Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Taste of Puglia

The lovely folks at DiVino Wine Studio invited many of us media, bloggers and wine industry individuals to a recent tasting featuring the wines of Puglia, Italy. It was my first time inside the Chateau Laurier when I wasn't just ducking in to use the facilities halfway through a canal skate, and it was quite a beautiful setting.

Once inside the Laurier Ballroom we were invited to "travel to Puglia" by Sommelier and Food and Wine Lecturer Antonella Millarte, Sommelier Daniele Cirsone and Italian Wine Expert Ian D'Agata; all of whom were hosted by Antonio Mauriello of DiVino Wine Studio.

Antonella and Daniele

Puglia, Italy is located "in the heel of the boot" and is undergoing a massive food and wine renaissance. It boasts the largest surface area in Italy devoted to agriculture and produces the most wine in the country (along with Sicily and Veneto.) Puglia has also been described as "the capital of organic products" and is famous for its olive oil, durum semolina wheat and asparagus.

The dominant grapes in Puglia are Nero di Troia, Negromaro and Primitivo. Puglia is definitely known for reds but also makes amazing roses and a few fresh whites.

After the passionate Puglians told us all about their homeland and why we should visit, we were then shown some gorgeous video clips of the region before being led through the tasting by the very knowledgeable Ian D'Agata. I have posted notes on each wine below, and throughout you will see the friendly faces of many of the Puglian wine producers who traveled to Canada to share their wine! These notes come mainly from Ian D'Agata, but I've thrown in a few of my own observations.

Donna Iliana Anima, Coppa d'Oro, White, 2009, 13%
Grape: Bombino Bianco
fresh, easygoing, honey, herbal, delicate
can be used in a sparkling wine or blends (high acidity)
dry, tart finish
often consumed as an aperitif
pair with vegetables, fish

Posta Arignano, D'Alfonso del Sordo, Rose, 2009, 12.5%
Grape: Montepulciano fruity, simple, uncomplicated, red berries
honeysuckle, like a tawny port upon second smell
pair with fish cooked with tomatoes and herbs

Nobiles Nero di Troia, Antica Cantina, Red, 2009, 12.5%
Grape: 100% Nero di Troia (the "new red grape of Puglia")
ages well
elegant, tobacco, small red berries, jam, fruity, delicately spicy
ripe/rife acidity

Cacc'e mmitte, Alberto Longo, Red, 2008, 13%
Grapes: Nero di Troia, Montepulciano, Bombino Bianco
Cacc'e mmitte is one of the oldest DOC appellations in Puglia.
plummy, spicy, fuller bodied, sweet fruit, cedar

Vigna Grande, Spagnoletti Zeuli, Red, 2007, 13%
Grape: Nero di Troia
delicate spice, red fruit, smooth tannins

Petranera, Albea, Red, 2007, 13.5%
Grape: Primitivo
darker than the rest
vanilla (oak), black fruits, rich, velvety mouthfeel
cherry, plum, cocoa
very different from Nero di Troia

Tatu, Vigne e Vini, Red, 2007, 14%
Grapes: 80% Primitivo, 20% Aglianico
tobacco, herbs, ripe, jammy flavours
mineral, acidic
smell Aglianico on the nose, taste Primitivo on the palate

Ghenos, Torrevento, Red, 2007, 14%
Grape: Primitivo
dark, concentrated colour
mild spice, short finish

Vereto, Vallone, Red, 2007, 13%
Grape: Negromaro
not very tannic
fresh, light, drinkable
this winery is on 1000 acres (huge estate)
pair with pizza, pasta

Masseria Maime, Tormaresca, Red, 2006, 13.5%
Grape: 100% Negromaro
very good example of Negromaro
full-bodied, ripe red fruit, delicate, ripe tannins

Romanico, Cefalicchio, Red, 2005, 13%
Grape: Nero di Troia
less fleshy
biodynamic winery
higher in acid, lower alcohol, less colour, red cherry, hazelnut
larger, fatter, cluster of grapes (Nero di Troia)
sweet smell

After the tasting, we were invited to enjoy some tasty antipasto and try even more of the wines of Puglia. It was a lot of fun meeting the Italian wine producers; true to form they were all quite friendly and passionate about their product. Being part Italian myself, I did feel quite at home chatting with some of them and I started to think that a trip to Puglia would indeed be a great idea. Many thanks to Antonio for bringing these wines to Canada so we could all have a taste!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grill 41: Sophisticated Comfort Food

(L to R): Sous Chef Piero Catalfo, Head Chef Aurelio Petraglia

Recently along with other food media here in Ottawa, I was made aware of a new restaurant in town: Grill 41, located in the Lord Elgin Hotel. After reading that the menu was the result of a collaboration between two well-travelled Chefs (Michael Smith being one of them), I was interested to know more about the other half of this collaboration --Chef Aurelio Petraglia.

