Slim pickings for Mother’s Day brunch spots in Winnipeg

 

Hundreds of orange milk chocolates will be made for Mother's Day brunch at Winnipeg's Fort Garry Hotel (Robin Summerfield)
Hundreds of orange milk chocolates will be made for Mother’s Day brunch at Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Hotel (Robin Summerfield)

 

She gave you life and you’re trying desperately to give her a nice meal.

Good luck. Finding brunch reservations in Winnipeg for Mother’s Day this Sunday is a tall order.

Local favourites have already filled up while many others have limited space during off-peak hours.

But pick up the phone and start calling because tables can still be found in the city.

As of Thursday morning, Chaise Café and Lounge still had space available but it’s tight. Chaise has reservations for 200 confirmed but executive chef Jason Sopel expects 350 guests to come for brunch Sunday.

“It’s definitely going to be busier partly because we’ve built our reputation on brunch,” said Sopel.

Chaise is serving a $25, three-course menu featuring several salads, smoked apple wood bacon, smoked trout, scrambled eggs with mushrooms, potato croquettes, banana pancakes and cinnamon buns, among other dishes.

Sopel and his sous chef are pulling an all-nighter Saturday to make final preparations. He also vowed to keep serving brunch into the dinner hour for as long as customers want it.

Meanwhile, brunch heavyweight the Fort Garry Hotel has sold-out its 1,000 or so seats for Sunday’s main event, one of their busiest days of the year.

“We’re working harder. We’re working longer hours and everyone’s pulling together,” said Richard Warren, the hotel’s pastry chef and three-year Mother’s Day brunch veteran. His staff of nine are pumping out cakes, tarts, squares, slices, chocolates of all description.

“We’re making three or four times what we normally do,” Warren said.

Fifteen dozen cakes (in eight flavours), 20 dozen chocolates and truffles and 16 dozen lemon tarts are just a slice of what Warren’s crew will be serving. The team also makes all the bread, croissants and pastries for the hotel.

Back on the hunt for reservations, take heart: as of Thursday there were still limited seats for the taking at The Velvet Glove, Pasquale’s (dinner), Bistro 7 1/4 and Elements. But you may be eating very early in the morning or closer to dinner time.

So get cracking. Don’t forget to buy Mom a card. And next year, make reservations earlier.

Fort Garry Hotel pastry chef Richard Warren stands in the walk-in cooler amongst racks of cookies, slices, cakes and bread. (Robin Summerfield)
Fort Garry Hotel pastry chef Richard Warren stands in the walk-in cooler amongst racks of cookies, slices and cakes. (Robin Summerfield)
St. Boniface's Chaise Café will serve an estimated 500 croquettes during Mother's Day brunch. (Robin Summerfield)
St. Boniface’s Chaise Café will serve an estimated 500 croquettes during Mother’s Day brunch. (Robin Summerfield)
Fort Garry Hotel pastry chef Richard Warren pours over his to-do list. The Mother's Day brunch at the hotel attracts about 1,000 people and is one of the busiest days of the year. (Robin Summerfield)
Fort Garry Hotel pastry chef Richard Warren pours over his to-do list. The Mother’s Day brunch at the hotel attracts about 1,000 people and is one of the busiest days of the year. (Robin Summerfield)

 

This story first appeared on CBC Manitoba’s website Scene. Here’s a link to the original story.

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. 

Cure the Cold: French Onion Soup

French onion soup at Peasant Cookery. (photo robin summerfield)
French onion soup at Peasant Cookery. (photo robin summerfield)

It’s February. Winnipeg is in the midst of an epic cold snap. For those looking in, our sub-Arctic temperatures are pretty terrifying. (We were colder than Marsthe last day of December.) But for locals, it’s winter weather as usual.

We can take it. We’re a hearty bunch.

Embracing winter in Winnipeg means: bundling up in multiple layers; wearing a toque and serious winter boots at all times; and going outside every single day. (No shut-ins allowed.)

It also means finding food that warms from the inside out. That’s where French Onion Soup comes in. A meaty, full-bodied stock is the foundation. Carmelized onions are a must. Croutons or a slice of dense, earthy bread comes next. It’s all capped with a layer of melted gruyere and is served scorching hot from the oven. Those are the starting points for this traditional meal in a bowl, whose roots go back hundreds of years.

At Peasant Cookery, tradition is both embraced and ever so slightly twisted. Every slurp of broth delivers a hearty but not heavy beefy essence, and perhaps a note or two of red vino. While the stock is the number one element, cheese and a crouton (toasted bread) are a close second.

At the Exchange District dining room, a slice of house made bread topped with Swiss cheese crowns this warming winter soup. A perfect melt of cheese caps the crock pot and drips over the side. And who doesn’t love those crispy bits of cheese on the edge and sides? If your spoon doesn’t work to dislodge the toasted bits than use your fingers. I did.

Having French Onion Soup feels like a bit of a treasure hunt too. I love trying to load my spoon with every element in the crock: broth, onions, bread and cheese. And while it may be a touch gauche, who doesn’t love when melted cheese makes its own tight-wire from bowl to uplifted spoon?

So, what have we learned?

Winter in Winnipeg isn’t that bad.

And when it is bad, arm yourself with all the essentials to keeping warm

And then tuck into a crock of French Onion Soup and forget what everyone is complaining about.

This post first appeared on Peg City Grub, a culinary tourism initiative by Tourism Winnipeg. For more great advice on Winnipeg’s dining scene go to pegcitygrub.com.

Slurp it up. French onion soup at Peasant Cookery. (photo robin summerfield)
Slurp it up. French onion soup at Peasant Cookery. (photo robin summerfield)

Winnipeg 2014: Food trends to watch for

Diversity Foods executive chef Ben Kramer inside his new greenhouse at the University of Winnipeg. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)
Diversity Foods executive chef Ben Kramer inside his new greenhouse at the University of Winnipeg. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)

Winnipeg’s food scene is never dull. Insiders keep the city’s food lovers satisfied with new foods and new food experiences. Winnipeg’s culture of cuisine continued to evolve in 2013, most notably with the addition of RAW:almond, the pop-up on ice, and the opening of Prairie 360˚, the city’s revolving restaurant and boutique coffee houses like Thom Bargen and Little Sister Coffee Maker. New additions, like The Grove’s Osborne Village location, are on the horizon. The coming year holds much promise too from local food purveyors, restaurateurs and chefs. Here are a few trends we’d like to see evolve in 2014 in Winnipeg.

Party Planners
Several years ago Bistro 7¼ launched School Nights, a weekly Sunday night get together at the South Osborne bistro. The party was free, everyone was invited and themes were reflected in food, drink and entertainment. The lively nights, which are still hosted each week, brought out diners of all stripes. It was (and still is) a fantastic way to spend a Sunday night meeting new people. More and more restaurateurs, chefs and foodies are introducing their own cuisine-themed parties hosted in-house or at secret locations. The professionals will look for creative ways to get bums in seats, especially on off-peak days and hours. We foodies want restaurant-hosted book clubs, themed tasting menus, food-fetes, tea parties and beer pairing dinners. If you build it, we will come.

Grow your own
Chaise Café and Lounge owner Shea Ritchie is one of several Winnipeg restaurateurs and chefs growing their own ingredients in the summer and winter. Ritchie’s Provencher Avenue eatery has a garden and container gardens in the summer and a hydroponic garden in the basement year round. (Robin Summerfield)

University of Winnipeg’s Diversity Foods, with chef Ben Kramer at the helm, is in the midst of starting his own indoor garden on campus inside a largely abandoned greenhouse. He is one of several local chefs growing (or trying to grow) his own greens and herbs. Johnny Kien at Saigon Jon’s and Shea Ritchie at Chaise Café and Lounge have also acquired green thumbs. Sure, Manitoba has a short growing season that severally limits using local produce but we’d still like to see more kitchens putting that ‘eat local’ mantra to the test.

Home-based kitcheneers, many with 9 to 5 lives, have started more small-batch, artisanal food companies in recent years. Flora and Farmer, Andorah’s Feast, Delicious Kicks are just a few newbies on the market. They sell their wares at farmers’ and makers’ markets, and boutique food shops. Taste, local ingredients and little or no preservatives are key in these jams, pickles, specialty baked treats, sauces and salsas. Quality and word-of-mouth is the key to success. There’s plenty more room in Winnipeg’s food scene for more artisanal food stuffs made by home-based foodies cum entrepreneurs. Bring on the pickles people.

