Get a Sweet Start to Spring at McEwan

Thanks to our shadow-seeing groundhog, this year’s Spring thaw was a long time coming.  All the more reason to celebrate it’s triumphant arrival with extra cute rain boots, pastel blouses, strawberry rhubarb pie and of course, Easter chocolate. No matter what your age or religious beliefs, it’s hard not to get on board with this special time of year when chocolate is celebrated in all its decadence and glory. But if you’re going to indulge in chocolate, you might as well go for the really good stuff, and McEwan’s selection will never let you down. Take a tip from Celebrity Chef Mark McEwan who states,

“As with any ingredient, if you start with the high quality basics you cannot go wrong. Nowhere is that more apparent than with chocolate, and didn’t someone say that the right chocolate in the right amount can be good for you?”

The man has a point! Check out my top five favourite chocolate picks for bunny baskets, holiday dessert trays and hostess gifts this Spring.

1. Laura Slack’s Baby Easter Chick – Laura Slack’s chocolates are truly works of art. Almost too pretty to eat (key word-almost), this adorable hand-painted egg would make a stunning centre-piece for a holiday sweets spread. Eyes too big for your stomach? Check out the Laura Slack counter for smaller hand-painted bunnies, and gourmet truffles with flavours like Earl Grey Tea, Macha Green Tea, and Smoked Bacon.

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2. Guess How Much I Love You Milk Chocolate Eggs- With illustrations and branding from the endearing classic children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You”, these fine milk chocolate eggs are the perfect taste of nostalgia.  Kids will love the recognizable characters and the colourful egg-carton packaging, while adults will love the clean and simple flavour and ingredient list. To satisfy smaller mouths or to hide for an Easter egg hunt, you can also check out the adorable five-pack of chocolate baby bunnies.

3. Choices Dairy Free Chocolate Egg- Catering to dietary restrictions and a sweet tooth at the same time doesn’t have to be a fruitless task. This hefty chocolate egg and mini chocolate disks are Dairy Free, Wheat Free, Gluten Free and Egg Free, making them suitable for vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten, dairy and other intolerances or allergies. But don’t think these diet-friendly treats are rabbit food-even the hard-core chocolate enthusiasts in your house will gladly gobble them up.

4. Heidi Gourmette’s White Chocolate Egg with Orange and Pumpkin Seeds- A sophisticated import from Romania, Heidi confections are celebrated across Eastern Europe and definitely for good reason. This confection’s stunning garnish of crunchy pumpkin seeds and tangy candied orange adds a chic adult touch to the otherwise kid-favourite white chocolate. A favourite for everyone in the house!

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5. Vosges’ Organic Peanut Butter Bonbon Eggs– For those who love that sweet and salty combination, these eggs are a must try. The decadent chocolate shell surrounds a creamy peanut butter filling that’s then topped with a delicate hit of maldon sea salt to make the flavour pop! Worried you’ll inhale them all in a single go (hey, it wouldn’t be hard)? Why not opt for one of Vosges’ adorable single serve Peanut Butter or Toffee Bunnys topped with trendy pink Himalayan salt.

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Now that you’ve got your sweet treat shopping list in tow, hop on over to McEwan to get your chocolate fix. Because there’s no better way to celebrate the sweetness of Spring’s arrival than with a dark, decadent and delicious McEwan treat.

DELICIOUSLY YOURS,

ABBEY SHARP, RD

OWNER, ABBEY’S KITCHEN

Fabbrica’s Garlic Soup

From the perspective of cost, this simple dish must be seen to carry the banner for Italian peasant food. Its traditional ingredients–old bread, garlic, and water–are even cheaper and more pedestrian than the handful of basics required for a spaghetti alla puttanesca. But they acquire majesty in their symbiosis (especially if you make the profligate choice of using good stock in place of the water.)

