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During the last two decades, Toronto and Vancouver saw the opening of many first class restaurants owned and/or managed by young, well-trained and talented chefs.
Quebec, particularly Montreal, has always enjoyed fine food with a French bend, but always avant-garde and imaginatively presented.
In Quebec, the population spends more money on food, particularly delicacies, than elsewhere in the country.
Toronto is a multi-cultural city, and with every wave of immigration, new cuisines were introduced upon layers of old, well-established cooking techniques.
A few years ago, one would have been hard pressed to find a properly made sushi or a fresh sashimi. Today, there are many Japanese restaurants serving first-rate food.
Korean and Chinese restaurants have been operation for much longer and very successfully.
When Susur Lee, a Hong Kong native trained there and in France came to Toronto, there were only a few fine restaurants. Hotel dining rooms were the purveyors of fine (read French) food and wines. He thought he could be successful by serving excellent food in a free standing restaurant and did it for a number of years in small restaurant with limited capacity both in the kitchen and dining area. Regardless his imaginative and well-prepared dishes caught the imagination of the dining-out public. Reservations had to be made weeks in advance to secure a table.
Now well established in his new restaurant he excels in fine, fusion cuisine but not in service.
Michael Stadlander, an equally talented German chef, decided to open his ‘farm” cum restaurant a few hundred kilometres from Toronto serving farm-fresh food from his operation and others nearby. Earlier he worked in Toronto restaurants for a few years. His food is equally as imaginative, but more rooted in fresh food and conventional ingredients.
There are others like Jamie Kennedy in his new restaurant serving small portions well prepared dishes. This seems to be the new trend in the industry; small portions to share with friends at the table. The idea being to experience many taste sensations.
Mark Mc Ewan’s North 44 on Yonge street has been catering to the connoisseur for many years now successfully. Mark, a native of Buffalo, New York State, believes in serving well-prepared modern dishes imaginatively presented.
Toronto’s population is over two-and-a-half million composed of a variety of cultures interested in tasty food and who can afford to splurge. Tourists and travelling business executives help high end restaurants do well.
Gastronomy cannot exist without the support of a wealthy public and interest in food.
Toronto’s proximity to New York, a virtual gastronomic Mecca, helps local chefs to travel there frequently to see what their fellow chefs de cuisines are serving in their fine restaurants.
Some Toronto chefs and their immediate collaborators travel farther a field to Los Angles, Hong Kong, other European countries in an attempt to find new and exciting recipes and/or ingredients.
Only Susur Lee seems to be able to combine oxtail, truffles, and oysters, and can make the combination work, or roast venison loin with uni (mountain potato) and top it with pink plum sabayon to have diners swoon.
True to European chef’s tradition, Susur Lee never divulges his sauce making techniques, nor all the ingredients.
Vancouver, another cosmopolitan city, on the Pacific coast enjoys an excellent culinary reputation acquired only in the last decade.
This city has truly fresh, first class fish and other seafood, unique vegetables, and fruits. The population is, on the average, younger than in Toronto, but no less interested in good food and wine. More importantly, however, they like to spend their money on imaginative foods. In Vancouver you can get first class sushi and sashimi, or visit C-Restaurant to enjoy superbly prepared seafood, Rain Tree City Grill is obsessed with regional and fresh food, Lumiere, owned and managed by Ron Feenie is world famous, Vij arguably the best North American fine Indian cuisine restaurant, and West with David Hawksworth at the helm.
David Hawksworth, a young imaginative and experiment-loving chef, has a solid technical background with stints in continental Europe and the United Kingdom’s best restaurants. He came op with the recipe roasted squab, in Savoy cabbage and foie gras, and pan-seared Alaska Strait scallop on tomato jam and pork belly with a hint of clove and cardamom.
Calgary is also starting to attract young, ambitious and eager chefs, offering fine food to an appreciative clientele willing to pay reasonable prices for fine food.
Gastronomy evolves in cities and regions with an abundance of fresh ingredients, and population willing to eat in restaurants offering well-prepared authentic food.
Talent can be attracted as we see in Toronto, New York, or Los Angles, and even in Paris. Who knew about superb food before the Revolution of 1789 when all fine chefs were employed only by the aristocracy?
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu