All posts by Brittany Devenyi

Chef Suzanne Barr Will Make You Think About Your Dinner Plate Differently

If you read her bio, Suzanne Barr is described as a Toronto-based chef and restaurateur, a judge on Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs and a committed social advocate. Talk to her, and she’s all of these things, but it’s the more intimate details about her life and the refreshing perspective she brings to her work that will make you wish you could share a meal with her weekly. We caught up with the chef to learn about her culinary influences, her role in the fight for food justice and equality, and ultimately what she contributes to the world with every plate she creates.

Chef Suzanne Barr posing at True True Diner (now closed)

Photo courtesy of Samuel Engelking

Culinary Roots

Suzanne remembers growing up and crafting Jamaican beef patties in her parents’ kitchen alongside her mother, father and siblings. The flaky, fragrant pastries made for a coveted after-school snack or light Saturday supper (being of Jamaican descent, it’s long been a family staple for Suzanne). Today, her focus remains on paring a plate back to its essence, taking every opportunity to showcase local, seasonal ingredients.

“My cooking style has gone on a massive journey,” she says. “Right now, I’m really inspired by preservation, using old traditional techniques to store food and then use at later dates.” This past summer, Suzanne, along with her husband and five-year-old son, travelled to Montreal for a few days, and came back with a massive case of locally grown tomatoes, which she pickled whole with garlic and fresh basil. “It’s all about getting access to really incredible vegetables and elevating them to give them their shining moment of just being what they are.”

Related: 15 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Pickle, From Avocado to Okra

Jar of pickled whole tomatoes

Honing Her Craft and Mission

After over a decade in the film and television industry, Suzanne endured hardship when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She became her mom’s caretaker, often contemplating the role food plays in health and community.

“After losing my mom, I needed something that was more healing and connective, that brought me back to the most essential things in life, which is eating and breaking bread and having community around food,” she says. “I rediscovered this passion that was such a big part of me, but had lay dormant for far too long. It was now my duty to follow it and walk away from everything I had known and worked toward,” she says.

Growing up and witnessing her mother as a vivacious force who saw the value in voicing her opinion and beliefs instilled in Suzanne the courage to do the same. “Having my mom as such a matriarch in my life really pushed my passion and drive to fight for women and folks who look like me.” Suzanne attended her first protest in 1997 when she was in her early 20s. It was The Million Woman March in Philadelphia. She was moved and inspired by the act of travelling to another city for a day-long celebration of being a woman of colour. Advocating for women and the BIPOC community is woven into her work, shining light on issues of inequality and structural racism that too often go unheard.

“It’s become a big part of the mission in the work I do: feeding and healing folks with food, all the while educating people on the importance for BIPOC folks to be connected, and having a voice that can stand and fight for the people who don’t always have those same opportunities,” she says.

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

Chef Suzanne Barr critiquing a dish on the set of Wall of Chefs

Suzanne was the head chef and owner of Toronto’s True True Diner, an Afro-Caribbean restaurant and community space that paid tribute to the civil rights movement. She also paid her staff living wages, and believes tipping should be removed from every restaurant. Even if menu items become pricier,  if you’re transparent with your customers about your values, Suzanne believes enough people will stand behind you and support your mission.

“It’s important to pay people real living wages, to understand that when we speak about sustainability, it doesn’t stop with the food that we’re utilizing as restaurateurs and chefs. The sustainability of your staff, of the people who are working in these establishments, that to me is one of the most valuable resources that we have overlooked for far too long.”

True True permanently shuttered its doors this past July, and Suzanne was blindsided (she wrote a heartfelt statement about the experience). “I wanted to share that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to share some of those not-so joyful stories that are part of being a business owner, and being a person of colour trying to compete in this industry that doesn’t always recognize the importance of having these faces for other POC and other non-POCs,” she says. “We’ll do it again in another space. True True lives within everyone who experienced it, and I’m grateful for that.”

