Posts tagged ‘food’

June 16, 2014

A night at Vikram Vij’s new restaurant, My Shanti

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Vikram Vij is eager to welcome diners to his restaurant in the suburbs. (Herman Chor photo)

[This article was originally published on Vacay.ca on June 8, 2014.]

SURREY, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s 7 pm on the first Wednesday in June and the lineup at Vij’sis two hours long. Those at the back of the queue may not know it but they could hop in a car and drive 45 minutes to find food prepared by the same cooks as the famous Vancouver Indian restaurant. Not only that, these days they’ll also find Vikram Vij at My Shanti.

The celebrity chef’s newest enterprise opened on June 2 and for the time being it needs its owner’s attention. “It’s like a baby,” he says of the 130-seat restaurant with an exterior so eye-catching you’ll think it belongs in Times Square, not a suburban strip mall.

For 20 years, Vij has spent most of his evenings working the room at Vij’s, making it a destination restaurant unlike any other in Canada. With My Shanti, he sees an opportunity to elevate the food choices in the suburbs. He also indulges in showcasing more of his recipe book, filling the menu at My Shanti with regional dishes from India.

Anyone who has been to Vij’s knows the cuisine is a blend of European technique and Indian flavours. My Shanti is more traditionally Indian. “These are the dishes I’ve wanted to share with people for a while. They are from different regions of India, from places I’ve visited many times over the years,” says Vij, who juggles his time between the restaurants, his packaged food product line and numerous TV appearances, including as an upcoming member of CBC’s “Dragons’ Den.”

Vikram Vij’s Culinary Tour of India

Though the cuisine at My Shanti isn’t the same as Vij’s or Rangoli — the small eatery next door to Vij’s on Granville Street that’s also often packed with diners — some of the experience is unmistakeable. The spices that are so sublimely blended together you don’t realize there are dozens of them in each bite, the texture of perfectly prepared basmati rice, the heat that hits the back of your throat after you’ve enjoyed the other flavours first. Those are all hallmarks of Vij’s food and it’s what you’ll discover in the Indian dishes at My Shanti.

“This really is just like Calcutta fish,” Mariellen Ward, my dining companion, said with both joy and surprise when she bit into the steamed tilapia ($19.50), served with mustard gravy reminiscent of dishes from the capital city of the state of West Bengal. “This is really is like being back in India.”

Ward is an excellent person to gauge the authenticity of My Shanti’s recipes. Her website, BreatheDreamGo.com, has been recognized as a leading authority on travel to India and she has visited the country several times in the past decade. She assured that the menu accomplished Vij’s aim of giving diners a culinary tour of his homeland. Dishes evoke the diverse tastes of the Asian nation. The names on the menu tell diners the origin of the appetizers and entrees.

As good as the food is, the decor is a match — starting with that shimmering exterior. It is made of 4,000 sequins, affixed by hand to tiny hooks attached to a brick wall. The wind ripples through the sequins, causing a lovely wave of silver to streak above your head.

Mysorian vegetable thoran ($15) is a curry mixed with delicious grated coconut; Hydrabadi chicken biryani ($22) is served with Vij’s “3 Mistresses” — spicy sauces that include tamarind and chili concoctions; and Goan Oyster Pakoras ($11.25) are tasty morsels breaded in chick-pea flour and served with a tangy green chili creme fraiche. There are also Bollywood references and colloquial Hindi phrases used on the food and cocktail menu (try the rum-based Dawa Daru, $11). The standout, though, is a flavourful appetizer inspired by South America. The Peruvian/Indian ceviche of fish and shrimp features the seafood dropped into a gol gappa (a thin, crisp, hollow, bite-size bread bowl) and served atop a non-alcoholic shot of tamarind juice. Pop the seafood-stuffed gol gappa into your mouth and throw back the tamarind shot. Unique and incredibly tasty.

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April 3, 2013

Rene Redzepi of Noma to appear at Toronto’s Terroir Symposium

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Among the delegates at Terroir will be chef Marc Lepine, who created this inventive dish featuring lobster and crab at his Ottawa restaurant, Atelier.

[This article was originally published on Vacay.ca]

Arlene Stein has tried for three years to line up a date for Rene Redzepi to join Toronto’s food industry at the annual Terroir Symposium. This year the schedules aligned and the executive chef of Noma is the marquee name among a list of culinary stars ready to appear at Monday’s gathering that’s focused on encouraging better practices in the industry and celebrating local food.

“I made a film with Rene last year about Noma’s Saturday night menu, which is pretty significant and pretty fantastic. Getting to know Rene even more than I had before helped to build that relationship. We were trying to get him here for three years but in 2010 he and his wife had just had a baby, and last year our conference was four days away from the World’s 50 Best awards,” Stein, the event’s founder and chairperson, said last week. “This year he decided to come and we are thrilled. We have outstanding international chefs and amazing Canadian chefs.”

The day-long symposium will be held at the Arcadian Court, an Oliver & Bonacini venue at the historic Simpson Tower. It will include seminars that range from appetizing (cooking demonstrations) to thirst-quenching (craft brew workshop) to thought-provoking (a debate on “culinary cannibalism”).

Along with Redzepi, whose Copenhagen restaurant has ranked atop the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for three straight years, other international chefs at Terroir will include Magnus Nilsson of Sweden’s Faviken, Kobe Desramaults of Michelin-starred In de Wulf in Belgium, and South African Peter Templehoff of The Collection by Liz McGrath.

Among the notable Canadian chefs in attendance are Marc Lepine of Ottawa‘s Atelier, Jeremy Charles ofRaymonds in St. John’s, and Connie DeSousa and John Jackson of CHARCUT in Calgary — all of whom will perform cooking demonstrations.