Serves 6

2 QUARTS (2 L) VEGETABLE OR CHICKEN STOCK (PAGE 286)

4 BAY LEAVES

4 JUNIPER BERRIES, CRUSHED

30 CLOVES GARLIC, PEELED

15 SAGE LEAVES

1 TSP (5 ML) THYME LEAVES

2 CUPS (500 ML) CUBED DAY-OLD ITALIAN BREAD, CRUSTS TRIMMED

1/3 CUP (75 ML) 35% CREAM

SALT AND WHITE PEPPER

GARNISH
6 SLICES CIABATTA

1 TBSP (15 ML) OLIVE OIL

SALT AND PEPPER

GRATED GRANA PADANO OR PECORINO ROMANO

FINE OLIVE OIL

CRISPY-FRIED SAGE LEAVES (OPTIONAL; PAGE 278)

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Bring the stock to a boil. Wrap the bay leaves and juniper berries in cheesecloth, tie the bundles closed, and add to the stock along with the garlic, sage, and thyme. Return to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer until the garlic is tender, about 30 minutes.

Add the bread and cream. Return to a simmer, stir, and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove spice sachet and blitz the soup in a blender (or with a hand blender).  Pass through a strainer if desired. Season to taste.

Sprinkle one side of the ciabatta with some of the olive oil, season, and grill until crisp and golden. Turn, sprinkle with more oil, seasonings, and a little cheese, and grill until crisp and golden. Place the crostini in 6 warm bowls. Pour the soup around the crostini, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sage (optional), and serve.

[From: Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica: Great Italian Recipes Made Easy for Home by Mark McEwan. Copyright © General Purpose Entertainment, 2011. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (Canada), a Division of Pearson Canada Inc.]

#McEwanAllAccess 3.0

Are you a fan of the hit Food Network TV show, Top Chef Canada? Do you list Bymark, Fabbrica, North 44, and One among some of your favourite restaurants in town? Do you consult Great Food at Home and Rustic Italian cookbooks to determine your week’s meals? Well, if you’re interested in digging deep into the mind behind all of these tasty endeavours, then we’ve got some exciting news for you.

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On May 6th Food and Nutrition expert, Abbey Sharp of Abbey’s Kitchen will be hosting an exclusive evening with Chef Mark McEwan.  Only 30 of the most dedicated foodies will be invited to join Mark as he takes guests on intimate tasting tours of his McEwan store at  the Shops at Don Mills.

Much like last year’s #McEwanAllAccess 1.0 and 2.0, the party will be simultaneously happening on site and online. Abbey Sharp will be curating some intriguing conversations before, during and after the event so keep your eyes on Social Media for full access to the festivities.

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So what can you expect as a guest of #McEwanAllAccess? Arrive in style with the help of a $15 Hailo credit.  Go ahead and pose for a few Instagram shots with Mark or take photos of your favourite food finds. The rest of the evening will involve tasting your way through Mark’s gourmet store all the while chatting up a storm in one-on-ones with the man himself. All guests leave with a swag bag of goodies valued at over $45!

 

As described by Mark himself, “We have come a long way from our opening five years ago. Everyday I get to see how the store continually transforms and it’s a great time to give our guests a glimpse into what our team does everyday. Executive Chef Shen will be on hand creating one of our favourite recipes, and we will walk through the different departments sampling the best that we have to offer, from PEI beef, to east coast oysters, to McEwan’s Own Ice Pressed Olive Oil and such. I look forward to welcoming everyone.”

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Start off with fresh bread & McEwan Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the Bakery, moving naturally onto Itaca Prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano in the Deli and Cheese departments.  Next, you can learn to shuck oysters and taste Mark’s favourite PEI Grass-Fed beef before wandering over to the catering department for more. Here you’ll find cute canapés like Lobster Tacos, Mini Grilled Cheese, and Curry Chicken Salad, as well as Executive Chef Shen whipping up Fabbrica’s famed Gnocchi.  Finish off a fabulous night with VON Doughnuts and French Macarons, all the while sipping on Vineland Estates wine and Beau’s All Natural Beer.

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Will you be one of our 30 invited guests? Just copy, paste and tweet the following, and then keep an eye out for a potential invite and instructions:

I want to get social with @Chef_MarkMcEwan at @McEwanFoods for #McEwanAllAccess

Space is very limited, so of those who tweet, only a handful will be notified each week with more details and instructions. Our previous #McEwanAllAccess events sold out instantly upon invites being distributed so be sure to let @AbbeysKitchen know how much you really want to come! Looking forward to chatting, sipping, eating and tweeting on May 6th with Mark and 30 of you!