Related: What It’s Honestly Like Dining out Right Now ⁠— and What I’ll Never Take for Granted Again

Recipe for the Perfect Dish

“I always tell my staff: No matter what you do, no matter where you end up working, make sure that when you’re creating a dish, a part of you is on that plate,” she says. “Because that same intention and love and commitment can spread, and it gets shared over and over again. It becomes a new memory for someone else in a different way. Even different from what you intended when you put it on that plate in the first place.” For Suzanne, the plate represents her Caribbean descent, her personality, her joy, and sharing that experience with others, from the first moment a diner sees the dish to their very last bite.

Pasta made by a home cook on Wall of Chefs

That’s Suzanne’s advice to home cooks and budding chefs, including those inspired to try out for Wall of Chefs someday. And with that comes embracing the fear of the unknown: “Being a little scared in the kitchen can actually inspire you to make some of the most incredible foods you’d never imagined you could make. Because you push yourself,” she says. And really, that’s the beauty of Wall of Chefs, too – it connects people to their own experience of cooking, and inspires fans to try their hand at making something new, whether it’s chicken cordon bleu or a first attempt at making pasta or bread from scratch. If it doesn’t pan out the first time, simply try again.

Watch full episodes of Wall of Chefs online. You can also stream your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Antoni Porowski Dishes on Being Canadian in the Kitchen (And What He Always Cooks on a First Date)

Antoni Porowski. You likely know him as the affable “food and wine” guy on the reality series Queer Eye, who lights up screens everywhere with his puckish smile and easy-to-prepare recipes (he practically invented guacamole). But the Montreal native is no kitchen novice. In fact, it’s his ability to elevate ordinary dishes in a way that’s still achievable for the average home cook that makes his recipes so appealing (and has us lusting after every dish he posts on Instagram). His newly-released first cookbook, Antoni In The Kitchen,  serves as further, drool-worthy proof.

Born and raised in Montreal with Polish roots, Antoni’s culinary creations are a nod to the food traditions of his past, from the perfect French omelette to “Polish Hangover Soup” (Zurek). He also speaks fondly of growing up to his mom’s Saturday platters spilling with kielbasa slices, sauerkraut and Polish mustard, coupled with his dad’s famous cheese boards.

“Every weekend I’m home, I make the obligatory cheese and charcuterie board, whether I’m solo or have guests coming,” he says. “It’s a tradition I plan to keep for as long as I can make it.”


Get the recipe for Antoni’s French Omelette with Cheese and Chives 

At 14, the Canadian food guru began hosting dinner parties for friends, slathering baguette pieces with fragrant, roasted garlic and Parmesan, eventually graduating to the likes of grilled chicken with raspberry BBQ sauce.

“I tried the sauce at a country club once. I think it was served over spareribs, and I wanted to have it at home, so I took a classic barbecue sauce recipe and added raspberries and peppercorns,” says Antoni. “There’s a lot I don’t remember that I probably should, but dishes I’ve loved stick with me for some reason.”

Whether it’s the influences of his heritage or a new food pairing that sets off his taste buds, Antoni has an intrepid curiosity that he brings to every dish he consumes and creates, modifying what’s known into something even better.


Get the recipe for Antoni’s Polish Hangover Soup

But it’s also about balance, a delicate cuisine equilibrium of sorts. His fast-casual Manhattan eatery, The Village Den, where he is part owner, focuses on more wholesome fare, free from gluten, soy, red meat and processed sugars. “Bourdain said it best with ‘everything in moderation, including moderation’,” quotes Antoni. “I eat pretty healthy during the week, but on the weekend, I tend to go nuts. That said, on a rainy Wednesday night, it’s grilled cheese for sure.”

