Tag Archives: pork

IACP 2010 Conference in Portland

Nong's chicken

Chicken skin is extra!It’s always such an adventure at IACP, but this year’s conference in Portland seemed more adventurous than ever. Whether it was the frenetic energy of a food-crazy city—or the fact that 900 food-obsessed people had descended on it—this year’s conference was the most manic I’ve ever experienced. Manic, but inspiring, fun and wholly memorable.

It makes coming home a bit of a let-down. Let’s face it, as a writer (and especially as one who works from home), I spend a lot of time by myself. I type brilliant little things into a computer and they disappear into the ether, and that’s about it. I celebrate when I have a conference call and someone says that they liked my piece. I do happy dances when I get published. But, for the most part, it’s me, at my desk, staring out the window, making pots of tea.

And then something like IACP conference comes along, and once a year I am thrust into a group of people who get it. They understand the agonizing frustration of not being able to get words onto paper (well, proverbial paper—screen, more like), the unending guilt of procrastinating and the internal struggle between writer and editor. And the food geekery? The fact that I can wax poetic about dumplings or go off into a dream state thinking about sandwiches…well, that’s not weird at IACP. It’s totally par for the course.

I come back from conference each year simultaneously refreshed and inspired, and exhausted. The exhaustion is to be expected after a week of eating and drinking, without much sleeping. The refreshment and inspiration comes from being with people who get it, who have done it, and who keep me going on this crazy food path that leads to weird places. And I look forward to seeing them every year to get guidance for my next steps down this wacky road. One of these people is Cheryl Sternman Rule, who wrote a wonderful blog post and captured some of the lovely people at the conference. She even managed to make me look good, despite my complete and utter lack of sleep all week.

Lest you think I’ve gone all soft on you, here are some of my favourite moments of the conference.

Salt and chocolate

chocolate barRadishes with salt and butterThe best possible way to kick off a week of elegant gluttony: a meet and greet of the most gastronomic proportions. Thin sushi slices laid on Himalayan salt blocks so that one surface is almost cooked; one shockingly salty surface that melds into the buttery richness of tuna. Oysters with mignonette. A craft cocktail bar. A chocolate bar. Fresh radishes with creamery butter and different salts. Bowls of popcorn, with different salts. Wood-fired pizza with mushrooms, arugula, cheese. Fabulous people, coming and going late into the night.

Chicken, cocktails and hipsters

chamomile sourThe IACP host city opening reception was spectacular. Restaurants like Paley’s Place served pillowy soft gnocchi with fresh crab, while the premiere food cart in town served signature Hainanese chicken on oily rice. Around the corner, Pix Patisserie served teeny tiny mousse cakes in front of a tower of croquembouche. Still further, Nel Centro‘s swiss chard tart with raisins in pate brisee collapsed in my mouth like buttery dust. Taylor Shellfish brought 100 pounds of Kumamoto oysters, freshly roused from their beds. And sprinkled in between, local wineries and breweries. And a cocktail bar manned by cute hipster boys in plaid shirts and tight pants.

And of course, the  absinthe salon that smelled of licorice, sin and secrets.

Vegan soul food

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m no vegan. I was curious about this session, led by food writer Bryant Terry. I expected militant veganism, maybe a manifesto about the evils of meat. What I got was a truly beautiful presentation that included history, personal story, a tribute to grandparents, rap, music, social and political commentary and the best collard greens I’ve ever tasted. I mentioned this session to a friend who had also attended, and he teared up at the memory of it. One moment in particular, when Bryant sang a song that his grandmother used to sing in the kitchen, brought the entire room to a standstill. No one breathed. And then he paused, opened his eyes and continued his story. It was, to be honest, one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in a long time.

Midnight supper

I was lucky enough to get invited to a secret midnight supper, held in a space that will become Caffe Vita‘s foray into wood-fired pizza. In the interim, the room was set for us with communal tables and candles and promised us the culinary talents of Michael Hebb, Naomi Pomeroy, Mark Fuller and Jason French. As the night continued, food kept coming. Each dish was more delicious than the last: grilled asparagus, pizza, clams, chicken livers and—the highlight of the night—lemon and parsley crusted pork belly on greens. All of it washed down with red wine drunk out of tumblers, while listening to the fabulous local band Y La Bamba, talking food and wine with beautiful people. Termed a “meeting of Seattle and Portland,” this Vancouver girl felt very lucky to be part of the magic.

Edit: Check out the lovely Maggie’s photos of that magical evening. Just looking at them sends shivers down my spine.

Butchery and charcuterie

It’s not every Saturday morning that I’m greeted with an entire pig, gutted and splayed out on two cutting boards. And it’s certainly not every Saturday morning that I get to watch two expert butchers break down half a pig each. Adam Sappington showed us an American approach, breaking the pig down into neat square and chops for his Whole Hog dinners. Each part was neatly stacked on top of itself, forming an almost Lego-like deconstructed pig. Dominique Chapolard, a pig farmer and butcher from France, showed us his approach: seam butchery.

**IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH, VEGETARIAN OR VEGAN, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP HERE. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.**

Seam butchery is, quite honestly, beautiful. We watched as Dominique took a knife and separated the entire rib and backbone section from the meat. The silence in the room was only broken by sharp intakes of breath as we realized what he was doing. Then he deftly removed the inner bones from the ham, pausing only long enough to remove the skin in one piece, and then cutting each muscle group free. He laid all the pieces out on the board like some kind of Damien Hirst exhibit and explained that he would take the pieces to market and French consumers would request particular cuts from him. It really highlighted the connection between animal and meat; muscle and bone, rather than pork chops and bacon. That may sound graphic and violent, but it was respectful and dignified. It was stunning.

Charcuterie and butcheryThe conversation then touched on the difficulties of becoming a butcher in North America, how the North American and European farming systems are drastically different, the lack of female butchers (though there were two in the room that morning!) and how a holistic approach to food starts with the animal, includes the entire food system, and finally ends up with the consumer. It was a conversation focused on meat—and specifically, on pigs—but could have been applied to any number of food issues that are currently being debated.Charcuterie

We concluded with a selection of charcuterie from Dominique, Adam and Olympic Provisions, plus Pudding River wine. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning.

Read more about that morning’s events from the oh-so-well-coiffed Michael Ruhlman. I’d also be totally remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the wonderful Kate Hill.

Czehoski: creme brulee that doesn’t suck

While I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I met up with some friends from grad school. One lives in Montreal, the other in London (Ontario, that is). And all the stars aligned and our paths crossed in the T-dot. How about that.

We met at Czehoski, a place too hip for its own good. Having said that, I love it just a little bit. The food is great, the wine list thoughtful, and the space cozy. The service is a little more…relaxed than I would like, but no matter. It just means that you can linger as long as you like – which we did. We lingered for six hours, gossiping and re-living our glory days. You know, the days when I wasn’t pining for my bed at 11pm.

Their composed salad changes daily, and that day it was arugula with quail’s eggs, parmesan and pancetta. The pancetta was so crispy it nearly disintegrated into a powder of salty pork goodness on my tongue. If that’s not enough, the Czehoski burger is insanely good. The patty is juicy and beefy, and quite possibly laced with crack.

For dessert, I was skeptical of the so-called “chocolate ganache” until it came to the table. It is exactly that: discs of chocolate ganache, served with bits of seafoam and crushed pistachios. It’s not exactly conventional, but it really was delicious. The tarte tatin was a little bit disappointing. The apples were cooked but not caramelized, and the pastry was a bit soggy.

Now, generally speaking, I’ve got a beef with restaurant creme brulee. There are so many things to get right. I’m looking for a perfectly smooth, perfectly cooked, unctuous custard, served cold. On top, there should be the thinnest possible layer of caramelized (not burnt) sugar that shatters when you take a spoon to it.

Most places don’t get all those things right, probably because most places don’t have a dedicated pastry chef. Most restaurants make the garde manger do double duty: after the salads and cold appetizers go out, then it’s time for the desserts. Really, do you think it takes the same kind of mindset to make a salad (as beautiful as some salads are) as it does to make and present a beautiful dessert?

That’s another post in itself.

Anyway, this creme brulee was beautiful. It was immaculate. It was perfect. In fact, it was so perfect that I got over my pastry snobdom, had a spoonful, and swooned. And then ignored the fact that the restaurant charged $6 for it when I know full well I can make it at home for a fraction of the cost.

But hey, I’ll pick my battles.

Czehoski
678 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 366-6787
Czehoski on Urbanspoon

Food, science

It was a crazy week in IACP land, and I have a serious conference hangover. Not, mind you, an actual hangover, but just a need to decompress and reflect on the past five days. I’m taking the day off until I have the brain power to sift through my copious notes and compose some entertaining, yet informative, posts.

In the meantime, I’m spending the week in lovely Boulder, Colorado with an old friend from grad school. I’m looking forward to a home cooked meal – we’re having pork tenderloin stuffed with apples and nutmeg, the whole thing wrapped in proscuitto. Pork with pork. I love it.

Also, since we’re both chemists, we’re talking about science. We both developed liquid crystalline materials (he still does) so that’s been the main topic of conversation so far. It’s been a while since I’ve used words like smectic, atropisomeric, and chiral.

Anyway, that was my lame attempt at a joke about food science. Because for now, cooking + talking about science = food science. So there.

Ottawa: Vietnam Noodle House

When I first moved to Ottawa, the first restaurant that I ate at was Vietnam Noodle House. It’s outside of the main clump of Vietnamese restaurants, and is a lot bigger than most. It’s a large, clean and surprisingly bright space in the basement of an otherwise nondescript commercial building.

The family who runs it is phenomenally nice. Their pho is nothing remarkable, but their main dishes are really good. They have a selection of “broken rice” dishes, which feature grains of rice that are, indeed, broken. They’re cooked al dente and topped with a variety of meat (preserved pork, barbecued chicken or pork, ham) and often a fried egg. Yum.  

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Ottawa: more pho

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll have read about my love for Pho Bo Ga LA’s beef broth. Their salad rolls were pretty good, too. But there were other places in Ottawa’s Chinatown that I visited, for very specific things.

Just across the street from Pho Bo Ga LA, Meexim is a Vietnamese restaurant that’s run by Cantonese people. This means that their pho broth isn’t nearly as good, and that their menu features more rice and non-soup noodle dishes.

I ate one thing, and one thing only, at Meexim: their noodle soup with pork. The noodles are decent, the broth is passable – but the pork is out of this world. On first taste, you get sweetness, which mellows to the zing of ginger and the savouriness of soy. 

I’m having phantom taste bud pains right now. And phantom stomach pains. My God, I would kill for some of that pork right now. 

Meexim Restaurant
781 Somerset Street West
Ottawa, ON
613-567-1188

Polenta and pork cheeks

It was really freaking cold on Friday night – so cold that my base instincts kicked in and all I wanted was stew.

Well, I didn’t get stew, but I did get some stick-to-your-ribs food from The Cascade Room. It was reliably busy – and possibly busier than usual due to the fire at Habit – but not so busy that you couldn’t get a table without a reservation.

I think The Cascade makes the best negroni I’ve ever had. Their bartender, Nick Devine, is known for his mixological prowess – and I fully concur. The negroni came in a short glass with lots of ice, with a rosette of orange peel resting on top of the ice. The overall effect is that you taste the drink while getting the full, undiluted aroma of the orange peel. Genius.

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My favourite restaurant in Vancouver

I hope you realize the gravity of the situation here, in that I’m about to tell you about my favourite restaurant in all of Vancouver. As in, if I were on death row somewhere, I would want my last meal to be from this place. As in, if I could only eat at one restaurant for the rest of my life, this would be it. As in, I just had lunch there today but after writing this post I think I might go back for a little snack.

And it’s not some fancy-schmancy restaurant where they serve multi-course chef’s tasting meals, featuring deconstructed lasagnas or avocado foams. It’s not a place where you’ll have to eat dust and water for the next month because the meal was so expensive.

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