Tag Archives: dining out

Mijune Pak on set of Top Chef Canada season 9

Top Chef Canada Judge Mijune Pak Reflects on Reinvention in Her Own Career and the Restaurant Industry

Among the lessons that those in the hard-hit hospitality industry have had to learn this past year is reinvention — from the early days of pandemic closures, chefs and operators have scrambled to adapt to takeout, social distancing and often costly retrofits, as well as other hurdles in their path.

And when it comes to transforming herself based on both circumstances and passion, Top Chef Canada judge Mijune Pak is well suited to offer up some hard-won wisdom from her career, which has evolved and shifted with the zeitgeist as she adapts and refreshes her brand. “I think that my role as this food personality has really changed because when I first started it was a lot more from a critiquing side,” she says. “Now, it’s more of a support system for the industry and being a voice for the Canadian culinary food scene on an international level.”

Mijune Pak on the set of Top Chef Canada

Born and raised in the food-forward city of Vancouver, Mijune originally set her sights on a career in media relations. With a degree in Communications from Simon Fraser University, Mijune’s first job was marketing for Paramount Pictures, handling advance screenings, tracking critics’ reviews and other promotional material. Her interests, however, lay in filling up notebooks with pictures and observations of the dishes she was eating in her travels. Based on her sister Mijon’s encouragement, Mijune launched , her food and travel blog, FollowMeFoodie.com, in 2009. Over time, Mijune’s role has shifted away from the blogging that launched her career into a more expansive role as entrepreneur and spokesperson for an industry she loves.

Related: We Tried Mijune Pak’s New Chocolate Creations

When the pandemic curtailed her travel last year, Mijune started hosting At Home With Mijune, a cooking show with chefs, on Instagram Live as a means of bolstering the industry. “I had this platform to use, and these connections for chefs, so why not keep supporting the industry that’s supporting you, and try to push through this together by being creative?” she asked herself. 

Mijune also brought this spirit of adaptation and evolution to her role as a judge on Top Chef Canada — a cooking competition completely changed by the circumstances of the world around it. Adding to the heightened awareness around this season of the show are growing, and necessary, discussions around social justice, food origins and responsibility in acknowledging the cultures behind ingredients and using them mindfully. “So many things happened in 2020 politically as well as globally, and I think it put everyone in a really sensitive position. Everyone took a step back from their usual role: listening to everyone’s background and where everyone’s food was coming from,” says Mijune. She drew from her own Chinese heritage (Mijune’s mother, Mimi, has a Hong Kong and Malaysian background) as well as her own experiences as a Chinese-Canadian when judging and sharing stories at the Top Chef Canada table. “Growing up in Vancouver, when I would bring anything Chinese to school for lunch, I would get made fun of and teased for it,” she remembers. “And now it’s so awesome it’s being celebrated. But there are dangers of cultural appropriation of food. My mother’s recipes have been adapted over the years — it’s not exactly how her mom or grandma would have made it. Food and recipes evolve with ingredients and over time and place, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s really important to bring forward a lot of the cultural history and knowledge that comes with using these ingredients, as well as showing how they are used traditionally, and not just in a modern context.” 

Along with these discussions around food origins and authenticity lay the constant awareness of the pandemic’s devastating effect on restaurants. “Adapting really quickly to changes has always been kind of a theme in the competition, but this was in very different circumstances. We filmed it in the fall and didn’t know what was going to happen with the pandemic when it aired,” says Mijune. “We had to take into consideration what kind of challenge would be mindful of the pandemic. Along with the producers and creative staff, it challenged the chefs to think about the competition as something they might actually have to apply in the future in their businesses.”

See More: Watch Full Episodes of Top Chef Canada

Ultimately, Mijune, much like her fellow judge, Janet Zuccarini, sees these challenges and adaptations to changing social mores as a process of evolution in the restaurant industry — and a sign of its resilience. “When people don’t see the background of what’s happening — the real behind the scenes —  they can think that your career or industry is only on an upwards trajectory because they don’t see the lows,” she says. “And I think when those lows happen, you just have to kick yourself in the butt, and ask what you haven’t tried yet, and what you still enjoy, because so much of this industry is built on passion. You really have to enjoy it and live and breathe it, and love it without any expectations.”

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV. Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Flippy robot chef in fast food restaurant

Meet the World’s First Autonomous Robotic Kitchen Assistant

What if we told you that we know someone — rather something — who can work a grill and fryer perfectly for 100,000 hours straight? Its name is Flippy and it’s an AI assistant chef from Miso Robotics. The cost? $30,000 USD, plus a monthly fee of $1,500 USD/month.

Flippy robot chef in fast food restaurant

The robot addresses the problem of fulfilling late-night shifts that no one wants in a 24-hour restaurant. Also, due to the pandemic, there’s greater concern for food safety and hygiene. This is able to solution all of that, as the robot works with minimal human contact.

Related: Ways to Continue Supporting Your Favourite Local Restaurants

The robot chef — invented in 2016 — is controlled by AI to do more than just the repetitive task of being a burger flipper. Today it can keep track of cooking times and temperatures. It can place baskets in the fryer to make chicken wings, onion rings, hash browns and much more. As upgrades are made, this robot chef will be able to take on more complex tasks. The company has raised over $20 million, which shows there’s an appetite for this kind of technology.

Flippy robot chef in fast food restaurant

The robot is currently operating in Caliburger in Fort Myers, Florida. The restaurant chain has ordered more for each of their global locations. White Castle, the oldest fast-food chain in America, wanted in on this action as well. “We’re looking at Flippy as a tool that helps us increase speed of service and frees team members up to focus more on other areas we want to concentrate on, whether that’s order accuracy or how we’re handling delivery partner drivers and getting them what they need when they come through the door.” said White Castle’s vice president, Jamie Richardson. No word yet on whether the robot chef will be coming to Canada anytime soon.

Related: What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

While this technology is impressive, there may be some concern that this will impact jobs in the fast-food industry. With so many unfilled restaurant jobs across North America and turnover rates at an all-time high, the introduction of robot chefs may be seen to some as a much-needed service. Also, while the robot is working the back of house, patrons will still have front-facing human customer service.

Photos courtesy of Miso Robotics

Woman digging into takeout on kitchen table

National Takeout Day: Canadians Aim to Set Record for Most Takeout Ordered in Single Day

By now, it’s a familiar story: many local restaurants have been forced to shut their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some of these restaurants have closed down for good, unable to continue absorbing the costs and challenges posed by the pandemic; with them going the creativity, unique offerings and livelihoods of entire culinary teams.

Last December, Restaurants Canada reported that 10,000 restaurants have already closed with upwards of 50 per cent expecting to close permanently if conditions don’t improve. 

Related: Canadians Now Ordering Food Online in Record Numbers, Survey Reveals

Woman Eating Delicious Takeaway Food At Home

Even as many meet this fate, others continue to provide delivery and takeout options, as well as alternate ways to continue nurturing a vibrant culinary life in cities and towns across the country. 

Related: Big Food Bucket List Restaurants Across Canada That Now Offer Takeout

In a show of support, Canadians are coming together on April 15th for a second year in a row. Created by Canada Takeout (CTO) — an organization dedicated to all things takeout across the country — #TakeoutDay has also evolved into a weekly celebration of local eats, taking place each Wednesday. 

Spicy Indian food spread on table ready to eat.

To date, the hashtag has reached 52.9 million people and CTO’s hope Canadians will embrace eating from their favourite local spots on April 15th by ordering from restaurant takeout menus. 

Related: What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

CTO is raising the bar from last year by challenging Canadians to set a national record for the most takeout ordered in a single day. Diners can participate by ordering takeout, uploading their takeout receipts to the Takeout Tracker and also spreading the love on social using the hashtags #takeoutday and #canadatakeoutrecordThe day follows on the heels of an FDA announcement that there is still no clear evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food or related packaging.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

A vegetarian sandwich with greens and plant-based alternatives alongside a mango-coloured cocktail

Can You Guess Which City is the Most Vegetarian-Friendly in Canada?

With the COVID-19 pandemic came the unprecedented shift towards working remotely for many Canadians, and some are looking to relocate to places better suited to their lifestyles, for good. With plant-based diets on the rise for health, ethical and environmental reasons, which cities are best suited to attract vegetarians? 

The Vegetarian Cities Index for 2021 sought to answer this by ranking 75 of the most vegetarian-friendly cities in the world, and that list includes some Canadian standouts. 

Related: Easy Plant-Based Recipes for Beginners That Will Make You Drool

Rustic table with a blue plate, zucchini noodles, tomatoes, kale and halved soft-boiled eggs

The index assessed the affordability and quality of each city’s vegetarian offerings (including plant-based diet staples such as fruits, veggies and proteins), the number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and lifestyle-related events. 

Related: From Keto to Vegan, These Are the Pantry Staples You Need Based on Your Diet

The survey identified that while home cooking still played an important role for vegetarians over the last 12 months, plant-based restaurants played an important role in people’s lives (some of these restaurants were not only top rated vegetarian restaurants, but top rated restaurants overall). 

Of the 75, Canada did not crack the top 30 list. However, four Canadian cities did offer established vegetarian-friendly “ecosystems,” with Ottawa leading as the most vegetarian-friendly city in Canada in 31st place. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal follow in 50th, 60th, and 66th place, respectively. 

Related: The One Dish John Catucci Always Orders From These North American Cities

People in the produce aisle at a grocery store

Out of these four, Ottawa had the most affordable grocery staples (fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins),  while Montreal scored highest out of the four for vegetarian restaurant affordability. Toronto, on the other hand, had the highest number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, while Vancouver had the highest ratio of these restaurants with nearly a quarter offering vegetarian-friendly options. 

As for which cities claimed the top spots? London (UK), Berlin and Munich were identified as the top three destinations for those opting for a meatless diet. 

We tried TikTok’s Feta Tomato Pasta and Popeye’s Famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Duck salad inside red box

Meet the $45 Takeout Meal That Comes in a Jewellery Box

The pandemic is changing habits — and we’re all embracing takeout like never before. While fast-food chains were always set up for takeout, other restaurants had to quickly adapt their business model to pay the bills. Fine-dining restaurants that previously relied on dine-in patrons are forced to now reimagine their food to offer an upscale dining experience to-go.

Hana in Toronto’s ritzy Yorkville neighbourhood offers one the best modern Kyō-kaiseki (Kyoto-style cuisine) dining experiences in the city. Chef Ryusuke Nakagawa’s food does a dance between modern and traditional — and pre-COVID, his preparation and presentation of each dish was so meticulous. Clearly, I had to see if the takeout experience shared the same sentiment. I opted for the duck salad, which costs $45. Expensive compared to fast-food takeout, but quite on par in terms of fine-dining prices.

Duck salad inside red box

First Looks

Let’s start with the packaging. The duck salad comes in a glistening, cherry-coloured, faux mahogany keepsake box from Japan, which adds an instant sophistication to the experience. From afar, you wouldn’t believe it’s not real wood. Once the lid is removed, your eyes are drawn to the variety. The dish is made with over a dozen ingredients that are all visible and vibrant. The star of the show is the ribbons of duck which Hana is not frugal about in this salad.

Red box on white counter

Digging In

Where do I even start? In a dish with so many ingredients, I like to try each one individually to get a sense of taste and texture separately. Essentially, I give each ingredient its own attention. It’s important to note that the duck salad’s veggies vary depending on the season. When I tried this in December 2020, this is what I had.

The duck is marinated in akamiso (red miso) and is slightly charcoal-grilled. It’s soft and buttery. The salad also has delicious carrot kinpira (julienned vegetables that are braised in a sauce made of soy and sugar), shungiku leaves (slightly bitter, yet delicate leafy greens) and maitake mushrooms, blanched and boiled in a dashi-based broth.

Related: Can’t Dine Out? These Toronto Restaurants Are Offering Date Night Meal Delivery

Ingredients that were new to me include: ginkgo (nuts that comes from a ginkgo tree and taste like edamame), golden beets (which are much sweeter than the red ones) and kikka kabura (a flower-shaped turnip). Other characters that make up the salad include daikon, radish sprouts, red cabbage, persimmons (because they’re in season), lotus roots, figs and the most finely sliced limes that complimented every bite.

Duck salad inside red box

The Sour Notes

This salad is made with a variety of vinegars: saffron vinegar, tosa vinegar, sweet vinegar and more. I can say with confidence, I never once made a dramatic sour face the way babies do when trying a lemon for the first time.

The Verdict

This dish could have gone terribly wrong given the amount of acidity in it. Ninety per cent of the vegetables were marinated with acidic notes, yet the duck stood up to it all.

I think one of the ways the chef was able to control the acidity is by his masterful knife skills, which Japanese chefs are known for. You’ll notice the dish is full of vegetable that are sliced, diced, julienned, fine-julienned and chiffonade cut. The cutting technique affects flavour. The more finely cut a vegetable, the more marinade it can absorb, which mean the chef is able to maintain a balanced flavour.

Although the shiso flower buds make a very pretty garnish, next time I would politely put them to the side. They have a very strong, lingering herb flavour that I could easily do without. I see why it would work well in a cocktail.

Overall, if you like duck, this is a must-have. You won’t be disappointed with the portion, presentation or palatableness.

Closeup of takeout duck salad in red box with wood chopsticks

Interested in more takeout reviews? We tried the KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits and Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich.

Photos courtesy of Deepi Harish

Neopolitan Baked Alaska Snowball is seen cracked open, with various chocolates and chocolate-covered strawberries seen inside

We Tried Mijune Pak’s New Chocolate Creations Just in Time for the Holidays

Foodie, Top Chef Canada judge, all-around champion for restaurants during the year that has been 2020… is there anything Mijune Pak can’t do? Well as it turns out the Vancouver personality hasn’t just been brightening up people’s lives with her virtual Instagram cooking classes and delightful new animated emojis these past few months. She’s also been helping fans relive their childhood memories with a new line of gourmet chocolates that are just as pretty as they are delicious.

Related: Get Mijune Pak’s recipe for a Canadian Pie-in-a-Jar

Mijune Chocolate is a collaboration between Pak and award-winning chocolatier Christophe Bonzon. The limited-edition line of bars and snowballs was inspired by her childhood memories, which is how she wound up with concoctions like Maple Syrup French Toast and Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs. Fans were so pumped to try the goodies come the Oct. 20 launch date that they even crashed the pre-order website.

Luckily we got our hands on some of the festive edibles—which are available to ship across Canada—and we had a few thoughts…

Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs, $18.95

Related: 20 Holiday Gifts Perfect for the Food Lover in Your Life

First impression
You know when something is just too pretty to eat? That’s probably why we had to stash our snowball in the fridge for a few days before we finally broke down and smashed it. Not only was the packaging gorgeous, but the ball itself really did look like some kind of a magical, edible snowball that had been hugged by a fairy. The brilliant pink-and-white boule was finished with snow-like ridges and a sprinkling of chocolate crumble, basically putting this season’s trendy hot chocolate bombs to shame.   

Taste
Where do you even start when you’re presented with a flurry of flavours inside one magic ball? One that you get to crack open with more enthusiasm than a Kinder Surprise Egg? Outside the snowball is made up of creamy, layered milk chocolate, vanilla bean and white chocolate, which is basically a grown-up, sexier version of the childhood favourite, if you ask us. Then inside you’ve got a ton of fun Neapolitan crisps, dark-chocolate-covered marshmallows, and two freeze-dried strawberries that are coated in either ruby pink chocolate or dark chocolate. It’s enough to send your taste buds into overdrive, but in that indulgent, the-holidays-are-here kind of way.

See More: Baked Alaskas Are Making a Comeback – and These Chocolate Hazelnut Treats Are Proof

Inspirations
Mijune was inspired to create these brilliant snowballs from her childhood memories of eating Neapolitan ice cream. And like us, she always ate the chocolate and vanilla, but left the strawberry for someone more unsuspecting. This adult version has all the creamy flavours you remember eating as a kid, but without the brain freeze. Oh, and as for those strawberries? When wrapped in a crispy feuilletine, you kind of wish there were more than just two.