And when it comes to arming the everyday cook with confidence, Antoni says it all boils down to finding joy in the process. “Maybe it’s a chance for solo time and self-care, or maybe it’s an opportunity for you to invite a friend or two and create together,” he says. “Don’t stress about the finished product as much. This is not unlike general life advice I’ve heard from a mentor or two.” Wise words worth pocketing away for a rainy day spent in the kitchen.

Recipes excerpted from Antoni In The Kitchen © 2019 by Antoni Porowski. Photography © 2019 by Paul Brissman. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

3 Vibrant Vegetarian Dinner Recipes That Make Lemon the Star

If your winter diet consisted of one too many stew and casserole dishes, we hear you, and we bet your current recipe arsenal is due for a spring refresh. Few people know how to celebrate seasonal fare like Jeanine Donofrio, the face behind the plant-forward recipe blog Love & Lemons, where healthy, rainbow-bright dishes take centre stage. That’s why we’re showcasing three mouth-watering vegetarian spring dinner ideas from her brand new cookbook, Love & Lemons Every Day (Available April 2).

The best part? Each recipe brilliantly incorporates lemon in a new way. The star ingredient adds a bright, citrusy finish to each main that denotes the sunny season ahead.

Asparagus, Snap Peas & Chive Blossom Pasta

This stunning pasta dish, featuring seasonal produce like radishes, asparagus, snap peas and chive blossoms, is a staple no matter the occasion; it’s easy enough to cook for the family on busy weeknights, and pretty enough to serve at your next dinner party. The pasta is lightly dressed in a mixture of fresh lemon juice and Dijon mustard, before being garnished with Parmesan cheese and lemon zest. We love how the pasta shape mimics that of the veggies! Get the recipe here!

Spring-on-a-Plate Socca Flatbread

Meet your new favourite healthy pizza alternative that’s the epitome of spring. The flatbread itself is made from chickpea flour, and requires only three ingredients. A cashew-based herb spread featuring fresh lemon juice acts as the perfect base. Topped with red radishes, pickled red onions, frozen peas, preserved lemons, mint leaves and feta cheese, this heavenly main can do no wrong, and is a delicious way to usher in the vibrant season ahead. Get the recipe here!

Cauliflower Steaks with Lemon Salsa Verde

By now, we’re sure you need no convincing that cauliflower is an incredibly versatile vegetable worth celebrating. But in case you still had your doubts, this spring-focused dish is proof on a plate. A flavourful puree of cauliflower florets, garlic cloves, miso paste and lemon juice act as the base, with a perfectly roasted cauliflower steak placed on top. The vegan, dairy-free main is then topped with a zesty salsa verde starring preserved lemons, parsley, pine nuts and capers. Get the recipe here!

Images excerpted from Love and Lemons Every Day: More than 100 Bright, Plant-Forward Recipes for Every Meal by Jeanine Donofrio. Copyright © 2019 Jeanine Donofrio. Photography by Jeanine Donofrio, Christopher Broe, and Jack Mathews . Published by Penguin Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

5 Gorgeous Pastel Cakes That Will Make Your Spring Table Shine

It’s been a long, drawn-out winter. The upside? Spring’s arrival is all the more deserving of celebration! We’re paying tribute to perfect temperatures, fresh blooms and heaps of sunshine with five show-stopping pastel cakes from professional baker and food blogger Tessa Huff’s latest cookbook, Icing on the Cake. From her rainbow no-bake cheesecake to a blueberry galaxy cake, these eye-catching desserts promise to brighten spirits (and plates) everywhere.

1. Lavender Blackberry Cake

This stunning buttercream cake is the epitome of spring: not only does it feature a brilliant flower crown, the batter is subtly infused with lavender milk and simple syrup, which is complemented by thin layers of blackberry jam and tangy cream cheese frosting. While the flower wreath is completely optional, Tessa provides helpful step-by-step instructions in her book on how to pipe them to perfection. Get the cake recipe here!

