Archive for August, 2012

August 13, 2012

Paul Brandt talks travel and songwriting

[I had a quick chat with Paul Brandt, one of the truly good guys in music world, for inclusion in the Rock n Roll Road Trips series Vacay.ca is producing. Brandt, whose new album is out this fall, talks about how travel informs his songwriting and names his favourite road-trip song of all time. The interview took place during the 100th Calgary Stampede, where he headlined the Grandstand Show each night. This article and video first appeared on Vacay.ca.]

CALGARY, ALBERTA — In “Alberta Bound,” Paul Brandt sings about the province’s “black fertile ground” and “big, blue sky” in an ode to the beauty of his home. The tune could be a contemporary anthem for Alberta, one that would fit hand-in-hand with Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds.” For the songwriter, though, “Alberta Bound” is a travel song. Brandt notes that its lyrics held significance for him while he was away from Calgary, touring the world and living in Nashville for almost 10 years.

During an interview with Vacay.ca last month, Brandt called “Alberta Bound” a song “that has defined my career in a lot of ways.” Its inspiration came from the drives he would make during the Christmas holidays, travelling from Nashville back to Calgary.

“The seeds for that song were planted during that time. We would always hit the Sweet Grass sign at the Montana border and we knew we were getting close to home and that made it into the song,” Brandt says, noting the song’s opening lyric that speaks of being 40 miles from Canada, a sentiment reminiscent of many road-trip tunes from this country, including “Last American Exit” by the Tragically Hip and “Coming Home” from City and Colour.

Recently, Brandt’s work has kept him home, to his delight. He headlined the “Century” Grandstand Show at the 100th Calgary Stampede, teaming with a roster of international entertainers to thrill attendees with theatrics and song. With that undertaking complete, he returns to recording and touring. His new album “Just As I Am” is due out in the fall and a cross-Canada tour will follow its release.

The country music superstar rose to prominence in 1996, earning Top New Male Artist of the Year honours at the CMT Awards. He has racked up eight Juno Awards during his career and has received more accolades than any male Canadian country singer — and he only recently turned 40. Brandt’s success has taken him around the world and also led him right back to where he started.

An avid fisherman and marathon runner, Brandt revels in the many outdoor activities that Albertans enjoy, whether it be hiking the Rocky Mountains or taking in the scenic trails around the province. He and his wife, Elizabeth Peterson, chose to raise their family in Canada rather than Tennessee, which is why they returned north.

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August 9, 2012

What to expect when Momofuku opens in Toronto

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The White Chocolate dessert is one of the most popular items at Momofuku-owned Ma Peche in New York. (Julia Pelish photo)

[This article first appeared in Vacay.ca and the Huffington Post.]

NEW YORK CITY — I visited New York last month to see what Torontonians can expect from the Momofuku experience when that restaurant empire makes its much-anticipated Canadian debut in the coming days — I didn’t think I would find the maitre d’ investigating too.

“I’m just seeing how things operate. Getting a feel for it,” says Joel Centeno, who moves over from the formal Auberge du Pommier to be the host at Daisho, the flagship restaurant of David Chang‘s ambitious enterprise that’s attached to the soon-to-open Shangri-la Hotel. The Momofuku Torontofranchise, whose debut was scheduled for July 28 but has been pushed back because of construction delays, will also feature three other eateries: Shōtō, whose Japanese name means “short sword” (Daisho is a term that refers to a set of samurai swords); Nikai, which means “second floor” and will be a level below the main restaurant; and a Momofuku noodle bar that will instantly be the hottest lunch spot in the city and possibly a go-to late-night choice as well.

It’s not only the most anticipated restaurant opening in Toronto in recent memory, it may be the one notable event that finally gets Canada taken seriously as a culinary destination around the world. No Canadian city has a Michelin restaurant guide, while there is one each for New York, San Francisco and Chicago. The country has gone nine straight years without placing a restaurant on the World’s 50 Best list, while Momofuku’s Ssam Bar in New York has made it two years in a row.

“Without a doubt, it instantly raises the city’s foodie cred,” award-winning food reporter Steve Dolinsky of Chicago, a regional chairman for the World’s 50 Best list, says of Momofuku’s foray across the border. “If Chang is able to maintain his high standards in a remote location — which includes consistency and his presence more than a few times per year — then I think it becomes one more important reason to visit Toronto.”