Lasting thoughts
If you can get your hands on one of these rare treats (note to Mijune and Christophe—produce more, please) they make a delightful and fun gift. The only problem is that you’re far more likely to want to keep it for yourself than give it out, especially if you’re stuck at your house for the holidays and are really craving that nostalgic taste of home.

Maple Syrup French Toast, $11.95

First impression
Like the snowball, this French Toast bar comes in an understated-but-pretty package that is also elegant thanks to the gender-neutral gold embellishments. Inside, the bar is also unabashedly Canadian thanks to a swanky Maple Leaf adorning it. Ours was broken in one spot by the time we opened it, however we really loved that the bar was perforated in unexpected diagonal lines, making it so much more elegant than traditional chocolate square bars.

Related: 10 Unexpected Chocolate Flavour Pairings That Are a Perfect Match

Taste
Most people are either a fan of maple or they aren’t. And even those who fall into the former camp have to admit that too much of the treat is overkill—it is kind of sweet, after all. Enter this special French Toast chocolate bar, which tones down the sweetness by pairing the maple with a crumbly, toast-like cookie that feels just a bit rough on your tongue. It’s a fun play on texture and flavour that we didn’t even know could exist in a chocolate bar, and we’d be lying if we said we haven’t been craving more ever since licking the last little bit off our plate.

Inspirations
So many of us grew up eating pancakes, waffles and French toast on a lazy Sunday morning, so you can’t help but feel a little nostalgic when you take that first bite into this bar. As soon as it hits your tongue you’re automatically transported back to the days when you would slather butter and maple syrup over a stack and dive in unabashedly. Just thinking about it now makes us want to whip up some French toast this weekend… 

Lasting thoughts
Whether you want something sweet to go with your tea, or you’re putting together a dessert board with all of your favourite things, the Maple Syrup French Toast bar is one sweet addition. It also makes an impressive gift or stocking stuffer, especially for any Canadians out there who find themselves missing home this holiday season.

Overall thoughts
As far as we’re concerned the only downside to the Maple Syrup French Toast and Neapolitan Baked Alaska Snowballs is that they’re limited-edition runs. We’re sure Mijune and Christophe had a blast acting like Christmas elves and collaborating with these sweet treats, but now that they’ve proven to be every bit as spectacular in practice as they are in theory, here’s hoping for even more sweet, sweet collaborations between these two in the near future.

We Tried the KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits — Are They Worth the Hype?

Is it possible that two popular food chains have crafted the dessert pairing we didn’t know we needed? KFC Canada has joined fast-food forces with Cinnabon for a dessert that is so 2020 — chaotic.

As of December 2, KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits are available across Canada while quantities last. It’s the perfect holiday treat for those who love trying the latest food crazes — or simply want to travel back (in their minds) to warm weather and carnival eats.

So, is this dessert mashup worth the buzz? You needed answers, so we gave it a try on your behalf. (You can thank us later).

Related: We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Arrived in Canada – Is It Worth the Hype?

So, what exactly are KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits?

This savoury treat is essentially a Frankenstein’s monster of a dessert (which is totally on-trend), combining KFC’s signature buttermilk biscuits with Cinnabon’s cinnamon brown sugar glaze, cream cheese frosting and chocolate bow tie toppers. To be honest, it reminds us of must-try summer carnival foods, like the ones that garner headlines at the CNE every year.

Customers can order them individually ($1.99), as a four-pack ($6.99) or as part of KFC’s Festive Buckets — the Festive Mighty Bucket for One ($11.99) and the Festive Double Bucket ($35.99).

Related: Meatball Fans Rejoice! IKEA Canada Restaurant Now Offers Takeout

First Look

“Soggy” is the first word that comes to mind. We opened a box of the four-pack and were met with gooey, melted chocolate on top — and maybe it’s just us, but we’re not really fans of desserts that look super… wet? But we’re going into this with entirely open minds. Sure, it doesn’t exactly look appetizing, but it can’t be that bad, right?

Related: We Tested 4 Popular Canadian Meal Delivery Kits. Here’s How They Compared

Digging In

At first bite, the dessert biscuits taste exactly how they look: soggy. The biscuit is mediocre at best — it was a lot more crumbly and dense than we would have expected and it had a weird aftertaste.

The silver lining in all this: it’s worth noting that the little chocolate bow ties on the top (which actually resemble little melted stick figures, don’t you think?) were the least offensive part of the entire dessert — so chocolate fans can rejoice in that part, we suppose?

The Verdict

Honestly, if you’re craving KFC’s fan-favourite biscuits, just straight-up buy one of them, sans goopy cinnamon sugar and chocolate stick figures/bow ties. If you’re craving Cinnabon, just go to Cinnabon — and the two shall never meet.

KFC Cinnabon Dessert Biscuits are available exclusively at KFCs across Canada.

Here are some famous recipes we’re making at home — from McDs hash browns to IKEA meatballs. You can also check out these recipes from hit movies and our favourite songs!

Canadians Now Ordering Food Online in Record Numbers, Survey Reveals

It’s been an unusual year, to say the least. From adjusting to our makeshift home offices to recalibrating our kitchen routines, our work-life balance has never looked more different. One of the biggest changes in 2020? The eating habits of Canadians.

This week, the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax released their report on the impact of COVID-19 on the food industry and e-commerce. For the study, researchers surveyed 7,290 Canadians about their eating habits in the last six months.

Related: Meatball Fans Rejoice! IKEA Canada Restaurant Now Offers Takeout

The findings reveal that a total of 31.3 per cent of Canadians have used curbside pickup or home delivery services from grocery stores in recent months, while 28.6 per cent used an online service to get food delivered from a restaurant. Another 26.3 per cent specifically used a phone application to order food (think: UberEats and Skip the Dishes) with 12.8 per cent opting for make-it-yourself meal kits. In summary, 63.8 per cent of Canadians have ordered food online in some form in the preceding six months.

A quick breakdown of the most popular food types ordered by Canucks, according to the survey, reveals the following:

— fast food (33.1 per cent)
— fruits and vegetables (22 per cent)
— dairy products (21.5 per cent)
— baked goods (20.6 per cent)
— alcoholic beverages (8.7 per cent)

Related: Famous Recipes We’re Making at Home, From McD’s Hash Browns to IKEA Meatballs

When asked the reasoning behind their scrumptious purchases, respondents revealed that convenience by and large was the most popular reason, coming in at 33.8 per cent. Second place were concerns about the virus and leaving the house at 13.8 per cent. For 6.9 per cent of Canadians, mandatory self-isolation was the driving factor behind ordering food online or via app.

Related: We Tested 4 Popular Canadian Meal Delivery Kits. Here’s How They Compared

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 29.6 per cent of Canadians averaged food orders (grocery or takeout) at least once a week. In the last six months, however, that percentage has skyrocketed to 45.4 per cent.

In conclusion, the Agri-Food Analytics Lab estimates that 4.2 million more Canadians are ordering food online at least once a week than the pre-pandemic average.

Other than takeout, wonder what we’ve all been purchasing since March? Spoiler alert: it’s not just toilet paper! Here’s what Canadians have been buying since COVID started, according to Statistics Canada.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

IKEA meatballs on serving tray inside restaurant

Meatball Fans Rejoice! IKEA Canada Restaurant Now Offers Takeout

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a sudden, overwhelming hankering for IKEA meatballs. (*waves both hands*) If this describes you to a T, we’ve got some great news for you: as of today – November 9 – IKEA Canada is offering restaurant takeout so you can gorge on those iconic Swedish meatballs (and some new budget-friendly family meals) from the comfort of your own home. We don’t know about you, but this is the type of feel-good foodie news we need more of in 2020.

IKEA meatballs on serving tray

Related: Famous Recipes We’re Making at Home, From McD’s Hash Browns to IKEA Meatballs

Due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions, many IKEA locations across the nation have had to shutter their dine-in spaces, leaving bereft customers out of luck when it came to enjoying fan-favourites such as the veggie balls, butter chicken and the fish and chips duo.

Thankfully, the new takeout process is easy as 1-2-3: simply place your order at an IKEA kiosk in the designated bistro area and you’re all set to pick it up once it’s ready.

Related: We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Came to Canada – Is it Worth the Hype?

IKEA has also introduced new affordable family meals, which includes a Swedish meatball family meal ($30) and a Swedish veggie ball family meal ($20). Each order contains 24 meatballs (or veggie balls) with a choice of two sides, plus additional sauces and a family-sized chocolate DAIM cake for dessert.

Related: We Tested 4 Popular Canadian Meal Delivery Kits. Here’s How They Compared

Takeout is now available at all IKEA Canada stores nationwide, including those which have temporarily closed dine-in areas due to provincial regulations.

Find more information on IKEA’s takeout policy here.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

We’re all very familiar with takeout these days, but did you know that your new favourite dish may not actually come from a physical restaurant? It may have come to you by way of what’s sometimes called a “ghost kitchen,” “virtual kitchen” or “dark kitchen.”

While these terms are often used interchangeably, Adam Armeland, CEO and co-founder of  “virtual food hall” Kitchen Hub explains the difference: “Ghost kitchens are restaurants that sell exclusively (or predominantly) through digital channels and do not have a direct customer-facing component (with seating, pickup counter, etc.).”

Spread of plates featuring different dishes from Kitchen Hub restaurants

Virtual or dark kitchens on the other hand exist in addition to the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant structure — and offer customers the option to eat their favourite meals at home. For example, Kitchen Hub is a dark kitchen for some of Toronto’s favourite restaurants, a space where takeout is prepared for PAI Northern Thai Kitchen, The Carbon Bar, Kanga and Cheesecake Factory Bakery. Kitchen Hub also offers customers the advantage of having access to all these different restaurant menus with one order.

Related: Ranking Canadian Retailers Offering Grocery Delivery Right Now, by Price

Differences aside, these all include a centralized commercial kitchen, allowing customers to order menu items online (whether via kitchenhub.ca, SkipTheDishes, Uber Eats, DoorDash or similar food delivery services). “They allow restaurants to take on a smaller footprint, fewer employees and take advantage of the increasing demand for food outside of the restaurant,” says Armeland.

Related: We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Arrived in Canada – Is It Worth the Hype?

There are more benefits for customers too: “The customer benefits from food being prepared in a facility that is purpose-built for off-premise consumption. Not only will their order get to them faster and fresher, but it will also be prepared in a facility that was designed to have less interaction with the outside world, which minimizes risk [of exposure] to everyone in the process.”

But this model isn’t new — it’s been around since 2013, when the first ghost kitchen opened in New York. Brick-and-mortar restaurants are costly to start up and run — and can be a challenge in the best of times. Enter a global pandemic, hitting the restaurant industry with a $4B drop in revenue between January and April alone. The pandemic catalyzed many restaurants to switch to the ghost or dark kitchen model. “All restaurants effectively became ghost kitchens overnight when the government mandated that they could only be available for takeout and delivery,” says Armeland.

Spread of plates featuring Thai dishes, including golden curry and shrimp

As for what makes a great ghost kitchen? “By and far the most important thing is the restaurant brand and food; the customer wants what they want and from our experience, that is a great brand serving good food,” says Armeland. Kitchen Hub offers the digital and physical infrastructure, allowing the restaurants themselves to focus on what they do best: cooking for their customers. “[At Kitchen Hub] the restaurants operate out of their own dedicated kitchen, with their own chefs, so consumers can expect the same food quality that they have come to love and expect from their favourite brand (or in our case, multiple brands at the same time),” adds Armeland. In terms of what food trends Armeland has noticed throughout the pandemic, he says it’s about the sweet tooth.

Related: Can’t Dine Out? These 20 Toronto Restaurants Are Offering Date Night Meal Delivery

Pandemic or not, Armeland adds: “I think that ghost kitchens are here to stay and are becoming a necessary part of a restaurant’s future planning to serve their customers through the fastest growing channel in the food industry.” 

Restaurant photo courtesy of Getty Images; food photos courtesy of Kitchen Hub

Williamsburg Pizza Margherita Pizza

Pizza Lovers: Here’s Where to Find the Best Pizza in 2020

If we know one thing to be true, it’s that everybody loves pizza. Whether it’s eaten fresh from a woodburning oven, straight out of a cardboard delivery box, or reheated on a bleary-eyed Sunday morning, pizza is always satisfying. And luckily for us, pizza is one of the ultimate takeout foods, making it the perfect dish right now.

And while it’s been said that even when it’s bad, it’s still good, John Catucci knows when a pizza is truly great. Like a giant slice topped with mini pizzas, a meta creation of epic proportions, this 26-inch slice brings you what you didn’t know you wanted- pizza on pizza. Or for the true original, maybe Willamburg Pizza’s Apple Bacon Grandma Pie is more your speed, a delicious ‘za topped with thinly slices apples, bacon, walnuts and four different varieties of cheese. 

Whatever your preferred pie style, get ready to add a few more to check off your very own Big Food Bucket List.

At Descendant Detroit Style Pizza, one of the first things pizza lovers will notice is that Detroit-style pizza is served in a square, with the sauce on top rather than providing a base for toppings. The Truff-Ghi starts with a thick Sicilian crust, chewy but never heavy. Topped with roasted garlic cremini mushrooms, caramelized onions, double-smoked bacon and heaps of mozzarella, this square is chock full of flavour. If you weren’t already drooling, the added drizzle of white truffle aioli will surely seal the deal.

See more: The Top 5 Pizza Recipes From You Gotta Eat Here!

The best part, John says, is the crust, while diving into a crunchy corner, “it’s light, it’s airy, it’s crispy.” A true testament of lasting love, John declares that “yes, I’d take it home and introduce it to my mother.” What more could you ask for? The Pugliese style pizza at Toronto’s Bar Buca keeps mixes things up with the addition of potatoes to the dough. Chef Rob Gentile says “the potato and the starches and the natural sugars create a beautiful, airy dough.”

See More: The Best Toronto Pizza Spots

“I’ve made a lot of pizza dough in my life, never using these ingredients,” says Catucci, flabbergasted. When it comes to ingredients, Italian tomatoes, virgin mozzarella and pepperoni make this dish, as John put’s it, “just so pretty.” A pizza so good, it’ll bring tears to your eyes.

Over at Connie’s Pizza, they’re making deep-dish like you’ve never seen before. Handcrafted, thick dough fully encases meaty chunks if Italian beef, giardiniera, and a blend of mozzarella and provolone,  making this slice a true “pie“.

It’s no surprise that the windy city is obsessed with this joint, known for their ooey, gooey, Italian classics, with one customer calling it the “pizza you dream about.”

This pie is spicy, with flavour all the way through, made with thin slices of Italian beef and giardiniera, a pickled blend of carrots, cauliflower and jalapeno, held in soybean oil. The dish holds 3lbs of pizza and cooks for 45 minutes- but hey, good things come to those who wait. After taking his first bite, John says “if that’s not bucket list, I don’t know what is!” We’re happy to follow owner Mike Stolfe’s advice, who laughs and says ” it’s good for you.”

Meanwhile, pizzaiolos at Williamsburg Pizza in Brooklyn are speaking a love language specifically for the pizza purists at heart, with their Margherita pizza.

If you’re looking to master the proper pizza fold, you’ll be happy to choose this slice as your test subject, which one customer says delivers a “slap of flavour.” “The sauce is tangy and sweet at the same time,” says John. “And the dough has flavour! It’s the “best Margherita slice I’ve ever had” he says, giving ultimate praise to the power of this pie.

Watch full episodes of Big Food Bucket List onlineYou 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.

 

 

We Tried Popeyes’ Famous Chicken Sandwich That Finally Arrived in Canada — Is It Worth the Hype?

It doesn’t happen every day, but — every once in a blue moon — people lose their minds over a hype-worthy food. For a bite to reach that level of foodie fervour, a few things have to happen: it has to be hard to get your hands on, it has to be photo ready (a la charcoal soft serve) and it has to be totally tasty. Enter the collective Canadian craving for the infamous Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich.

You might be asking: why all the hype over a fried chicken sandwich? Can’t you get fried chicken plenty of places? Yes… and no (until recently). Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich (often referred to audaciously as “The Sandwich”) was released to attention-grabbing crowds in America in 2019 — but it only arrived in Canada as of September 14th.

So is this sandwich worth the buzz? Or can we chalk up this chicken frenzy merely a case of wanting what you can’t have? Obviously, we needed answers, so we gave The Sandwich a try.

Recipe for Success

First thing’s first: what exactly is a Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich? The Sandwich (which will set you back between $5.99 to $6.49 depending on which province you’re in) consists of an all-white fried chicken breast fillet topped with barrel-cured pickles and mayonnaise (either classic or spicy) — all assembled on a toasted brioche bun.

The chicken itself follows the company’s signature fried chicken formula. The chicken is marinated in a blend of Louisiana seasonings, battered by hand, breaded in a buttermilk coating and then fried. So, if you’re already a fan of their fried chicken, this will almost definitely be for you.

 

First Looks

If all the fanfare has you picturing some sort of over-the-top chicken-fried behemoth, then you’ll likely be a bit disappointed to feast (your eyes) on The Sandwich. However, if you’re expecting a classic fried chicken sandwich, then you’re in luck! Visually, there are no big surprises: The Sandwich is straightforward looking, with a generous piece of fried chicken and chartreuse-hued rounds of those cured pickles neatly sandwiched between the halved brioche bun.

Related: I Tried “Beyond Meat” Meals at 5 Popular Canadian Chains. Here’s How They Stacked Up

Digging In

At first bite, the chicken hit a lot of the targets we were looking for in fried chicken: it was crispy on the outside (without being super greasy — always a risk with fried chicken), tender on the inside and had good flavour (thanks, likely, to those Louisiana seasonings).

It’s worth noting that the chicken-to-bread ratio was good. The toasted brioche bun was soft with a nice chew (it almost melted in your mouth).

In terms of toppings, The Sandwich keeps things pretty simple, in a good way. It’s really just the mayo (more on that up next) and the pickles. Luckily, we love pickles and these were perfect: crunchy, tangy and delicious!

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

The Spicy Scenario  

As I mentioned earlier, the Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich comes in two versions: classic and spicy. How to choose? If you can always go for a little more flavour, you’ll prefer the spicy version (the spicy mayo tastes like chipotle mayo and leaves behind a nice little kick that lingers). If, however, you’re a fried chicken purest, stick to the classic.

The Verdict

Overall, the Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich is a really good fried chicken sandwich. If we were craving a fried chicken sandwich, it would definitely be on our list — but it wasn’t life-changing. Still, if you’re a fan of fried chicken on any level, our advice is to give it a try.

Here are famous recipes we’re making at home — from McDs hash browns to IKEA meatballs. Also, here are recipes from hit movies!

A Haitian Chef Reveals the Secret Ingredient to His Toronto Restaurant’s Success (Even During COVID)

Like most great chefs, Marc-Elie Lissade jumped at the opportunity to fill a global food gap in a major metropolis. After leaving Haiti at age 11, Lissade spent some time living in the United States before setting down roots in Toronto in the hopes of opening his own restaurant. And that’s when, in December 2019, Boukan was born – a Haitian food joint offering French-Creole street fare.

“Street food works in Toronto because it’s open to many styles of cuisine,” he says. “And we don’t already have a lot of Haitian or Creole cuisine here.”

Related: The Very Best Ways to Devour Street Food Around the World

Lissade excels at Haitian comfort foods (think: deep fried and delicious). Boukan is a vibrant space packed with eye-popping colour located on Toronto’s Kingston Road. The walls, dedicated to the work of local artists and signatures left behind by satisfied customers, illustrate the importance of ancestral ties and community.

His passion for food comes from his close bond with his grandma, a bona fide chef in her own right. Growing up, it was she who taught him many of the homemade seasonings and recipes that make Boukan such a hot spot destination for foodies.

It’s hard to deny how Lissade’s attention to history, family meals and community have become the main ingredients to his restaurant’s success (FYI: he also has his own catering company called Black Apron Events and garnered the top award from 2018’s Taste of the Caribbean!).

A Place in History

Given his penchant for connecting with family through food, it comes as no surprise that Lissade turned to his ancestral roots when brainstorming a restaurant name – in particular, a groundbreaking moment in Haitian history.

The Haitian Revolution is widely considered one of the most significant moments in the history of the Atlantic World. It lasted for more than a decade, beginning in August 1791 before concluding in January 1804 with the self-liberated slaves exerting independence over French colonial rule in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). The event bears the distinction of being the only slave uprising to result in a state led entirely by non-white rulers and former captives.

Prior to the revolution, enslaved Haitians would gather around a campfire (boukan) to shares stories, dance and enjoy food together. It’s that specific aspect – a community coming together – that ultimately inspired Lissade to take a page from his ancestors’ history book for the name of his restaurant. “After 1804, Haitians were [finally] able to celebrate,” he says. “For me, Boukan is our culture and it represents history and a place of celebration.”

Family Ties

If one were to map out Lissade’s career trajectory, from his catering company Black Apron Events to Boukan, it would start with his grandma. At only eight years old, Lissade was a chef in training, assisting his grandma with her catering company – running around grabbing the ingredients and cookware she needed. Even now, any reference to his grandma will take Lissade on a trip down memory lane.

“I remember every Saturday night we’d have fritay [pronounced free-tie, a general term for fried food] and griyo [deep fried pork]. We’d sit down and she’d tell us stories,” he recalls. “We always looked forward to that.” (Griyo also happens to be his favourite recipe to make with his grandma, which Boukan customers can find on the menu).

Every family has its own fiercely guarded kitchen secrets that are passed on through generations. When asked if there’s a specific tip or secret ingredient that his grandma taught him over the years, Lissade gives a reluctant laugh. “Yes. It’s really about the process of [prepping] the food,” he says. “She taught me to cook with three senses: smell, sight and texture. When you’re cooking, you’re always running around tasting different things, so your taste buds change. [Slowing down and paying attention to] those senses is what helped her become a better cook. Now, at 32, I understand why she was cooking that way.”

Related: 15 Easy Cooking Techniques Everyone Should Learn to Master

A Place to Gather

There’s a real sense of community woven into the very fabric of Boukan, from the rotating work by local artists featured on the walls to recipe-sharing with fellow chefs.

“I wanted the place to be open to everybody,” he explains. “We all get stronger through collaboration with others.” And that collaboration takes on many forms.

For starters, Lissade rotates the artwork featured in his restaurant roughly once a month to make room for new pieces and local talent. “I don’t want to go to a restaurant where the same artwork has been on the wall for 15, 20 years,” he says. “Yes, this is a restaurant, but it’s also an art gallery where I open it to all local artists in Toronto. People can purchase it and it is full commission to them. I don’t take money from it because I know how hard it can be – unless you’re a Picasso.”

Even the story behind one of Lissade’s favourite “secret ingredients” has a communal backstory. “I have a close friend who lives in Miami and she’s a Haitian chef,” he says, citing her influence on one of the most popular recipes he’s crafted for the menu. “When I was opening Boukan I thought it’d be a crazy idea to offer a vegan burger. We [Haitians] love meat, but I wanted to be different.”

The result was the wildly popular Burger Boukanye featuring a plant-based patty, pickled onions, vegan Creole mayo and, the secret ingredient, djon djon – a rare black mushroom only found in northern Haiti. “I’m not vegan, but I thought it was so good,” Lissade says of his collaboration with his friend. “The seasoning in it is the one I learned from my grandma, so you can’t find it anywhere else.”

Related: Iconic Southern Comfort Food, From Cornbread to Fried Chicken

As for the global pandemic that shuttered the vast majority of businesses around the world, there was no way to predict the fallout for a restaurant as young as Boukan. “I was very worried,” he says. “We’re not even a year old, so when COVID happened I didn’t know what to do. We weren’t eligible for help from the government because we’d only been open for a few weeks last year.”

Enter: the very community he’s sought to bring together through food. “Thank God for the support of the Haitian community and our neighbours – they supported us like there’s no tomorrow. If it wasn’t for them, I think we would have been closed by now.”

To learn more about Boukan Owner and Executive Chef Marc-Elie Lissade, tune into the @AmexCanada #ShopSmallStories Twitter episode here. The Twitter Original series was created in partnership with American Express Canada in support of their Shop Small program, a national movement, backed by a Cardmember offer, to encourage Canadians to get behind their local small businesses and help revive communities.