Canning and Preserving
Peasant Cookery, a restaurant in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, started the in-house preserving and pickling trend. Or, in the least, they were the first business locals noticed embracing this trend. In either case, more local food emporiums are pickling, preserving and making jams to serve in-house. This annual Fall tradition preserves locally grown ingredients for service during the winter months and into spring. The jarred delicacies (pickles, asparagus, carrots and beets, berry jams et al) add new dimension to plates on cold winter days.

More pop-ups popping up
Secret dinners, backdoor bistros, alley burgers and supper clubs will continue to spike in 2014 as more professional foodies and food lovers get together on the side. Some pop-ups will be advertised on Facebook and Twitter and open to all. Others will remain on the down-low, skirting liquor laws and keeping those-in-the-know to a limited number. Whatever their form, pop-ups add life to a city’s food scene. The more the merrier.

Big thinkers
In 2013, Chef Mandel Hitzer and architect Joe Kalturnyk launched RAW: almond, Winnipeg’s pop-up restaurant on ice at The Forks. It was and is a resounding success. Diners came out in droves, bundled up in their finest cold-weather gear to experience some magic inside the big white tent. Winnipeg’s roster of chefs isn’t short on big thinkers with great ideas. The ongoing success of RAW: almond has opened the door for other big ideas. There have been rumblings about a winter food festival to celebrate the uncelebrated season. It’s time. Winnipeg can be a renowned food city. It’s on the cusp and the city’s talented crew of food makers and lovers will make it so.

Little Sister Coffee Maker's Vanessa Stachiw opened her Osborne Village coffee house in 2013. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)
Little Sister Coffee Maker’s Vanessa Stachiw opened her Osborne Village coffee house in 2013. (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)

My story first appeared on cbc.ca/manitoba/scene, an arts and culture website for Winnipeg and Manitoba.

Food-truck builder on a roll

Steve Moynes, owner Pizza Trucks of Canada
Steve Moynes, owner Pizza Trucks of Canada (photo robin summerfield)

As many great ideas go, this one started over a beer with a buddy.

In 1998, Steve Moynes and a friend with a great pizza recipe, hatched a plan: ‘let’s build a mobile pizza truck.’

And with that, Expressway Pizza, a restaurant and delivery service all in one, was born. Eleven franchisee trucks later and Moynes, who built the trucks himself, was definitely on to something.

Word got around that Moynes had quite a talent for building food trucks. After that, “people kept calling,” says the 59-year-old.

Today, Moynes and his family-owned company Pizza Trucks of Canada in Dugald, Manitoba, have built an estimated 100 food trucks and have orders to fill for a year and counting.

Two years ago, the food truck boom hit with Food Network shows likeEat Street and The Great Food Truck Race, says Sandy, Moynes’ wife and co-owner along with their three sons Trevor, Kevin and Steve Jr.

“Now we don’t even have to sell them anymore we just have to be competitive,” she says. The cost for a new, empty food truck starts at $50,000 and custom details go up from there.

Their restaurants on wheels are on streets across the U.S., Canada and Australia. He recently landed an order to build a pizza truck to send to Kenya. The company, Naked Pizza, is co-owned by Shark Tank shark and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Moynes also recently salvaged a circa 1937 blue school bus in Tok, Alaska. The bus will be transformed into a New York Fries food truck for Toronto streets.

Closer to home, Moynes and his family recently finished Habanero Sombrero and Vilai’s Spice Box, which both hit Winnipeg streets this spring.

Moynes–along with his sons–builds every interior inch of the trucks including electrical, plumbing and insulating. And the team works on two or three trucks or trailers at a time in their Dugald shop.

The key to making a great food truck is a great floor plan that uses every inch, gives workers their own space and creates ideal work flow, Moynes says.

“You have to lay out the floor properly or it just won’t work.”

That can be tricky when you’re limited to 130-square-feet, the foot print of the average 18-by-7-foot food truck.

But every truck has its own charms and challenges, Moynes says. “I love designing these things. Every one is different.”

My story first appeared on cbc.ca/manitoba/scene. Here’s the link.

For a guide to Winnipeg’s food trucks click here.

For all the insider news on Winnipeg’s food, restaurant and chef scene follow me on Twitter @RSummerfield and @PegCityGrub.

Steve Moynes, owner Pizza Trucks of Canada
Steve Moynes, owner Pizza Trucks of Canada (photo by robin summerfield

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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eat3

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

frescolio1

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.