Thursday, 27 September 2012


There is a whole world that many people don’t know about…while you are comfortable in your bed dreaming your dreams an entire workforce of people are busy creating and working away. Many of the things that we take for granted that are bought and sold everyday somehow just appear without a second thought about how it got there and who makes I am not saying that we should reflect on everything that comes to us on daily basis, but I think that sometimes we should all just take a moment and appreciate the ease in which these things come about.

Let me paint you a picture.  It’s past midnight and in a small local artisan store, there is a buzz emanating from within, the lights are off but there is a glow coming from the basement. The sounds of mechanical equipment, the hum of someone giving instructions and the faint sounds of a small radio playing classic rock fills the space and at once completes the picture.  It is what I see in my mind’s eye as I have imagined what it would be like to be a night owl perched in a tree watching a small local bakery store produce some really wonderful good eats.  A romatic view? I suppose, but one that I am certain isn’t too far off. Working the night shift is something that I have done myself…I feel that it is best to refer to that part of my life and experiences through these rose coloured glasses, as the reality is sometimes not nearly as pretty.  Let’s be honest, its tough work and I admire those who soldier on and create something special that many take for granted. 

There is simplicity to the store, a smell that brings you back to the country and the good ole days…the Knead Bakery is a charming store that has from the very moment of my first visit and forever more have a special place in my heart. The bread is fantastic, the sweets are delish and the passion for this artform a true labour of love.  I am visiting afterhours late at night to get a rare glimpse into the world of what it is like to create all this deliciousness on a daily basis. Heather L is working yet another double tending the store during the day and coming back into train her staff on the in’s and out’s of creating some of the best bread in Toronto.  Heather tells me, “that she truly loves what she does.”  Her dedication to the art of making great bread is truly amazing, her knowledge, passion and will to working as hard as she does is inspiring.  I think that in her sleeping hours, the few that she has she is constantly dreaming up new ways to create bread…some of the combinations of flour, yeast, ingredients are unique and the results speak for themselves. 

I choose to photograph Heather in her element as I find it fascinating how she does what she does. Being that I am a Chef, I have had my fair chance to make bread and pastries. It’s a mandatory course requirement, but honestly, I don’t have the aptitude to be a good baker…it’s all about precision something that I’m not about...well at least when it comes to baking.  It truly is unique that Heather combines maths, formulas and precise measurements to produce an end product that dare I say it…has a soul. It isn’t just bread or a pull a part cinnamon, apple and raisin loaf…you can taste the care, the thought and the love that went into making it…and I love that.

If you ever what to know and taste what a truly awesome bakery should be like you have to come and say, “Hello” to Heather and her team I bet you won’t leave empty handed!

Knead Bakery

283 Scarborough Road,
Toronto, ON

Hour of Operation
8:00am – 6:30pm Tuesday – Friday
8:00am – 5:30pm Saturday
9:00am – 3:00pm Sunday

 Twitter @KneadBakeryTO
Facebook KneadBakeryTO

Monday, 24 September 2012


“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ferris Bueller

It’s a shame that in today’s society we are all so busy rushing around, being slaves to the clock and our devices.  That we are constantly under the scrutiny of our individual productivity and how it counts more than one’s quality of life.  We here in North America are always constantly on the perpetual treadmill or putting the axe to the grindstone.  In my heart, I have always asked why? Why, can’t we be more like our European counterparts?  They work, but they take great care to ensure that they have time to enjoy, the simple things, good food, good family and great conversation…not so here I is truly  sad.

As I sit at my desk taking a moment to pause before I get down to the heart of writing this blog post. I take time to reflect on the experience that I and my fellow media took in tonight at RAKIA Bar.  It is this pause to reflect that has got me thinking, how refreshing it is to sit, talk and relax with friends and enjoy each other’s company.  Those of you, who know me and know of my involvement with Diner en Blanc, know why I dedicate my time for such an event.  It is in the very essence of my love for joie de vivre that encouraged me to participate and found/host the Toronto event.  RAKIA Bar located in the trendy up and coming hood of Leslieville has at its core a laid back eurocentric mentality that is sorely lacking in this rat race city.  People today are way too concerned with work, paying bills and bearing the bonds that weigh each and every one of us down.  In my opinion, this has got to change; it is so refreshing to see this new addition to our fair city.  Here at Rakia Bar, you are encouraged to come and stay awhile, sip and enjoy lovely artisanally created fructose based spirits, that are as sophisticated to the nose as they are to the palate.  Along with the sipping, there are the bites to accompany and accentuate these unique and lovely brandies.  The guys, who are behind the movement of introducing Rakia wish to encourage you to come, chat and stay awhile.

