Making Choices

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Juniper scented, pan seared duck breast with parsnip purée, from The Butcher and the Vegan

There is no simple answer to the question “Should I eat meat.”  It can be an extremely contentious issue and who wants an angry debate to mar what should be a pleasurable event such as enjoying good food and drink with friends around a dining table?

Anyway, whatever your stance on dietary ethics, there is a new restaurant on Barton Street which has been conceptualized in a way that allows us all make our own choices.  Called “The Butcher and the Vegan” (http://www.butcherandthevegan.ca/#about), the restaurant has only been open for two months now, but has already created a whole lot of buzz among Hamilton foodies.  Not just for the fact that “bloodthirsty carnivores” are able to mingle happily with “pale and anemic vegans” (to cite the stereotypes), but because the food is actually so addictive that sharing plates has become a popular ritual among diners.

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James Kayser describes himself as the owner, manager and chief dishwasher at the restaurant.  In fact, Kayser even designed the quirky but comfortable decor and did most of the work himself, using bits and pieces of found objects — an old fence he found in his garage for the bar, for instance — to create a charming and informal ambience.

Kayser is originally from Toronto and has lived in Hamilton for six years now.  He recalls trying to find places to eat with friends and family who all wanted something different.  And so, the idea for the restaurant evolved as a plan to accommodate all shades of opinion.

“There were a lot of places,” he says, “that claimed “vegetarian options”, but, in fact, you would find that there were one or two vegetarian dishes on the menu that demonstrated various levels of blandness.  We’re trying to be more inclusive and also non-judgmental of others.

“What people can agree on is that they have become very health conscious.  They want good quality food — and they’re interested in products that are sustainable, nutritional and organic. I thought about that a lot with the menu and decided that there would be no items such as deep fried food or frozen French fries.

‘But people also want to know where their food is coming from.  They want to know if their meat comes from an animal that has been raised properly and has lived a full and good life.  There is a list of our suppliers on our website and all have been hand-picked and are within a 100 km radius of Hamilton.”

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The restaurant is displaying a very ambitious menu and this may be attributed to a new chef who has been there now for only a few weeks.  Chef Jesse Chambers was formerly head chef at the restaurant in the legislative assembly at Queen’s Park.  One of the important reasons why he has moved back to Hamilton from Toronto was the desire to spend more time with his family — but he also believes strongly in the restaurant’s dedication to seasonal items and local suppliers.

The restaurant has been showing off the new chef’s capabilities with a series of monthly “one off” dinners open to the public and I was privileged to attend one of these dinners with Karen Aquino, our Go Cooking co-ordinator.  Carnivores both, we enjoyed a “woodland herb and maple braised pork belly” appetizer and a “juniper scented pan seared duck breast”.  Kayser says that the “one off” dinners will continue with a variety of seasonal offerings — perhaps a ratatouille, or mushroom pasta and peach and apple crisps.  Anyway, we were so blown away by the food that we are planning to be sharing Chef Jesse’s talents with our Go Cooking guests this fall.

As a footnote, our meal was accompanied by some interesting wines from The Good Earth Winery bandvgoodelogo(https://goodearthfoodandwine.com/).  This is a small winery “nestled at the foot of the Beamsville Bench in the Twenty Valley” and Mike Boland, from the winery, poured us a selection of scintillating options. (My favorite, a tasty and refreshing Viognier which was just right for the sultry summer night.)  The Good Earth wines are exclusive to the restaurant and are part of the plan for serving unique products such as estate wines and artisanal craft beers.

Jim Kayser says that the most popular items, so far, on their menu, are the curry and the beet fries and a tofu lettuce wrap.  He estimates that the menu items have demonstrated about a 60/40 “omnivore to vegan” split.

We’re looking forward to sharing an evening with Chef Jesse this fall and hope you will join us.

And here’s a little recipe for an easy and nutritious dip that will keep in the fridge for a week.

Sweet Potato Hummus

from Michael Smith’s “Fast Flavours”

Ingredients:bandvsweetpot

2 sweet potatoes, washed and patted dry

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup of tahini

zest and juice of one lemon

1 tbsp of ground cumin

1 tbsp of cinnamon

1 tbsp of toasted sesame oil

1 tsp of salt

1 tsp or more of your favourite hot sauce

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 cup plain yogurt

Method:

1)  Deeply puncture each sweet potato several times with a fork.  Microwave on high until soft throughout, 5 – 10 minutes depending on your microwave.  (Check the potatoes every few minutes by squeezing, poking and prodding them.)

2)  Give the garlic, tahini, lemon zest and juice, cumin, cinnamon, sesame oil, salt and hot sauce a head start in your food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary.

3)  Add the chickpeas and yogurt.  Toss in the sweet potatoes, skin and all, breaking them up a bit first, then purée the works.  Serve and share with some crisp dippers.

This makes about 5 cups — great appetizer for a summer barbecue.

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