Terroir will be a more high-profile gathering than culinary events with larger advertising budgets and more prominent histories in Toronto. While it is a gathering for the industry and not for culinary travellers, it is still a tourism driver for the city.

“It’s subtle and very grassroots what we are doing,” Stein said. “We’re not overly swamped with people. You can stand in the halls and have a conversation. I think the chefs like that.”

While Terroir started in Toronto and is in its seventh year, Stein is aiming to expand to “another Canadian city.” The notion of Terroir — which to a great degree depends on the willingness of chefs to share their coveted ideas, practices, recipes, and sources — would not have worked in the 20th century, Stein said.

“We happened to come around just as the local food movement really started to take hold. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time for us. We filled a gap in the marketplace because all of a sudden everyone needed more information and a way to build real resources around sustainability,” said Stein, who has spent recent months in Europe networking with several of the chefs who will be attending the symposium.

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February 17, 2013

Chef Michael Smith shows Canadians how to cook

[This article was first published on Vacay.ca on January 10, 2013 and then syndicated on the Huffington Post Canada.]

HUNTSVILLE, ONTARIO — Michael Smith told me he has built a career out of reminding Canadians that cooking is about the people you share the meal with rather than the perfection of the recipe. He then went about showing what he meant.

In a wildly entertaining weekend at Deerhurst Resort, Smith held court and kitchen in the Muskoka property most famous for hosting Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and the rest of the G8 leaders during their 2010 summit. Smith didn’t have the security detail of those politicians, although he could have used one given the fact his contingent of female fans have a voracious appetite for him as well as his food. Clearly enjoying the attention, Smith hugged, kissed and signed autographs of his latest cookbook, Fast Flavours — 110 Simple Speedy Recipes, for the roughly 200 people who showed up to be in the presence of Canada’s most famous chef.

Standing 6-foot-7, Smith came across as a gentle and affable giant with a great deal of admiration for his adopted country. He was the head of food operations in the Athletes’ Village at the 2010 Winter Olympicsin Vancouver, turning out up to 12,000 plates a day for the competitors and delegates in a role he called the highlight of his career. Currently the only chef on the Food Network Canada with an instructional cooking program, “Chef Michael’s Kitchen,” Smith has lived in Prince Edward Island since immigrating from New York more than 20 years ago. He elevated the Inn at Bay Fortune on PEI to recognition as one of the nation’s finest restaurants before his cookbooks and television shows took off, rocketing him to stardom.

“I miss some aspects about being a chef in a restaurant, but I don’t miss the hours or the lifestyle,” Smith said, reiterating that he has no plans to open an eatery.

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January 5, 2013

10 tips on how to eat cheap on the road

Many hotels, such as the Residence Inn in Kingston, Ontario, now have kitchens in their suites. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

Many hotels, such as the Residence Inn in Kingston, Ontario, now have kitchens in their suites. (Julia Pelish/Vacay.ca)

[These tips were originally published on Vacay.ca]

One of the most costly expenses when you vacation is food. It’s also one of the more difficult purchases for which to budget, even though many restaurant menus are now online to help you pre-plan what you will spend. What tends to happen is we end up becoming more picky about where we eat on the road because we want it to satisfy our hunger both for food and for experience. Will the food be worth it? is a question that takes on greater importance when you only have a few days in a place. How do I stretch my budget and experience the best of local culture? is another question many travellers ask.

Here are tips on how to save on your food budget when you travel, while maintaining your desire for an enjoyable visit.

1. Know your hotel choice. Book a hotel that includes breakfast and pre-pay for the stay, which will reduce your accommodations cost by at least 5 per cent at most lodgings. Hotel breakfasts can often be overpriced but a cost reduction through pre-payment is beneficial for more than just your pocketbook. It saves you time — eliminating a decision on where to eat in the morning — and gives you some peace of mind because you will have paid for this cost before you arrive.

2. Sleep with a kitchen. Better than paying for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is having the ability to cook it yourself. More and more hotels are providing their own kitchens, a feature that many timeshare owners have long enjoyed. The benefit of having a kitchen — or at least a microwave and fridge — is it gives you the option to further control your food costs. A trip to the grocery store soon after check-in will give you a stockpile of choices for late-night snacks or an all-out gourmet feast if you choose. EXTRA TIP: Pack a few teaspoons of your favourite spices in spice containers made specifically for travelling. You’ll find them in the kitchenware department of many retail stores. It’ll save you from buying full containers of spices once you arrive at your destination.

3. Eat meals prepared at grocery stores. Even if you don’t have a kitchen in your room, you should still go to the grocery store. Some of the best cheap meals you’ll find in any North American city are in the prepared food areas of supermarkets. Whether it’s Whole Foods in New York, Rouses or Langenstein’s in New Orleans, or even Longo’s in Toronto (where a gourmet 10-inch pizza can be had for less than $7), you can find outstanding, freshly prepared food that won’t break your budget. You also won’t need to tip or wait for a table. Although some health experts will tell you that grocery stores tend to cook their prepared meals with meat and fish products that aren’t the freshest in stock, you’re still more likely to get a healthier meal from a grocer than from a fast-food restaurant.

4. Visit the local farmers’ market. Farmers’ markets are booming across North America thanks to the locavore movement and the desire for environmentally friendly community building. The markets offer both a travel experience — because you will find out a lot about a city’s culture through the people who cultivate and consume its local produce — and a fun dining experience as you sample bits and bites from different vendors, many of whom offer samples. Canada is extremely lucky to have thriving farmers’ markets across the country, particularly in Ontario.

5. Adjust your Groupon deals account. Those online coupon companies that just about all of us take advantage of when we’re at home can come in handy on the road too. Adjust your Groupon or Living Social account to show deals in the destination you’re visiting and you’ll find discounts on restaurants, as well as some attractions.

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