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Tiffany Pratt and Steve Hodge on the set with Mecairo owner Felicia

Project Bakeover Was Life-Changing for These Thriving Bakery Owners

Sometimes you just need a sweet treat to get you through the day. But what do the purveyors of sweet treats do when they need a little boost? They call Steve Hodge, Tiffany Pratt, and the Project Bakeover team, of course.

Over the dessert-inspired course of the show’s first season, Steve and Tiffany helped many bakery owners find their groove—and just in time. With the pandemic hitting restaurants and small businesses hard over the past year, these shops are thankful for the expertise bestowed upon them that has allowed their eateries not only to survive but to thrive.

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt on the set of Project Bakeover

Related: Steve Hodge’s Cake Decorating Tips

Advice to Dine on

In addition to revamping menus and adding a fresh new look to these bakeries, Steve and Tiffany doled out expertise advice that has allowed some of these owners to take their businesses to the next level.

According to Cait Patrick, owner of Barrie, Ont.’s Homestead Artisan Bakery, giving up control was terrifying but very much worth it. “It taught us that sometimes we don’t have all the answers and that trusting someone else can be extremely rewarding in the end,” she says. “We learned so much about baking from Steve, and Tiffany did an amazing job with the décor. All of our customers comment on how beautiful it is—we can’t thank them enough!”

Trust was also a huge part of the growing experience for Erin Maramag, co-owner of Milton, Ont.’s Bread n Batter. When Steve and Tiffany advised them to clarify their roles and solidify the flow of the bakery, they developed even more internal trust that has since translated into a smoother overall operation.

Meanwhile, at Kelowna B.C.’s Whisk Bakery & Café, Tanya Garratt reveals that trusting in the hosts’ recommendation to diversify made all the difference. “It was a lifesaver,” she says. “Our baked pastries are doing so well. Adding savoury items, breakfast and lunch, it’s made a world of difference. We’ve brought in so many more customers than we had before.”

Tiffany Pratt hugs Whisk owner Tanya on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Canadian Baked Goods to Add to Your Must-Try List

Comfort Food in the Time of Coronavirus

At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed like everyone was investing time in their own sourdough starters, ripening armfuls of bananas for bread, and even learning how to frost cinnamon rolls. These days though, people seem to once again be buying their comfort food from those who bake it day in and day out. That means solidifying the menus of these bakeries on the show was key to keeping these businesses… well, in business.

“Our bestsellers are the pastries Steve taught us by far,” Garratt reveals. “Those have been insane. Flavoured croissants for sure, and we made an almond croissant with Steve’s frangipane. Plus we’re doing eight different flavours of pastries and croissants. It’s really ballooned.”

Felicia Agadzi-Bulze at Mecairo Cake Co. agrees that things have changed so much since Project Bakeover. She reveals customers come in and touch the walls because they’re so beautiful, and then they see the displays full of all this new stuff that they can’t wait to try.

“Our Mecairo Minis have been very popular here, people love the size of them. The bonbons, they love all the different colours. And the cheesecake? They’ve never seen parfaits like that before so they’ve been selling really well,” she says. “I’m not just a home baker anymore, I’m letting my artistic side show in all of our products now.”

“With all of our new customers, everyone jumped on board to try new things at our bakery, it’s actually the biggest part of our daily production,” reveals Maramag. She adds that their bestseller used to be ensaymada, but following the show people are all about the cakes and cupcakes.

It’s a similar story for Homestead. “Our sourdough breads still remain a fan favourite,” reveals Patrick. “[But] we have introduced and been more consistent with our amazing cakes. And people are loving our carrot cake.”

A Sweet, Sweet Future

Doing the show and seeing the sweet results has also empowered these bakery owners to continue taking their businesses to the next level as they eye the future. For now, that means experimenting with delicious new and seasonal flavours heading into the summer months, allowing people back into the establishments themselves, and lots more of those fun, Instagram-eating experiences that Steve and Tiffany set up.

Related: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

“We’ve been surprised with how many businesses have closed during this time. Now, we’re hiring more staff and we constantly have to keep up with demand,” says Bread ‘N Batter’s Maramag. “People are really willing to try what we have, we have a bigger pool of regulars, and we are forever grateful. The past few months have felt like an eternal holiday season with how busy it is.”

“We are just excited to see our community back out and in the bakery,” adds Patrick. “It is the most wonderful feeling to have people smiling, and excited to enjoy the little things in life again.”

Garratt, who changed the name of the bakery to Whisk Bakery & Café on the advice of the hosts, couldn’t agree more. She says that since reopening they’ve expanded the patio that Tiffany created, and that the sidewalk chalk has translated into amazing daily murals. People are constantly posting from the Instagram wall that Tiffany designed as well.

“Our name change was a lifesaver and our sales have skyrocketed now that people know what we are. Everything Steve and Tiffany did was a game-changer for us,” Garratt says. “It’s a really cool experience to see how everyone reacted. People are happy to stay here for a couple of hours… I wouldn’t be up and running if it wasn’t for Project Bakeover.”

Watch Project Bakeover and  stream all 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.

Aerial shot of Korean fried chicken and tater tots

10 Best Budget-Friendly Eats in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The best restaurants in Halifax aren’t always fancy seafood spots that’ll cost you a huge chunk of your paycheque (although there’s a time and place for that too!). Some of the best eats in this beautiful Atlantic province have a price tag of less than $20 a person. From standard East Coast grub like donair and fish and chips to Caribbean food, fried chicken and beyond, we got you covered.

CHKN SHOP

This cozy spot on North Street offers fried chicken sammies (try their McCHKN!), yummy sides like roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts, as well as family combo packs. The two-person combo will cost you $27 and it comes with ½ chicken, two sides, coleslaw, gravy and hot sauce.

 

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Cafe Aroma Latino

This Latin American cafe at the corner of North and Agricola serves delish eats like quesadillas, empanadas, tacos (note: their shrimp tacos are popular for a reason!) and much more. A meal will cost you between $10 to $15 and they have a few tables outside for socially distanced eats.

 

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Sushi Shige

This small resto on Almon is arguably the best sushi spot in Halifax. How much you spend is really up to you. The salmon teriyaki dinner is $18, but you can also mix and match with your favourite Japanese eats — from agedashi tofu ($6) and nigiri ($6) to a variety of maki rolls.

 

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Backoos

This restaurant on Birmingham, close to the Halifax Public Gardens and the waterfront, has all your favourite Korean dishes: Korean fried chicken ($13 for chicken bites plus rice and dumplings), vegetarian or beef bibimbap ($11), kimchi fried rice ($12), japchae ($16) and more.

Willman’s Fish and Chips

You didn’t think we’d get through a list on Halifax best restos without including a fish and chips joint, did you? This spot at Isleville and Kane has been serving up East Cost comfort fare since the ‘40s. Their single-piece fish and chips will cost you $11, three pieces will set you back $17.

 

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Chef Abod

This Middle Eastern resto on Kempt Road offers oh-so delish dishes like falafel, kebab, Moroccan lentil soup and more. The special appetizer plate includes hummus, baba ganoush, red lentil kofta, roasted red pepper dip, falafels, grape leaves and warm pita and is only $15.

Jessy’s Pizza

Jessy’s is the largest locally owned pizza franchise in Nova Scotia, with 12 locations across the province and three locations in other major Canadian cities. Operating since the early ‘90s, they serve pizza of course, along with East Coast faves like garlic fingers ($10) and donair ($7 to $13).

Italian Market

Italian Market is a small cafe and grocer located on Young Street. They offer a variety of soups, sandwiches, pizza, pasta and famous deli sandwiches (all the sammies are less than $11). While you’re waiting for your Italian sandwich to get made, browse the grocery and gift sections of the store.

Jamaica Lee

This Caribbean food truck specializes in jerk chicken, curry, oxtail, rice and peas, beef patties and festivals, all which cost $16 or less. Order on your favourite food delivery app or head to the corner of Main Street and Tacoma Drive in Dartmouth to get your fill of Caribbean fare.

Adda Indian Eatery

Located on Spring Garden Road, Adda (which means hangout spot) is serving A+ Indian food like dosas and vada pav. There isn’t a single thing on their menu pricier than $13. Know your dollars are going to a resto with a heart: they’ve raised money to support Palestine and COVID-19 in India.

 

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Feature image courtesy of Backoos

Cookies and candy spilling over countertop

The Owner of Toronto’s Craig’s Cookies Shares His Secrets to Sweet Success

Cookies make everything better. Craig’s Cookies though? Those treat-stuffed morsels are a stamped, pink box of downright joy. It’s not just that they’re crammed with nostalgic childhood treats like peanut butter cups, shortbread or Snickers. It’s that each cookie is crafted with feel-good principles: love, inclusivity and the power of putting yourself out there. It’s no surprise that people are eating it up.

Craig Pike, the founder and namesake behind the famous Toronto cookie empire, epitomizes those traits. This sweet journey wasn’t his original life plan, but it grew organically — first from wanting to pay his phone bill and then from the unexpected joy it brought him.

“I saw how happy people got when their cookies were delivered to the door,” he says. “I’m a queer man who owns a business. My ethics and my morals and what I stand for are mirrored in the business. So while I was building the company and the brand, it was a no-brainer to try my best to make sure that it is a representation of who I am.”

The Early Days

The base of that business started five or six years ago when the actor and musician was out of work. To foot the bills he asked if anyone on Facebook wanted some of his potluck-famous cookies delivered. He fired up his Parkdale oven, busted out a top-secret version of his mom’s cookie recipe and hopped on his bike.

“One day I was at FreshCo in Parkdale buying butter for cookies and Pop Tarts were on sale. I thought that might be fun to put in a cookie. So I bought some Pop Tarts, put them in a cookie and it worked out,” he says. “So then I thought, well maybe if that works then anything would work. So we started with the Mars Bar and the peanut butter cup and the brownie — and now the sky’s the limit.”

Related: No-Bake Recipes Starring Peanut Butter, From Cookies to Cheesecake

Before Pike knew it, he was pumping out a dozen cookies every 12 minutes, selling his goods at local markets and eventually, at a six-month pop-up partnership with William Sonoma at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “From there I had enough confidence to take a risk and open my first brick and mortar in 2018,” Pike says. “At that time, there were two employees: myself and one other person. The goal was a two-year lease and just go sell some cookies.”

Pike’s shop in Parkdale is a space inspired by his grandmother’s home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a place where he grew up. Pike chose simple blue tiling to represent the Atlantic Ocean (customers have since pointed out it’s also the perfect Cookie Monster blue) and he hand-picked all of the art on the walls. “It feels like you’re going your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s or your loved ones’ home,” he says. “And you get to have a cookie, you get to meet somebody who’s going to give you the cookie, have a little chat with them. The only difference is that you pay for it.”

For the Love of Cookies

Not even three weeks after launch, a local news outlet shared a video featuring Craig’s Cookies that exploded with 1.4 million views in a single week. Suddenly Pike went from selling $360 worth of cookies a day to more than $1,000 a day. He eventually opened up a location in The Village, followed by locations in Leaside and Leslieville during the pandemic. Now, Pike says he has 86 employees, he ships goods to all corners of the country and he is on track to sell $10 to $12 million worth of cookies in the next four years.

Today, there are more than 100 types of cookies to sample at Craig’s Cookies, all made from that same base recipe he learned in his mom’s kitchen. Pike unabashedly uses familiar products that are fun and delicious to stuff those cookies with, rather than coming up with recipes for fillings. Even the shortbread-stuffed cookies are made with chocolate shortbread cookies from Cookie it Up, which Pike first fell in love with on a flight at Billy Bishop Airport.

Pike also regularly hosts creativity sessions where employees can come into the kitchen and just experiment with whatever they want. It was during one such session that they may have finally cracked a birthday cake cookie, something he says customers have been asking for. Sour Cherry Blasters, Mini Eggs, Nutella, apple pie and a slew of other options can also be found on the rotating menu and of course there is a Pride cookie, which is available year-round and is a featured item during Pride Toronto.

Related: Steve Hodge Shares His Best Tips on How to Run a Successful Bakery

“There’s maybe one trained baker in our entire company,” Pike says of his employees and overall philosophy. “It’s a group of amazing, incredible people — a lot of them work in the arts — who love home baking, who just want to be part of a community that is inclusive and who just celebrate the joy and happiness of what a cookie can bring to somebody.”

An Artful Future

Looking back, Pike isn’t sure he would have grown Craig’s Cookies the way he did had the pandemic not forced him to. It wasn’t just that he had to find ways to pivot, it was also that his first loves, theatre and music, were also shut down. So he doubled down with cookies and looked into how far he could push the business while exploring wholesale opportunities, a frozen cookie dough and other potential ventures.

Pike says there’s a lot of room for growth, but he’s also at the point where he wants to ensure he has a grasp on the business and not the other way around. He’s an entrepreneur with no formal business training (one of his project managers recently insisted he learn about profit margins, for example) and he feels the company is at a point where he needs someone else to help him explore future potential. Until then, he’s not in a rush.

Related: Our Top Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipes for a Better Week Ahead

Instead, he finally feels as though he’s in a place where he can fund other passion projects and give back to the community while exploring some of the other things he loves. That includes kicking off an arts organization in the fall and producing a play, expanding the Toronto choir he conducts and creating a youth program where underprivileged kids in the city can express themselves through theatre and music.

“Five years ago, when I was baking by myself in my apartment in Parkdale, exhausted, baking like a dozen cookies every 12 minutes for nine hours, to try to get some cookies to sell on the sidewalk, I was like, ‘There has to be a means to an end here,’” he recalls. “Because I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I’m a musician. Now the pandemic is kind of shifting and we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. But these initiatives are all possible because of Craig’s Cookies. All the hard work is coming to fruition in a really great way.”

Photos courtesy of Craig’s Cookies

Janet Zuccarini judging on the set of Top Chef Canada

Janet Zuccarini on Having Resilience in Her Own Life and on This Season of Top Chef Canada

Restaurateur and Top Chef Canada judge Janet Zuccarini learned all about one of the themes of this season — resilience — from her father at an early age. Giacomo Zuccarini opened Toronto’s Sidewalk Caffè before Janet was even born; a legacy that would shape her outlook on restaurants in more ways than one. “The restaurant was really successful, with lineups out the door,” she says. “And one day, when my father took his first vacation to go back to Italy to visit his mother, his business partner emptied out his bank account and fled to Mexico with all the money, and my father had to shut the restaurant down.”

Although Giacomo would go on to have a long career in the espresso machine importing business, he warned his daughter about the travails of being a restaurateur. When Janet went against his wishes and opened up her first restaurant Cafe Nervosa (later renamed Trattoria Nervosa) in 1996, it caused a rift between them. “My father brought me up telling me almost every day to never go in the restaurant business,” she remembers. “And when I did, it upset my father so much that he did not speak to me for one year. It was horrible. Because it was so traumatic for my father to lose everything at one point, he felt that I did it on purpose, in a way. But we healed.”

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada

Today, Janet’s Gusto 54 restaurant group — named in tribute to year her father first opened Sidewalk Caffè — spans multiple cuisines and cities, including Wall of Chefs judge Nuit Regular’s Pai and Kiin restaurants, Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, Gusto 101 and others in Los Angeles, but she’s never lost sight of those early lessons of adaptability and overcoming adversity. 

Related: Eden Grinshpan’s Baba Ghanoush Recipe

This outlook would serve her well when the COVID-19 pandemic irrevocably changed the restaurant landscape. According to a December 2020 survey from industry group Restaurants Canada, eight out of 10 restaurants are either losing money or barely scraping by in today’s climate, and 48 percent of owners of single location restaurants are expecting to close within six months if conditions don’t improve. “It’s been absolutely devastating and has been a decimating experience for anyone with a small business, but the restaurant industry has been hit arguably the hardest during the pandemic,” says Janet. “With this third wave, we spent money that we don’t have to reopen outdoor dining just to be shut down again for the third time. Every time there’s a shutdown on short notice, you furlough all your team members that you just hired and paid to train, and figure out what to do with all of your inventory of food. We just keep getting one blow after the other. “

Viewers will be able to see this shift in the industry reflected in this season of Top Chef Canada, from behind-the-scenes logistics to Quickfire and Elimination Challenges. “The show is going to be very relevant, because not only did we have to shoot the show in such an extra safe way, with everyone on the set being tested every day they were on set, and of course wearing face shields and masks, and sitting separated at the judges’ table,” says Janet. Creating pandemic appropriate challenges was also an issue. “We had to address COVID, and what restaurants are going through and create challenges that represent how we’ve changed our way of relating to food and dining with regards to restaurants,” she says.

Related: Meet the Season 9 Top Chef Canada Competitors

Janet Zuccarini on the set of Top Chef Canada with Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

Overall, what Janet hopes the audience takes away from this season is a feeling of looking forward in terms of the restaurant industry. “As a restaurateur, I’ve shifted and adapted from selling groceries to takeout to home meal kits with chef tutorials over Zoom. We’ve opened four restaurants during the pandemic. The ideas have to keep coming, and going, and changing,” she says. “As the year has gone on, we’ve had different needs: people are not traveling, they’re not going to concerts, they’re starved for experiences. So, I have a lot of hope for the future.”

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.

Beautiful shot of fresh pastries

5 Expert Food Photography Tips to Show Off Your Baked Goods

The true hero of every food photo is, without a doubt, the food itself. Since you’ve nailed creating the perfect baked goodies, here are my five tips to take the most enticing photos of them, whether you wield a camera or a mobile phone!

Related: Steve Hodge’s Best Tips for a Successful Bakery

Good Light or Bust

This is my first tip for good reason! The light you shoot your subject in is the biggest determinant between a flat, mediocre photo and a stellar one.

• Natural Light: The good news is, natural sunlight is a great light source for food photos and costs nothing—but you must know how to use it right. Study the light available in your home, bakery or studio and observe how the light looks at different times of day, including intensity, colour temperature (cool versus warm) and shadows. If you have windows facing different directions, compare how the light looks next to each of those too.

• Direct Light:  Strong, direct light can be edgy and dramatic, but it’s trickier to master.

• Diffused Light: Indirect light is the easiest to make food appealing. What is “diffused indirect light”?  Think of the light that comes in through your window mid-morning before the sun’s position and intensity casts shadows inside, or an overcast day when clouds disperse its rays. Another element of light is the direction from which it hits the subject: from the side, behind or above. In general, the most forgiving natural light for a beginner photographer is diffused indirect sunlight coming from the side of the subject i.e. placing your subject at or near table-height beside a window where there are no shadows or harsh sunlight.  A north-facing window, if you have one, is favoured by food photographers because of the softer, bluer light.

• Artificial Light: Be sure to turn off every artificial indoor light. No food looks good with even the faintest bit of icky yellow cast.

Related: Explore Bakeries From Project Bakeover

Gotta Hit Them Angles

There are three commonly-used angles to shoot food:  straight-on from the front, three-quarter downward angle, or overhead.  A good exercise is to look through your camera lens or screen as you move around the subject to figure out which angle showcases the attributes you want to highlight. Below are general rules with practical examples, but be sure to explore all three (and angles in between) to find the best one.

• Straight-On: Ideal to showcase height and/or interesting layers for cupcakes, layered cakes, stack of cookies or bars.

• Three-Quarter: Best for showing off items with layers or fillings in bars, macarons, filled tarts, profiteroles, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls.

• Overhead: Perfect for flat foods or foods with interesting shapes, surfaces or toppings e.g. pizzas, galettes, pop tarts, cookies, doughnuts, macarons, cinnamon rolls.

Overhead shot of a cauliflower pizza
Photo courtesy of Sonia Wong

See More: Here Are Our Favourite Bakeries Across Canada

Bring Images to Life

Composition: How elements are arranged in your shot to be aesthetically pleasing. Keep in mind:

Rule of Thirds: Imagine overlaying a grid of nine boxes over your image, then place your points of interest at the four intersecting points of the grid.

Leading Lines: Use lines to lead a viewer’s eye to the focal point e.g. a cake knife pointing toward the confection.

Repetition: Place multiples of the same item or items of similar shape. Grouping in odd numbers is ideal.  

Symmetry and Asymmetry: There is beauty and balance in symmetry, but be careful it doesn’t look boring or manufactured. Asymmetry can evoke interest. Try using negative space as well, in practicing asymmetrical composition.

Layers: Photos are two dimensional. Introducing layers creates depth and texture. Layers can take the form of the backdrop, linens, plate, cooling rack, a sprig of mint atop a cupcake or a sprinkling of powdered sugar on a tart.

Shot of a cupcake with pink buttercream icing on a plate with a mint green
Cupcake from Bluegrass & Buttercream bakery. Photo courtesy of Project Bakeover

• Colour: Different hues evoke different emotions or impressions. Blue feels calm, orange feels warm, green feels fresh and brown feels earthy. There’s also established guidance for mixing colours in visually appealing ways such as complementary, monochromatic and analogous combinations. Complementary tones sit opposite on the colour wheel i.e. pink cupcake set on a green surface. Monochromatic combos use hues, tints and shades of the same colour i.e. red strawberries on pink frosting. Analogous combo involves three adjacent colours i.e. red, orange and yellow heirloom tomato slices arranged on a vegetable tart. Think about the impression you want your food to make and choose your colours intentionally for the props and elements in the frame.

• Props: Anything that helps your image tell a complete story is a prop. You may use glassware, napkins, plates, pinch bowls, baking tins, cake stands, cutlery, etc. to add interest by way of texture, shape and height. You can also use raw ingredients from the recipe as a prop to convey freshness, such as juicy berries, vibrant herbs, a dribble of maple syrup or a dusting of flour on the table. Scatter bits of the food around it to hint at its texture, such as streusel crumbs or bits of chopped nuts. You can place utensils used in preparation, serving or enjoyment of the food to make the viewer feel part of the experience, such as a used whisk or spoon shattered through the sugary crust of a crème brulée tart. Be sure the prop makes sense and relates to the hero food.

Capture Food At Its Freshest

With some exception, many baked goods look their best when freshly prepared. Think about the shine of chocolate chips on a just-baked cookie, the glisten of freshly dripped glaze on a cake or gooey cheese on a hot pizza. These details make them inherently more drool-worthy! This means you should prepare as much of your set up as possible before the food is ready. Pull the table next to the window, set up any surfaces or backdrops, grab all the props you might need, fire up your playlist, and if you’re using one, have the tripod set up with the camera. Arrange props (sans the hero food) in a way you think will look good, and once the hero food hits the scene, ideally you only need to make a few final adjustments before you click away.

Beautiful shot of various pastries
Photo courtesy of Sonia Wong

Editing Magic

Brightness, colour saturation, white balance, contrast, shadows: these are some of the basic adjustments you can tweak in editing software to create a more professional and polished result. You don’t need to be an expert photographer or to shell out big money for software. There are powerful mobile editing apps available, some free to download (Lightroom and Snapseed for example). Taking an excellent photo straight out of camera is always #goals, but that rarely happens. Image editing can save a photo or enhance an already strong one. That said, I caution the impulse to over-edit. It’s easy to get carried away and end up with harsh, fake-looking results, so use a gentle touch!

Tune into Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all 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.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Steve Hodge Shares His Best Tips on How to Run a Successful Bakery

The life of a small business owner can be a challenging one, with small profit margins, fickle clientele and staffing issues looming as potential issues just over the horizon. The COVID-19 pandemic in particular put many small businesses in peril, and the hospitality industry was particularly hard hit (according to industry association Restaurants Canada, 10,000 restaurants closed between March and December 2020).

Steve Hodge and Tiffany Pratt discuss renovation plans for OMG Baked Goodness on the set of Project Bakeover

Steve Hodge knows these challenges like the back of his baking pan — as the owner of Temper Chocolate & Pastry in Vancouver, he has built up his business from a single location to one that sells treats in retail stores across the country. Now, on Project Bakeover, Steve brings the lessons he’s learned from his own success to small bakeries across North America.

We caught up by phone with Steve, who shared some of his best tips from the early episodes of this season for struggling entrepreneurs and bakery owners.

Related: Here’s What You Need to Know About Steve Hodge

Think Outside the Store

The first thing Steve does before even entering a bakery is to eyeball the signage outside. If the word “bakery” isn’t front and center, customers can get the wrong first impression (at Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats in Episode 1, the word didn’t even appear on the signage, but “classes” and “parties” were highlighted. “This could be a party store,” said Steve). Often, the customer’s decision as to whether to enter the shop is based on curbside appeal and a clear sense of the store’s direction.

See More: Mrs. Joy’s Absolutely Fabulous Treats Gets a Bold New Look

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If the customer can’t see what your shop is selling, then they are less likely to buy. In Episode 2, Steve recommended that OMG Baked Goodness’ poorly organized and half-empty counters be loaded full of bright lights and inviting products. Remember to spotlight the best sellers and popular products.

Close up shot of the baked goods at OMG Baked Goodness

Bigger is Not Always Better

Sometimes customers want a big over-the-top treat, but more often, they are looking for a small indulgence. As soon as Steve bit into Mrs. Joy’s cream puff, he knew it was too large and a waste of her ingredients. “She’d get a bigger bang for her buck if she cut it down a bit,” he says. Consider that customers have varying appetites and budgets, and plan accordingly.

See More: We Share Our Go-To Bakeries Across Canada

Be Ready to Change on the Fly

Especially during pandemic times, where rolling lockdowns can mean an open dining space one day and a closed storefront with takeout only the next, flexibility is essential. At Temper Bakery, Steve and his team were ready to make some quick changes to adapt when the COVID-19 lockdowns began. “As bakeries, we can change the way we run our business — we can be a dine-in or grab-and-go,” he says. “At Temper, we now sell more frozen bake-at-home products than we sell fresh from the store. It was a matter of simplifying our business model and streamlining the elements to maximize profitability.”

Keep It Simple

In the same vein, Steve advises bakery owners to think outside the box, but not to hold onto inventory because they’re too attached to it or think they’ll need it later on. “This is a great time to simplify,” he says. “At Temper, we took 20 per cent of our menu off when the pandemic first hit, and we’re never returning to the old way.” The worst mistake he saw at the bakeries he visited was an overabundance of product choice, which led to the bakery owners being overwhelmed and working day in and day out.

Related: Watch Steve Hodge’s Video Bio

Harness Social Media

“If you’re not online, get online,” says Steve, who recommends that bakery owners use social media to identify and spotlight their hero items. “When I was in culinary school, there was no social media. Now, home cooks around the world can pick up the phone and take a picture of their baked goods. Social media changed the world of pastry in terms of who we knew were the best, and you learn more by inventing and creating.”

Take It Outside

Putting tables outside for curbside pickup is a perfect opportunity to draw traffic and boost curb appeal, says Steve. “It will draw you out of the kitchen and make you more interactive as a business owner,” he says. “If you haven’t been involved in [the] community, go outside and say hello and stay safe to your customers. Really take the chance to interact with them — they’ll remember it.”

To Make Money, You Have to Spend Money

Even if margins are tight, Steve recommends some low-cost ways to garner some publicity, such as contacting the local paper and buying a small ad, or running a contest on social media. “It can be as simple as saying ‘if you like this picture, send to this person, or recommend it for a gift and you have a chance to win a gift box’,” he says.

Put Your Logo Out There

Think beyond flyers when it comes to logos. “If you sell coffee in your shop and don’t logo your cups, go buy a $20 stamp with your logo and stamp away,” says Steve. “The majority of stuff for takeout that people carry around outside is in paper cups. You want your logo everywhere: on stickers, poles, and in peoples’ hands.”

Steve Hodge at OMG Baked Goodness

Keep an Open Mind to New Ideas, Even After the Pandemic Ends

Don’t just innovate in terms of trend chasing, advises Steve.  “We ask ourselves as business owners, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’ — well, we didn’t always have to think of that next step,” he says. “But out of the pandemic, we’ve learned a lot of great things as to how to run a business, and we’ll keep doing them.”

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all 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.

Composite image of Noah Cappe, Eden Grinshpan and Steve Hodge over a close-up image of Valentine's Day conversation hearts

Local Restaurants That Food Network Canada Stars Are Loving This Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day, Food Network Canada stars are sending love notes to their favourite local restaurants across the country. From baked goods to a romantic takeout meal at home, these are the local spots across Canada that our stars are crushing on (and with one bite, you will be too!). To participate in the #MyLocalValentine campaign, head to Food Network Canada’s Instagram on February 14th, and share your love notes to your favourite local restaurants using the Valentine’s Day templates in stories.

Related: Easy Pink Beet Pancakes Are the Perfect Valentine’s Day Breakfast

Tiffany Pratt: Tori’s Bakeshop (Toronto, Ontario)

 

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Toronto’s first vegan café and bakeshop in 2012 that has gained a loyal following with Food Network Canada staff and chefs alike. “I love Tori’s Bakeshop in the Beaches so much! I have been eating those breakfast cookies for as long as they have been open! Also their Easter cream egg is the most addictive thing I have ever put in my mouth. I even designed one of their locations! The food is made with love and everything tastes amazing and is good for you too. Gluten-free and vegan alike – this food is for everyone! I LOVE YOU TORI!”

Love the design of Tori’s Bakeshop? Did you know that it was designed by Tiffany herself? See more of Tiffany Pratt and her local restaurant designs in Project Bakeover.

Mijune Pak: AnnaLena (Vancouver, BC)

 

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In Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, AnnaLena offers contemporary Canadian fare. “Love the creativity, quality of ingredients and commitment to flavours at AnnaLena, and they’re offering a Valentine’s Day tasting menu available for dine-in as well as a take-out.”

Speaking of Valentine’s Day, we tried Mijune Pak’s new chocolate creations (a perfect gift?) and here’s what we thought.

Renee Lavallee: Doraku Sushi (Dartmouth, Nova Scotia)

 

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This Japanese restaurant has been open for nearly thirty years, and is considered a local staple. “My favourite local love goes to Doraku Sushi in Dartmouth. Hands down THE BEST sushi in Nova Scotia. Perfect for a Valentine’s date night at home.”

And if you’re wondering where else to eat in Nova Scotia, here are Renee Lavallee’s top picks.

Eden Grinshpan: Joso’s (Toronto, Ontario)

Another longstanding favourite, this restaurant is a Yorkville staple. In business since 1967, it aims to transport guests to the warmth and beauty of the stunning Dalmatian coast. “My family and I have been going to Joso’s for years and are dear friends with the owners, Leo and Shirley. We LOVE their fresh seafood, squid ink risotto and the overall ambience. We always have the best time there.”

Looking to make a sweet dessert for your Valentine at home? Have you tried Eden Grinshpan’s Pistachio-Dusted Rose-Glazed Yeast Donuts?

Noah Cappe: Mallard Cottage (St. John’s, Newfoundland)

 

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Located in an 18th Century Irish-Newfoundland vernacular-style cottage, you can expect to find traditional fish and chips, moose croquettes, fishwiches, and Nutella crepes on the menu.

Restaurant picks aside, here are 10 more things you ought to know about Noah Cappe.

Suzanne Barr: TORA

 

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If you’re a fan of aburi sushi (or if you’re looking to try the novel flavours of this flame-seared take on the original), TORA ought to be on your list, as it’s on Suzanne Barr’s: “Since we’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day at home this year with our son, we’ve opted to go for a family-friendly menu from TORA – one of our fave spots for high-quality sushi and lots of it. And of course, a nice bottle of sake for after the little one goes to bed ;)”

Here’s how chef Suzanne Barr will make you think about your dinner plate differently

Steve Hodge: Two River Meats (Vancouver, BC)

Two Rivers Specialty Meats has something for those who enjoy the process as much as the results; offering house-made sausage, steak burgers, and more, the meats are thoughtfully sourced from farmers who care about their animals.  “For anyone looking to cook at home, they are the best and can be shipped!”

Aside from being in Project Bakeover, here are 10 more things you need to know about Steve Hodge.

Tiffany Pratt’s Top Tips for Giving Bakeries New Life

We all love freshly baked goods, but who doesn’t love a visual feast to accompany those mouthwatering croissants, cookies, and sky-high stacked deli sandwiches? HGTV Canada designer (and everyone’s favourite Queen of Pink) Tiffany Pratt gets it, which is why she’s here to help struggling bakery owners with her new series Project Bakeover. In each episode she teams with master chocolatier Steve Hodge to give new life to rundown places, tackling one bakery at a time.

Headshot of Tiffany Pratt smiling on the set of Project Bakeover

Of course, resto-design is something that Pratt is passionate about, having transformed numerous GTA eateries in the past. We sat down with the designer to pick her creative brain on what it takes to give any bakery (or restaurant for that matter) a whole new visual life.

Related: Gorgeous Restaurant Designs By Tiffany Pratt

Attract Customers at the Curb

Before a customer even walks into your establishment, it’s important to set the tone and mood with plenty of curb appeal. Go for a warm and welcoming vibe that gives patrons an idea of what they can expect when they step inside. “The space being welcoming doesn’t start when you walk in the door, it starts before you actually walk through the door, on the sidewalk from the street,” says Tiffany. “Create impact to get people inside. How I do that is with colour and shapes and textures and prints.”

Whether that’s a bright façade, a watercolour fence, or graffiti on the walls remains up to you, just make sure that it stands out and that it speaks to the vibe you’re going for.

Embrace What Makes Your Business Unique

Nothing gets customers more excited than knowing they have the option to try something new, even when you’re talking about the comfort fare featured at most bakeries. In terms of design, Tiffany says that means looking at different shapes, colours and textures that stand out and alert people that what you have going on at your space is unique and special. Of course, adding a different type of food or a daily special doesn’t hurt either. “It’s really about giving people an experience,” Tiffany adds.

See More: Mrs. Joy’s Gets a Dramatic Makeover

Maximize the Takeout Experience

These days with takeout being more necessary than ever, it’s a chance for eateries to appeal to customers on a whole new level. Because let’s face it: everyone could use a little more joy in their lives, and what’s more joyful than feeling like your regular old Tuesday night takeout is an entire experience?

“I’ve had a few people that, instead of having a door, they just did a temporary cloud window, and made it a fun little pickup window,” Pratt says. “Cafes that I’ve designed turned their diner into one of those 1950s drive-in style places. And they actually did it so that people didn’t even have to leave their cars. They brought their food outside, drive-in style. There are so many fun ways to package things.”

Put Care Into Packaging

Speaking of takeout and delivery, Tiffany says it’s just as important to think about how you package your food as it is to think about how you design your space. Because that takeout is travelling away from your eatery, with every potential to bring new and returning customers back. “We focus less on what the space looks like right now as how the food is packaged,” she explains. “How can we take pictures of this fun takeout food? This comes into the conversation about branding and stickers and bags and logos, because if people can’t go into the restaurant or the bakery, they still want an experience.”

Related: Watch Full Episodes of Project Bakeover

Take Your Clientele Into Consideration

When Tiffany designed the dining room at Piano Piano, she knew that customers would be sitting down to a long and lengthy meal—as you do at nice Italian restaurants. Add in the fact that some meals would be heavy, and she wanted to ensure that people would be more than comfortable for extended periods of time. The designer says that taking the menu and clientele into consideration when designing any space is super important, and it’s one of the first conversations she has.

“I’ll say to myself as a designer, ‘OK, well, this is the food, this is what people are expecting.’ And then what can I do that is unexpected that no one has done yet that would make more people come here instead of anywhere else?” she explains.

Create An Overall Vibe

Whatever vibe you create with your eatery’s exterior, be sure to continue that feeling on the inside. Tiffany says that she always brings samples back to the spot itself in order to see how natural light affects her selections, and then she creates her famous colour combos in order to evoke all those feelings.

“Combining colours for me is about how I want the person who’s sitting in the space to feel,” she says, pointing to her dusty pink, teal, blue and mustard yellow design at Café Cancan as an example. “I just felt like that was making a more masculine clientele feel happy by that deep teal. The orange is very playful, but the pink always no matter who you are, makes everyone feel cozy,” she adds.

See More: Explore Bakeries From Project Bakeover

 

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Don’t Forget the Instagram Crowd

These days everything is visual, and customers who are inspired to take a photo of your space to share with their social media crew creates a great opportunity for more publicity. Tiffany always ensures that she has such a space in her designs, whether that’s a fun dresser by the restrooms with inexpensive props, a colourful wall, or fun accessories on the tables.

“My favourite is to have something else to take pictures of. That’s what everybody—influencer or not—gets excited about,” Pratt says. “This is a very visual culture that we live in. If we give people beautiful things to experience, to try, and to look at and take pictures of, that becomes a trifecta of the commercial bakery industry, in my opinion.”

Last But Not Least, Don’t Focus on Perfection

Looking ahead, Tiffany predicts waste-free design trends with less expensive finishes. She also thinks people will continue to be excited by colour and things that spark joy and creativity. But she also says that we’re learning to be more forgiving with ourselves, and that extends to design as well.

“We have to be less attached to perfection and doing things perfectly and spending tons of money on things,” she says. “Often just opening the doors and creating great food and creating a fun, inviting atmosphere is more important than anything. Don’t focus on perfection, focus on fun. Focus on creating an environment that people want to be in. That’s the most important thing.”

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all 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.

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.

Halifax Donair

The Delicious History of the Halifax Donair

The next time you’re in Halifax, skip the lobster boil and go straight to the pizza shop instead. After all, that’s where you’ll find the city’s official snack: the Halifax donair.

Unless you’re a native Bluenoser, you may never have tasted this popular late-night snack, and experienced the unavoidable drip of garlicky donair sauce down your chin. The sloppy sandwich is a pita filled with spit roasted shaved beef, served with tomatoes and onions, slathered in the signature sauce.

“It’s spicy, eaten normally at midnight,” says Alain Bossé, a top chef from Pictou, Nova Scotia and ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada. “After a long night out, you line up at a pizza corner in Halifax. It’s a great hangover food!”

Related: 10+ Canadian First Nations Recipes to Make at Home

Halifax Donair

As the story goes, the Halifax donair was first invented in the 1970s by Peter Gamoulakos. Originally from Greece, he started selling Greek gyros (a pita stuffed with grilled lamb and tzatziki) from his restaurant located off the Bedford Highway. But the sandwich just didn’t jive with the East Coast’s “meat and potatoes” palate.

Swapping lamb for beef, the brothers whipped up a sweet “donair sauce” and tried again. This time, however, a feeding frenzy erupted and Halifax’s signature dish was born. The late-night favourite has become so popular that in 2015, Halifax city council voted to make it the city’s official food.

Related: The Sticky-Sweet History of the Butter Tart

“There’s something about this dish that’s unique to Atlantic Canada,” says Chef Alain Bossé. “People will drive miles for a donair!”

Today, almost every pizza place in the province sells the sloppy and sumptuous late-night eat, some even selling more donairs than pies. Every East Coaster has a favourite spot, but The King of Donair and Tony’s Donair have long been local favourites. Both spots have been serving the snack since the 1970s. Recently though, donair-mania has infiltrated swankier eateries.

Garlic Fingers with Donair SauceGet the recipe for Garlic Fingers with Donair Sauce

“Now that Halifax has proclaimed the donair as the food of choice, restaurants and hotels are serving donairs,” says Chef Alain. “Some are serving miniature canapés with donair meat.”

Playful renditions aside, there are traditional techniques to making the beloved sandwich. First, spiced ground beef is moulded into an elongated log that’s roasted on a spit. The donair meat is then shaved, sautéed and stuffed into a pita, along with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a special sweet sauce made with sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. As Chef Alain says, it’s adding the donair sauce that makes it.

“The sweet sauce is what makes a difference between a donair and a gyro,” he says. “My favourite? Sam’s Pizza in New Glasgow. They make their own pita, so it’s always fresh and soft.”

Related: You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Tasted Butter Tart Cinnamon Buns

For decades, the Halifax donair largely remained a hidden treasure, scarcely found on menus outside Nova Scotia. But as more Nova Scotians started settling across the country and with the advent social media, there’s a growing appetite for this late-night nosh outside of the province. Canadian chefs are incorporating this trendy food item onto their menus and even getting creative with the recipe.

Donair PizzaGet the recipe for Donair Pizza

“The donair sauce is being used as an add-on,” says Chef Alain. “A lot of burger places are making burgers with donair sauce. There’s also pepperoni pizza with donair sauce.”

If you’re looking to truly replicate the original recipe, Mr. Donair — once the Gamoulakos brothers’ company — sells a do-it-yourself Halifax Donair kit, complete with pita bread, donair sauce and a pound of donair meat. The kits are sold in grocery stores, frequently used by chefs, and are gaining popularity in every nook and cranny of Canada.

Related: The History of Peameal Bacon — Plus Our Favourite Recipes

“Those kits are really starting to infiltrate the camps in Fort McMurray!” says Chef Alain. “With the kit, sauté the meat in a frying pan, crisping it. Then stuff your pita and just eat away.”

Once the key ingredients are ready to go, get busy adding your own influence to this classic Canadian dish. However, Chef Alain says to stick with some of the core ingredients: “It’s not a donair unless there are onions and tomatoes. And make sure to grill your pita!”

Plate of food on wooden restaurant table with basket of bread and wine glasses.

What It Takes To Become a 1, 2 or 3 Michelin Star Restaurant

First published in 1900 by the Michelin tire company as a guide to help French motorists find lodging on the road, the Michelin Guide is now exclusively devoted to fine dining. Over the decades, the guide has far surpassed its humble origins to become an almost-sacred tome to chefs, foodies, culinary experts and the restaurants who regard the guide as the final word in fine dining.

Worthy restaurants are rated on a system of one to three stars, but the process of attaining Michelin stars remains highly secretive, with specially trained Michelin inspectors paying anonymous visits to restaurants and submitting meticulous reports rating the service, decor and, of course, the cuisine.

Plate of food on wooden restaurant table with basket of bread and wine glasses.

In order to know which restaurants are worthy of review, inspectors will comb through websites, blogs and restaurant reviews in local magazines and newspapers — if a restaurant in a given city is generating buzz and word of mouth praise from customers, it may land on a reviewer’s radar.

Related: 10 Great Canadian Restaurants Run by Women

Michelin Star Ratings

Michelin gives out up to three stars, with only the world’s greatest dining establishments attaining that coveted third star. But exactly what does each star mean? According to the guide, one Michelin star represents a “very good restaurant in its category,” while two stars denotes a restaurant boasting “excellent cooking” that is “worth a detour.” Three stars, however, is the ultimate accolade, afforded only to those restaurants that offer “exceptional cuisine” that is “worth a special journey.”

Understandably, there’s a lot of grey area within those rating descriptions, and the process of receiving stars is meticulous and painstaking, typically taking several years. When a reviewer visits a restaurant for the first time, neither the restaurant’s owner nor chef will have any idea it even happened. If the reviewer loves the place, then another mystery visit will be paid the following year. Assuming the second visit goes as well as the first — preferably better — it’s at this point the reviewer may recommend the restaurant receive its first Michelin star.

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

chefs cooking in restaurant and getting food lined up on the bar.

Michelin Star Criteria

Michelin remains secretive about the criteria and evaluation process used to award stars, but certain factors are known to be key, including: the quality of the products; a chef’s mastery of flavour and cooking techniques; the chef’s ability to imbue the cuisine with his or her culinary “personality;” and consistency between visits, not just when it comes to food but also encompassing the overall dining experience.

Earning one Michelin star is typically seen as a gift from the gods, but is not necessarily a golden ticket to receiving the second and third. For that to happen, it will take many more anonymous visits over ensuing years, and the stars must align perfectly. For example, if an otherwise extraordinary restaurant happens to have an off night while an inspector is visiting, that single experience could quash any future hopes of ever getting a star.

How to Earn Stars

Although the process is seemingly random from a restaurant’s perspective, there are in fact several steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood of receiving Michelin stars:

1. Meticulousness

A restaurateur needs to treat every night as if it’s the night of a Michelin inspection, and chefs and staff must be meticulously trained to ensure everyone is working together and on the same page. By ensuring that every diner’s experience on any given night is as exceptional as possible, only then will a restaurant be in the running for a Michelin star.

2. Train Under Michelin-Starred Chefs

For a chef seeking a Michelin star, it can be beneficial to train under a chef who has already earned one or more. By becoming the protégé of a chef who’s already earned the respect of Michelin, an up-and-comer aspiring toward Michelin stardom can more easily get on Michelin’s radar.

3. Discipline

It’s been said that cooking is an endless quest for perfection that can never be achieved. Only those with the desire and discipline to be the best will make the cut to become Michelin’s next culinary superstars.

Seafood plated in blue bowl on wooden table in restaurant.

4. Investment

While it may be tempting to bank a restaurant’s profits, that’s not going to win a Michelin star. The key is to use those profits to further invest in the restaurant to improve the decor, better train staff, source higher-quality ingredients, etc. If a Michelin inspector sees a restaurant, no matter how good, constantly striving to improve instead of simply resting on its laurels, this could make all the difference. It’s not unheard of for a restaurant to spend millions on improvements and then earn the money back (and then some) thanks to the increased revenues that can come from a Michelin star.

5. Mastery

If you were raised in a kitchen in Spain where you learned the secrets of traditional Basque cuisine at your grandmother’s tutelage, why would you open a sushi restaurant in Tokyo? It makes sense for a chef to cook the type of food he or she is most comfortable with. Only by attaining a mastery of a particular cuisine will a chef then be able to push the boundaries and propel it in bold, new directions.

6. Creativity

Being on the cutting edge of new food trends, with a relentless pursuit of excellence combined with a drive to push the envelope, is a great way to attract Michelin’s attention. The Michelin Guide would have a tough time ignoring an innovative chef whose cuisine is being talked about as the “next big thing” in the food world.

7. The Finest Ingredients

As any great chef will confirm, ingredients are key. With this in mind, Michelin-starred chefs have been known to personally source unique, hard-to-find ingredients, forging relationships with farmers, artisan bakers, cheese-makers and the like in order to work with the only the best, most unique ingredients possible. Cutting corners is not the way to a Michelin star.

8. Walk to Canossa

This term refers to King Henry IV humbling himself before the pope and offering penance. It’s also the nickname for the practice (which was apparently quite common up through the 1980s) in which chefs aspiring toward Michelin stardom would journey to Paris in order to meet with the guide’s editors and make a case explaining why their restaurants deserved consideration. Although not as common as it once was, rumour has it this still takes place on occasion.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

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.

First photo courtesy of Getty Images; remaining photos courtesy of Amber Dowling

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.

sea-urchin-per-seny

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.

Globo de helio comestible #postre #edibleballoon #floatingdesert #chefgrantachatz

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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.

Potato beeswax 3.0

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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.

Doubles

5 Must-Try Snacks at the Toronto Caribbean Carnival

Caribana weekend is around the corner! As we get ready to come together in Toronto to jump and wave at one of the largest street festivals in North America, it’s only right we fuel ourselves with flavour-packed Caribbean foods! We’ve rounded up some of the best Caribbean street foods and treats that make for the perfect Caribana snack.

Doubles

Doubles
Doubles are a delicious, filling snack that are oozing with curried chickpea goodness! This snack is a common street food in Trinidad and Tobago but luckily for us, it is readily available in Toronto. It consists of channa (curried chickpeas) surrounded by two round pieces of bara (fried dough). It’s then wrapped up tightly in wax paper and ready to enjoy. It’s often topped with a tangy cucumber chutney and tamarind sauce. The tart sauce, spicy chutney and hot channa blend perfectly together to create a unique burst of flavor with every bite. If you like your snacks with an extra kick then be sure to add a touch of Caribbean hot sauce on top. Grab doubles while you watch the Grande Parade from one of the many vendors nearby. Just be sure to save your dance moves for after you eat because this tasty snack can get messy!

Jamaican Patty

Jamaican Patties
Jamaican patties are flaky, golden pockets that make a perfect snack on the go. It’s no surprise that these hand-held snacks are available at almost every corner store and major subway stop in the city. Patties can be filled with anything from spicy beef to jerk chicken or curried vegetables. If you want an exceptionally flaky patty then head on over to Randy’s Take Out on Eglinton Avenue West. If you’ve graduated from the spicy beef patty and want to try something new, seek out ComeNyam’s unique patties. Their patties are filled with everything from oxtail to pumpkin. You can find their patties at specialty food stores throughout the city.

Fishcakes and Bakes

Fish Cakes and Bakes
You can never go wrong with saltfish fritters. They are easy to carry on the road at Caribana and extra filling too. Although there are many variations of fried dough packed with flavor and saltfish across the islands, I suggest the Bajan fish cakes and bakes. Bakes are a sweet fried dough that go perfectly with any treat. Street Shak Caribbean Kitchen offers their own spin on these Bajan snacks that are sure to please.

Corn Soup

Corn Soup
You may be wondering why soup made the list. It isn’t what you typically think of as a snack, but this hearty Caribbean soup can be found across the city outside of the major Caribana parties. Served extra hot and filled with ingredients like pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, scallion, coconut milk and thyme, you’ll find several vendors at the parade with a big pot of this delicious dish. You can also grab the corn soup late night outside of the many fetes. After a fun filled day of carnival parade and parties, a nice big bowl of corn soup will help you re-charge.

John Catucci: Where You Gotta Take Dad This Father’s Day

For over five seasons now, John Catucci has been sampling the best comfort foods all around the world. When it comes to special occasions like Father’s Day, the host of You Gotta Eat Here! can certainly offer a few tasty recommendations. We talked to the TV star to get his top three picks on where to take your pops for a memorable Father’s Day brunch.

For the Meat Lover

“First of all, if your dad wants to sleep in [on Father’s Day], let him!” says John. He recommends grabbing a table at Caplansky’s located in Toronto. The old-school Jewish deli serves all-day breakfasts and sandwiches, piled high with house-smoked meats.

“Just have a big ol’ honkin’ smoked meat sandwich with your pop. And if he gets mustard on his face, so what? It’s his day. Let him get dirty!”

For the Potato Lover

John Catucci says taking your dad to Holy Grill is a must. Stationed in the heart of Calgary, Holy Grill offers sandwiches, burgers and eggs Benedict. Dishes like the South Beach Benny are the holy grail of breakfast perfection.

“They have this smashed potato that’s so good,” John says. “They smash them and they fry them so they’re crispy on the edges and soft and pillow-y on the inside. It’s a great place to be in!”

For the Trendsetter

Emma’s Country Kitchen in Toronto, is a popular brunch destination offering all-day breakfast, homemade doughnuts and drool-worthy buttermilk biscuits. To really spoil your dad, John has the perfect idea.

“Because Emma’s is always so busy for brunch, go in and wait in line for him. Let your dad sleep in, and call him when the table is ready,” says John. “Let your dad shuffle his way inside in his slippers and robe.”

Visit the location map to plan your next Father’s Day brunch, lunch or dinner!

John Catucci on Where You Gotta Eat During the Holidays

You Gotta Eat Here host John Catucci has sampled food across Canada, so when he offers his suggestions for our nation’s best spots to grab a holiday meal, we just have one question: Where?

John is full of recommendations, so put on your stretchy pants and get your Santa bellies ready, Canada, because there’s plenty of homegrown deliciousness to enjoy this holiday season.

Scandilicious (Vancouver, BC)

Mother-daughter team Anita and Kristina offer a menu of traditional Norwegian family recipes at this Vancouver hotspot, including gluten-free options.  John’s favourite is the ‘Applepieffle,’ a liege waffle topped with spiced poached apples and a gingerbread cookie spread. “It took me a while to be able to say ‘applepieffle’ without getting tongue tied,” says John, but it was worth the effort. “Apple pie + waffle = SO GOOD!”

That Little Place by the Lights

That Little Place By The Lights (Huntsville, ON)

Lasagna is a must-try at this cottage country favourite. Chef Annie’s masterpiece features of layers of succulent homemade pasta, laced with her signature Bolognese sauce and stuffed with a cheese and béchamel filling. John says it’s the best lasagna you’ll ever taste.  “Please don’t tell my Zia Felicetta, or she won’t ever make me lasagna again.”

Saturday Dinette (Toronto, ON)

Grab a seat at the counter, enjoy the rocking tunes and tuck into chef Suzanne’s massive soy-braised beef ribs, served with a hearty walnut dip. Then get back out there and finish your shopping! “Suzanne is an incredible chef and an amazing woman,” says John. “When you walk into her place, she makes you feel like you’re part of the family.”

Yellow Belly Brewery

Yellowbelly Brewery (St. John’s, NFLD)

Can’t decide between cheese pizza and chicken Caesar salad? Then just order John’s favourite, the four-cheese and chicken Caesar pizza, and you won’t have to. “I love being able to pick up my salad, in case I need to go somewhere,” says John. “I’m not going anywhere, I’m just saying it’s a nice option.”

The Satay Brothers (Montreal, QC)

Add some Singaporean spice to your season with the street food favourites at this Montreal establishment. John especially loves the pork belly buns, two steamed buns stuffed with braised pork belly, hoisin sauce, fresh cucumber, and cilantro; they’re the perfect combination of soft and crunchy textures and sweet and salty flavours. “If you’ve never had a steamed bun, do it,” says John. “Chewy, soft clouds of deliciousness stuffed with the most succulent pork belly.  Leave one out for Santa.  I’m sure he’s getting tired of all those cookies”

Still hungry? Check out the You Gotta Eat Here! map for more delicious options.

Restaurants for Change

Restaurants Where You Can Dine for a Good Cause

Rejoice, Canada! For once, stuffing yourself with finger-licking Canadian fare can benefit more than just your belly.

On October 19th, 2016, more than 68 restaurants in 16 Canadian cities are taking part in Restaurants for Change, an annual fundraising event to support healthy food programs across Canada. Each participating restaurant will donate proceeds from dinner service to Community Food Centres Canada and other organizations that bring people together to grow, cook, share and advocate for healthy food for all.

“We continue to support Restaurants for Change each year, because the answer is simple to us: every Canadian should have the right to healthy food,” says Chef Lora Kirk from Ruby Watchco. “We need to remind ourselves that people power matters. When it comes to food, we are all responsible for how we set the table.”

Participating in the event is easy, as long as you bring your appetite. Visit the Restaurants for Change website to find a restaurant in your ‘hood, and then make a dinner reservation for October 19th.  Dine at one of these 10 tasty restaurants, or make a reservation at one of the 68 fantastic eateries participating from coast-to-coast.

RGE RD bison

Rge Rd (Edmonton, AB)

Brace yourself for an “untamed” feast at Edmonton’s Rge Rd, an urban eatery where the farm dictates the menu. Owner and chef Blair Lebsack uses premium ingredients grown in Alberta’s bountiful backyard, such as Alberta field strawberries or market-fresh greens, as well as prairie-raised livestock. Expect to indulge in hearty and homegrown dishes inspired by Alberta’s terroir, such as pasture-raised beef or Grilled Bison with White Currant BBQ Sauce.

Ruby Watchco (Toronto, ON)

It’s a nightly four-course feast at Chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watcho in Leslieville, featuring hearty, home-cooked delicacies. The menu is ever-evolving and announced daily, but expect dishes like smoked ribs and sausages, home-smoked rainbow trout, or moist carrot cake made from an old family recipe.

Le Bremner (Montreal, QC)

When he’s not starring in Chuck’s Day Off or judging Chopped Canada, Chef Chuck Hughes is making seafood for the soul at Le Bremner in Old Montreal. Descend speakeasy-style into a sunken basement, and enjoy eclectic dishes such as crab kimchi on chewy rice cakes or the southern-inspired garlic shrimp with cornbread, served with an étouffée sauce and a spicy cognac butter.

Mallard Cottage (St. John’s, NFD)

Savour gourmet comfort cuisine and a gorgeous setting at Mallard Cottage, an award-wining restaurant near St. John’s Quidi Vidi Harbour. Inside, former Top Chef Canada competitor Chef Todd Perrin presents a terroir-driven menu of freshly foraged fare, wild game, and classic Newfoundland seafood (imagine halibut, cod, turbot, lobster).

Drake Devonshire (Wellington, Ontario)

This high-end boutique hotel and restaurant in Prince Edward County is trending for its cutting-edge architecture and incredible “lake to table” comfort cuisine. Sink your teeth into the fresh Ontario walleye, served with wild rice and quinoa, or the legendary “Devonshire Burger” — a thick patty made from local beef and stacked with Black River cheddar, crispy bacon and Russian dressing.

Charcut Roast House

Charcut Roast House (Calgary, AB)

Bring a bib and a hefty appetite to sup at Charcut Roast House, famed for their mouth-watering meat-centric menu. Top Chef Canada finalist, Connie DeSousa, and her co-chef John Jackson serve everything from house-made sausage to rotisserie chicken to pig’s head mortadella, but all are sourced from local farmers using a farm-to-plate philosophy. On the way out, make sure to grab a warm “so perfect” cookie (or two!) from their neighbour, Sidewalk Citizen Bakery.

Chives Canadian Bistro (Halifax, NS)

Looking for Halifax’s catch of the day? It’s always fresh at Chives Bistro, where Chef Craig Flinn uses the best of Nova Scotian bounty in his kitchen. The seasonal menu showcases whatever is local and fresh from the market, such as grilled Digby scallops, Cape Breton snow crab, or heritage pork, and naturally, there’s plenty o’ East Coast lobster.

Farmer’s Apprentice (Vancouver, BC)

Vancouver’s Farmer’s Apprentice may be small, but its organic, seasonal menu is mighty. Chef David Gunawan fuses exquisite Asian flavours with local ingredients sourced from nearby markets, artisan producers, and whatever the ocean yields. Given that it’s on the wild West Coast, seafood and vegetables dominate this kitchen, with toothsome dishes like BC spring salmon and ramps or an elderflower yogurt sorbet.

The Berlin (Kitchener, ON)

K-town just got cooler with the unveiling of The Berlin, a new farm-to-fork eatery that’s already wining rave reviews and award nominations before turning one year old. When he’s not guest-judging on Top Chef Canada, Chef Jonathan Gushue cooks up modern European dishes in the kitchen — often using a massive wood-fired grill — and even butchers and cures his own meats in the cellar. The menu constantly changes, built around whatever local ingredients are available, but expect divine dishes like hardwood-grilled beef rump, local trout, or tender, wood-smoked quail.

Enoteca (Winnipeg, MB)

Winnipeggers vie for a table at Enoteca, a tiny 30-seater bistro set inside a strip mall and that’s considered one of the best restaurants in Canada. In the kitchen, Chef Scott Bagshaw experiments with international flavours, creating playful, shareable plates such as short ribs bathed in a wine sauce or ricotta dumplings with shrimp, caramelized miso and bacon bits. Bon appétit!

Bobby Flay

The One Place Bobby Flay Won’t Open a Restaurant

Here in Canada, we can’t get enough of Food Network star and chef Bobby Flay, whether we’re slapping one of his signature BBQ recipes on the grill, or creeping his cat’s Instagram account (we see you @nachoflay). But when we asked Chef Flay if he plans to open a restaurant north of the border, the American star was unequivocal: No. Not here, not now, not ever.

Thankfully it’s not because he doesn’t love Canada. In fact, Chef Flay is especially fond of Toronto, where he recently collaborated with long-time friend and former Iron Chef competitor Susur Lee. The culinary duo cooked up a special dinner at Lee’s restaurant Frings; the menu featured chorizo crepinette with apricot mostarda and braised octopus, where several lucky locals, including Drake, were in attendance.

Susur Lee and Bobby FlayFlay talked up the Toronto food scene while explaining why he’s not in a hurry to open a Canadian outpost: “In a town like Toronto, where there’s such a great culinary culture, I believe that the people of Toronto should be supporting the local chefs, and they do,” he said. Then he tempered his answer with a downright Canadian-sounding dose of humility: “Without mentioning names, there have been countless American chefs that have tried this town and they haven’t done very well. So I don’t think I’m better than them.”

Not even his pal Susur Lee could convince him. “But you know, Chef Bobby, I’ll tell you — your flavours would really suit in this town,” said Chef Lee. “Your big flavours!”

Susur Lee and Bobby Flay in Toronto

Still, the answer was — and is — no.

“When I roll out of my bed in New York, I can walk into my restaurant and cook,” he explained. “Even though Toronto is only an hour away, you still have to go the airport and get on a plane — it’s a whole event.”

Bobby Flay loves flying in and wowing Canadian diners, or cooking for them when they visit one of his US restaurants, but he doesn’t want to be anybody’s American fling. Falling in love with a Bobby Flay restaurant is a long-term affair, and that’s just how he likes it.

“You have to get people to buy in for a long period of time, not just once or twice,” he said, noting that his famed Mesa Grill ran 20 years before closing, and that three of his current restaurants have been open for more than ten years. “That’s what it takes to have success in the restaurant industry. It’s not a get rich quick proposal.”

It might not be the answer we want, but it’s an honest one. So in the mean time, we’ll be saving up for a trip to Flay’s Gato in New York City, and consoling ourselves with these awesome Bobby Flay recipes.

Can’t get enough Bobby? His new show Brunch at Bobby’s premieres Saturday, September 10 at 10 a.m. E/P. See the schedule here