Event Details

  • May 6, 2014 :: 7 pm – 9  pm
  • McEwan at 38 Karl Fraser Rd
  • $60 per person inclusive of all drinks, food, swag bag, taxes and gratuities (LIMITED SPACE)
  • There will be only one ticket available for those selected with no plus 1 option
  • Event format will be food stations with beer and wine
  • Tweets, pictures and great conversation are encouraged

 

Making Your Mark ~ Rob Gentile

There’s a lot of movement in the restaurant business. We’re really fortunate that our best people tend to stick around, but we lose our fair share of gems.

Making Your Mark catches up with the ones that got away.  This time around we caught up with Rob Gentile from Buca.

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What’s the best part about being in the food business? And what’s the hardest part?

The best part about being in the food business is that I get to do what I love.  It’s very satisfying to make people happy through good food and I enjoy the ongoing challenge to learn more and get better each and every day.

To be honest I don’t have anything bad to say, I love every part of it!

How do you know when a recipe’s right?

With recipes and chefs in general is that just when we think we have it right, we second guess ourselves and ask “how can we make it better?” The truth is that a recipe is never perfect, it comes down to personal preference. What matters most is the guest’s experience and if they think it’s perfect, then we have done our job.

What was the worst food review you ever got and how did you handle it?

At Buca we have been very fortunate with good reviews but when there are negative comments it’s important to always remain positive and never let them affect the team. Negative reviews should always be used as a learning tool to determine why a guest is unhappy and what we can do to improve our hospitality so that everyone who walks through the door has an exceptional experience.

Nowadays, everyone has a voice through social media so if we ever discover an unhappy guest, we always respond or invite them back so that we can have an opportunity to change their perception.  It’s surprising how the tone changes from negative to a positive one.

Why do you think foodie culture has exploded the way it has?

Food has always been exciting and will continue to be.  As long as we exist we will always love good food so when someone can cook really well by creating unique and tasty dishes, they are considered somewhat of a superhero. Restaurants and Chefs all over the world are continuously presenting more interesting and amazing things to eat, as a result they are driving the “restaurant experience” to new levels. People are excited, they can’t help themselves.  We will always be drawn towards food,  it’s a beautiful thing.

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How do you think your stint at The McEwan Group has helped you in your career?

Working for Chef Mark McEwan was an incredible learning experience, it instilled the drive and sense of professionalism that I have today. Watching Mark constantly strive to improve and expect the best from his team is something I really absorbed as a young cook. I carry that same determination with me and every day I encourage my own team to be better, a constant reminder that we never stop learning as chefs.

Bymark Gets a Pop Art Makeover by Claire Hall

Claire Hall, a name you will be hearing a lot more of in the future if you haven’t already!

Claire Hall

The 31 year old is a Burlington, Ontario native and is on the forefront of the custom art scene in Toronto. She is young, talented, outgoing and does not stick to one genre of art, which made her an easy pick for Mark McEwan when he wanted to commission someone to make his vision a reality while undertaking renovations at Bymark.

When Mark McEwan approached Claire about having some solid wooden blocks painted in a pop art format, Claire came to the restaurant armed with her mock ups and to everyone’s surprise, Mark replied- “that is better than I could’ve imagined”. We all know Mark as a tough judge, so with this exclamation, everyone in the room was blown away. Within mere minutes he also hired her to paint the slatted wall in the east side of the lounge.

Bymark

The wooden cubes, in their original form have been a fixture at the Bymark bar since it’s opening 11 years ago. Yabu Pushelberg’s  design choice of using the architectural pieces was to soften the space and bring in natural elements to the downtown core’s concrete jungle. But as we know, Mark tends to push the envelope when it comes to his artistic vision. With the rest of the restaurant getting a face-lift, a custom paint job on the cubes, which many may have walked past without noticing before, gave him the opportunity to bring a brightness to the space.

