Thursday, November 28, 2013

Old fashioned Parlour with a New Fashioned Spin

The other night I was invited to go and check out a new Sharing Menu at the Parlour Kitchen-Bar-Lounge.  Parlour's date back to the Speak easy times of the 19th century with a room that was reminiscent of the Parlour or best rooms in one's house.  From the minute I stepped into the place it was a bit like time travelling to another time another place another kind of life.   Located on Adelaide St. West in Toronto in the Club district it's not the usual Club Style of place.  It's located in the lower level of the building but you only step down a couple of steps to get inside.  Once inside you forget what's happening outside.  The windows are draped in Velvet curtains that block out any indication of the urban environment outside.  I was welcomed by the owners and the publicist as if I was stepping into their home.   I was promptly seated and my coat taken to be hung up and out of the way.   It was a rainy/snowy evening but I totally forgot 5 minutes after being inside the space.   I asked a friend to join me who I thought would enjoy that kind of place.   His first impression was the same as mine and he fell in love with our lovely waitress Jenny who told us she usually tends bar and at the end of the evening she said we were her favourite table.   I don't know if it's true but I think she did enjoy all the compliments my friend was showering her with.  Jenny brought us an Old Fashioned Spiced Drink for my friend and a Pink Parlour drink for me.

Now back to the space.  There is a large bar a slight nod to the Cheers (where everyone knows your name) style and where we were sitting by the window were a few high tables.  On the other side of the bar/lounge was the Lounge area with some vintage looking settees and large comfortable chairs that you could sit and cosy up near the fireplace with a friend or loved one.  It really had a warm and cosy feel to the place.  Very intimate and with great background music that didn't overpower conversations like some Lounges do.  That's a big turnoff to me.  If you aren't dancing, you are likely to be chatting and trying to get to know someone or trying to catch up with someone and there's nothing worse than having to yell over the music and leaving without a voice at the end of the night.

And now to the rest of the Staff,  everyone was so welcoming, gracious and friendly and a pleasure to meet.  I think they really want to build up a regular clientele who take ownership of the vibe of the room.  

Then there is the food.   Yes the food was all Sharing types of food.   With Chef Ghanavati who is a well travelled and experienced chef in the kitchen turning out solid plates of food.  Some of my favourite dishes were the Margharita Pizza which is generally a favourite of mine but this was a light crispy crust with beautiful latte di fiore cheese perfectly melted on top.   Not a soggy mess like some places make them after they sit for a minute or 2.   The other favourite was the Beef Tartare served with a Truffle Aoli and nicely toasted baguette slices.   My friend really enjoyed the lamb and beef meatballs.  There was also a lighter dish of quinoa in a belgian endive (canoe) as they called it.  Very tasty and very light.   We ended our tasting with a Cheese board with one Quebec Cheese, Saint Paulin I think,  a Portuguese Manchego and an Italian Parmesan cheese served with the baguette toasts and a marmalade.

Really the only thing that was missing from the menu for me was either a fruit, or dessert plate but I think they have Cannoli available on their menu.  It just wasn't on the sharing menu that I had.

All in All I would totally recommend checking this place out and taking a Date, meeting up with friends during the holidays,  making it an after work destination place or girls night out when you just want to chill out and enjoy the company you are with.

For more info check their website:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sharpening up my Knife Skills

Not long ago I went to a launch event for the Culinary Showdown, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's Cook for the Cure Event.  They were trying to recruit foodies and food bloggers to sign up to join the Culinary Showdown by raising funds that go towards the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.   The event was held at Cirillo's Culinary Academy, a beautiful cooking space that is used for events, classes and team building.  If you signed up that night for the Showdown you got a free Knife Skills Workshop at Cirillo's, so I signed up because I thought if nothing else at least I can say I actually took a Knife Skills Class.   Tonight was the night for the class.  There was about 25-30 people there, all comprised of people that signed up and have started fundraising.   Unfortunately I am nowhere near my goal of $2500 to be able to participate in the showdown but I am trying to raise as much money as I can.  If you want to help me out and DONATE a bit of money to the cause here is the link to my page: DONATE HERE

When we arrived we sample a bunch of tasty bites and beverages that they had ready for us to try and get warmed up and ready for the Class.

The owner of Cirillo's talked about the importance of sharp knives and how to sharpen them and did a couple of quick demo's of how to cut an onion and zucchini, herbs and mushrooms properly.  I think the Knife Skills class is more of a pre emptive safety class before some people compete in the Showdown because he told a couple of stories about how a couple of people got hurt at the showdown from lack of experience and I think a lack of common sense and skill.  I think it's in their best interest to have everyone have at least basic knife skills and then the rest is up to the Celebrity Chefs.

It was a really fun night.  After the quick demo we hit our own stations to cut up some vegetables.  The 2 girls at my station were really good and according to the chefs we were the pros.  I took my time because the last time I went to a Cutco event I actually cut myself because I wasn't used to the knives.  I made sure I didn't repeat that again.  One of my station mates is also a Gastroposter and I think we recruited the third person into becoming a future Gastroposter as well.

And Here are the results of our labour:

I would totally recommend going to an Event or Class at Cirillo's on Dundas St. West at Islington Ave. It's a beautiful place and you can learn a thing or two and have a great time.

Everyone should learn basic Knife Skills and in fact basic Cooking Skills never hurts anyone.

Go cut and cook... and don't forget to sponsor me for the Culinary Showdown....  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Martha Stewart doesn't know about Food Photography.