Born in Uruguay and raised in Toronto, Chef Petraglia has now come to Ottawa and he agreed to sit down and chat with After the Harvest about his latest culinary venture. When asked why he came back to Canada after spending time abroad in France, Dubai, Bahrain and Thailand, Chef Petraglia simply said, "I came back because Canada's my country."

After the Harvest (ATH): How would you describe your cooking style or culinary point of view?

Chef Aurelio Petraglia (AP): I would say it's diverse because in my travels I learned to adapt to many different styles. My cooking style is an exploration of those different influences, fused with local ingredients. Working with Chef Michael Smith on this menu I received coaching to stick to local fresh product and (in Chef Smith's words), "let the ingredients speak for themselves and keep it simple." With that in mind, I'd say the food at Grill 41 is sophisticated comfort food.

ATH: What are some of your favourite "quintessentially Canadian" ingredients to cook with?

AP: Cheese! Quebecois flavours, homey food, root vegetables, corn, beer and Saskatoon berries just to name a few. That is a tough question because Canada is so diverse. These days people are more curious to discover what's growing locally in their own backyards, which is great. We're taking the lead from Europe, getting a hold of our identity and gaining pride in our food.

ATH: What are your impressions of the local food scene here in Ottawa? Have you visited local markets and farms? Are you working with any particular farmers or producers?

AP: Our supplier is buying locally and seasonally as much as possible and we find ways to use what's available by using different techniques like making purees, pickling etc. I've visited the Byward Market and I've found the food to be of high quality, very accessible and affordable.

ATH: For the Toronto readers out there, what are some of your favourite Toronto restaurants?

AP: I really like Jamie Kennedy's food, also Massimo Capra -- he's passionate and his food is Italian yet local. J.P. Chalet, formerly of the Windsor Arms Hotel is also a favourite of mine.

ATH: What did you learn from working with Chef Michael Smith?

AP: I was lucky to have worked with him. I did a lot of research and took his advice to heart. He told me, "go with your surroundings, have faith in your vision and don't be so concerned with pleasing everyone." For me, I've always believed that you're as good as your cooks, so I recruited my team based on great Chefs and cooks that I've worked with in the past.

ATH: What is your earliest food memory?

AP: My father, being Uruguayan, cooked a lot of traditional grilled meats so I have fond memories of his food, but my mother also made great comfort food, more North American fare such as stroganoff.

ATH: What do you want the people of Ottawa to know about Grill 41?

AP: That it's not just another hotel restaurant. It is in a hotel and we enjoy serving the hotel guests, but Grill 41 is also a standalone restaurant. We'll be serving sophisticated comfort food. We'll be offering simple, fresh, good quality, affordable meals ($80-100 for 2), and we're here to accommodate Ottawa and give them another dining option.

I want to mention my Sous Chef, Piero Catalfo, who has worked with Liberty Entertainment and at Beer Bistro in Toronto. We work very well together, he's professional and has a very good palate. He will be one of the reasons for our success as a team at Grill 41.

ATH: Why did you become a Chef?

AP: It wasn't planned. My first job was in a small Lebanese restaurant in Toronto, but it wasn't until my first professional position at The Fairmont Royal York that I realized I wanted to be a Chef. That experience changed me, not just as a cook but as a person.

I really enjoyed my chat with Chef Petraglia, and if the food at Grill 41 is as professional and approachable as the Chef himself, then I'm sure we'll have another fantastic place to eat here in Ottawa. I'm also very excited about Chef Michael Smith's Table d'hote, which features dishes such as grilled rib eye, PEI chowder and molten dark chocolate cake. A portion of the proceeds from Chef Smith's menu will go to The Ottawa Food Bank.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SuperForest, Maximum Freshness and After the Harvest Updates

The beauty of contributing to an international blog is that you get exposed to all sorts of interesting people, projects and things! Isn't the internet awesome? If you haven't yet checked out my other online home, SuperForest, please do!

Anyway, I wanted to share with you one of these amazing people, whom I would not have heard of without SuperForest: Barry McLaughlin. Operating under the stage name of Barry Holiday, he writes, acts in, hosts and produces hilarious videos and has recently started his own food-related blog: Maximum Freshness! Here Barry shares his urban food foraging adventure:

It was through this blog that I stumbled upon his newest venture: "Songs About Produce for Kids". Barry combines his entertaining personality with a passion for fresh food and tops it all off with his musical stylings! He clearly has a passion for all things fresh, and I especially love his "Carrots of Love" song; the chorus is so very Brandon Flowers!

