One of Chef Tobias Pohl-Weary’s most indelible memories is of an event that occurred when he was only twelve years old. The Toronto native and owner of Burlington’s Red Canoe Bistro was already a budding chef, at least in his own family’s kitchen. On this memorable New Year’s Eve, he had the privilege of observing Jamie Kennedy, the most famous chef in Canada, working in his kitchen at the Palmerston Restaurant. Kennedy is the brilliant chef who now manages the Gilead restaurant at the Gardiner Museum. He is still hallowed as Canada’s earliest champion of locavore cuisine.
Pohl-Weary says, “It was my first experience at a top level restaurant and to watch that chef on New Year’s Eve, the busiest night of the year, was just incredible.”
Many years later, Pohl-Weary worked his way into the kitchen of one of Canada’s other superstar chefs, Michael Stadlander at Eigensinn Farm. Stadlander, who immigrated to Canada from Germany in the 1980’s, had worked with Kennedy at Toronto’s Scaramouche restaurant. Stadlander is still involved in culinary activism and is a co-founder of “Knives and Forks”, an alliance between chefs and organic farmers to promote chemical-free food. In 2010, both Stadlander and Kennedy won Governor-General’s Awards for their contributions to the organic and locally grown food movement in Canada.
With this sort of provenance, it is not surprising then, that when Pohl-Weary opened his own restaurant in Burlington four years ago,The Red Canoe Bistro was dedicated to the use of organic, sustainable and locally grown food. Pohl-Weary frames his restaurant’s menu as “modern Canadian cuisine”.
“What I’m trying to do,” he explains, “is to take seasonal Canadian grown ingredients and prepare them using modern techniques — as opposed to classical food, or boring steak house recipes.
“I’m using foods in different combinations, for example, venison butter curry which features locally raised venison, is paired with asparagus risotto, with local asparagus. Right now, we’re serving pickerel from Manitoulin Island with Atlantic lobster sauce. We also have naturally raised heritage beef that has been aged properly served with exotic mushrooms.”
His specialty is, perhaps, poutine, a signature dish which appears in various guises on every menu. Pohl-Weary notes that he changes it every time he serves it, using 3 or 4 different types of potato, along with three types of Parmesan and Ontario and Quebec cheeses.
The Red Canoe’s entire menu is changed seasonally and the food produced is probably the most sophisticated in Burlington. Pohl-Weary believes in “pushing the envelope” and in a series of “tasting” events at the restaurant, he tries to introduce excitement with unusual food and wine combinations. Called “Not Your Usual Wine School”, the tastings involve pairings of five to seven courses of Pohl-Weary’s cuisine with a wide range of Canadian wines. It is an arena in which creativity is the watchword.
Still, the uncomfortable truth is that a restaurant is a business and must take into account its clients’ tastes. And the other incontrovertible fact is, of course, that our current food economy and system of regulation privileges large scale agriculture and processed food, not organic food and local farmers. The tastings are not inexpensive and Pohl-Weary learned about the hazards of risk-taking when he introduced something coyly termed “chevaline.” (Okay — it’s horse meat.)
“Half the people were really excited by this,” he recounts, “and half the people who saw it were offended by the fact that I was serving it. Look — this kind of meat is commonly consumed all over the world. Just think of the avocado, or calamari — 25 years ago no one ate either — now they’re just a part of a normal menu.”
Anyway, Go Cooking guests don’t ever have to worry about finding “My Friend Flicka” on any of our up-coming menus. (If you like your eating to be an adventure, check out the Red Canoe’s tastings events at http://www.redcanoebistro.com/) Instead, Pohl-Weary’s menu for our July 23rd dinner will feature steelhead trout — often defined as “the new and improved salmon” — along with tasty, seasonal Ontario heirloom tomatoes and creamy bleu Bénédictin cheese from Quebec. The dessert sounds particularly spectacular: a clafoutis — a sort of French custard with local berries, lavished with Chantilly cream flavored with our very own Niagara peninsula Vidal ice wine.
Hope to see you there!
And here’s a recipe for the Chef’s potato salad that you might want to try during these dog days of summer.
Heirloom Potato Salad
from Chef Tobias Pohl-Weary, The Red Canoe Bistro
3 cups heirloom potatoes – boiled and cut into bite sized shapes
½ c radishes – shaved
½ c fennel – shaved
2 shallots – finely chopped
½ Tbsp tarragon – chopped
½ Tbsp thyme – chopped
½ tsp grainy mustard – preferably home made
4 Tbsp mayonnaise – preferably home made
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp cracked pepper
smoked salmon, cooked scallops
Combine potatoes, radish, fennel and shallots in a bowl . In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients. Stir well. Add mayonnaise mixture to potatoes and gently stir.
Place a serving in the centre of a plate. Gently cover with smoked salmon. Place scallops on top.
This makes a lovely light dinner with the scallops and smoked salmon. But you could also add cooked chicken or ham or whatever you have hanging around in the refrigerator. Or, just eat the salad as a side dish. And, by the way, heirloom potatoes are potatoes that have been propagated from plants that have been in use for 100 years or more.