One of best perks of working for Go Cooking is to be in on the newest and most innovative dining experiences. The Test Kitchen, in Burlington, for instance, has only been open since a few weeks before Christmas. Yet it is already scoring very high points on the local gastro-buzzometer! (Okay, I made that up — there’s no “buzzometer”, but nevertheless, foodie people are really talking about this restaurant.) Anyway, how very clever of our co-ordinator Karen Aquino to invite the chef, Steve Rydtschenko, to take over our up-coming Go Cooking event on March 25th.
One of the things that caught Karen’s eye (and taste buds), no doubt, was the appetizer pictured above. Called “Tuna Tataki“, it was The Test Kitchen’s offering at the Taste of Burlington launch party and features top grade sliced tuna which has been marinated in sake and mirin, sprinkled with sesame seeds and poppy seeds and served with a napa cabbage slaw and a wasabi/avocado sauce. According to Rydtschenko, the tuna is seared very, very quickly, so that the outside layer is crunchy and the interior remains rare, tender and juicy. Oh, my …
Anyway, the appetizer obviously has a Japanese flavour but it could just as easily have been a tasty bite derived from France, Italy, Spain, Budapest, Jamaica, Chicago, San Francisco or elsewhere, because Rydtschenko is a very well-travelled chef. Travelling and eating, he says, is the favorite pastime of himself and his wife and after earning his chef’s stripes in Canada, the pair made a two year odyssey through Europe, resumes in hand.
They travelled throughout western and eastern Europe and North Africa, stopping here and there for two or three week cooking stints, but their home base was in Nice, where Rydtschenko worked for a few months at La Petite Maison, a very well-known restaurant housed in a 19th century grocery store, a place that Frommer’s travel guide calls “a Nicoise institution.” He enjoyed his time overseas, suffered from culture shock, and noticed a more “food and family” based ambiance in the restaurants, a more leisurely pace to dining and not the same emphasis on time limits as in North America.
Back home, and back to reality, Rydtschenko improved his skills working for a few Toronto and Oakville restaurants and cooking for corporate giants such as Cara. The couple ended up living in Grimsby with the chef driving daily to work in New York state. A meeting with Alex Mickalow, an executive and old friend from Cara, saved him from the heavy daily commute. Mickalow, says Rydschenko, had the whole concept for the Burlington restaurant already worked out and together, the two did the final “fine tuning.”
The interior space of The Test Kitchen is very sleek and modern and minimalist, a setting that befits the digital age. The focus is unique, in that the menu at the restaurant is not printed on paper, but on an iPad and is, essentially, in a constant state of revision. Rydtschenko says that there are six or seven core entrées with six appetizers. It’s a “winter” menu, so far, modern French cookery, but far away from anything heavy or complicated. Then, the pair push the boundaries, with three additional appetizers and entrées that they try out for a few weeks; if the new dishes become popular, they replace something in the core.
Almost everything is made in house, including the ketchup and mustard that goes on their burgers. Rydtschenko does lots of pickling, brining and curing, working with charcuterie elements such as beef tongue and head cheese. Elk meat is on the menu and the gamey, flavorful, dark red meat has become a favorite. Rydtschenko says it is very tender and served rare or medium rare. It’s a healthy choice and is so lean that they have to add fat to the dishes.
Good purveyors of meat and fishmongers loom high on the chef’s list of necessities. Excellent local ingredients are important and Rydtschenko now lives in Beamsville, in the heart of the wine and farming district where he is able to utilize local fruits and vegetables and find specialty wines from local vintners. When he has the time, he still does his own “home cooking” on the weekends — perhaps a whole roasted chicken, or something cooked on his barbecue or in his own smoker. His menu for our Go Cooking session has been created with an eye to the number of hands that are available, as well as the restrictions of time limits. It’s also important, he notes, to cook something that people can make at home.
We don’t have the chef’s final menu yet for our Go Cooking session, so I thought I’d include something a little more exciting than green beer for up-coming St. Patrick’s Day.
Chocolate Mint Shamrock Shake
1 1/2 cups mint chocolate chip ice cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
whipped cream (plain or chocolate)
chocolate syrup for garnish
1) In a blender combine the ice cream and milk and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.
2) Add chocolate chips and stir to combine.
3) Pour into a glass and top with whipped cream. Drizzle with chocolate syrup.
Now that’s what I call a smoothie!