Rustic Italian : Pay Chen Talks Entertaining, Recipes & Restaurant Gossip with Mark McEwan

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On November 27, Chef and Author, Mark McEwan sat down with television and radio host, blogger, and food columnist, Pay Chen, to chat Top Chef gossip, entertaining tips, the Canadian grocery scene, keeping the business fresh, and of course, Penguin Group Canada’s new release, Rustic Italian: Great Italian Recipes Made Easy for Home.

Mark describes himself as wanting to be Italian in his next life, so it was no surprise when he opened the Italian restaurant, Fabbrica in 2010.  Since starting in the food business years prior, in 1985, Mark has been reading, tasting and observing fantastic Italian dishes abroad and at home, and has funneled those lessons into Fabbrica’s authentic Italian menu.

“I don’t own any of these recipes myself,” he told audience members, but rather “I’ve studied the historical record and have added my own twist.”

While not Italian himself, apparently he’s done a pretty fantastic job playing the part judging by the hoards of happy Nonnas from Woodbridge who consistently give him the nod of approval. “That’s the litmus test- it doesn’t get better than that,” Mark said. With the cookbook, Mark has made his restaurant quality Italian dishes accessible to the home cook, whether for a weeknight family meal or an elegant dinner party for 12.

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When it comes to entertaining, Mark warned audience members not to stretch themselves too thin. So rather than locking ourselves in the kitchen with plans for an elaborate 10 course meal (hey, we’ve all done it), he suggests we get all the components ready and assign family and friends to different tasks in the kitchen. Who cares if Uncle Jerry’s gnocchi are all different sizes, or your little niece overworks the bread. The point is you actually got to spend time with your guests.

And with the holidays behind us, and we start pondering our new years resolutions, maybe it’s time we take a tip from the chef and rethink our grocery shopping habits.  For Mark, the most important determinant when grocery shopping should always be quality, the reason why he’s personally sourced the best quality ingredients for his restaurants and grocery store, McEwan. In comparison to 20 years ago, “Canada has made leaps and bounds” in what’s been locally produced and available in the market – Mark says you just need to check out the remarkable local cheese selection at his store to see that! And while buying quality is one hurtle, maintaining it and not letting it go to waste is a whole other concern.

“Shop like the Europeans do!” Mark suggested to listeners, “I buy only what I need for 1 ½ days, use it until it’s gone and then go back for more. There is certainly no point in spending money on a quality fish if it’s going to lose its freshness when not used promptly.”

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And speaking of freshness, for a man owning some of the longest-running restaurants in the city, Mark certainly knows how to keep things exciting. How does he manage to keep his business fresh despite not always being the “new restaurant” in town? “Challenge yourself” he says, because “the moment you take your foot off the accelerator you can feel the draft.” Right now, for example, Mark is undertaking a physical and conceptual facelift in his financial district restaurant, Bymark, with a menu of more fun, playful new dishes coming out and an interior design to match!

Mark also finds inspiration through his work as Head Judge on the hit Food Network show, Top Chef Canada, where up and coming Canadian chefs bring their A game for the title and prize. With so many impressive and inventive young food entrepreneurs, it’s no surprise Mark feels the need to “look in the rear view mirror” from time to time.  It’s clearly a very exciting time for Canadians who love good food.

And if you’re one of those food-loving folk, Canadian or otherwise, you’re going to want to get your hands on a copy of Rustic Italian. Available online or in stores for only $26 CAD plus tax, this would make a perfect gift for any aspiring chef or foodie. So grab a copy, a few friends, and like Mark suggests, get everyone in the kitchen helping out. Not only will the meal live up to Mark and your high quality standards, but the memories made in the process will be worth much more.

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McEwan’s Festive Meals Make Entertaining a Holiday Miracle

If you’re reading this in the midst of the hectic holiday season, you’re likely buried in a to-do list longer than Santa’s. There are decorations to hang, gifts to buy, events every night of the week and of course, that grand dinner party you promised you would host. Amidst the chaos in the week, pulling off a bountiful spread may seem like an impossible task…and isn’t the purpose of the holidays to spend time with family and friends rather than be chained to a stove basting a turkey with one hand while mashing potatoes with another?Well, until we find a clone under the tree that can help us make our cake and eat it too, we’re taking a little help from the holiday experts at McEwan.
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This giving season they are offering a variety of full Festive Meals that will let you actually relish in those precious once-per-year moments.

McEwan Catering Manager, Eric McEwan told me, “a lot of our first time customers who were used to doing their holiday meals themselves were skeptical at first, but they all have come back in the new year raving about the meal, how easy it was and how much food they got for the price. Ultimately, they appreciate being able to spend the time they would usually be cooking with their families instead and these meals help them do just that.”

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Investing the same care and passion you would if you were cooking yourself, the McEwan chefs have developed a variety of holiday meals to satisfy your families size needs, preferences and holiday traditions.

The most popular option is of course the whole Turkey Dinner with classic sides like Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing, Brussels Sprouts and more which Eric anticipates to get over 200 orders for this Christmas Eve.

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For those exhausted from poultry, why not try the elegant Beef Tenderloin, Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Heirloom Carrots, Seasonal Mushrooms and Caesar Salad supper.  There is also amore exotic Roasted Leg of Lamb with Parmesan Potato Gratin, Chili Garlic Rapini and an Arugula Manchego Salad. Even the non-meat eaters have a restaurant-quality option with McEwan’s stunning Maple Whisky Salmon with Dill French Beans, Slow- Cooked Sugar Beets and Bibb Lettuce Salad.

It’s not just about likes and dislikes, McEwan also recognizes that happiness and health always go hand in hand and are keen to accommodate various dietary concerns. Going gluten free? No problem, Eric showed me the batch of gluten free stuffing and flourless gravy that they’ve got going into holiday meals. Lactose Intolerant shoppers have a plethora of options as well with McEwan’s innovative dairy free recipes. Even vegetarians can get in on the jolly spirit with handmade vegetable pot pies and pasta entrees. If you don’t see something specific that captures your holiday traditions, Eric suggested their team of culinary superstars will happily take requests – “we ask you what you want and make it happen.”

What’s the point of getting your guests all riled up unless you’ve got a big showstopper to end the night? A quick trip to McEwan’s tantalizing bakery and your toughest chore will be deciding whether to go Yule log or pie, European cookie tray or petit fours. That is so much easier than last year’s struggle with the 20 pound stand-mixer and the worst flour blizzard of 2012!


While a McEwan quality meal like this is sure to get gobbled faster than Santa’s cookie tray, there are lots of tasty possibilities for the lucky chance of leftovers.

Too much turkey? Executive Chef Shen Ousmand suggests you shred or “pull” it, mix it with some cranberry sauce and serve it on a mini bun as a Pulled Turkey Slider! Got extra Brussels sprouts? Try tossing them with some cooked potatoes, throw a fried or poached egg on top and call it a breakfast hash.

However you want to serve it, McEwan’s Festive Meals are a great way make this hectic season just as relaxing for you as it is for your guests- a scenario that may have previously seemed like a holiday miracle!  So if you started reading this piece a little anxious starring down your to-do list, I hope you’re now breathing a sigh of relief at the big ticket item you can cross off. With a McEwan’s Festive Meal on your menu, you can get back to what really matters this season – cherishing each moment spent sharing memories, stories and fabulous food with your closest family and friends.





McEwan’s Curry Bar Spices Up Family Dinner


Don’t we all love to fantasize about having a rich aromatic sauce simmering on a stovetop for hours, and having 5 different dishes on the go when the kids come home from school.  Let’s be honest her, folks. After the 12 hour work days, the kids’ soccer practice, your mandatory spin class, and the mountains of inevitable laundry, the thought of busting out a single pan is often enough to throw a grown adult into a stress-induced fit. Thankfully, you don’t have to quit your day job to deliver deep flavours and good nutrition to your family’s plates. Just pop your head into McEwan’s Shops at Don Mills, breath in the exotic curry aromas, and a great family dinner is just a quick trip through the checkout.

Chef Shen Ousmand and his staff preparing the Curry Bar items.

As Toronto Star restaurant critic Amy Pataki pointed out, grocery stores have come a long way in offering ready-made meals on site.  And while McEwan’s store touts an impressive line up of restaurant-quality hot items to be enjoyed in store, on the go, or at home around the dining room table, nothing is more satisfying than getting to decide exactly what you want and how much you want by dishing it up yourself.  Unlike typical self-serve salad or yogurt bars, however, McEwan’s Curry Bar is a heck of a lot exciting, enticing and seductive.


Choose from popular items like Butter Chicken, Lamb Saag, Biryani Fried Rice and Executive Chef Shen Ousmand’s favourite, McEwan’s Own Beef Curry.  All of recipes for the curry bar have been inspired by the food Shen’s mother used to cook back home in Srilanka, but have been adapted using classic French technique and North American friendly levels of heat. And if you’re still apprehensive about diving into the world of Indian curry, McEwan’s by-weight pricing means you can sample without committing to an entire meal.























These Indian delicacies are not only a huge culinary upgrade from your family’s pizza, paninis or pastas staples, but offer incredible unique health benefits from anti-inflammatory to antioxidant, to anti-bacterial properties as well!  Shen even told me that growing up, his mother used to wash chicken with curry spices like turmeric for this exact reason!

So next time you’re rushing home in a dinner panic, add a little spice to your family’s pale, boring and bland meal routine.  Let McEwan do the slow-cooked hard work, pick out your family’s faves, and reap the nutritious and delicious benefits of a slow cooked Indian meal.