What is Rakia?  Rakia encompasses all types of fructose based alcoholic spirits.  The Rakia family includes Eau-de-Vie, Calvados, Schnapps, Palinka Brandy, but by any name Rakia is a social thread that connects the cultures of much of Europe.  At the roots of many eastern European cultures there is a form of Rakia.  Mostly created by using ingredients of what was readily available:  the must of spent grapes, the abundance of fruits and their regional climate.  Individually, each culture created their own form of “Rakia” but not necessarily specifically known as Rakia – but it is in the similarities of the distillation methodology/consumption that makes this a unified classification possible.  

Its popularity has spread all over from France and heading into the heart of Eastern Europe – Rakia has flourished not exclusively with the upper class but will all classes.  The New York Times describes it as, “Fruit’s essence captured in a bottle.”  Rakia is an all-natural, artisan distilled fruit-spirit that is meant to be sipped, savoured and contemplated. It is the traditional offering that one receives as a guest in one’s house, usually accompanied with a small taste of whatever is available.

Dušan Varga, Rakia expert and the Rakia Bar Team have come up with a unique formula that sticks to the traditions of Eastern Europe but have incorporated twists to cater to our North American sensibilities in terms of cocktails and a lovely menu. Having the opportunity to have been invited to the media event hosted by Mary Luz and her company Sizzling Communications, I experienced a great detailed education into the world and craftsmanship of what makes fine artisanal quality Rakia. I wish to thank them; it was a lovely evening and a truly enjoyable event. I will most certainly want to share this new restaurant lounge with my friends and colleagues anytime.

Rakia Bar is a truly unique Toronto feature. It is at its very essence a meeting point where one can come after work, meet old friends or make new ones, enjoy food and Rakia and reflect on the day in a lovely atmosphere. Rakia and Food are inextricably linked and is at the heart of how it is meant to be consumed. Rakia Bar’s kitchen is proficient and is a hub of activity as Chef Brook Kavanagh creates dishes inspired by the bar/salon culture of Central and Eastern Europe fused with Canadian sensibilities especially in their brunch items.

I’ll have to admit that I have yet to enjoy a full meal of the Eastern European inspired menu.  From what I have seen, their food will impress.  They offer a brunch on the weekend and a full menu throughout the week for dinner.  But what I can say with certainty is that the guys are as passionate about their food as they are about Rakia. You can hear it in the voice and soul when you discuss their food, I will most definitely be having a meal sometime very soon, brunch (which I love) in particular.  I’m really excited about their brunch which sounded absolutely magnificent.  What I can and will rave about are the mezze that they prepared to accompany each of the individual Rakia’s for the tasting. They were delish and complemented each of the different flavours either by enhancing/contrasting the Rakia.   

At times, the flavours that came out of the combination struck me as a revelation in taste, without exaggerating it created a symphony of both aroma and taste to my senses.  It was truly an epiphany that I had not up till then experienced as it relates to spirits.  Never have I ever experienced such a complexity of taste, clean on the tongue, smoothness in throat and warmth all at once, it has left me craving.  Incredible!

My overall impressions are as follows:  I love the vibe, the guys are magnificent and their passion towards food and drink is infectious, the décor is lovely, the patio will rock in the Summer and if they provide awesome music (Lemon Bucket Orkestra) like they did during the media event…this place is going to be a very prominent hotspot in Toronto. 

RAKIA Bar is located within the same building shared with Queen MargheritaPizza I can see how this will only benefit and compliment each of these establishments very well!  I would encourage you all to visit and experience the tastes of Rakia Bar soon!



1402 Queen Street East, Unit B
Toronto, ON
Twitter @RakiaBarTO

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


I would like to extend a personal thanks to the creator of the Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I think that we all owe a deep sense of gratitude to it’s creator…ummmm….we actually do not know who invented the grilled cheese sandwich. That is truly a shame! However, most food historians can generally agree that the combination of cooked bread and cheese were indeed ancient foods known across many continents and wide ranging cultures.  The earliest reference of these types of sandwich have been found in ancient Roman cookbooks, therefore it is generally accepted that the modern grilled cheese descended from these ancient roots. 

Fast forward to modern times, the question of who invented the modern incarnation of grilled cheese as we know and love today is still unknown.  But, culinary evidence suggests that the modern grilled cheese sandwich was first served back in the late 1920s.  With the advent of affordable process cheese and sandwich bread to hit the American market and the government issued cookbooks sharing grilled cheese recipes that were used on WWII ships to feed the troops, this documented proof makes it clear that it was around this era. It wasn’t too long afterwards that school cafeterias across the nation began serving these tasty, inexpensive sandwiches to students of every grade. The usual accompaniment…Tomato soup out of a can!  What a classic combination! Which is still very popular to this day, my OH my how things have changed!