Before and After

“Some people will love them and some will think I am crazy, but it is art and it is meant to provoke a conversation,” says Mark.

You can spend years searching for a piece that you have envisioned or you can have it created to your specifications and that is exactly what he did.

For more information about Claire Hall, please visit her website and make your décor decisions easy ones!

Moments with Mark: 1998

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The life of a “celebrity chef” has drastically changed in the last 10 years. With the emergence of the “foodie” culture brought on by television shows and even whole networks dedicated to the culinary arts and everything surrounding them, the life of a chef has become a lot more glamorous than it used to be. We bring this up to direct your attention to the date of this article, it was written and printed in 2006, yet the photo of Mark McEwan was from 1998. In those days chefs didn’t have or need updated head shots and lenthgy bios. There were a select few in the city that were lauded for their skills, precision and dedication to their craft. They were in the kitchens instead of the office or in studios. For this “Moments with Mark” we decided to ask him about life in 1998, which was a busy year in the headlines.

In 1998, the news of the scandal between then President, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky became a media sensation. When you first heard about it, did you believe him or her?

At first I couldn’t believe any of it! But then as more details came to the surface, I absolutely knew that he was guilty of the indiscretions…poor Hilary.

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Titanic became the highest grossing film of all time! Did you take your wife Roxanne to the theatre to see it or did you wait for the release of the video and watch it at home?

Of course we went to the theatre! I don’t think I would have heard the end of it if we hadn’t…I may have even shed a tear.

The last episode of Seinfeld aired in 1998, were you an avid fan of the show? Is there a Seinfeld-ism that you related to the most?

I actually wasn’t a huge fan of Jerry himself, but I thought the cast of characters surrounding him were great. If there is one thing that I will take away from the show it was my dance skills, I learned them from Elaine!

Seinfeld

Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was the album of the year. With many stars setting up camp in Vegas, if you had to attend which show, what would you choose? Celine? Donny and Marie? Brittney? Garth?

Believe it or not I have been to see Celine Dion in Vegas— it was quite the show, she is a Canadian icon, at one point she has been everyone’s guilty pleasure.

In 1998 the world lost many legends, one of the most notable was the death of Frank Sinatra at age 82. Were you a big fan of that type of music?

My father was actually a Sinatra-esque lounge singer when I was growing up in Buffalo. I even have a picture of the two of them together! Growing up in my household, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand were always playing in the background.

Frank-Sinatra

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Freshness, Taste and Nutrition – McEwan Celebrates Eating Local in 2014

Last month here on The McEwan Group blog we explored some of celebrity chef, Mark McEwan, and McEwan’s General Manager, George Bachoumis’ top predictions for this year’s hottest food trends.  The consensus? Us Canadians care about the quality of ingredients we’re putting into ours bodies, and McEwan wants to make sure we only eat the best. One of the most popular health-driven movements we’re seeing for 2014 is an emphasis on locally sourced meats and fish.

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Local products have long been known to have health benefits, largely associated with the reduced time between harvest and eating- the fresher the food, the more nutrients and flavour it retains! But it’s not only about micronutrients, as George points out.

Customers are also concerned about where their food comes from, how it was raised and how it was prepared.

This type of information is much easier to obtain from smaller operations that are locally grown than from massive corporate organizations with countless international plants, allowing you to feel much more at ease with a familiar local supplier.

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The McEwan process for buying local acknowledges that as a result of variable landscape and terroir, the different Canadian provinces and regions have their own specialty in what they farm and produce best. Mark describes this as the “best in show” approach to sourcing the products on his shelves. Rather than buying all from only one Canadian region, McEwan finds the crème de la crème across our delicious country. For example, Mark sees Prince Edward Island as an absolute gem for fantastic seafood- “the saltiness of the air and the natural programs make their products pristine which is why I am happy to serve them to my clients.”

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And while it may be easier to buy from just a handful of massive production facilities, the McEwan team know the value of seeking out the very best. So every day George meets with local sales representatives, and visits Toronto’s food terminal to hand-pick the freshest products. Him and his team also attend a variety of food shows throughout the year to network with passionate suppliers, farmers and food entrepreneurs.

