Toronto: Shop with Chef
It seemed time for another mother/daughter weekend. So we took the GO train to Toronto and dropped our bags at the Royal York. “Meet under the clock,” we were told on checking in.
We were up bright and early next morning, to ‘Shop with Chef’ a culinary shopping package offered by the hotel. David Garcelon joined us at 8.30 a.m in the glittering lobby, then we walked along Front Street, past a chorus of barks. People were setting up stalls for Woofstock, a festival of dogs with canine fashionistas and astonishing breeds on all sides. Even as cat-addicts, we were intrigued.
Garcelon, who grew up in New Brunswick, has trained and worked around the world:
at the Windsor Arms in Toronto, in Jasper and Bermuda. Now he presides over the largest hotel kitchen in Canada with 110 cooks, an extensive herb garden and apiary on the roof.
“Who signs on for this?” we asked.
“People interested in cooking, couples celebrating an anniversary; once we had a policeman and his wife – who was a detective.“
Our destination was the St. Lawrence Market –named #1 of ten best markets in the world by the National Geographic . Toronto’s original City Hall recently celebrated its two hundredth birthday, but for centuries the area was used as spring fishing grounds for First Nations people. Fish have been traded here for over 10,000 years. The South Market (five days a week) hums specially on a Saturday when it opens at 5 a.m. for keeners. The North Market, across the street is open Saturdays as a farmer=s market, and Sundays with antiques.
We revived with a cup of Illy coffee at Pasta Mia, admiring the display of breads nearby. Dropping useful culinary tidbits as we went, (‘If you’re cooking lamb shanks, the foreshank is meatier’) the lowkey companionable Garcelon led us to his favourite suppliers.
We visited various stalls where we discussed the ingredients that would be part of our dinner that night. At Mike’s Fish Market, we admired a whole cod on ice, yellow pickerel from Lake Erie. At Golden Orchard Fine Foods, Allan Graziano showed us knobby round sunchokes, a tidier relative of the Jersualem artichoke and golden beets. Mennonites provide him with “eggs from happy hens.” During a brief stop at Kozlik’s for a panorama of that spicy condiment, we learned that over 90% of the world’s mustard comes from Canada. We hadn’t had time for breakfast, so the famous ‘back bacon on a bun’ at the Carousel Bakery was sustaining.
Caught up in the enthusiasm of our hosts, my daughter couldn’t resist shopping for fresh Red Fife pasta, rhubarb and greens. (She was relieved that the Royal York was happy to store her finds in their fridge overnight.)
We said goodbye to David, who headed off to do some serious shopping and met Bruce Bell for a one hour walking tour of the area.. There can be no better guide than this actor, playwright, newspaper columnist and stand-up comedian. Sudbury-born, he is passionate about the history of his adopted city.
He led us upstairs to The Toronto Archives Art Gallery with maps, documents, architectural fragments. Formerly the city council chambers, it was boarded up for 70 years, and nearly forgotten, but now its arches, alcoves and the great fan-shaped window overlooking the bustle below can be admired again.
St. Lawrence Hall was built in 1850 after a devastating fire in 1849 demolished much of the early city. Jenny Lind sang here in October, 1851, the great orator and former slave Frederick Douglas lectured the same year- “to be followed by the Christie Minstrels-“ Bruce remarked, shaking his head in disbelief. It was the site of abolitionist meetings in the 1850s, a meeting place for the Fathers of Confederation.. One section, Sir Patrick’s Hall, was used as a social gathering place for the frequently oppressed Irish immigrants, who were prohibited from entering the other hall in that era. The magnificent white brick building, like so many other places, had its period of decline and decay. It was an army and navy surplus outlet, a men’s hostel – and the first home for the National Ballet of Canada, before being restored to its original grandeur as Toronto’s Centennial project.
The rest of day was free, in preparation for a four course dinner at the EPIC Restaurant, which features local, sustainable choices. The Royal York is passionately green. Apart from supplies from the market, the hotel uses herbs and honey from their rooftop garden. The centrepiece on our table was a pot of rosemary, the sparkling water was prepared in house in reusable bottles. The restaurant is elegantly relaxed with Aqua colours, handblown light fixtures that reminded us of friendly jellyfish, We met several old friends from the Market during our leisurely evening meal: Cookstown Sunchoke Soup with brown butter and Diver Scallop, Kolapore Springs Speckled Trout with Smoked Trout Potato Hash, Wild Leek and Pea Puree, an Ontario Lamb chop with lovage and summer bean salsa. and an Ontario Strawberry Rhubard Crumble as the grand finale.
Next morning, after a visit to the new AGO, we were prepared to eat again. But who needs lunch when you can have a sumptuous tea in the Library Bar with a trip to the oasis on the rooftop for tour of the herb garden and apiary, accompanied by Amira Becarevic, yet another well-informed young chef. And then we crossed the road to hop onto the GO train, with our culinary souvenirs, back to real life.
Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, 1-866-540-4489, wwwfairmont.com
Shop with Chef: An Apprentice Package
Includes two night accommodation (Friday and Saturday) in a Fairmont Room for $749/double occupancy. There is also a one day introductory package for $219, with accommodation for one night during the week, without the historical tour or dinner.