Brunch in Bloom: Spring 2014 Flavours Magazine

Eggs Benedict will always be a brunch classic. (Photo courtesy Flavours magazine.)
Brunch in Bloom at Winnipeg’s Hotel Fort Garry. (Photos by Brandon Gray, Flavours magazine.)

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.

Strawberry, white chocolate and orange verrines by Pastry Chef Richard Warren, Fort Garry Hotel. 

Saskatoon berry clafoutis by Pastry Chef Richard Warren, Fort Garry Hotel. 

Seafood Newburg by Executive Chef Joseph Wojakowski, Fort Garry Hotel. 

Classic Eggs Benedict by Executive Chef Joseph Wojakowski, Fort Garry Hotel. 

Travel Manitoba: Eat What You Reap

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Two large pizza pies oozing with melted cheese and loaded with toppings are hungrily eyed by diners.

But it’s no ordinary pizza party. The women seated at the linen-draped picnic-table are about to tuck into pies loaded with vegetables they just picked at a vegetable farm down the road.

Talk about fresh food.

The late-afternoon outdoor garden party is the well-earned reward for work in the field and kitchen.

This is Friends and Lovers, a new two-day retreat at Calder House Bed and Breakfast, located just east of Steinbach in southeastern Manitoba.

The adventure taps into a growing trend—cuisine-focused travelling that connect people with local foods from the dirt up.

Calder House B & B owners Carole Tetreault and Grant Milliner partnered with nearby farmers Kim Shukla and her husband Richard Whitehead of Stonelane Orchard to create a hands-on, yet relaxing retreat for travellers.

Armed with a ‘shopping list,’ guests grab baskets and pick ingredients at Stonelane Orchard. Shukla leads her charges through the fields, greenhouse and orchard, teaching the ins and outs of Manitoba agriculture along the way.

“It sounds funny but we really like to talk about vegetables because it really broadens people’s horizons,” says Shukla. “It’s really about getting back to the land and knowing where your food comes from.”

That food includes a plethora of vegetables including peas and peppers, beans basil and leafy greens, among many other garden-fresh eats.

“People really want to connect with their food,” says Shukla. “And if they can pick their own lettuce and eat it that night they get really excited.”

That’s where husband-and-wife team Tetreault and Milliner come in. Back at Calder House, a circa 1922 farm-house, the duo enlists their vegetable-laden guests to help make dinner using the produce and herbs harvested from Stoneland Orchard. Tetreault leads the kitchen party, teaching any neophytes how to cook and overseeing the action.

Dinner is served on the garden patio (or inside the large dining room if the weather doesn’t cooperate). After reaping the delicious rewards of their garden-fresh feast, Tetreault, a massage therapist and reiki practitioner, can work out the kinks in the upstairs treatment room.

The two-day package is a true food-lovers escape with the added bonus of a peaceful retreat from the buzz of modern life,, says Tetreault.

“I hope (guests) find some peace, reconnect with themselves and just be, be present.”

Friends and Lovers runs mid-July through September. Get dirt under your fingers and eat what you reap. For information visit Calder House B & B’s website.

Calder Healing House

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My story first appeared on Travel Manitoba’s media website. Here’s the link.

Bistro 71/4 host Fall cooking classes

Alex Svenne Bistro 7 1/4
Alex Svenne Bistro 7 1/4

Bistro 7 1/4 chef/owner Alex Svenne has added a new job to his resume: cooking teacher.

The 42-year-old restaurateur and his wife Danielle, also 42, are set to launch in-house cooking classes at their South Osborne eatery.

The classes have been in the works for months but the idea came together in mid-August, after the always busy couple got through July and their annual commitment to feed the performers at the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

As a side note: Alex and I go way back. I first met him when we both worked at Chi Chi’s near the now-demolished Winnipeg Arena and Stadium. I was a server (a very bad one with zero short-term memory skills) and he was a pony-tailed dishwasher. He worked his way up in the restaurant business, started a catering business with his then, long-term girlfriend Danielle, and then opened Bistro 7 1/4 a few years ago. The restaurant has been a favourite among critics and diners.

And now we can all learn how to cook like Alex.

Here are all the cooking class details, pinched from Bistro’s Facebook page:

Get into Chef Alex’s kitchen! Come learn to cook some fun dishes, hands on in the Bistro 7 1/4 prep kitchen. Choose one or all 6 classes. Chef Alex will work with you to make great food that you will all enjoy eating as you go. Learn how to make chicken galantine, sear a perfect duck breast, and whip up a souffle! Cook kale 4 different ways! Learn cooking tips and Chef’s secrets.

Classes are approximately 2-3 hours long and will start at 7pm

Duck: Tuesday Sept 10
Fish: Tuesday Sept 17
Chicken: Tuesday Sept 24
Eggs: Tuesday Oct 1
Vegetables: Tuesday Oct 8
Pig: Tuesday Oct 15
12 – 16 students per class

Call 204-777-2525 to sign up for any or all cooking classes.
$60.00 per class or $300.00 for all 6
For more information visit Bistro’s website here.

For all the ins and outs of Winnipeg’s food scene follow me on Twitter @RSummerfield. 

CBC The Scene: Winnipeg food scene strikes oil

Lise Belanger at Frescolio
Lise Belanger at Frescolio

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For most folks, slurping olive oil in tiny shots seems like something you might do on a bet. For Lise Belanger it’s the next wave in Winnipeg’s ever evolving local food scene.

In June, Belanger and her husband Michael Graham opened Frescolio, Winnipeg’s first extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting bar.

“People are excited about this,” Belanger says. “This is where we’re at in the Winnipeg food scene, it feels like it’s exploding right now,” she says. “People are indulging and [olive oil and vinegar] is a pretty inexpensive indulgence.”

It looks like she’s on to something.

Less than a month later, in late July, OLiV Tasting Room, a Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan-based oil business with eight shops across Canada, opened a Winnipeg location on Academy Road.

But Steinbach-based Prairie Oils & Vinegars Tasting Room was Manitoba’s first olive oil tasting bar, opening in November 2012.

“[Business] has been amazing. People come here and they say ‘I don’t ever want to go back to a grocery store’,” says Prairie Oils owner Bev Penner. Unlike the grocery store, customers can taste a variety of oils and get a quick or more involved tasting lesson.

“I’m not a retail store, I’m an experience,” she says.

The shops in Manitoba join an estimated 500 olive oil tasting bars already in business across Canada and the States.

The olive oil industry “is one of the fastest growing segments of the global food industry, showing significant growth year after year,” according to a May 2013 report by Olive Oil Market, a industry-led group.

“The olive industry has followed the wine industry,” says Belanger, whose bottles sell for $5 for 60 mL up to $28 for 750 mL.

Like wine, oils are made using a variety of olives, grown in different countries and harvested at different times in the fruit’s growth cycle and aged. Those crush dates are also printed on the labels at Frescolio and Prairie Oils.

The local bars, which have the feel of boutiques rather than grocery stores, stock a variety of unflavoured and naturally flavoured extra virgin olive oils and vinegars.

Inside OLiv Tasting Room, 24 extra virgin olive oils include an eclectic mix of flavours including parmesan, roasted garlic, Persian lime and lemon pepper. White and red balsamic vinegars also come in a variety of flavours like juniper berry, mango, tangerine, fig and jalapeno lime.

Back at Frescolio, Belanger praises the versatility of oils and vinegars in cooking, which can act as both a base or provide a flourish of extra flavour.

It’s all about experimenting with the oils, their flavours and cooking properties in the kitchen and combining oils and vinegars to find what tastes best, says Belanger.

“It’s another tool in the kitchen.”

Frescolio’s Lise Belanger offers these tips for how to taste olive oil:
• Pour about 1 tablespoon into a small tasting cup. (Frescolio uses small, shot-sized stainless steel cups.)
• Through your nose, take a large sniff of the oil. Extra virgin olive oil has notes of earth, grass and herbs which vary with variety. (Olive oils are also rated as mild, medium or robust for their heat and peppery notes.)
• Place the cup in the palm of one hand and cover with the other hand. The heat from your hands will warm the oil and release the aromas. Wait about 20 seconds.
• Breathe in the aroma of the oil paying attention to any scents.
• Take all the oil into your mouth, take a quick breath and immediately swallow. (It should almost feel like you’re slurping.)
• Note all the flavours, tastes and physical properties of the oil. Robust oils may create heat in your throat and have an almost spicy and peppery flavour.

Frescolio
Frescolio

My story first appeared on CBC’s The Scene. Here’s the link to the story. 

For all the latest news on Winnipeg’s food scene follow @RSummerfield on Twitter.