Nowadays, grilled cheese is big business and has gone gourmet…and I love it. There are as many ways and methods to slap two pieces of bread around some gorgeous cheese and make it taste so good.  What is incredible, no matter how you dress it up…it still feeds the soul.  It is and always will be the ultimate comfort food.  This brings me to this year’s The Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off 2012! Sponsored by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, it is a culinary competition focusing on Great Chefs, Great Innovation, Great Fun and most importantly Great Cheese!

Chefs all over Canada were invited to showcase Cheese in the form of a Grilled Cheese sandwich, with their imagination as the only limitation to their culinary Genius.  This year’s participants included:  Ned Bell - Executive Chef Four Seasons HotelVancouver,  Jason Bangarter - Executive Chef O&B Canteen & Luma, Michael Howells -  Executive Chef Tempestuous Culinary and Reigning Champion and last and most certainly not least the wonderful Liana Robberecht- Executive Chef Calgary Petroleum Club.

The competition was fast and furious, each Chef showcasing two sandwiches each in head to head competition. It was very clear to me that their culinary influences and geographic diversity played crucial roles in how they each envisioned their culinary creations.  No one was holding back and there were bragging rights on the line.  As a Chef myself, nobody wants to be second best….or first loser. So it was all fun and games but you can tell lots of thought and execution went into their creations.

As serious as the competition was, the caliber of judges at The Grate Canadian Grilled Cheese Cook-Off were a who’s who of the gourmet elite in Canada. Judges were hand-picked for their expertise in Cheese of all kinds and most importantly for the love of Cheese. This year’s judges included:  Elizabeth Baird a Canadian culinary icon, Sue Riedl – Globe & Mail Life Writer and creator of the blog Cheese and Toast,  Rita DeMontis – National Food Editor & Toronto Sun Lifestyle Editor and the Big Cheese himself Kevin Durkee – Restaurateur and Owner of Cheesewerks. What an esteemed panel…the Chefs job was definitely going to be hard taking into consideration the level of expectation each of the judging panel will hold them to.

Ultimately, it was Jason Bangarter who prevailed with his skillful presentation, flavours and uniqueness to offering both a savoury and a sweet dessert grilled cheese creation. They both looked stunning and the smells wafting in the air were in a word intoxicating! Well done Jason!

Here are some photos from the event! Take Care and EAT MORE CHEESE! Support your Dairy Farmers!







The Winning Recipe! 

Niagara Gold Crunch
The Niagara region brings together some of chef Jason Bangerter’s favourite things...grapes and cheese. They are the perfect pair. Niagara Gold is a delicious cheese with nutty notes and a lovely texture. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the sweet and sour pop of the pickled grapes make for a very satisfying cheesy treat.

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Yield: 1 serving

2 oz (60 g) Niagara Gold cheese, cut into thin slices
¼ cup (60 mL) mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
Pinch of fresh chopped thyme leaves
Pinch of fresh cracked black pepper
Two ¼-inch (5 mm) thick slices sour dough or country style bread, about 5-inch (12.5 cm) square*
1 oz (30 g) shaved prosciutto
½ cup (125 mL) packed baby arugula (about 1/2 oz/15 g)
1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter, softened

Pickled Grapes, optional (recipe follows)
Mild sweet grainy mustard or grape must
Potato chips or creamy summer slaw
Fresh pressed grape juice

Bring the cheese to room temperature.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, thyme and pepper; spread mixture on one side of each bread slice. Place half of the cheese on one bread slice; top with prosciutto, arugula and remaining cheese. Top with remaining slice of bread, mayonnaise side down. Butter both sides of the sandwich.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Cook sandwich, turning once, for 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown and cheese is melted, adjusting heat as necessary to prevent burning. Cut the sandwich in half and serve with pickled grapes, sweet grainy mustard, potato chips and fresh pressed grape juice. Enjoy and happy cooking.

*Bread: Trim ends of unsliced bread to make approximately a 5-inch (12.5 cm) square. Slice crosswise into ¼- inch (5 mm) thick slices.

The Pickled Grapes
½ lb (250 g) seedless green grapes (about 1-1/2 cups/375 mL)
4 sprigs tarragon
1 cup (250 mL) good quality white wine or champagne vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt

Wash and dry the grapes well; place in a 2-cup (500 mL) sterilized canning jar and add the tarragon.

In a small saucepan, bring vinegar and sugar to a boil; add a pinch of salt. Pour liquid over grapes to cover. Seal the jar and refrigerate. The grapes will be ready in 3 weeks.
Cooking Tips: This is a classic combination of ham and cheese that works well in many applications. Use Canadian Alfred Le Fermier, La Tomme de Grosse Île, Provolone, aged Gouda, or aged Cheddar.

Prepare this sandwich in a Panini maker. Preheat Panini maker and grill sandwich until cheese is melted and bread is lightly marked - no need to butter the sandwich.

If unable to find Niagara Gold in your region, use Canadian Raclette.