2. Rainbow No-Bake Cheesecake

Rainbow No-Bake Cheesecake

The fact that this pastel-happy cake doesn’t require an oven is already a win. Even better is the cheesecake’s light, mousse-like texture and warm-weather flavours (think strawberry, mango and lime). Prepare it for Easter dessert, or simply make it on the weekend to welcome spring in style. Get the cake recipe here!

3. Blueberry Galaxy Cake

This isn’t your average galaxy cake. Instead of being coated in a shimmering mirror glaze (see here for instructions on this technique), this version features a delicate watercolour frosting that resembles a starry galaxy just the same. The cake is lemon poppy seed, iced with vanilla and blueberry buttercream. We love how Tessa adorned the berries with gold and silver luster dust before arranging on the cake. After all, creating a delicious and dazzling dessert is all in the details. Get the cake recipe here!

4. Blackberry Elderflower Vertical Cake

This vertically layered dessert turns traditional cake filling on its head (and looks mighty fine while doing so). The technique is also easier to achieve than you might think. The sugary secret? Cutting the cake lengthwise to create four long strips, then rolling one strip to create a spiral before wrapping the remaining strips around it. The vanilla sponge cake is also infused with an elderflower syrup, which perfectly complements the blackberry buttercream. Be sure to slice this dessert before serving to show off your baking acumen. Get the cake recipe here!

5. Orange Salted Honey Cake

While each of these spring-inspired cakes are almost too pretty to eat, the good news is they taste just as scrumptious as they look. This decadent butter cake combines citrus with salted honey for an unexpected, zesty flavour pairing that hits all the right notes. The ruffle petal piping technique is certainly worth a try, too! Bake this show-stopper for an upcoming baby shower, Mother’s Day brunch or as a DIY wedding cake. Your guests will be happy you did. Get the cake recipe here! 

Recipes excerpted from Icing on the Cake by Tessa Huff, reprinted by permission of Abrams Books. Photographs by Tessa Huff.

How to Become a Morning Person (And What Your Diet Has to Do With It)

Anyone who (willingly) wakes up at 5 a.m. every morning is something of a superhuman. Or at the very least, the early riser we all strive to one day become. Marlie Cohen, a Toronto-based certified personal trainer, holistic health coach and the face behind lifestyle blog Kale & Krunches, is that person. But just like mastering a gruelling spin class – becoming a morning person takes dedication. Read on for the fitness expert’s top 10 tips to make waking up early easier than you ever thought possible.

1. Morning Movement

“My morning routine starts with some form of meditation or movement to get the blood flowing,” says Marlie, whether taking a few deep breaths and stretching at home or stepping out for an early 6 a.m. workout. She also makes a habit of journaling every morning – jotting down three things she’s grateful for as a form of positive affirmation to start the day.

2. Better Breakfast

Whether you’re hungry right when you wake up, or not until after your a.m. workout, always nourish your body with a wholesome morning meal. For Marlie, that means eggs, avocado and toast for breakfast – the perfect combination of carbs, fat and protein. This balance of macronutrients will increase energy levels and ensure you’re satiated until lunch.

Get the recipe for this upgraded Avocado Toast With Poached Eggs.

3. Drink Water First Thing

Before you do anything else, drink a glass of water once out of bed. “You’re super dehydrated when you wake up,” says Marlie. “Drinking water gets the metabolism going and hydrates your muscles to prepare for the day ahead.” Make sure you drink enough H2O throughout the day, too. Marlie advises drinking two to three litres per day, depending on how active you are and how much you sweat.

4. Coffee 2.0

Fact: brewing a fresh cuppa Joe at home makes early wake-ups slightly less daunting. But instead of loading it with cream and sugar, Marlie (pictured below) adds a secret superfood ingredient to her Nespresso coffee: cinnamon. “Not only does it taste really good, it helps control insulin resistance in the body and stabilizes blood sugar,” she says. Cinnamon can also aid in curbing sugar cravings throughout the day and releases caffeine into the body at a slower pace.