Chang said he spent more of his time in Sydney, Australia than he did in the Big Apple during the year he opened his only other Momofuku location outside of New York. With Toronto, it’s too early to know how much time he will be in Canada but he has a reputation for being a hands-on owner. As I discovered, Chang doesn’t have to be on-site for his restaurant to shine.

When I went to New York to see what all the fuss is about, I was impressed for reasons beyond the food.Má Pêche, the franchise’s restaurant in the Chambers Hotel in Manhattan, captures the spirit of a culture that’s post-recession, post-fine dining and eagerly communal, but has managed to elevate eating out to an activity akin to going to a fine art museum. We want top class, we don’t necessarily want to look like it in order to have the experience.

What The Black Hoof  — named Toronto’s top restaurant by Vacay.ca judges earlier this year — lacks in classy atmosphere, Daisho will possess thanks to the Shangri-la, the latest luxury accommodation to hit a downtown area that has seen the addition of Ritz-Carlton, Thompson and Trump properties in a short amount of time. What other restaurants in the city are missing in inventive cuisine, Momofuku’s brand will deliver.

There are Korean and Japanese influences, for sure, but the complexity of Chang’s cuisine redefines fusion. His chefs aren’t simply throwing stuff together and seeing what sticks — a characterization made by some early commenters of the New York operations —, they’re pushing the envelope the way great chefs from Grant Achatz to Michel Bras do. The steamed lobster bun at Má Pêche (or “mother peach”) is addictively good. The monkfish was so tender you could’ve mistaken it for poached lobster, while a bowl of curried carrots shocked with the deliciousness of its flavour. Desserts, including the famous White Chocolate that features salty popcorn and caramel, drive repeat business on their own.

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August 8, 2012

PEI’s Trailside Cafe and Nova Scotia’s Point of View Suites beckon

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Pat and Meghann Deighan have a good thing going with the Trailside Cafe. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)


[This article first appeared in Vacay.ca]

MOUNT STEWART, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — Olympic moments happen across this country on a daily basis. The participants may not be going for gold medals like the competitors at the London 2012 Summer Games, but they are striving to achieve ultimate success. Although they do it in obscurity, the spirit with which these entrepreneurs pursue their goals is similar to the dedication elite athletes have for their disciplines.

I recently came across a couple of examples of Canadians in the travel and hospitality industry who are giving it their all as they chase their dreams. Pat and Meghann Deighan were married on December 30, 2011, about two weeks after they purchased the Trailside Inn and Café, a venue 30 minutes outside of Charlottetown that has been a reliable spot in Prince Edward Island for good music and good times. The Trailside was in need of rescue and the newlyweds have poured themselves into making it the coolest music venue in Canada east of Casa del Popolo in Montreal and the Dakota Tavern in Toronto.

Like the Dakota, the Trailside features clever decor, an intimate atmosphere that charms musicians, and a short menu that delivers big for diners. The Trailside Café only has four main dishes, one of which is a daily special from chef Chris Coupland and another is an order of the best fishcakes you’re likely to ever taste. They are loaded with salmon and haddock, and go for just $15. You’ll devour them on one of the café’s tables that Meghann Deighan has decorated in inventive ways. On one surface, she has lacquered decades-old receipts from the property’s previous incarnation as a community co-op store, on others are black-and-white images and old movie posters.

“We’re looking for low-cost solutions for improving the place and the property has an amazing history, so we figure why not use what we can that’s right here,” says Meghann Deighan while pointing out some of the old dusty bottles that are kept in the back of the store.

The Trailside is the kind of place where the headline performer can stand at a bar drinking a beer while taking in his own warm-up act. Such was the case last Wednesday night, when Matt Mays headlined on back-to-back nights while his friend Adam Baldwin opened up. Seeing a musician of the calibre of Mays — a Juno nominee whose latest album “Coyote” is due out on September 4 — in a setting that holds no more than 50 people is a rare treat.

It’s also good marketing for the Trailside, which is hopeful of attracting more people from Charlottetown and elsewhere in the Maritimes to its little spot on the side of the road in Mount Stewart, home to about 310 people. If reviews from customers during Mays’ show are an indication, the Deighans will do all right. Several attendees praised the café’s atmosphere and its menu.

“The Trailside always had a good music scene but it needed a little more upkeep and we wanted to focus on improving the food. I think we have. I think Chris has hit it out of the park,” Pat Deighan says of his chef.

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