Tag Archives: dining-out

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.

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

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

Full disclaimer: I cook. Like, a lot. I’m the type of person who tries not to order too much takeout, I’ll meal plan with my kids and in the pre-coronavirus days, grocery shopping was basically my sanctuary. But you know how when the option to do something is taken away and that just makes you want to do it even more? Enter me and my current obsession with greasy, sweet or downright indulgent fast food. So I decided to pull off a weekend of copycat recipes, in which I replicated some favourite famous recipes from the pre-coronavirus days. Call it a (not-so) fast food culinary marathon, if you will…

McDonald’s Hash Browns

When I first heard that McDonald’s had released their recipes for sausage McMuffins and hash browns I did a freaking happy dance — my kids are obsessed with those golden fried potato parcels. And honestly, even though I typically pass on them, I’ve been imagining biting into those warm, oily things myself. It was a no-brainer to make hash browns my first order of business on a sleepy Saturday morning when everyone was up before 6AM and I had had one too many glasses of mom juice the night before to celebrate the weekend. (While catching up on Real Housewives, naturally).

Ease of Recipe: Honestly? This seemed suspiciously easy. The recipe I found called for one grated potato, one egg, oil and salt and pepper to taste. It didn’t say which type of oil to use or how much salt is ideal. Heck, I didn’t even know how many hash browns one potato would actually make. So I decided that for our family of four I’d go with three potatoes, two eggs and vegetable oil.

The Curveball: You know how McDonald’s hash browns come in those perfect little oval shapes so that they can fit into those grease-catching sleeves? Yeah, mine did not pour out like that. Instead I was spooning bits of potato and trying to shape them into log-like blobs while dancing around, listening to whining kids and trying to avoid all of that splattering hot oil. I’m kind of pumped that my hands are still intact and unburnt so that I can tell this tale today.

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

“Chef” Notes: In my head, McDonald’s hash browns look like they’re made of little potato squares, not grated spuds. So I tried to replicate that by using the slice function on my food processor and then putting the slices a second time through using the grate function. I still didn’t have chunks, but at least the shavings were small. Then, because I’m well aware water and oil don’t mix when you’re looking for a crispy texture, I rung out the grated taters with a cloth towel to try and remove as much water as possible before mixing them with the eggs. 

Results: Misshapen and under-salted final product aside, these went over quite well with the whole family. I put out a plate of them for breakfast and even though the responsible adult in me wondered if I should cut all that grease with some fruit or something, I got lazy. Kids have had worse than just a plate of hash browns for breakfast before, right? Anyhow, my eldest ate four (FOUR!) of them and asked if we could eat them again the next day, while my picky youngest, who had been clamouring for pancakes, had two. (Probably because I told him they were potato pancakes, which technically isn’t a lie.) Needless to say I’ll be making these again, 100 per cent.

Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cake

If you’ve ever been to Canada’s Wonderland, then you know that everywhere you look someone is devouring a funnel cake. Like, you almost feel the pressure to eat one as soon as you enter the park because everyone else is walking around with one. Yeah, you came for the rides and atmosphere, but let’s be honest: you also came for that perfectly crispy pastry topped with fruity sauce and a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream. So Wonderland was doing the world at large a favour when it released its iconic funnel cake recipe for everyone in quarantine to make at home. Naturally that was next up on my weekend of indulgences.

Ease of Recipe: If you looked at the expansive ingredient list and walked away, I don’t think you’d be alone. You definitely have to plan out making these because the sauce calls for things like strawberry extract, modified corn starch and strawberry glaze, three things I didn’t have, couldn’t find and ultimately decided to omit. The recipe does state that you can use regular old corn starch, although the instructions aren’t very clear on how to make that substitution. I definitely had a moment where I was scooping out gross white chunks of the thickening agent where I thought I may have to start again because my guesswork was off. But I’m happy to report that I eventually figured it out and made a decent, if not a touch starchy, sauce.

The Curveball: Not only do you need a specific list of ingredients to pull off these at-home funnel cakes, but you actually need some sort of a funnel with which to pour out and fry the batter. I didn’t have a squeeze bottle handy so I used a clean watering can with a long spout, which… kind of worked. At least the spout was long enough that I wasn’t scared I was going to burn myself around all of that hot oil. And speaking of the hot oil… once those cakes were fried on one side, flipping them over was akin to a death-defying stunt. Even with my creative use of spatula, flipper and tongs that I had going on, I definitely broke more than one cake while shooing the kids back outside for fear they’d be burnt.

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

“Chef” Notes: The most annoying part about this recipe (other than the length of time it took to make that sauce) is that some measurements are in grams, some are in millimetres and others are in teaspoons. So for example, instead of knowing you need about three cups of flour you have to actually measure how many grams you’re putting into the batter. Luckily I have a kitchen scale so I was able to figure all of that out, but if I were trying to recreate this recipe without one I honestly would have given up. I wondered more than once if they made it hard on purpose so that you would still go to the park for one of these fried cakes if and when it opens back up. This recipe can definitely be simplified.

Results: This recipe was supposed to make 3-4 large funnel cakes or 5-7 smaller ones, but because I had to pour the batter a bit thicker than the park does, I actually used less per batch. I wound up with 12. Some family had stopped by for a (social distant) visit, so they each got to try one. My father-in-law said it was “better than the EX” (apparently they serve them there?) and my brother-in-law ate three, so that’s a win. The kids were just lukewarm on them though and I found pieces of one floating in the dogs’ water bowl a couple of hours later courtesy of my son. Meanwhile, because we had so many extra, my husband also ran one over to our neighbours, but he came back right away for another after they apparently “fought” over the first one. For the record our neighbours are awesome (AND they’re quarantining with young kids), so they definitely deserved a cake each. Long story short? I would probably make these again, but only for a very special occasion. And next time I’ll most likely just throw some jam and ice cream over them and call it a day on the sauce.

IKEA Meatballs

The last time I made Swedish meatballs was when I was still pregnant with my second kid. At the time, my daughter devoured about eight of them and my husband licked the plate clean, so I’m not really sure why I haven’t made them since. Needless to say when I was coming up with famous recipes to recreate at home, including this recipe for Almost Famous Swedish Meatballs was a no-brainer. As in, I was immediately craving them as soon as I decided to make them.

Ease of Recipe: If you’ve ever made meatballs or gravy, then you already know what to expect from this pretty straightforward dish. The only real thing to consider is the amount of ground pork and beef that you’re picking up at the store, because unless you’re going to a butcher then finding a ½ pound packet of pork or a ¾ pound packet of beef can be tough. In my case I just decided to double up on the recipe because leftover meatballs freeze pretty well.

The Curveball: Here’s the thing… if you’re going to make hash browns and funnel cakes on the same day, maybe you don’t want to plan on having these delicious (but heavy) meatballs for dinner. By the time I had prepped them and placed them in the fridge (all 58 of them thanks to my doubling the recipe), I was too full and tired to cook them. Luckily they held up in the fridge pretty well until Sunday night.

Related: Our Fave Food Trends to Come out of Quarantine, From Pancake Cereal to Bread Art

“Chef” Notes: I didn’t actually have two cups of breadcrumbs, so I improvised by throwing a box of crackers in the food processor and mixing them with panko. Had I also cooked the meatballs that same day and not saved them I think it would have been a fine substitution. But because I waited, I think the meatballs were slightly more moist inside than intended, but really we were all fine with it. Because…

The Results: Holy heck I’m genuinely still full of meatballs. Remember how I said I made 58 of them? There are only 16 left in the fridge — forget freezing them. And of those 42 meatballs that we devoured, the kids only had four. They were more interested in the rice and veggie sticks I provided, mostly because the meatballs had a bit of a gray colour from the sauce. (Parsley garnish is pretty for adults, but a real turnoff for tots). My husband and I though? LONG after we were full we sat at the kitchen table sipping some white wine and picking at the tray eating more. And more. And more. It was all kinds of glorious, even as the kids ran around us and we avoided thinking about the dishes that had piled up in the sink. For that memory alone I’ll probably make more of these in the very near future. I do have some extra cream and beef stock to use up, after all…

Starbucks Iced Coffee

If this experiment happened in the fall, putting a pumpkin spice latte on my list would have made total sense. But because the days are super hot and it’s nice to feel like you’re having a cool treat, I went on the hunt for a reasonable iced coffee recipe that would make me feel like I was having some expensive Starbucks concoction. Enter Molly Yeh and her inventive Fresh Mint Iced Coffee.

Ease of Recipe: Honestly the hardest part about this was making the simple syrup, but even that was as simple as it sounds. I did half of the suggested amount because I figured the fridge would be full of meatballs, but it was so freaking good that I’ll probably be making more of it next week to put in my iced coffees all summer long.

The Curveball: This recipe calls for one tablespoon of heavy cream and one tablespoon of simple syrup, but I knew that wouldn’t be enough for my husband, who typically likes his coffee on the lighter and sweeter side. Luckily all I needed to do to fix that was to just add one more tablespoon of each. Easy peasy. It honestly gave me vacation vibes and made me feel like we were at a café, rather than chilling in the yard while the kids drew over all the patio furniture with chalk.

Related: Which Canadian Comfort Food Are You, According to Your Zodiac Sign?

“Chef” Notes: Was I fan of the mint flavour in my coffee? Surprisingly, yes. I actually wasn’t sure if I would be. Did I enjoy when that fresh mint got caught in my straw? Not so much. Next time I may consider playing with the fresh mint by infusing it in the simple syrup and then straining it or else I’ll just skip on using a straw. (But I mean, using a straw is half the fun of an iced coffee in my books).

Results: I feel like there’s a whole new world of iced coffee creations to try out now that I know just how easy this simple syrup business is to pull off. Whenever I’ve made “iced coffee” in the past I’ve always added sugar and the grains are just gross. This was easy, delicious and I didn’t need to invest in a cold brew coffee maker to get it. I’m going to be saving a lot of money on expensive beverages for the rest of the summer, that’s for sure — and I can’t wait to experiment with more flavour combinations. Salted caramel, vanilla swirl, here I come.

All in all it was a successful weekend of “new” recipes that reinvigorated my groove in the kitchen and I wouldn’t write off plotting out another weekend of making at-home favourites in the near future. Except maybe this time, I’ll pick some recipes with a little less hot oil.

Feeling ambitious? Try your hand at these mini bagels and 12-layer chocolate cake to expand your cooking repertoire (and impress anyone at the table).

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

Walk into any restaurant, fast food joint, or even fine-dining establishment these days, and it’s pretty impressive how seriously chefs are taking the current plant-based eating revolution. Menus now feature locally sourced plates of vegetables and whole grains as mains, rather than afterthoughts on the plate. Dairy-free desserts with nut bases are weirdly a thing, while people are coming up with more ways to use cauliflower than I even knew possible. (Do we really need to add it to smoothies? Can’t we draw the line at buffalo wings and pizza crust?)

It seems like vegans everywhere are finally being given some actual options other than another boring bowl of quinoa, and as someone who has dabbled in the vegan lifestyle but never fully committed, I certainly appreciate the improvements.

This brings me to the latest craze taking over Canadian menus: Beyond Meat. The meat-free product has been touted as the first plant-based burger that looks and cooks like beef, without any GMOs, soy, or gluten. The patty itself is made of pea, mung bean and rice, but it gets its red, beef-like colour from beets. Meanwhile, you can thank the addition of coconut oil and cocoa butter for the white, fat-like marbling throughout.

The product first came to our attention when A&W started carrying it here in Canada, but since then, a variety of grocery stores and other food chains have started selling it across the country. Given how quickly Beyond Meat seems to be exploding here, I decided to venture out and try several iterations of the vegan product in the form of sausages (breakfast sandwiches), ground beef (burrito bowls) and beef patties (burgers). Here’s how they stacked up.

Breakfast Sandwiches: Tim Hortons and A&W

Breakfast is basically the best meal of the day, and I’m a weirdo who will take sausage links over bacon any day of the week. So yes, I’m pretty picky when it comes to any food that pretends to be sausage when it’s clearly not, but I tried to keep an open mind as I went into my self-imposed sausage sampling at these two popular fast-food joints.

Tim Hortons

The coffee shop has really expanded its breakfast slate lately, and that includes three ways to consume vegetarian meals: the Beyond Sausage Egg & Cheese, the Beyond Sausage Farmer’s Wrap, and the Beyond Sausage Lettuce Tomato (the only vegan option). I went for the Egg & Cheese, which clocks in at 430 calories and boasts 24 grams of protein.

Appearance: If someone had thoughtfully handed me a breakfast sandwich (with my signature giant coffee) and not alerted me to the fact that the sausage was Beyond Meat, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference just by looking at it. But once I opened up the sandwich and saw the actual patty, I found it slightly more processed looking and dryer than your traditional glistening sausage patty.

Taste: Tim Hortons knows how to kick things up a notch, that’s for sure. My coffee came in handy to wash down the patty’s spice, which might have blended into the overall sandwich better with a runnier egg or some ketchup. Instead, my mouth felt dry and like I had eaten a pre-heated or microwaved product. As for the “meat” itself? The consistency was slightly chewier and less greasy than real sausage, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other fake meats I’ve chewed on over the years. This didn’t fall apart, it wasn’t pasty, and as far as healthy substitutes go, I only slightly missed the real thing.

A&W

This national joint was the first in Canada to offer Beyond Meat, which means it’s had lots of time to perfect its sandwiches. At breakfast you can order a Beyond Meat Sausage & Egger or a vegan version without egg that comes with lettuce and tomato. In both cases, it’s up to you whether you want it on an English muffin or a traditional bun. I decided to go with the regular old Sausage & Egger— which has 28 grams of protein and 540 calories — in order to keep my comparison as fair as possible.

Appearance: Even though I knew what I had ordered, I couldn’t get over how much the patty looked like actual sausage. It was darker in colour than the Tim Hortons’ version and looked freshly cooked, as did the egg that accompanied it.

Taste: This “sausage” was nowhere near as spicy, but it somehow offered that greasy mouth feel that you get when you eat a sausage patty. Of course that could be a result of the sausage being cooked on an actual grill alongside the egg (which was still slightly runny), and the fact that the English muffin had been buttered. Either way, I felt completely satisfied and like I was eating a real egg and sausage sandwich, one that kept me notably full for hours afterwards.

The Winner: A&W

 

Burrito Bowls: Mucho Burrito and Quesada

Mexican food makes me happy. I craved it every single day when I was pregnant with my first babe, and I was elbows-deep making up vegan Mexican freezer meals when I was pregnant with my second. (No joke, we’re still working our way through those casseroles.) I find it’s one of the most versatile things to make vegetarian or vegan thanks to all of the beans and rice, so I didn’t necessarily know that I needed a Beyond Meat option. Then again, some people really love ground beef in their tacos and burritos, so I figured what the heck.

Quesada

The chain has been offering Beyond Meat across Canada since late February, using the company’s Feisty Crumbles in its tacos, burritos, quesadillas and bowls for a feel-good meat alternative. The premise of the restaurant is really a build-it-yourself, so I went for a regular-sized Beyond Meat Burrito Bowl with cheese, refried beans, brown rice, and a variety of other toppings that clocked in at 345 calories and 28 grams of protein.

Appearance: The chunks of “beef” sat alongside the rest of the ingredients behind the sneeze guard, but they looked beef-like enough. In my bowl, they peered through the toppings like small chunks of actual chuck, which was good enough for me to almost forget that I wasn’t about to dive into the real thing.

Taste: Maybe the chunks had been sitting out too long, or perhaps they were simply undercooked, but I suspect they weren’t supposed to be rock hard. A few times, as I was wading my way through my dish, I’d bite down and practically chip a tooth on what felt like a cold, hard pebble, which isn’t how I’d order any beef — meat-free or otherwise. As for the rest of the crumbles? They were cold and chewy, and I would have absolutely enjoyed the bowl more without them.

Mucho Burrito

If you’ve ever eaten at this popular joint, you know the restaurant name is not an exaggeration — the portion sizes here are no joke. That extends to the newly launched Beyond Meat products, which stuff generous portions of crumbles into bowls, burritos, tacos and more. While you can pretty much customize any order with Beyond Meat, I decided to try their signature Beyond Meat Power Protein Bowl, which clocked in at over 1300 calories by the time they added the sauces, crispy jalapeños, quinoa, rice, and other adornments that came with it. Sadly, it’s basically impossible to calculate how much actual protein was in the bowl thanks to the website’s convoluted nutritional data.

Appearance: I have a hearty appetite and can eat 300-pound men under the table on my most ravenous of days, but even I knew looking at this bowl that I wouldn’t be able to dig through more than half of it. The thing was loaded with so many toppings and a good hit of green sauce that it was impossible to even see the Beyond Meat, but I also like sauce, so I’m not complaining. I did catch a glimpse of the product in question behind that trusty old sneeze guard, and it came out of its hiding space on that assembly line piping hot and looking like regular old ground chuck.

Taste: One of my favourite things about burrito bowls is that every bite can be different. This bowl was no exception thanks to the endless grains and veggies within. It was actually a little difficult to find the crumbles, but they were there in their chewy chunks of glory. While they were hot and filling, they didn’t add much flavour-wise either, and I would have mucho preferred if they just weren’t there at all. I suspect that Beyond Meat has some work to do with its crumbles in general, but for now there was more than enough protein in the other ingredients to keep me full and satisfied well into the dinner hours — despite only eating half my order.

The Winner: Mucho Burrito

 

Burgers: The Works and A&W

Ah, the veggie burger. It’s a sore spot with vegetarians and vegans alike, because these patties are practically impossible to perfectly execute. Some have too many fillers while others fall apart, some taste mushy while others are too chewy, and overall it’s hard to find a true vegan option that isn’t just some form of mashed up, processed bean. Or another portobello mushroom masquerading as meat (don’t even get me started).

The Works

If you’re looking for an elevated, gourmet burger that rivals Mark McEwan’s signature chuck, this place comes close with its crazy concoctions and imaginative titles like Gettin’ Piggy With It or Son of a Beech. So while I could have ordered a Beyond Meat Burger with basically any toppings, in my heart I knew I had to pick between the Beyond a Hipster’s Wildest Dreams and Beyond Sexy, since they were featured so prominently on the signature burger menu. In the end, I went with the sexier option — complete with pineapple, banana peppers and arugula. I paired mine with fries, which according to the nutritional menu, cost me anywhere from 310-1370 calories.

Appearance: The burger came slathered in toppings and glistening sauce, but that was 100 per cent on point for me. When you’re forking over nearly $20 for a burger, your mindset is basically go big or go home, right? Anyhow, upon further inspection, the patty itself was pretty impressive. It was a nice, dark hue, and there were even grill marks on it — the sign of any real barbecued piece of “meat.”

Taste: You know how a really good homemade burger is solid when you chomp down on it, but then it falls apart slightly in your mouth as the juices spread out? I was missing that experience in eating this patty, but that didn’t make the flavour any less enjoyable. In fact, despite the burger having a bit of a denser texture, it didn’t have that fake-meat aftertaste that so many other vegan burgers can’t escape. Add in that aforementioned plethora of toppings to bolster the overall flavour, and it was hard to remember I wasn’t eating the real thing.

A&W

Yes, I had already visited A&W for their Beyond Sausage sandwich, but I feel like when you’re known as the company that popularized Beyond Meat in the first place, you need to also evaluate the original burger that put this whole craze in motion. For that reason, I headed to another A&W location to sample the Beyond Burger for one final, 500-calorie (and 22 grams of protein) meal.

Appearance: There’s no doubt this is a hearty burger, from the sesame seed bun and the giant tomato to the abundance of lettuce, tomato, mayo and cheese (which I asked for when it was offered). As for the Beyond Meat patty itself? It wasn’t as brown or golden as I’d expected, but it was still appetizing enough.

Taste: I usually go for cheese on veggie burgers because I find them dry, but this burger did not need it. The patty itself was firm but juicy, without that chewy, fake-meat texture. A few bites in and I actually deconstructed the burger to see if I had been given a meat patty by mistake (nope). The abundance of sauce rendered the burger a bit messy by the time I got down to the last quarter, but even though I wasn’t that hungry, I still ended up eating every single bite. And needing extra napkins, but that’s beside the point.

The Winner: A&W

 

So, what’s my main takeaway with the Beyond Meat revolution? While the product itself has a ton of potential (I’m just waiting for street meat vendors to start offering the sausages, or pasta places to give those crumbles a whirl), how it’s cooked and what it’s paired with are pretty important factors. Still, it’s nice to finally have these (mostly delicious) options entering the Canadian market, and that goes for vegans, vegetarians, or the regular old meat-eaters out there who are just trying to incorporate more plant-based eating into their best lives.

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Top 10 Michelin-Star Restaurants in the World

Holding three Michelin stars is a rare honour few restaurants have achieved, and these Michelin-starred restaurants rank among the world’s finest culinary destinations thanks to innovation, creativity and some of the best food you’ll ever taste. According to Elite Traveler magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 best restaurants, these are 2018’s top 10 Michelin star restaurants.

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1. Alinea: Chicago, Illinois

Founded by chef Grant Achatz in 2005, Alinea quickly rocketed to the top of Chicago’s food scene due to Achatz’s unique food preparation and deconstruction of iconic dishes, renowned for his brave and unconventional approach to fine dining. Alinea remains on the cutting edge of the molecular gastronomy movement, with the intention of both shocking and delighting guests with dishes such as an edible balloon made from a dehydrated apple filled with helium, or a truffle-topped ravioli filled with truffle broth that explodes with flavour in one’s mouth.

2. Azurmendi: Larrabetzu, Spain

Located in Larrabetzu, Spain, Azurmendi follows the vision of Basque chef Eneko Atxa follows the offers diners a unique experience that begins at the restaurant’s rooftop vegetable garden, where they get a gander at some of the fresh produce they’ll be enjoying for their meal. Diners are then brought through the kitchen to an indoor greenhouse, where some “snacks” such as the restaurant’s popular “edible cotton” are served. In the dining room, guests enjoy such exquisite dishes as truffled egg, which is cooked “inside out” with part of the yolk removed and substituted with truffle consommé. In addition to having attained three Michelin stars, Azurmendi is also environmentally friendly, recycling its waste, harvesting rain and using geothermal energy to cool the building.

3. Eleven Madison Park: New York City

The menu of this world-class Manhattan restaurant is distinctly American, as seen through the creative filter of chef Daniel Humm. The restaurant is renowned for its multi-course tasting menu, which changes based on the availability of fresh, seasonal local ingredients and guided by the culinary traditions of New York City and the agricultural offerings of the region. Dining at Eleven Madison Park is an event, and enjoying the full 11-course tasting menu will take upwards of three hours as diners sample such exquisite dishes as Muscovy duck glazed with lavender honey and foie gras terrine served with plums, umeboshi and bitter almonds.

4. Per Se: New York City

Located on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Building in Midtown Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, Per Se features the cuisine of Chef Thomas Keller (the only American chef to be awarded three simultaneous Michelin stars, via his other restaurants, The French Laundry and Bouchon). With special tasting menus available daily — no single ingredient is repeated during the meal — the Michelin Guide describes Per Se’s cuisine as being “at one timeless and of the moment, raising the bar with meals that express artistry, seasonality and sourcing that can seem hyperbolic — they know which Vermont cow gave the milk for your butter.”

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5. Osteria Francescana: Modena, Italy

The restaurant of chef Massimo Bottura (who topped the bestseller lists with his book Never Trust a Skinny Chef) in Modena, Italy celebrates the bounty of Emilia-Romagna, his home province in the northern part of the country. Yet Bottura’s take on Italian cuisine is hardly traditional, exploring the ingredients and traditions of the region by giving them a contemporary twist. Along with such classic Italian fare as tagliatelle and risotto cooked with veal jus, Bottura also presents such off-the-wall dishes as rabbit macaroons and his Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in which iconic cheese is served in five wildly differing textures, depending on their age, ranging from a crispy galette to a frothy Parmesan foam.

6. Robuchon au Dôme: Macau

One of many restaurants from celebrated chef Joel Robuchon, this gastronomic restaurant in Macao (formerly known as Robuchon a Galera) sits high atop the 48-storey Grand Lisboa hotel. Featuring the culinary creations of executive chef Julien Tongurian, Robuchon au Dôme has been described as arguably Macao’s best restaurant, and one of the top restaurants in all of Asia, offering French cuisine with a refined sensibility. The restaurant’s “Prestige Menu” features such offerings as imperial caviar and king crab refreshed with crustacean jelly, and a crispy waffle scampi seasoned with espelette pepper.

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7. The Restaurant at Meadowood: Napa Valley, California

A farm-to-table ethos permeates the dishes of this Napa Valley staple, with the Michelin guide gushing over the cuisine of Chef Christopher Kostow, describing food “that is elevated to an art form” and food that “never ceases to better itself through innovation and purity.” There’s a meticulous attention to detail is evident in everything served, and a seasonal approach to ingredients that means the menu changes constantly to make the most of fresh, local ingredients. “We are relentless in trying to make the food better, more delicious, more relevant, more singular, more personal,” the restaurant declares on its website. “We are smart enough to know that this is a forever task, yet impetuous enough to try to still do it all today.”

8. Le Bernardin: New York City

Regarded as one of New York City’s finest restaurants, Le Bernardin was founded in Paris in 1972 by siblings Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze, and initially only served fish. The restaurant later moved to New York, where it quickly became the toast of the NYC culinary scene. When Gilbert Le Coze passed away in 1994, the late chef’s disciple and friend Chef Eric Ripert took over, and continues to be guided by the philosophy that “the fish is the star of the plate.”

9. Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville: Crissier, Switzerland

Located in Crissier, Switzerland (a suburb of Lausanne), the Michelin Guide offers high praise for Chef Franck Giovannini, who “creates majestic dishes with a careful eye on maintaining traditions, which are then presented with impeccable service.” The food is exquisite, with a focus on balanced flavours and simplicity while utilizing lavish ingredients and flawless preparation. The menu changes constantly, with recent offerings including white asparagus from the Valais, seasoned with caviar, and medallions of Dublin Bay prawns served with guacamole.

10. The Fat Duck: Berkshire, United Kingdom

Opened in 1995 by chef Heston Blumenthal inside a renovated 16th-century cottage, The Fat Duck had attained three Michelin stars by 2004 and an international reputation for being on the cutting edge of such culinary trends as food pairing, multi-sensory cooking and flavour encapsulation. Famed for its eclectic 14-course tasting menu, The Fat Duck reflects Blumenthal’s sense of whimsy, evident in such dishes as the Alice in Wonderland-inspired mock turtle soup, which includes an edible faux watch made from freeze-dried beef stock coated in gold leaf that is dropped into a teacup into which hot beef stock “tea” is poured to dissolve the watch.
Along with inventive techniques, Blumenthal also adds a heavy dose of psychology to his dishes, using the power of perception to “trick” diners into experiencing certain taste sensations. “For example, eat sardine on toast sorbet for the first time, confusion will reign as the brain will be trying to tell the palate to expect a dessert and you will, therefore, be tasting more sweetness than actually exists.” This is reflected in a famed dish he calls “Sounds of the Sea,” in which the food is topped with a seafood foam and served on a “beach” made from tapioca, breadcrumbs and eel. What’s more, diners are presented with an iPod so they can listen to the sound of ocean waves while eating it. You’ll also want to leave room to try the Fat Duck signature dish, Blumenthal’s bacon-and-egg ice cream.

How does a restaurant even earn a Michelin star? Learn what it takes to earn 1, 2 or 3 Michelin stars.