5. Stop Drinking Water

We’ve all been there: abruptly waking from a deep sleep thanks to a full bladder. The solution? Don’t drink water after supper. “During dinner, have a few glasses, but I would probably stop after that,” says Marlie. This will prevent being disturbed and waking up throughout the night.

6. Eat Foods High in Magnesium

“Magnesium naturally calms the body and controls your cortisol levels and stress hormones,” she says. Reach for foods high in the mineral, such as whole grains, spinach, green leafy vegetables, almonds and quinoa. Marlie’s favourite magnesium-rich meal is salmon (also high in the nutrient) with quinoa and a sautéed green vegetable like spinach or broccoli.

Get the recipe for Lynn Crawford’s Roast Salmon with Grapefruit and Quinoa Salad.

7. Know When to Stop Eating

While some experts say to stop eating around 7 p.m., Marlie has a different theory: “It depends on your schedule,” she says, pointing to the fact that she often won’t finish teaching until nine at night. In other words, what you eat is more important than when you eat it. “Sugary or carb cravings at night are probably a signal from your body that you’re thirsty, didn’t eat enough throughout the day or you’re tired,” she says. “Nighttime snack cravings are really our body saying it’s time to go to bed.”

8. Opt for Natural Sleep Remedies

If finding your Zen proves difficult at night, turn to the power of essential oils: “I have a lavender spray that I’ll use on my pillows, and will also use the oil on the soles of my feet,” she says.


Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

9. Have a Regular Wake-Up Time

“I think people might overlook the benefits of having a regular wake-up time,” says Marie. Even if your schedule changes day-to-day, she recommends setting your alarm for the same time each morning to establish a consistent daily practice and stabilize our circadian rhythm.

10. Ditch Your Phone

Perhaps the most important tip of all – keep technology out of the bedroom. “I always put my phone in a different room, so when my alarm goes off, it forces me out of bed,” she says. This also means you won’t be glued to your phone before switching off the lights, ultimately leading to a sweet, sound slumber.

Looking for more tips? Here are the Top 10 Foods That Will Help You Sleep along with the Best and Worst Foods to Eat Before Bedtime.

 

Veganism Made Easy: Lauren Toyota’s Fail-Safe Tips for Eating Plant-Based (And Loving It)

The idea of noshing on a juicy burger or devouring a bacon mac and cheese skillet (okay fine – and a slice of buttercream cake for dessert) is the stuff of comfort food dreams. It’s also the stuff vegan foodie Lauren Toyota, of famed blog and YouTube channel Hot for Food (part of Kin Community), cooks up on a regular basis. “I’m trying to dispel the misconception that, as a vegan, you have to eat raw food, salad or green smoothies all the time,” she says. That’s also the theme behind her just-released cookbook Vegan Comfort Classics, featuring over 100 plant-based recipes that are unapologetically indulgent and drool-worthy. We caught up with the Canadian star to ask about everything from her humble beginnings to her top tips for entry-level vegans.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Heins

What inspired you to take such an inventive approach to veganism?

When I first became vegan, I thought I had to uphold some idea of health. I thought I couldn’t enjoy the foods I used to eat when I was an omnivore. But I quickly got out of that trap once I realized, if I don’t change what I’m doing, I’m not going to stick to this whole vegan thing. I don’t want to eat cold food all the time.

Comfort food is just a generic umbrella term because it can be anything to anybody. Whatever is comforting to you might not be comforting to me, because it plays off your childhood, your experiences and your senses. I’m always trying to get my recipes to appeal to as many senses as possible.

Was there a learning curve? What did you eat before becoming vegan?

Before becoming vegan, I had just travelled through the U.S. with a family member, driving through states like Florida and Georgia. We were eating a lot of terrible omnivore food, from po’ boys to Cuban sandwiches. I had gone from eating all of this southern comfort food, which plays into what I make now as a vegan, but then not feeling good. And I went on that trip thinking, this is it. I’m just going to go all out and then come back and get healthy. Whatever that meant.