Listen to Carrots of Love!

Congrats, Barry, for all you've done thus far to induce laughter, and may your latest foray into the world of fresh food be successful!


I also wanted to take the time to let you know about some upcoming stories I'll be sharing on After the Harvest. I have to apologize for my lack of recent posts; things outside of the blog have been quite busy lately! Thanks to everyone who checks After the Harvest from time to time and as always, I appreciate your comments!

Upcoming posts I'll be sharing:

  • A chat about Canadian cuisine with a new Chef in town
  • A wine tasting featuring one of Italy's best culinary regions
  • The story of a man and his passion for teaching others how to grow their own food
  • And....I finally read The Omnivore's Dilemma!

There will also be more stories to share, more events to recount and more people to meet on After the Harvest, so stay tuned!

Who are you connecting with these days?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feast of Fields Ottawa 2010

This past weekend I attended this year's Feast of Fields. Having thoroughly enjoyed it last year, I had been looking forward to this event for some time. Although I try to focus on the positive on After the Harvest, I must share that I was quite disappointed with this year's Feast of Fields. Although the food was still delicious (and of course that is the main attraction), many aspects of the event were lacking this year, even with their newfound corporate sponsorship. I will still share with you the lovely local food I enjoyed, and hope that next year this event will bounce back and once again be an unforgettable local food experience.

Plate #1:

Zen Kitchen/Roots and Shoots Farm: Mini-Zen burger with peach habanera BBQ sauce and tequila tomatillo salsa on a rosetta bun with root vegetable chips

The Table Vegetarian Restaurant/Appleseed Farm: Vegetable fritters with onion ginger relish, green salad

The smiley folks of Zen Kitchen

Plate #2:

Holiday Inn Kanata/Saffire Farms: Saffire farms organic gazpacho shot with fresh garden sage oil served with a black truffle and white cheddar crostini

Epicuria/Bryson Farms: Heirloom tomato salad with roasted corn and feta (Ferme Floralpe) fingerling potato salad with smoked trout (Les Fumets Sylvestre), arugula and marigold buds

The Green Door/Rainbow Heritage Garden: Raw red kale salad with oriental dressings, a stir fry of multi varietal zucchini medallions with fresh herbs and heirloom black tomato, and panch puran potato salad.

Benny's Bistro/Greta's Organic Gardens: Summer Vegetable Stew with Orca Beans

After consuming two plates, I made my way to sample the mushroom soup from Les Fougeres that everyone was raving about and to sample a taste from The Branch Restaurant.

Les Fougeres/Champignons Le Coprin: Mushroom soup garnished with sauteed assorted mushrooms, homemade porcini oil and fresh thyme

The Branch/Aubin Farms: Aubin Farms braised lamb and wild grape leaf dolmades served with smoked tomato sauce

Chef Bruce Enloe

After reading through the brochure from The Branch, this place seems right up my alley, so I look forward to making the trek to Kemptville to experience Chef Enloe's local cuisine and down to earth atmosphere.

I topped off my meal with a tasty orange hazelnut cookie from B.Goods Bakery and was pleasantly surprised to notice (after checking out the website) that I had eaten a completely vegan, organic dessert! Healthy and delicious!

In the end, I enjoyed the local ingredients and culinary talents of my city once again at Feast of Fields, but I do hope this event resembles last year's version in 2011! Thanks to all of the Farmer-Chef teams and food suppliers for all their hard work!

Locally yours,

Saturday, September 4, 2010

5 Questions with Chef Joshna Maharaj

Imagine a Chef with the passion of Julia Child, the warmth of Oprah and a sense of humour that puts struggling comedians to shame. Add a commitment to local, fresh ingredients and a toss in some Indian spice, and you have Chef Joshna Maharaj.

I knew I would like Chef Joshna even before I met her based on her appearances on Steven and Chris and the highly entertaining musings on her Posterous blog. I wasn't disappointed when a few weeks ago, Joshna and I shared a delicious lunch at the Drake Cafe in Toronto. Amid searing city heat and delicious Drake dishes, Chef Joshna was gracious enough to answer 5 Questions for After the Harvest.

First, a little about Chef Joshna Maharaj. In my humble opinion, Joshna is one of Canada's most intriguing culinary talents, and I haven't even tasted her food yet! I'd like to see Joshna on my TV screen teaching me how to cook, educating me about food culture and sharing a fun story like only a good girlfriend could. Are you listening, people? Give this woman her own show!

Joshna began her career at George Brown College Culinary School and moved on to work at Dish Cooking Studio before making a major impact at The Stop Community Food Centre, including writing all the recipes for The Stop's very successful cookbook, Good Food for All.

Currently she splits her time between writing about food, cooking food and supporting the local food movement. Joshna is working with Slow Food Toronto and Evergreen partnering Chefs and Producers for the Evergreen Brickworks Picnic which is going into its 4th year. She writes for Good Food Revolution as well as her own blog, and she's spending lots of time in the kitchen creating scrumptious food for privately catered events. Joshna even put in a pitch to do a Ted Talk for TedxTO. Her angle: "Food is the most effective catalyst for social change today." Is she inspiring you yet?

That's not all! Aside from being one of Steven and Chris' favourite chefs, she has competed in and won Iron Chef competitions in Toronto and spent time in Italy with the Canadian Delegation in 2008 for Slow Food's Terra Madre event.

If you're like me you're probably wondering, "when does she sleep?" Don't worry, it's not all work and no play for Chef Joshna. I get the sense that her work is her play. Everything she does she does with a smile on her face, a friendly laugh and a passionate energy.

Joshna sipped on a blackberry lemonade while I enjoyed a "Paul Jackson": lemonade, iced tea and fresh mint.

So, without further ado, Chef Joshna Maharaj answers 5 Questions:

After the Harvest (ATH): How did you get involved with The Stop Community Food Centre?

Chef Joshna Maharaj (JM): I started volunteering with their What's on the Table event and wrote an article about it. The Executive Director, Nick Saul, asked me to be on the hiring committee for the job of cook for The Stop. I ended up applying for the position myself and the rest is history.

ATH: What is your approach to Indian food?

JM: Essentially my take on Indian food is about freshness, even if it's simmered on the stove for 3 hours. I love experimenting with vegetables and my food symbolizes Indian food in Toronto using local ingredients; it's eclectic. The knife skills and French techniques learned at culinary school added to my cooking style as well, therefore it's still rustic but a little more refined. I want people to open their hearts to spice. Spice doesn't just mean heat.

My approach is to use local ingredients to make that faraway food. I don't like the term "ethnic food" -- I think it's a silly way to describe it, it's actually really segregating and it makes it about "the other". For example I see pork fried rice on the Drake menu and it's simply listed on the menu along with the other dishes, not under an "ethnic specialties" section.

There are two things about Indian food I really want to say:

#1: It's not just about heavy curries! There is such a thing as a quick, fresh curry. People are more familiar with just one region of India (Punjab), but there's more to Indian food than one region.

#2: Abandon butter chicken -- it's the burrito of Indian food. (therefore not authentic.) I grew up eating Indian food and I ate my first butter chicken in a restaurant!

ATH: What is your earliest food memory?

JM: My earliest food memory as a child is listening to the clucking of aunties in the kitchen. I thought they were magical because of the complex food they were making. They were like wizards because they just knew how to cook with all those spices. This memory of women in the kitchen sticks with me to this day, and it's more fun now interacting with them because I'm a Chef, and because I've become an auntie herself. It's all about the female food legacy.

ATH: What kind of music do you listen to while you cook?

JM: Right now I'm listening to a lot of Miles Davis. I recently went to an exhibition in Montreal in the Fine Arts Museum and learned about his creative process; his improvisational style. I have the same spirit of improvisation in the kitchen and I get really inspired by the ingredients.

She twisted my rubber arm to share this peanut butter semifreddo with caramel brittle and chocolate sauce -- it was heavenly.

ATH: There's been a lot of talk online about the future of food writing. What do you think about it?

JM: The food writing I want to see and produce is like good journalism but it also has to have a personal element to it. It's dangerous to abandon food writing because it's such a crucial description of culture. What we eat is who we are, so if we stop talking about what we eat, that's problematic.

Joshna's not even close to being done putting her stamp on the food world. Being very inspired by Julia Child, she plans to create video podcasts teaching people to cook. I'm sure she also has many more plans up her sleeve, so keep your eyes and ears open!

If you're going to be in the Toronto area in October, make sure you grab yourself a ticket to the Evergreen Brickworks Picnic on Sunday, October 3rd and enjoy some fabulous local food while raising funds for Evergreen and Slow Food Toronto.

My gratitude goes out to Chef Joshna for sharing passion, conversation and lunch with me on a hot summer day in Toronto. Cheers, Joshna!
Joshna enjoyed The Drake burger with Treeline beef, bacon, white cheddar and Russian dressing; I lunched on the Fish Tacos with shredded cabbage, smoky salsa, sour cream, lime and tortillas.