Top Chef Canada: Meeting Connie and Dining at Charcut

As members of the operations team at Shaw Media (running web
projects and handling details behind the scenes), we usually leave
food reviews and interviews to our more polished colleagues on the
website content teams. However, it doesn’t mean we aren’t rabid
fans of our shows-especially Top Chef
Canada
). And, since we travel a lot to our head
office in Calgary, it was a natural fit for us to visit
Charcut, home base of Top Chef Canada
competitor Connie DeSousa.

Charcut Roast House in Calgary, Alberta

We ventured in on a Monday night, which in the restaurant world
can be one of the slowest of the week, but where Connie builds on
her television fame by hosting a series of Top Chef
Canada
nights. Diners got to view the show (projected
largely and prominently) in the restaurant while they dine. They
also got to cheer along for the girl who is clearly the hometown
favorite.

At first glance, the restaurant is gorgeous-modern, dark reds
and grey-blacks mixed with wood tables and accents. The
place-settings are rustic, yet elegant, a theme which carried
through to the rest of the restaurant. The menu, while quite
meat-centric, featured hits in every section.

Travelling in a group, we managed to taste a lot of the menu
that night, and some of the stand-out dishes included: a
side-split bone marrow dish topped with escargot (Connie calls this
her grownup version of ‘ants on a log’), a variety of house-made
charcuterie (the pistachio-studded pig’s head mortadella a clear
favorite), a tender lamb dish on white beans topped with pesto, and
a whole-grilled fish that featured some of the most delicate and
flavour-packed kale we’d ever eaten.

The Side-split bone marrow at Charcut

Lamb on white beans topped with pesto at
Charcut

Mortadella at Charcut

Grilled fish stuffed with Kale at Charctut

On subsequent visits (yes, we find ourselves gravitating back
each visit out West), we’ve become partial to the prime rib (smoked
to infuse a bacon-like flavor), the fennel-apple salad that
features a rotating series of cheeses, and the cocktail
menu-especially The Appalachian-a stewed apple, vodka and Prosecco
concoction that makes the 4-hour plane ride from Toronto more than
worthwhile.

Service is always relaxed, but friendly and attentive, and
Connie pleases her fans with frequent table-side chats in the
dining room. And, while we’re supposed to remain unbiased, it’s
hard not to join the happy customers and friends who visit Charcut
regularly in cheering on Connie right to the finish!

Tara Eizerman is an operations director and an active foodie
about town.

Related:

Frozen Yogurt's Back, But Who Serves Up the Best Cup In Your Town?

Remember the 80s, when frozen yogurt was as
popular as neon clothing? In those days, it seemed there was a
frozen yogurt stand in every mall, and calorie conscious snackers
power-walked to them so they could slurp back the creamy, low-fat
treat. Frozen yogurt was super cool, but by the 90s the trend had
faded as much as the neon shirts that had once accompanied it.

A loaded cup of fro-yo from frozen yogurt chain,
Menchie’s.

But, as with fashion, food trends can be cyclical, and now a new
wave of frozen yogurt is hitting Canadian markets. It started in
the early 2000s in Korea, where health conscious chains like
Red Mango added Asian flair to the frozen dish.
Red Mango-and the dozens of purveyors it has inspired-allow
customers to choose their own toppings from a variety of flavours,
ranging from classic ice cream fare like chocolate chips and fresh
fruit, to Asian flavours like tapioca bubbles and mochi
(marshmallow-y, glutinous rice cakes).

Fuelled by chains like Red Mango, Pinkberry,
Menchie’s, Flurt,
Yolato, Yogurtland and
Crazy Bananas!, frozen yogurt has become so
popular in the States that many trend observers talk of a “frozen
yogurt war.” Whether snackers flock to the creamy treat because of
its purported health benefits (frozen yogurt generally has a lower
fat and calorie count than ice cream, and usually contains
probiotic cultures), or simply because it tastes good, they are
buying into a trend that also emphasizes individuality and fun.
Without exception, all the big frozen yogurt chains are
brightly-decorated, enticing spaces, perfect for chilling
out.

Perhaps adding to its cachet, the new, customizable frozen yogurt
also tends to be more expensive than traditional ice cream (it’s
hard to get an accurate figure, since most shops price the product
by weight, but spending anywhere from $4 to $8 on custom-topped
yogurt is not uncommon). In fact, frozen yogurt is so hip it’s
already got a new, streetwise name: fro-yo.

But, you don’t have to be a fro-yodelling hipster to try it for
yo’self. Here are some Canadian shops serving customizable frozen
yogurt to a wide range of tastes:

Menchie’s, Toronto and
Vaughan, ON

511 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M5S 1Y4
(416) 645-0222

9360 Bathurst Street
Vaughan, ON
(905) 832-3533

Menchie’s relies on celebrity endorsements to pull in customers,
but don’t let the Hollywood gimmicks fool you-their frozen yogurt
is the real deal. Made with milk from Canadian cows, Menchie’s
never uses powder to make frozen yogurt. They also allows customers
to self-serve (unlimited) samples, so you can decide for yourself
which of their 100+ rotating flavours you like best (popular
options include original tart, cake batter and red velvet cake). In
addition to regular low-fat and no-fat fare, Menchie’s always
offers at least one non-dairy flavour, and one sugar-free option.
And who knows? Toronto-dwelling star Rachel McAdams has already
been to Menchie’s once-maybe she’ll be back.

Scoop!,
Vancouver, BC

2050 West 4th Ave.
Vancouver, BC
604-569-3338

Scoop! got its name after owners Mary and Michael Ho decided to
let customers scoop their own toppings onto their probiotic-packed
frozen yogurt. And while Scoop!’s yogurt is mixed from powder, it
also contains inulin, which gives it an extra kick of dietary
fibre. Scoop! provides up to 30 toppings, which include fruit,
candy, cereal, dulche de leche sauce and condensed milk. In
addition to frozen yogurt, Scoop! serves smoothies, fresh fruit
juice and baked desserts, so you can enjoy your frozen yogurt with
a side of pie. Scoop! also provides board games and a foosball
table to help keep the experience cool.

Yeh! Yogourt glacé et
café, Montreal, QC

Yeh! Yogourt glacé et café
1651 Ste-Catherine west
514-903-4872

Yeh! Yogourt glacé et café
5554 Monkland avenue
438-380-550

Yeh! Yogourt glacé et café
3804 St-Laurent St.
514-903-7248

Yeh! boasts over 40 toppings for its two cycles of rotating
flavours: seasonal offerings-which include mango, coconut, organic
açai, and pumpkin pie-and monthly offerings like tiramisu, ginger,
cake batter, and Irish cream. Determined to keep customers coming
throughout Montreal’s cold winters, Yeh! also offers table-side
“campfire” and s’mores kits for a toasty experience.

YoYo’s Yogurt
Café, London and Toronto, ON

515 Richmond Street
London, ON
519-601-0181

417 Bloor street West
Toronto, ON
647-346-2917

“Offering yogurt yo way,” YoYo’s claims to be Canada’s first
self-serve yogurt café. Frozen yogurt flavours rotate, but you can
always find at least six fro-yo choices and 30 toppings. YoYo’s
boasts high-energy music and free WiFi, making it the perfect
summer alternative for students and freelancers looking for a break
from the coffee shop.

So, who serves up the best frozen yogurt in your town?
Shout it out below.

Devon Scoble is a
foodie, freelance writer and cheese maniac. She lives in Toronto
with her husband, who shares her passion for good food, and her
mini-golden poodle puppy, who would just as happily eat garbage as
foie gras.

Related:

Top Chef Canada: Meeting Dustin and Dining at Grace

A couple of weeks ago, Nadine and I dined in style at Grace restaurant
where we also caught up with Executive Chef (Top
Chef Canada
‘s favourite smiling competitor)

Dustin Gallagher
.


Above: Grace Restaurant; Dustin Gallagher

Grace is located in the heart of Toronto on College street,
which is known for its many fine dining
establishments
. The restaurant’s dining room has beautiful
reclaimed hardwood floors furnished with charming rustic and modern
furniture. The décor helps to set a cozy and intimate atmosphere
that resonates closely with the “modern farmhouse
cuisine that’s served there.

We were both in cocktail moods and decided to start with
refreshing Strawberry Daiquiris to get our
appetites going. In line with the restaurant’s farmhouse theme, our
drinks were served in Mason jars–too cute! Rather than limiting
ourselves to a single dish each, we concluded that it would be in
the best interest of this review (I know, the tough decisions we
have to make sometimes for FNC 😉 to share a sampling of a few
entrees.

First up, was a house-made Pappardelle Pasta with
Braised Lamb Neck and Roasted Eggplan
t with a sprinkling
of chevre noir cheese on top. I was a little
ambivalent at first because I’m not usually a fan of neck meat, but
this dish was absolutely delicious and the tender
melt-in-your-mouth braised lamb neck actually enhanced and
complemented the pasta perfectly.


Above: Strawberry Daiquiri; Pappardelle with Braised Lamb
Neck,Roasted Eggplant and chevre noir cheese

Next, we tried a Veal Tourtiere with Rhubarb Raisin
Relish
. I quite fancy flaky pies filled with meat and this
veal tourtiere didn’t disappoint. The rhubarb raisin relish added a
subtle sweetness to the dish and the fresh side salad helped to
refresh my palate after each luxurious veal-filled bite.


Above: Veal Tourtiere with Rhubarb Raisin Relish

Our favourite dish of the evening was definitely the
Pork Chop with Braised Dandelion, Creamed Corn, Corn Bread
and Homemade BBQ Sauce
. The pork chop was cooked
to perfection and it retained all of it’s natural juices, keeping
it moist and flavourful. I completely enjoyed how the BBQ sauce was
slightly sweet and still zesty, but didn’t overpower the pork.


Above: Pork Chop with Braised Dandelion, Corn Bread, Creamed
Corn

After all of this delicious food, we decided that our meal
wouldn’t be complete without a sweet treat. We selected a chocolate
Hazelnut Tart with Salted Caramel Ice Cream to end
our feast. The tart’s chocolate hazelnut filling was delectably
rich and the salted caramel ice cream added a cool and refreshing
finish to the dessert.


Above: Hazelnut Tart with Salted Caramel Ice Cream

 

We had a blast at Grace and it’s definitely a great place to
unwind and enjoy some fabulous modern farmhouse fare!

Related

Breakfast on the Go: 5 Quick and Easy Ideas

During the early morning rush, busy families rarely have time for a healthy and tasty meal. Avoid sugary pre-packaged treats and fatty fast-food temptations with these five fast and delicious ideas for a breakfast on the go.

 

Breakfast Sandwiches 

Store-bought tortillas or pita breads are the perfect way to transport your favourite breakfast staples. Make your own version of the fast-food breakfast sandwiches by scrambling an egg, chopping up sausage, lettuce, tomatoes, red or green peppers and wrapping them up in a tortilla or stuffing them into a pita.

 

Smoothies 

Smoothies are an easy, fun and quick breakfast alternative that is easy to transport and enjoy while heading off to school. It’s as easy as placing fruits like strawberries, blueberries, bananas and mangoes in the freezer the night before and then tossing them into the blender the next morning along. Add a splash of fruit juice and a teaspoon or two of honey and you’re good to whiz! You can also add a little protein powder to make this drink even more of a power beverage. A colourful plastic juice vacuum with a sealable straw or collapsible spout is the perfect container for breakfast smoothies. Here are a few recipes to try out:

 

Kid’s Smoothie 

Blackberry Smoothie 

Strawberry and Banana Smoothie 

Sunshine Smoothies 

Breakfast Smoothies 

 

Parfaits 

Parfaits for breakfast are a plan-ahead superstar. In a small Tupperware bowl layer your favourite yoghurt along with sliced fruit and granola. Stick the bowl in the fridge along with a spoon (so you don’t forget!) and grab it right before you head out the door. Try these easy combos:

 

Healthy Parfait and Raspberry Sauce 

Granola, Yogurt and Berry Parfait 

 

Homemade Granola Bars 

Granola bars are a popular breakfast meal, but many store-brands contain an alarming amount of sugar and preservatives. Although homemade granola doesn’t have the same shelf-life as the commercial-made variety, it’s easy to whip up and pretty tasty—it probably won’t last long anyway! Here is a basic recipe for making your own granola bars; change it up based on your preferences and tastes:

 

– A few cups of rolled oats

– A cup of shredded coconut

– 1 cup of honey or brown sugar

– A handful of raisins

– A handful of nuts

– A handful of chocolate chips

 

Mix all the ingredients together a bowl and press into a well-greased 9×13” baking pan. Bake in the oven at 350 until lightly golden brown. Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting into bars.

 

Muffins 

Wait a minute: muffins are quick, muffins are tasty, but are muffins a healthy breakfast choice? They are when you make them yourself. The trick is to use whole wheat instead of regular flour and pack them with lots of fruit for a tasty and sweet punch. Here are a few muffin recipes that aren’t just cupcakes in disguise:

 

Little Miss Muffin Tops 

Banana Buried Treasure Muffins 

Blueberry Bran Muffins  

Top Chef Canada: Meeting Andrea and Dining at Great Cooks on Eight

A few weeks back the foodnetwork.ca team had lunch at Great Cooks on
Eight
, where the Executive Chef and Director is none
other than Top Chef
Canada
competitor, Andrea Nicholson.

We had a great time chatting with Andrea, getting the scoop on
her Top Chef Canada experience, as well as sampling some
seriously delicious dishes that she prepared for us.

Great Cooks on Eight

Great Cooks on Eight; Executive Chef Andrea
Nicholson.

Great Cooks on Eight is located in the tourist district of
downtown Toronto, high above The Bay department store.
It’s a bright, modern, open space with floor-to-ceiling windows
allowing diners to take in the views of bustling Queen Street West
below. People afraid of heights (err, me) please
beware.

Our meal started off with an assortment of delicious appetizers,
including fresh Oysters, Dungeness Crab
and Potato Croquettes
, Mushrooms on
Toast
, and the crowd favourite, Pulled Chicken
Poutine
with Ontario cheese curds and crispy chicken
skins. Yep, we were kind of drooling over this one.

Great Cooks on Eight Appetizers

(Clockwise from top left: Mushrooms on Toast, Pulled Chicken
Poutine, Dungeness Crab and Potato Croquettes,
Fresh
Oysters,
)

For my main course, I ordered the Ploughman’s
Lunch
. I can never resist a good meat and cheese platter.
The plate consisted of a selection of artisan-cured meats, spicy
homemade pickled veggies, rustic breads and, of course, cheese,
including the most wonderful sampling of Camembert and sharp Old
Cheddar.

Great Cooks on Eight Ploughman's Lunch

The Ploughman’s Lunch at Great Cooks on Eight.

My favourite part of the meal came at the end with Great Cooks
on Eight’s in-house ice cream. Yes, they make
their own ice cream, people! So deliciously creamy and light, I
could seriously devour this ice cream every day. Umm, did I mention
that I’m pregnant? This may account for some of my obsession with
their ice cream, though, it was a clear favourite with my fellow
lunch companions at the table, too (who, I may add, were very sweet
in offering me more than my fair share of ice cream, bless their
hearts). We were given a delightful assortment of flavours
including, Pumpkin Spice, Vanilla Bean, Cinnamon and Quince Sorbet,
all served up in sweet miniature mason jars.

Great Cooks on Eight Homemade Ice Cream

A cool finish: the quartet of in-house-made ice
creams.

We had a lovely time visiting Great Cooks on Eight and seeing
our fierce Top Chef Canada competitor, Andrea Nicholson,
in her element. Be sure to check out Andrea’s own line of
condiments, homemade with local, seasonal Ontario fruits and
vegetables, available at killercondiments.com.
I highly recommend the Smoked
Tomato Chutney
.

Related: