It took three long years of searching for the right venue before Chef Matt Kershaw settled upon the Young Street location for his restaurant in Hamilton. It’s not surprising, then, that Rapscallion has a very special place in his heart. In business now for a year and a half, the very successful restaurant is open seven days a week and, on the evening that I visited, it was filled with happy, chattering people who seemed excited to be taking part in a new type of dining for Hamilton.
Kershaw grew up in Ancaster, in a family where good food held an important presence. Family dinners where the children learned to eat and drink properly and adventurously were a daily ritual. His brother now owns Ancaster’s elegant Rousseau House. Matt’s passion for cooking began at an early age and he remembers astonishing his friends as a young teenager when he cooked a leg of lamb with gravy at their summer cottage. His first job, at the age of 13, was at the Ancaster Old Mill. For those who care about such things, his apprenticeship was at the Royal York Hotel, his training at George Brown College. He also owns the very popular “the Alex” in Burlington.
Always a great meat eater, it seemed to be a natural progression for him to embrace the “whole beast” philosophy. This is a way of cooking and eating that was first promulgated by a British Chef, Fergus Henderson, in his book “Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking,” published in 1999. A famous quote from Henderson explains the impetus for this type of cooking: “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing.”
A personal note: I am at best a finicky eater when it comes to meat. I am not at all adventuresome and recoil with horror at some of things that people buy to eat in Asian markets (or even at Fortino’s). I was appalled at my very first bite of steak and kidney pie and now know never to touch anything with kidney in it again. I do eat liver but it has to be breaded and piled up with so many fried onions that I really can’t taste the meat. So I am at first puzzled by the fact that at Rapscallion, I thoroughly enjoyed everything I ate and I am anxious to go back for more. My “aha” moment occurs when Kershaw makes a confession:
“Well, to tell the truth, I really don’t like the stuff called “offal” — liver, kidneys, lungs, veins — but I do like the weird little bits in between. For instance, our signature dish at the restaurant is called “tongue in cheek” a confit of tongue of veal with slow braised veal cheek. And at the upcoming Go Cooking session, we will be cooking pig’s foot and shank. This takes forever to cook, you skim the meat off the shank and braise it for 3 or 4 hours. You then reduce the stock and you end up with a delicious piece of meat that you can cook in many ways.”
Rapscallion is billed as a “rogue” eatery because there really is nowhere else like it in Hamilton — I suppose the academic label might be “subversive.” According to Kershaw, there wasn’t even a sort of “bridge” restaurant in Hamilton that he could point to. In addition to the emphasis on unusual bits of meat, the restaurant follows the “small plates” type of service that may have started with the craze for tapas. The plates and portions at Rapscallion are larger than tapas “snacks” — more like the servings in a Chinese or Indian restaurant. If you tend to find most restaurant portions just too big and overwhelming, it’s a healthy and enjoyable means of cutting down. But it’s also a great way to try several different dishes to share with friends.
Kershaw says, “Whenever I would go to a restaurant, I always tried to get everyone to order something different so that we could all try a lot of different dishes. Now, with the smaller plates, people can share and dining is more sociable. I’m trying to change the way people think about eating — it’s just a better way to eat.”
And despite the emphasis on meat, the menu is far from rigid. Scribbled on large blackboards, the restaurant’s fare changes every couple of weeks. I had a wonderful dish with spicey shrimps in a creamy sauce when I went there and, apparently, there also are vegetarian dishes available.
Since I don’t want to give away what’s coming up in our Tuesday night Go Cooking session, I’ll leave you with one of the chef’s dishes from an earlier menu. Be warned: Kershaw hates “recipes” and advises home cooks to just “relax.” So if you haven’t got some of the ingredients, be brave, go ahead and innovate.
Cashew Dusted Shrimp with Mango Slaw
from Chef Matt Kershaw, Rapscallion(Hamilton) and the Alex(Burlington)
1 cup mango, julienned
1/2 cup cucumber, julienned
1 cup cabbage, julienned
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, julienned
1/2 cup mint, chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
8 tbsps. honey
1 cup cashews, ground to dust
1 lb white shrimp, peeled, deveined and halved
4 tbsps. vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1. Combine mango, cucumber, cabbage, peas and mint in a large bowl.
2. Whisk lime juice with honey and oil.
3. Season to taste.
4. Season shrimp and toss with cashew dust.
5. In a large non-stick oven proof pan add a generous amount of oil and bring to medium high heat.
6. Add coated shrimp and transfer pan to hot (450 degree) convection oven.
7. Wait approximately two minutes, or until starting to brown and toss shrimp to brown on other side.
8. Continue to back until cooked through.
9. Toss salad and dressing and top with shrimp.
Okay, tried this but couldn’t get fine enough “cashew dust.” Ground up the cashews, but they wouldn’t stick to the shrimp. Ended up browning a few cashew pieces on the top of the stove and dumping them on top of the shrimp. It was still good — but obviously not the chef’s recipe.