Inside the basement bakeshop and kitchen at Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Hotel, chefs, cooks and bakers are frantically slicing and chopping, stirring and basting, moving fast to keep the hungry folks fed. No one is standing still.
To an outsider, the bustle in this cavernous kitchen seems chaotic. To the insiders – the team of cooks and chefs – this is just another day at the office. To them, the real chaos is upstairs, where 800 Sunday brunch guests are filling their plates from the more than 100 hot and cold dishes set out in the grand foyer of this 101-year-old railway hotel.
“It’s like getting ready for the big game,” says pastry chef Richard Warren.
And this is just the warmup. If a typical Sunday is the big game, then Mother’s Day is the championship game for all the glory. Come Mother’s Day – the busiest brunch of the year – the spread is scaled up and expectations run even higher as 1,000 diners ramble, plates in hand, through an epic spread in the iconic Winnipeg landmark.
Spring is the season for brunch, when Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Days, reunions, graduations, weddings and many other momentous moments are marked by families everywhere.
“Coming to brunch with your family solidifies that memory in your mind. It’s something you will remember for a long time,” says Warren.
At the hotel, fresh-baked bread, salads, carving stations and an Eggs Benedict bar are served alongside the traditional brunch must-haves of scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages and back bacon. And dozens of desserts – cheesecakes, truffles, verrines and slices – linger sweetly in a sunlit anteroom beside the foyer.
While the Fort Garry Hotel’s brunch is a mind blower, home cooks can take a few pointers and scale it down for their own special springtime celebrations for family and friends.
Serve classic brunch dishes such as Eggs Benedict to satisfy the crowd. Choose in-season fruits and berries to add colour and a sense of spring in bloom to the table. And then take your spread in an unexpected direction with such lavish favourites as Beef Bourguignon or Seafood Newburg.
Choose recipes that strike different notes, both savoury and sweet. And remember: This hybrid breakfast-lunch meal should take diners easily to suppertime with nary a stomach growl. Serve plenty of dishes and stretch your cooking skills to make it a meal to be remembered for years to come.
As Fort Garry’s executive chef Joseph Wojakowski says, special occasion brunches are a big deal, yes, but every brunch is special. And that’s a message home cooks should take to heart as well.
“(Brunch) can be experienced anytime,” says Wojakowski, who has overseen countless brunches in his 19-year tenure at the hotel. “With the food and the ambience, we would like the people to leave the brunch with the whole experience – the service, the food, the surrounding atmosphere.”
My story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Flavours magazine. The issue can also be found in provincial liquor stores throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C.
Click on the links below for recipes.