing to do with maple syrup.

Organic versus non organic?
This one is also simple - organic is best… but often way more money. I am way more interested in buying from the local growers as much as possible versus trying to find organic. My wife runs the garden at home so we get our organic food from our own yard.
This link is a great resource for organic questions: