Elyx Chef Series ~ Absolut Darby

In 1995, Absolut collaborated with some of Canada’s most influential, up-and-coming chefs to create a series of unique Absolut-inspired dishes. Featuring the likes of Michael Bonacini, Paul Boehmer, Brad Long, Mark McEwan, Rob Feenie, Susur Lee, Christopher McDonald, Arpi Magyar and others, Absolut hand-selected culinary visionaries who have continued to shape the country’s food scene.

Twenty years later, they’re recreating the series by bringing their “alumni” chefs to select the next generation of up-and-comers who they believe will lead the country’s restaurant landscape in the years and decades to come.

Our very own Darby Piquette, Chef de Cuisine at One Restaurant in The Hazelton Hotel in Toronto was nominated for the Absolut Elyx Chef Series by his boss and mentor, Chef Mark McEwan. Absolut sat down with Darby to ask a few questions.

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Absolut: Tell us about the dish and cocktail pairing you created for the Absolut Elyx Chef Series. What was your inspiration?

Darby: I used a dish currently on the menu at One Restaurant, and switched it up a bit for the shoot. For the original Chef Series 20 years ago, Chef McEwan made an Ahi Tuna dish and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.

My dish is seared yellowfin tuna belly with sweet pea falafel, Israeli couscous salad, mint, pomegranate yogurt, cumin vinaigrette and citrus butter sauce. It eats very light and healthy, and is a great summer option for our busy patio.

Absolut: How would you describe a successful approach to food and cocktail pairing?

Darby: I had ideas in mind about the cocktail pairing, and the direction in which I wanted to go, but I won’t lie, my knowledge of cocktails (other than opening a can of cider for myself) is limited. I focus on what’s happening in the kitchen and rely on our bar team to create cocktail pairings for the dishes.

For this shoot, I left the creation of the cocktail accompaniment in the hands of our talented bartender, Reuben Barkow of One Restaurant. Reuben knows the dish well, and came up with the Absolut Elyx Pom Fizz as a complement. The mixture of pomegranate, mint and lime with both the cocktail and tuna are a great mix and the acidity of lime juice and fizz of prosecco match very well with the fatty yellowfin ‘Toro’. Balance is important.

Absolut: How would you describe your overall cooking style or philosophy?

Darby: My overall cooking style is Continental. I love researching different cuisines, and learning how to incorporate their preparation methods and ingredients into my own dishes. My philosophy toward food is quite simple: Always have fun. Make food that makes people happy and let the ingredients shine. The simpler the better; it’s just food and drink, baby!

Absolut: What’s next for you? Do you have specific goals set for five, 10, or 20 years from now?

Darby: I’m not totally sure what’s next for me. I have always lived life second by second, never really planning too much into the future. I am too busy at the restaurant to carve out a fantasy life in front of me to work towards. I plan on working at the hotel and learning for as long as I can, and meeting as many people as I can before carrying out the thought of running away to the Caribbean to open a fried chicken and doughnut shop with my girlfriend!

Absolut: Chef Mark McEwan tells us why he nominated Darby for the Elyx Chef Series:

There is no harder working young man who loves food and his customers the way he does. ~ Chef Mark McEwan

ABSOLUT ELYX POM FIZZ 

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1 ½ oz. Absolut Elyx
2 oz. Prosecco
1 oz. Lime juice
1 oz. Simple syrup
2 oz. Pomegranate juice
Fresh Mint leaves for muddle and garnish
Fresh Pomegranate seeds

Muddle fresh mint, Absolut Elyx, lime and simple syrup. Add ice and pomegranate juice. Top with prosecco, fresh mint leaves and pomegranate juice. Serve in Collins glass.

ABSOLUT DARBY 

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Inspired by his mentor, Chef Mark McEwan’s original dish, Chef de Cuisine Darby Piquette opted to work with this seared yellowfin tuna belly. Absolut Darby features the tuna as the star, with sweet pea falafel, Israeli couscous salad, mint, pomegranate yogurt, cumin vinaigrette and citrus butter sauce. The lime juice and prosecco in an Absolut Elyx Pom Fizz cocktail provide a nice balance to the fatty yellowfin in Chef’s dish.

Read more about the Absolut Elyx Chef Series here.

Image credits: Absolut

Making Your Mark ~ Claudio Aprile

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 Claudio Aprile, Chef & Founder of Orderfire Group and MasterChef Canada Judge. 

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Claudio Aprile

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 change is the only constant. This is also the hardest part about being in the food business. Evolve or die.

How do you know when a recipe’s right?

When the chef doesn’t follow every step and the result is still delicious.

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

All I’ve ever done is cook, no fallbacks, so when I get a negative review it dose sting. But it’s not how hard you hit that matters, its what you do when you get hit that speaks to who you are. I tend to keep it to myself and try to learn from the miss-fires and fix the problem.

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

Restaurants have always been cultural hubs and are integral in the gentrification process of a city. Toronto’s current housing boom is fertile ground for startup companies such as restaurants. Toronto has never had so many amazing restaurant options, we now have one of the most diverse and exciting restaurant scenes in the world.

How do you think your stint with Mark McEwan has helped you in your career?

Chef McEwan has been a constant source of inspiration and guidance for most of my culinary and business life. I have always admired how he has seamlessly been able to merge his culinary talents with the world of commerce.

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.

Moments with Mark : 1991

Julia Childes, McEwan, Lee & Kennedy

In 1991, rockstar food critic Marion Kane invited Julia Child to the Four Seasons Hotel for a tasting menu put together by five of Toronto’s hottest young chefs. Mark was among the lucky participants, and we sat down with him to talk about the experience and the year that was.

In 1991, you cooked a braised lamb shank for Julia Child at an event at The Four Seasons. Do you remember why you chose that dish?

It was a big favourite on my menu at that time. It was something that I was proud of and thought it showed off who I was as a chef.

Susur Lee said that hanging out with Ms. Child was like going to your grandmother’s house to talk about food. As someone whose grandmother played an important part in their culinary life; would you agree with Susur? What do you think your grandmother would’ve thought of Ms. Child?

I never felt as though I was in the presence of a mother or grandmother. She was an icon, I remember being very nervous and hanging on her every word

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If you got the opportunity to host a legend like Julia Child today, which of your restaurants would you choose and why?

I would take her to Fabbrica. I think that it would best suit the way that Julia liked to cook: simple and warm with a nod to classic preparations. I would love to sit across from her and share a pizza straight out of the wood burning oven.

If you could cook for Ms. Child again, would you make the lamb again? If not what would you make instead?

My style has not changed much.  I would still do a simple dish; maybe something like I did at the Hawksworth Scholarship Event a couple weekends ago.  Braised Veal Brisket Ravioli with Roasted Veal Tenderloin, Carrot-Parsnip Puree, an Apple Mostarda, Fresh Horseradish and Natural Sauce.

Speaking of lamb, 1991’s Best Picture was Silence of the Lambs. How do you feel about fava beans?

I actually love fava beans, but I love Jodie Foster more.

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In 1992, Time Magazine heralded Cal-Asian cuisine as the food trend of 1991 – lots of lemongrass and ginger. Did you explore those tastes at the time? What did you think of it?

I didn’t really follow that trend.  It came in strong and fast and left the food scene in much the same fashion. They aren’t tastes you typically see throughout my cooking, and I try to maintain my voice through all of my food, sometimes playing slightly to trends, but really sticking to my standards.

Freddy Mercury died in 1991. What’s your favourite Queen song? And what do you think of Sasha Barron Cohen being chosen to play Freddy in the upcoming biopic?

Bohemian Rhapsody is probably my favourite. Who doesn’t love that song? As for Sasha Barron Cohen, I have always been very intrigued by him. He fascinates and startles people at the same time. I think he is a perfect choice

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