Photos courtesy of North Agency

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

Remember eating out? You know, that thing you do at a restaurant? (Remember restaurants?!). After about five months of social distancing, I certainly didn’t. Sure, we’d ordered in a few times and picked up from a couple of our favourite local haunts to try and support small businesses, but sitting down at an actual restaurant, ordering food off the menu and having a date night or lunch out with my friends had become a foreign concept. So when most of Ontario entered Stage 3, my husband and I decided to do what we’d seen other brave souls do in Stage 2 and we hit up a patio for lunch (without the kids!). And truthfully, it was all kinds of weird and glorious. In other words, it’s what we’re all calling the new normal.

Pre-Patio Anxiety

I will no longer take for granted: deciding to go out for dinner without an entire attack plan in my head.

Do you know anyone who needs to know everything about a situation before entering it or else they’re crippled with anxiety? Oh hi there, that’s me. When we decided to finally venture out for a meal, I put a call out to friends and family on social media to see who had actually dined out recently and what it was really like. I was genuinely shocked at how many people I knew had gone out not just once or twice, but three, four, even five times. Although everyone’s experiences had differed, almost everyone stuck to the patio. And everyone I spoke with seemed to agree that they felt totally fine. Before, I used to just want to scour the menu ahead of time to see what I might be interested in eating, but now I want to know what kind of precautions people are taking, how strictly the rules seem to be enforced and whether people are actually wearing those masks.

Related: From Homemade Bread to Pickles, 20 Recipes to Master While Indoors

To Mask or Not to Mask

I will no longer take for granted: NOT having to remember to pack a mask in my purse along with my keys, phone and wallet.

Let’s be clear, my husband and I are following the recommendation to wear a mask — we’re just rule followers like that. But that doesn’t mean we like wearing them. So while we already knew we wouldn’t have to wear a mask on the patio where we chose to eat, we couldn’t figure out if we should wear them in the parking lot or on our walk up to the restaurant. They were seating people outside, so ultimately we decided we didn’t need to wear them, but we brought them in case we needed to go inside and use the washrooms. Honestly, even that quick walk from the car to the patio without a mask felt super weird and it immediately made me apprehensive.

Related: Here’s How to Make Your Own DIY Cloth Face Masks at Home

Safety Protocols

I will no longer take for granted: the anonymity of eating out.

The spaced out tables weren’t the only immediate differences I noticed. At this point the restaurant was also seating inside, but we didn’t feel great about that option and remained outdoors. Still, there were stickers on the floor to indicate the six-foot rule and we had to fill out a card with our contact information for contact tracing. Everything was on paper and we were asked to share menus, which was fine by me. I also noticed the employees constantly spraying and wiping things down, which made me feel a bit more at ease. Speaking of the employees, they were all wearing masks, but it was kind of weird to be in the vicinity of so many other people who weren’t — including pedestrians on the sidewalk right beside us.

The Vibe

I will no longer take for granted: random chats with strangers.

Real talk: being on a patio just after a rainfall with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds was all kinds of glorious. But I really wish I could have enjoyed it more. We’re the type of people who love visiting patios all summer long — and on one hand, the experience felt overdue. On the other, there were 20 or so other people having lunch, which I didn’t anticipate for a Tuesday in the suburbs. (When did being close to other people start freaking me out so much?!). I wasn’t the only one who felt that way though, clearly. Some people like my husband were just dandy to waltz on in and plop down at a seat. Others looked around cautiously and tried to pick the table furthest away from others. Of course, considering everyone was six feet apart, anywhere would have technically been just fine.

The Menu

I will no longer take for granted: all-you-can-eat buffets and menus the size of the table.

The place we chose to eat at had only opened in June, so I was happy that they were able to still open. That said it was a bar-tapas style resto, so the menu was pretty limited and a bit pricey. From my anecdotal research, I kind of think this is the case everywhere — even McDonald’s has eliminated things from their menu over the past few months. In the end we each ordered a drink and then decided to split some truffle fries, mussels, mushroom toasts and crispy chicken tacos. Hey, when you’re going out for the first time in half a year, you might as well do it up right, especially when it’s in the name of research. And yes, we finished it all, thank you very much.

The Service

I will no longer take for granted: everyone who works their tail off at these places.

While some of the people I spoke with ahead of our jaunt warned me that our experience might feel rushed or even distant, I didn’t really have that experience. Our server was really nice and chatty when we wanted to talk and ask questions, despite the fact that she was clearly super busy. She cleared plates as we finished them and came to check on us, which again some people had said isn’t the case right now as servers don’t usually clear the table until the visit is over.

One thing that did bother me was the fact that our server kept putting her mask below her nose. To be fair, it was hot, she was clearly working her butt off and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to wear a mask under those kinds of circumstances. Did it make me uncomfortable? Well, yes. What’s the point of the mask in that case? But I didn’t say anything and I made the decision not to name the restaurant in this piece because everyone’s human. We’re all getting used to this and the girl clearly needed some air.

At the end of the day, I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t always see whether everyone is adhering to the standards, so if you’re going to go to a restaurant, you just have to be prepared to take that risk. The same way you have to hope that no one spits in your food or washes their hands before touching your meal, I guess.

Related: Famous Recipes We’re Making at Home, From McDs Hash Browns to IKEA Meatballs

The Verdict

I will no longer take for granted: eating out, period.

Full disclosure: my husband and I did this lunch thing on the first day that our kids’ daycare opened back up. My anxiety was already riding high from dropping them off earlier that morning and so I may have been affected by certain things more than I typically would be. That said, by the time we finished eating and had paid the bill, I almost felt… human again. I had genuinely forgotten what it was like to order food and eat it without having to worry about any of the cooking or cleaning up.

To be able to just sit for an hour with my partner uninterrupted and without distractions to really catch up and even talk about some of the big feelings we’ve been having during this whole situation turned out to be a needed break for both of us. And even though I felt like I needed a nap after that generous meal (and yes, a glass of wine), it reminded me that we’ve all been going through a lot this year. So even though going to a restaurant isn’t exactly the same experience that it used to be, it’s still a way to add a bit of normalcy back into what has been an extremely abnormal year. Will I be going back next week? Probably not. But the next time things start to feel overwhelming, as far as I’m concerned, an hour on the patio may be exactly what the mental health doctor ordered.

Can’t dine out? These 20 Toronto restaurants are offering date night meal delivery right now.

Patio photography courtesy of Getty Images; food photo courtesy of Amber Dowling

Big Food Bucket List Burgers

The Best Burgers: John Catucci’s Picks for 2019

With a job that takes him to some of the best spots and hidden gem restaurants across North America in search of crave-worthy dishes, John Catucci knows what it takes for a burger to be great.

In the first season of Big Food Bucket List, he gets to explore fresh and unusual takes — from a sweet and savoury version using a classic Chinese snack to a place that glazes their bacon strips with yellow mustard — to more standard versions of the beloved hamburger.

The only thing Catucci’s favourite burgers have in common? They all feature a beef patty (or several) on some sort of bun. Beyond that, only the chef’s creativity is the limit — even if it’s a version that honours the burger in its most classic form.

At Hamilton’s Hambrgr, the burger patties are made from a mix of chuck and inside round beef cuts, giving them a lot of juice and flavour. That signature mix is formed into a ball before it gets smashed against the sizzling hot flat-top grill, causing a Maillard reaction — similar to caramelization — that creates a golden crust. Those patties are paired with slices of bacon slathered with standard yellow mustard before they’re grilled on the flat top — adding an extra level of tang to the meaty #Hamont creation.

Hamont Burger Hamburgr

Get the recipe for The #HAMONT Burger

Burgers cooked on a flat top, especially with processed cheese, have a flavour that just can’t be recreated, says Catucci. “There’s something about that thin, flat, smashed Maillard effect… and the processed cheese that works so perfectly. It’s everything you want in a burger,” says Catucci. But, for nostalgia’s sake, Catucci likes a good charbroiled version. “It reminds me of the burger place my parents would take me to as a kid. That’s the flavour of childhood.”

Related: Big Food Bucket List Restaurant Locator

Hodad’s in San Diego comes by their relatively classic take on a burger honestly. Now owned by the third generation of the same family, this spot has been dishing up burgers for decades. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t done some tinkering. Forget slices of bacon, Hodad’s creates a patty from the salty pork to slide between their smashed beef patties — however many you’d like. “It’s a delicious mess,” says Catucci. “Your shirt is going to be ruined, but you’re going to be happy.”

Hodad's Burger
Hodad’s Double Bacon Cheeseburger

When it comes to burger toppings, Catucci goes for the standards: lettuce, tomato, mustard and relish. But he appreciates a burger that goes off the beaten path for condiments. There is no rivalry between classic and inventive for the Bucket List host — all burgers are welcome.

That’s one of the reasons why Catucci likes what Patois in Toronto is doing. At this spot, known for bringing foods and flavours from different cultures together, the burger veers from any classic version. First, there’s no ordinary mayo spread on their signature Chinese Pineapple Bun Burger, it’s oyster mayo. And the smashed patty is topped with not just lettuce and tomato, but a handful of smoky potato sticks for salty crunch. What really sets this burger apart, though, is a sweet Chinese pineapple bun takes the place of a regular version, creating a salty-sweet concoction. “It almost tastes like steak,” says Catucci. “It’s unlike any other burger I’ve had.”

Patois Chinese Bun Burger

Get the recipe for Patois’ Chinese Pineapple Bun Burger

Meanwhile, at Saltie Girl in Boston, MA, traditional bacon is replaced with a slab of golden-crusted pork belly for their namesake burger, which also eschews American cheese for gruyere and gets a spicy kick from their ‘Angry Sauce’ spiked with sriracha. No smashing here, the fist-sized patty is cooked in cast iron to get a nice crust and the whole thing is capped off with deep-fried chunks of lobster.

Get the recipe for Saltie Girl Burger

It’s juicy patty and size leaves Catucci needing more than one napkin. “It’s a complete mess of a burger, but that’s part of what makes it a bucket list, he says.”

While the burgers on this round of Big Food Bucket List are generally beef based, Catucci says he’s enjoyed several veggie or vegan burgers in his travels and he hopes to see even more in the near future as restaurants expand their offerings. “It’s amazing what you can do (with veggie burgers),” he says, noting there is still an appetite for vegetable versions that echo of their meaty counterparts. (The Beyond Meat version, for example, is making serious inroads.) “I’m hoping if there’s another season, I’ll get to eat more of those, for sure.”

Watch Big Food Bucket List Fridays at 9 PM and 9:30 PM ET.

The Best Fried Chicken John Catucci Has Ever Had – Plus a Surprising Fast Food Fave

What’s better than a juicy, crispy piece of fried chicken? When that beautiful buttermilk batter meets a perfectly seasoned piece of breast, leg or thigh, our mouths can’t help but water at the very thought of diving right in.

Know who else is in love with fried chicken? Big Food Bucket List host John Catucci. The foodie/traveller extraordinaire is all about a good, old-fashioned plate of the comfort food staple, and this season he’s eating a lot of it. From classic buttermilk fried chicken to southern fried chicken wings, check out the dishes that are topping John’s bucket list.

With all the fried chicken recipes out there, what does it take to capture John’s stomach? “We went to a place called Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans this season that had the best fried chicken I’ve ever had,” he tells us. “They did a wet batter—it wasn’t a dredge—and they mixed it all together with hot sauce as well. And then they fry it up.”


Willie Mae Scotch House’s Fried Chicken

Drooling yet? We are. And it’s not just John who is preaching the accolades of Willie Mae’s fried chicken—this spot is also Beyonce’s favourite.

According to John, the end result was a perfectly prepared piece of poultry that was “incredibly crispy” on the outside and “incredibly juicy” on the inside. No wonder the James Beard Award-winning spot has been named as having “America’s Best Chicken.”

“I’d never had anything like that,” Catucci raves. “A lot of times [places] will do that double dredge where it gets a really crispy batter but sometimes that kind of takes away from the chicken itself. This didn’t—this was just superb.”


Butchie’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken Wings with Baba’s Cucumber Salad, Green Beans and Devilled Eggs

So what does one pair with the most superb fried chicken he’s ever had in his life? A good old-fashioned biscuit and some coleslaw, of course. Catucci reveals that he’s into a vinegary coleslaw because it cuts through the fattiness of the chicken, but he’d also “smash” a creamy coleslaw if it was on the table.

The one thing Catucci wouldn’t smash though? Fried chicken smothered in hot sauce (sorry, Beyonce). He’s a mild man, all the way.


Burdock and Co.’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken

“It’s gotta be mild. I’m such a wimp!” he laughs.

If you’re not able to get to one of these bucket list fried chicken dishes anytime soon, don’t worry. Catucci has another obsession that’s a bit more accessible, and also slightly surprising.

“Recently I was at my sister’s house watching the Raptors game and we ordered Popeyes… it’s great chicken!” he reveals. “We were like, ‘Holy…this is good.’ They make great chicken. I’ve honestly been craving it. We have to pace ourselves because there’s one just down the street from my house.”

Watch Big Food Bucket List Fridays at 9 PM and 9:30 PM ET.

mallard-cottage-fish-and-chips

10 Great Canadian Restaurants Where You Can Dine for a Good Cause

This fall, indulge in some exquisite Canadian eats while supporting a worthy cause! If you’ve been dying to try Antonio Park’s paella, Nicole Gomes’ fried chicken or Chuck Hughes’ lobster poutine, this is your excuse. Not only can you savour a delicious, memorable meal, you’ll feed your soul by helping those in need.

On October 17, 2018, more than 75 restaurants in 19 Canadian cities are taking part in Restaurants for Change. An initiative of Community Food Centres Canada, a national non-profit organization, this annual event benefits healthy food programs in low-income communities across the country.

Visit the Restaurant for Change website to find a restaurant near you, and make those reservations for October 17th. Bring your appetite to one of these 10 tantalizing dining establishments, or one of the 75+ eateries participating from coast-to-coast.

 

Lavanderia (Montreal, QC)

This Westmount eatery from Chopped Canada judge Antonio Park taps into the South American flavours of his childhood. Serving elevated Argentinean cuisine, diners can feast on ceviche, grilled meats and even paella.

 

Chew (Winnipeg, MB)

Located in River Heights, Chew offers an intimate dining space where you can savour rustic fare such as crispy duck breast, potato gnocchi and bison. Chef Tyrone Welchinski recently took the reins in the kitchen, creating sumptuous shareable plates that showcase local farmers and producers.

Cluck N Cleaver (Calgary, AB)

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes and her sister, Francine, are chicken connoisseurs. Whether you prefer your poultry southern fried or rotisserie grilled, this Calgary hotspot’s sandwiches, poutines and meals are sure to satisfy.

Richmond Station (Toronto, ON)

A vibrant downtown Toronto restaurant from Top Chef Canada’s Season 2 champ, Carl Heinrich, Richmond Station focuses on serving up the finest seasonal offerings. Whether you opt for shareable dishes like beef tartare and rabbit & pork pate en croute, or go straight for mains like roasted black cod or Berkshire Pork, it will be a memorable meal.

Mallard Cottage (St. John’s, NL)

Not only will you enjoy a scrumptious meal inspired by the flavours of Newfoundland and Ireland, you’ll be dining in a Canadian National Historic Site located in picturesque Quidi Vidi Village. Chef Todd Perrin, a Top Chef Canada: All-Stars alumnus, celebrates the province’s wild game, seafood and produce in beautifully crafted dishes that feature cod cheeks, lobster, foraged mushrooms and more.

 

Burdock & Co. (Vancouver, BC)

The Canadian Pacific Northwest’s bounty is the star at this Mount Pleasant eatery. Chef Andrea Carlson carefully selects her ingredients from locally-sourced growers, foragers and farmers and prepares them in a way that allows them to shine. Heritage wheat spaghetti with a hearty pork ragu, buttermilk fried chicken, and house-milled sourdough bread are some of the culinary delights that await diners.

Garde Manger (Montreal, QC)

Located in Old Montreal near the Old Port, Executive chef Chuck Hughes (of Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip ) serves up indulgent eats like lobster poutine, razor clams, porchetta and more. The menu changes daily, so there’s always something new and exciting to try.

The Canteen on Portland (Dartmouth, NS)

Just steps from the Alderney Ferry Terminal in downtown Dartmouth, this warm, welcoming restaurant boasts a menu with dishes influenced by traditional Nova Scotian cuisine with some classic French and Italian flourishes. Owner and chef Renée Lavallée will treat you to unpretentious fare like herb-crusted haddock, seared scallops and beef brisket prepared with her secret ingredient — love.

Ruby Watchco (Toronto, ON)

This Leslieville restaurant from Chefs Lynn Crawford and Lora Kirk has been offering prix-fixe dinners made with seasonal Canadian ingredients since opening in 2010. With a menu that changes each day, you could be surprised with seared rainbow trout, grilled flank steak or BBQ chicken, along with inspired salads, artisanal cheeses and decadent desserts.

RGE RD (Edmonton, AB)

Canadian farm-to-table cuisine is an art at this Edmonton hotspot that places an emphasis on Western Canadian providers and flavours. Chef Blair Lebsack dishes up fresh local fare including Alberta beef, bison and pork with unique twists that will please adventurous diners.

Roti

The Tasty History of Roti in Canada

Here’s some good news for Canadians from coast to coast: you don’t have to travel 11,000 kilometres across the ocean to get your roti fix. “Everywhere we go [in Canada], there is a roti shop to be found,” say Marida and Narida Mohammed, co-owners of Twice De Spice. Born in Trinidad, sisters Marida and Narida Mohammed grew up eating this delicacy on a daily basis, calling it the “equivalent of what sliced bread is to Canadians.” But with a gazillion and one ways to make and eat this warm, chewy flatbread, what exactly is “roti?”

Mona's Roti in Toronto

“In the [Indian] subcontinent, ‘roti’ is a generic word for bread and is often a synonym for chapatti,” says Richard Fung. “In Trinidad, [the word] is used generically also: Indo-Trinidadians eat sada roti, alu puri and paratha, also known as ‘busupshut.’ Dal puri [generally refers to] what Canadians call ‘West Indian or Caribbean roti.’”

Fung should know: he grew up eating roti in Trinidad and produced Dal Puri Diaspora, a documentary exploring the roots of roti in Trinidad, India and Toronto. Eating his way across the “roti trail,” Fung’s film showcases just how diverse the dish can be.

Related: Want Layers of Flavour? This Flaky, Crunchy Guyanese Roti is a Meal-Time Must-Try

Many food historians believe that this ancient flatbread originates from the Indian subcontinent, where even today, no meal is complete without a side of roti. “In India, puris are deep fried — so what we call dal puris in the diaspora might perhaps more correctly be a dal paratha,” says Richard. “The cooking method and the ingredients (white flour, split peas) are the results of conditions on the plantations.”

The dish began to reach all corners of the earth in the 19th-century, when indentured workers from India introduced the recipe to southern Caribbean colonies of Britain and the Netherlands. Over the decades, the dish gradually garnered its own Caribbean flare.

“Caribbean roti is a large flatbread made with white all-purpose flour and stuffed with ground, seasoned split peas and cooked on a griddle,” says Richard. “In its commercial form, it’s wrapped in a style similar to a burrito around curried meat or vegetables.”

Cooking roti

Much like the origins of roti, the roots of roti in Canada are a bit fuzzy. With waves of immigration in the 1960s, the wrapped roti from Trinidad arrived in North America, where it was popularized in big cities like Toronto and New York and became known as “Caribbean” or “West Indian” roti. “A lot of people migrated [to Canada] from [Caribbean] islands and Guyana,” says  Marida and Narida. “Coming to Canada and the US, they brought their culture here to North America. As it travels, it changes and the spice levels.”

According to Richard, Ram’s Roti Shop was the first roti eatery in Toronto, opening in the 1960s (now closed) and serving Indian-style roti. Today, roti restaurants are scattered across the Greater Toronto Area and there are plenty of choices for hungry hordes eager to sink their teeth into this satisfying dish. “Toronto has a huge West Indian population,” say Marida and Narida. “In the Caribbean-populated areas like Scarborough, West Etobicoke, Brampton and Mississauga, you’re going to find a roti shop tucked in somewhere.”

While Marida and Narida name Ali’s Roti and Drupati’s as being among their favourites in Toronto, you can also mosey over to Mona’s Roti — a Scarborough eatery visited by Great Canadian Cookbook host Noah Cappe and that’s famed for serving mouth-watering roti. Here, the bread is stuffed with a slew of delicious fillings, such as tasty curries (chickpeas and potato, chicken, goat and shrimp), stews (beef and king fish) or veggies. The chicken curry is a bestseller!

Mona's Roti in Toronto

Of course, Toronto isn’t the only place to enjoy this delicious dish. As Marida and Narida say, no matter where you go in Canada, you’re bound to find “a roti shop tucked away somewhere.” Snag a spot at Calabash Bistro in Vancouver, where you can indulge in six types of Caribbean-style roti. A must try is the goat curry wrapped in a fresh busup roti served with organic mixed greens.

Plus, it’s impossible to tire of eating this favourite dish. There is no shortage of chefs across Canada who are making endless and ever-evolving variations on roti. As Richard points out, some Toronto chefs are adding new flavours and ingredients not found overseas. “Immigrants directly from the subcontinent began marketing rotis with fillings typical of North Indian cuisine, such as saag panir or butter chicken,” says Fung. “Places like Mother India Roti and Gandhi sell hybrid rotis that one wouldn’t find in India or the Caribbean, but are very much a result of an encounter in Toronto.”

Marida and Narida are kickstarting “dessert roti,” which they predict will be “the next big thing.” “You can never go wrong with Nutella and bananas with whipped cream on any kind of warm bread,” they say. “Sweet rotis — that’s a trend that we’d like to put out there!”

Photos courtesy of Great Canadian Cookbook/Moni’s Roti

Clocktower Brew Pub

Beer Me Up, Scotty: Canadian Brewery Making Star Trek Beer

An Ottawa brewery is on a mission to The Final Frontier, boldly going where no Canadian beer makers have gone before. For The Clocktower Brew Pub, The Final Frontier is the name of their highly anticipated Star Trek-themed craft brew.

Much to the excitement of Trekkies and craft brew fans alike, the official Star Trek beer is being created in partnership with the Aviation and Space Museum for their Starfleet Gala on May 12, 2016. The out-of-this world event launches an exhibit on space science and includes a very special guest, the original Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.

Ottawa's Clocktower Brew Pub is marking its 20th anniversary with a new Star Trek themed beer.

Ottawa’s Clocktower Brew Pub is marking its 20th anniversary with a new Star Trek themed beer.

The Final Frontier is based on a historic beer style called Kentucky Common; the amber ale has a light body, making it cool, refreshing and easy to drink. Traditional Kentucky Common style is corn-based, but brew-master Patrick Fiori wanted to give it a true Star Trek twist by adding triticale. The rye and wheat hybrid adds body and a cereal flavour to the beer. Trekkies will know it as a real-life version of the fictional “quadrotriticale,” the grain mentioned in the classic original Star Trek episode, Trouble with Tribbles. The episode is famous for the scene in which William Shatner is chest-deep in adorably fluffy pests.

“It took a lot of thought to come up with a name that represented what Star Trek meant to us,” Fiori said in an email.

While the labels and packaging are under wraps until the gala, the brewery is excited to reveal their newest enterprise with the museum.

“The best part of this experience is not only to be able to say that The Clocktower has added to the Star Trek mythos, but as a company, we are turning 20 this year and are able to show that we can stay current and relevant 20 years later,” said Fiori.

This isn’t The Clocktower Brew Pub‘s first foray into sci-fi themed brews. Last year, they collaborated with Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton to create the ‘HefeWheaton,’  a German-style wheat beer that was launched at Ottawa ComicCon.

Can’t wait to ask the bartender for an astronomically good pint? The Final Frontier will be available for tasting at the Starfleet Gala on May 12, and at Ottawa ComicCon May 13 to 15. After that, you can enjoy it at one of The Clocktower Brew Pub’s five Ottawa locations throughout May.

Looking for more tasty craft brews? Maybe you’ll love one of these 10 New and Unique Canadian Beers to Try.

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