To George, Mark and the rest of the McEwan family, buying and selling local is a no brainer, especially because it’s what you, the customer want. As George says, “Supporting local creates a relationship between the producer, us, and the customer”, and that’s what McEwan is all about.

DELICIOUSLY YOURS,

ABBEY SHARP, RD

OWNER, ABBEY’S KITCHEN

Our TOP 10 Instagrams from Winterlicious 2014

Winterlicious is an annual gastro tradition that we look forward to every year since its inception in 2003. This year we were pleased to see Bymark ranked among blogTO’s top Winterlicious restaurants and still remains a crowd favourite.

Here are our top #LiciousTO Instagrams from customers who wined and dined at Chef Mark McEwan‘s restaurants: ONE, Fabbrica, North 44, and Bymark.

Bymark Roasted Chicken Breast with white beans, parsnip, oregano tapenade and brandy braised apple. Photo by @diningdianna

Bymark Roasted Chicken Breast with white beans, parsnip, oregano tapenade and brandy braised apple. Instagram by @diningdianna

Fabbrica_Pizza Parmigiana_dishmashtweets

Fabbrica Pizza Parmigiana (vegetarian) with roasted eggplant, fresh mozzarella, garlic, tomato sauce, and reggiano. Instagram by @DishMashTweets

ONE Pork Belly with Asian glaze, pickled cucumber, red onion, carrot slaw, puffed rice, yuzu aioli, coriander, panko. Photo by @diffickle

ONE Pork Belly with Asian glaze, pickled cucumber, red onion, carrot slaw, puffed rice, yuzu aioli, coriander, and panko. Instagram by @diffickle

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Bymark Organic Trout with crispy artichokes, arugula, caramelized cipollinis & dill buttermilk dressing. Instagram by @imstepho

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ONE Salmon with beluga lentils, granny smith apples, spinach, crème fraiche, dill foam. Instagram by @diffickle

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Fabbrica Strozzapreti Lamb Bolognese with cecci beans and reggiano. Instagram by @champagne_diamonds

North 44 Pan Seared Rock Fish with blistering tomatoes, mussels, coconut milk, reduced broth and basil shoots. Photo by @katielynn17

North 44 Pan Seared Rock Fish with blistering tomatoes, mussels, coconut milk, reduced broth and basil shoots. Instagram by @katielynnk17

ONE Scallops with butternut squash puree, blood orange, pain d’epice, brown butter and bacon foam. Photo by @jonjfong

ONE Scallops with butternut squash puree, blood orange, pain d’epice, brown butter and bacon foam. Instagram by @jonjfong

Fabbrica Sicilian Garlic Soup (vegetarian) with roasted garlic, focaccia crouton and crisp sage. Photo by @champagne_diamonds

Fabbrica Sicilian Garlic Soup (vegetarian) with roasted garlic, focaccia crouton and crisp sage. Instagram by @champagne_diamonds

ONE restaurant. Photo by @joyshen33

ONE restaurant. Instagram by @joyshen33

Fabbrica’s Cannoli

There are those who consider Clemenza’s memorable post-hit utterance in The Godfather— “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”—one of those regrettable moments in popular culture that undermine the image of Italian Americans. But more enlightened types recognized it for great screenwriting—and as an incredible image boost for an already great dessert.

Makes 12 cannoli

4 tsp (20 mL) sugar

1 tbsp (15 mL) shortening

pinch of salt

1 small egg

2 tsp (10 mL) white wine

2 tsp (10 mL) dry marsala

¾ cup (175 mL) all-purpose flour, sifted

FILLING

½ cup (125 mL) buffalo ricotta, drained in cheesecloth for 24 hours

4 tsp (20 mL) fresh goat cheese

2 tbsp (30 mL) 2% milk

3 tbsp (50 mL) icing sugar

3 drops vanilla

pinch of cinnamon

pinch of grated lemon zest

½ cup (125 mL) mascarpone

To Finish

Canola oil for deep-frying

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups (500 mL) semi-sweet (52%) coating chocolate, warm (optional)

Icing sugar

Special equipment

Metal cannoli rounds (about 5½ by ½inch/13 by 1 cm)

Combine the sugar, shortening, and salt in a bowl. Work together with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the egg and combine. Add half the white wine and half the Marsala, follow with half the flour, and mix thoroughly with the spatula. Repeat. Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to rest for at least 3 hours.