Once I became vegan I eventually started asking myself things like: How can I make salads more satisfying? I think I probably started there, adding creamier dressings and heavier toppings and then thought, well wait, now I want to experiment more: How do I make cheese as a vegan? How do I make bacon as a vegan?

Oyster Mushroom Po’ Boy (Featured in Lauren’s Cookbook, Vegan Comfort Classics)

What are your top tips for beginner vegans?

Stick to What You Know: Which foods do you like? Try to substitute a few non-vegan ingredients for vegan ones, but don’t try to cook something you don’t even know how to make or know if you like – start with your favourite meal or something you eat all the time and recreate it without your default ground beef or Parmesan cheese. Make tiny adjustments without reinventing your entire diet.

Start Cooking: You have to start cooking something, even if it’s a very basic pasta with jarred sauce. Get used to cooking, because I think if you’re going vegan, or mostly vegan, it’s so empowering and something everyone can learn.

Don’t Overhaul Your Fridge and Pantry:  It can be a slow transition, integrating one thing at a time, or using up that jar of regular mayonnaise before swapping it for a vegan version. Take the same approach when replacing cheese, and so on.

Shake up Your Grocery Store Routine: Walk through different aisles and start reading labels. Educate yourself and get out of your habitual patterns – if you’re not reading labels, you likely don’t realize that much of what you’re buying probably is vegan. So figure out what you’re already buying that’s vegan, and what you should add to your cart.

Tofu Benny with Hollandaise (Featured in Lauren’s Cookbook, Vegan Comfort Classics)

Pantry staples you can’t live (or cook) without?

Raw Cashews: They’re neutral in flavour and don’t taste nutty because they’re not roasted. Vegans like to soak and blend cashews to make thick creams or milk. There’s substance and viscosity to it, and it provides the same texture as whipped or heavy cream in a sauce. I also make Parmesan by grinding cashews into a coarse meal with nutritional yeast.

Nutritional Yeast: I use this ingredient a lot in the cookbook – it’s one of those things people may not know about, but it’s been around forever. There’s nothing weird or processed about it. It has B12 and protein and fibre. I incorporate it into everything because it adds depth, like a cheesiness or nuttiness.

Thickeners (like Cornstarch or Arrowroot): Thickeners are great for soups and sauces. You should always keep one in your pantry because it will never spoil.

Spices: These are important for beginners too because you’re basically trying to season food with spices to taste like meat or other dishes you’re used to eating. Stock up on smoked paprika, cumin, turmeric and onion and garlic powder. Spices are also inexpensive and pretty much last forever, as long as you’re storing them in a dry place.

There seems to be growing interest in plant-based eating, specifically vegan comfort foods. Why now?

At the beginning [in Toronto and elsewhere] we saw more juice and salad bars. Now, in contrast, we’re seeing a second movement: the indulgent side. I think it’s helping people get on board with veganism so they don’t fall into that trap of thinking they have to eat one way. It’s great because you can access both types of food, no matter your diet. I think everyone who’s on the same mission as me in the community realizes this is just how we get people interested and through the door.

Crispy Crabless Cakes (Featured in Lauren’s Cookbook, Vegan Comfort Classics)

Where do you see veganism heading? Where will it be five to ten years from now?

In five years, I think we’re going to be at a place where it’s much more normalized. Every restaurant will have more than one plant-based option on the menu, or if not, an isolated vegan menu, which you’re seeing places do now. I hope it’s not so much of a thing to harp on, that it’s just regular food that happens to be made with plants. At the end of the day, the movement is not a trend. It’s really a way to get people adjusted to the fact that this is the future of what you’re going to be eating.

Want more of Lauren’s decadent recipes? Try her Cauliflower Buffalo Wings, Perfect Vegan Lasagna and Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake Bites.