While it is easy for writers who have previously worked in the hospitality industry to strike low blows against Winterlicious (and its Summer incarnation), it has to be said that this initiative does bring a great deal of business to scores of Toronto restaurants who can really suffer during the quieter months of the year.
A few weeks back I noticed that Winterlicious had programmed a number of special Winterlicious events across the city, many of them sounding extremely tempting.
Seeing as Friday the 25th of January marked Robbie Burns’ Night, I thought that it was only fitting to join fellow Scot Chef John Higgins and his students at The Chefs’ House for their Take The Highland Way evening… and I’m so glad I made that decision as a most splendid night was had by all.
Next week we’ll look at another one of these Winterlicious special events, The Four Ways Dinner at Parts & Labour.
Naturally, with it being Robbie Burns’ night, I had to wear my kilt. Here I am with Starfish’s Patrick McMurray (who had been serving up Scottish oysters at the reception) posing for the cameras. Upon this occasion I chose to go for a more casual kilted look, a first for me as I have always worn my kilt dressed up to the nines as my version of black tie. Here I match it with a hunting jumper and a natty Drummond tartan tie courtesy of Paul de Campo. And yes, totally commando. Something I found to be a rather foolish move later in the evening as I walked home in the freezing night air. Brrrrrrrrr.
The Ontario Hostelry Institute Chair and President Charles Grieco was present with his delightful wife Marguerite … resplendent in tartan, the Grieco’s made for the most amiable and entertaining of dining companions for Burns’ night.
Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties with a Whisky Jus. Most probably the best Haggis that I have ever tasted, and it has to be said that I have tasted a lot of haggis in my time, courtesy of The Sausage Partners. When I mentioned this to my Scottish Mother she almost blew a gasket: “What do you mean Jamie? Surely not better than Scott The Butcher (our village butcher) or MacSweens (a famous Scottish haggis producer)?” Yes Mum, it was. Perhaps I’ll smuggle some back for you the next time I visit Edinburgh, although I believe I am already flagged as an International Meat Smuggler after getting caught twice attempting to bring haggis and black pudding INTO Canada a few years back.
Master Butcher, graduate of GBC and local haggis maker Kyle Deming of The Sausage Partners describes how he devised his special haggis recipe (pinched from Glasgow’s Stravaigin apparently). The Sausage Partners will be the subject of an upcoming video interview as we’ll be making haggis together. We just have to wait until Kyle collects enough lamb offal to make a new batch as he sold out last month. And remember, a haggis is not just for Robbie Burns’ night… as a young boy I had it at least once a month. As I mentioned, I have eaten a fair bit of haggis in my 41 years.
A seriously delightful Partan Bree Soup with Flaked Crab, a specialty of northeastern Scotland where much of the fishing fleet is based… the only problem here was that there wasn’t enough of it! Despite the fact that Scotland gets a hard time when it comes to cuisine (it’s always back to those damn deep-fried Mars Bars) there is so exceptionally fine food to be found if one knows where to look. The potential for gastronomic adventure has exploded over the 17 years since I left for Canada. I truly believe that Scotland has some of the world’s finest seafood, something I’ll be exploring when I return to my homeland this coming March.
A Scotch Egg with Pickled Vegetables and a Mustard Glaze… a perennial favourite of mine since I was a wee laddie. My heart gave out an audible wee “Och Aye” as this arrived at the table, and it was firm, flavoured, perfectly seasoned/spiced and utterly delicious, certainly a step up from the Scotch Eggs of my youth (I had better not tell my Mum about that). Hmmmm… it’s probably better than I don’t explain what Scotch Egg means in UK colloquial parlance…
Steak Pie, Roasted Venison Loin, and a Black Pudding Sauce, another winner. Chef Higgins and his crew of students do an exceptional job in the kitchens of The Chefs’ House, and for this extra special event they really hit it out of the park. I’d go as far as saying that The Chefs’ House is one of Toronto’s hidden treasures. The steak pie reminded me so much of the great pies that my Gran used to get from her local butchers in the seaside town of Musselburgh… I loved those pies so much. The venison was so perfectly cooked, something that many a fancier restaurant manages to bugger up upon many an occasion. The Black Pudding Sauce was the perfect accompaniment, and look at that wonderful presentation!
The crowd at The Highland Way Burns’ Supper was a mix of Toronto foodies and people who just love a good Burn’s supper. Here we can see The Cookbook Store’s Alison Fryer smiling as I just told her about the dream that I had with her in it a few nights beforehand. Yes, that was a little odd… apologies Alison.
Although I have already raved about the standard of the food prepared by the George Brown students, recognition certainly has to be given to the students who work the front-of-house at The Chefs’ House. When one dines there one always has to remember that these young people are learning the ropes through their work experience there. What a warm, enthusiastic bunch they were… although they did refuse to sell me a Beau’s beer at the very end of the night, but I understand. I was just a little thirsty.
The ever jovial Chef John Higgins thanks his students for a job supremely well done, and one could see by the looks on their faces that they had enjoyed the evening just as much as the diners. It was quite something to behold.
As a Chef, an Educator, a Mentor, and as a Leader in our industry, Chef John Higgins inspires everyone he touches… oh, and he’s also Scottish, which gives him many a bonus point in my book.
The Globe and Mail’s Lucy Waverman stuck true to her Scottish roots with a beautiful tartan sash slung over her shoulder in a most stylish fashion that I felt suited her graceful demeanor perfectly . Occasional GFR writer, beer connoisseur, shortbread pusher, and kindergarten teacher David Kruger celebrated Robbie Burns day by making some excellent “shortie” and through his wearing of tartan underpants.
And finally it is time for dessert. Here you can see how Chef Higgins inspects every plate before it is whisked away to the awaiting diners. Most impressive.
Cranachan, Berry Crumble, and Haggis Ice Cream. Traditionally made from whipped cream, whisky, heather honey, fresh raspberries, and toasted oatmeal soaked overnight in a little whisky, this fine example tempted even me, one who has the exact opposite of the proverbial sweet tooth. The haggis ice cream was a whole new world to me… I’m not sure quite how to describe it. I mentioned it to my Mother over the phone and she wasn’t very impressed. “Why on earth would they want to make ice cream out of haggis Jamie?!” Pic courtesy of Danielle Yoon as I forget to take one.
The wines for the evening were provided by Good Food Fighters Rosewood Estates. Here the always-gorgeous Krystina Roman schools the assembled throng about the night’s wines and how she went about chosing the wines she did to match with the student’s dishes. I felt that the 2011 Mima’s Block Riesling was exceptional, particularly with the haggis and the soup, while the 2010 Merlot was a worthy foil for the pronounced flavours or the Steak Pie and Venison. Well done on both counts there Krystina.
The George Brown students look a little bemused as we are treated to a little exhibition of some fine Highland dancing.
I have always wanted to give this a go myself, but I fear that the sight of a kilted 41 year old ginger man prancing about over crossed swords would be slightly comical. This young chap, on the other hand, effortlessly made it look both graceful and masculine. Well done that laddie!
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he would like to thank Chef Higgins and the students of George Brown College was the best Burns supper a Scottish lad could wish for.