Meanwhile, for the filling, in a medium bowl combine the ricotta, goat cheese, and milk; work together with a rubber spatula until smooth. Add the icing sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon zest, and combine again. Finally, add the mascarpone, and whip with a whisk until the mixture forms peaks. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the cannoli dough as thinly as possible, as if it were a sheet of pasta. Cut the dough into rectangles about 3 by 5 inches (8 by 13 cm). Stack the rectangles with small sheets of parchment paper in between them until needed (they can be refrigerated or even frozen this way).

Fill a cast-iron skillet to a depth of about ¾ inch (2 cm) with the canola oil and heat it to 375°F (190°C). Working with no more than 6 cannoli tubes at a time, lubricate the tubes with a little more canola oil. Wrap a rectangle of dough around each tube, brushing the inside edge of the overlap with the egg wash so that the dough stays firmly in place. Carefully transfer the tubes to the hot oil and fry, turning, until the shells are brown and crisp, about 45 seconds. Remove to a bed of paper towels to drain. When the tubes are cool, carefully slide off the cannoli. Repeat until you have 12 shells or all the dough is used.

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To finish, if desired, dip one end of the shells in the coating chocolate, and then set aside on a parchment paper – lined baking sheet until set. Transfer the filling to a piping bag and pipe it into both ends of each cannoli until it is filled. Sprinkle the cannoli with icing sugar and serve.

Substitution: You may use a top-quality cow’s milk ricotta in place of the buffalo variety.

Tip: If you have a pasta machine, do not hesitate to use it to roll out this dough—it works brilliantly.

[From: Mark McEwan’s Fabbrica: Great Italian Recipes Made Easy for Home by Mark McEwan. Copyright © General Purpose Entertainment, 2011. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Group (Canada), a Division of Pearson Canada Inc.]

Groundhog Day Challenge 2014

Many little piggys rolled all the way home from #GroundHogChallenge at Richmond Station on Monday night. In the 5th year of the competition, guests were treated to a total of 9…yes 9 courses of pork, from 7 chefs vying for the glory and the trophy from this year’s event plus a charcuterie plate and a bacon, pumpkin seed tart prepared by Carl Heinrich and his team.

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The chefs battling for pork supremacy included Ted Corrado from The Drake 150, Nicholas Marragau from Bar Boulud, Alex Molitz (Farmhouse tavern), Tara Besignano (Skin and Bones), Jesse Vallins from The Saint, Albert Ponzo from Le Select and Teo Paul of Union.  They all faced an esteemed panel of judges, from Chris McDonald, the founder of the event, to Nial McCotter (Auberge du Pommier), Suresh Doss of Zagat, Karon Liu from The Grid and Liora Ipsum from BlogTO, Michael di Caro (Spotlight), David Ort (Food with Legs) as well as Chef and Owner of The McEwan Group and Head Judge of Top Chef Canada, Mark McEwan.

At 6:00pm the dishes started to come out of the kitchen, in the spirit of competition, all the chefs helped plate each other’s meals… this also made it difficult to discern which plate came from which chef in the open concept kitchen.

All the tasting was done blind, with Ryan Donovan of Richmond Station giving the explanations of the plates as they arrived in front of the diners and the judges were sequestered to maintain the anonymity of the plate’s creator.

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A who’s who of the restaurant industry devoured course after course. Judging each menu item on taste, presentation and “ham factor” (each dish was required to contain 50% pork).

By the end of the evening the judges crowned chef Nicholas Marragau from Bar Boulud as the 2014 champion! His “Black and White”, an artfully plated pork boudon blanc and blood sausage, was also voted as the crowd’s favourite.

Boudin Noir (tongue, heart, face) and Blanc (with milk & eggs) with Celeriac Puree and Croquettes

Boudin Noir (tongue, heart, face) and Blanc (with milk & eggs) with Celeriac Puree and Croquettes