Recently Martha Stewart posted a series of really bad food photos on Twitter and people started bashing her photo tweets.  Why? Well because the food looked like some tired chef just tossed food in a rush on a plate and then Martha took a fast pic in bad lighting showing that same food.  Martha Stewart may be the Queen of Entertaining but she has a lot to learn about food photography and what looks good in a picture.  We can't all be perfect in everything.  While I myself have taken a lot of bad food photos I have also taken a few good ones just with my Ipad or a simple point and shoot camera.  The most important thing in taking a good food photo is LIGHT.  That's the most important thing in photography and the most important thing to make food look good.

Some of the Golden Rules of Food Photography:

  1.  Use natural daylight if possible
  2. Try and make sure the light isn't too bright to washout the contrast of the light on the food.
  3. Don't ever use the flash on your camera straight on your food unless you are sitting in a pitch black room but even then your food won't look good.
  4. Think about composition and framing and read up on the law of thirds if you don't understand that.
  5. Make sure there is contrast in color on the plate.  Example of what won't work ever is White plate, white food and bright light.  It will just look like a plate of snow.   Same thing goes for black plate black food etc.   You get the picture*  black food on a white plate will give you excellent contrast but you have to know about lighting to make it look really good.

Here are some photos of Bad, Good, Better and Best in some of the shots I took recently and the differences in lighting.

1.  BAD

This photo was shot using my IPAD in an artificial lighted restaurant.  It's out of focus and kind of boring.  There is a bit of color but I couldn't have made this look a whole lot better with better lighting and more time paid to the way the Calamari were plated and the composition of the food.  It was a quick shot and not even as bad as some of Martha Stewart's photos of puke like looking boring dark food.

2.  Here's where the different lighting sources really shows the difference in how your food would look with different light sources.

The first photo of Martha Stewart's Biscotti recipe that I made plated on a white plate with silver pattern was shot after I made them and it was at night in my dark apartment so I tried to turn on a desk light to add more light  You can see the that it's too bright on the right where the light is coming from and then there is a huge dark shadow on the left.

This second photo was shot in my kitchen with the biscotti just placed on a white cutting plastic cutting board on top of a red one.   It looks flat and the color is bad because the lighting was the fluorescent ceiling lights in my kitchen.  The worst lighting for everything.

 This is the same photo but I used an Instagram filter to bump it up a little bit and it cropped it.  Better but not great.

This last photo was shot the next morning when the natural sunlight comes through my northern facing apartment.  I have limited times where I get maximum light quality and I got lucky that I had these 2 beautiful rays of light that just hit a nice spot on the biscotti.

What I also did was place the biscotti on textured boards.   First on the wooden cutting board and then on a slate board.  I moved it around until I liked the placement, the composition and the light that was coming through the window.

Now compare the first photo to this one and you can really see how a simple biscotti photo can go from a cookie that looks eh.. to a biscotti cookie that you want to eat.


I think Chefs should take photography and food styling classes before opening their restaurants and maybe some other arts classes so that they can really maximize the way their food looks on the plate so that people can eat with their eyes first and really have the brain wake up to what they are about to eat.

I always love it when I go to a restaurant where there is beautiful lighting,  beautifully plated food and the taste of the food to match.   That's food perfection and a dream for any food blogger or foodie.

Chef's and Restaurant designers take note.    A restaurant trick many restaurants use is to serve on white plates so that the food colors stand out..  see back to beginning when I mentioned white food on white plates.   You can only do this if you toss on something extra with color, even if it's just parsley or paprika to break it up.

Oh by the way,  this last photo was just shot with my ipad and I used the Lo-Fi Instagram filter which is my favourite food filter.   No photoshopping or any other special lighting or correction.

I am constantly striving to make the food that I make look and taste better and try and find ways to experiment with taking the photos in the use of different backgrounds.  I use plates, platters, cutting boards, place mats and foam core or whatever else I can get my hands on that I can use to change up my photos.

So this post is for you Martha Stewart or all of the rest of you Martha Stewart wannabees or food loving photography challenged people.

I hope some of my quick tips help you eat with your eyes first from now on.

Happy snapping and eating.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Restaurant Review: Patois Jamaican Restaurant

A friend suggested that I check out a Jamaican Restaurant called Patois Jamaican Restaurant in the Pickering area.  He wanted to know what I thought about the place and the food so for his benefit and yours if you happen to be in the Kingston Rd. Hwy 2 area you will know what this place is all about.

On a beautiful saturday afternoon we ventured on the 401 East to Hwy 2 and stopped into Patois where I took in the whole experience.  The restaurant bills itself as more of an upscale Jamaican food dining experience but they do have Take Out available.  The restaurant has been open for about a year but the owner's are looking into some improvements and building their business and doing outside events.

They are currently working on a new website which I think has probably limited their reach by not having one over the past year.  They do have a Twitter @patoisJA account, facebook and Instagram (@patoisjamaican).

The first impression I had of the restaurant when I walked in was that it was very sparse or as one might say minimalist.   There are black tables and black chairs close to the large windows and against the opposite wall is a long banquette.  The space is very bright due to the fact that it is mostly windows without full window coverings.   There is an excellent painted face in the corner of the restaurant that was painted by the owner.  A talent that should be showcased more in the restaurant.

The menu consisted of the usual Jamaican standards like Jerk Chicken, Jamaican Patties, Ackee and Salt fish and Oxtail.   I decided to try the Coconut Shrimp and you have a choice to get it with rice or Provisions,  I asked what that consisted of and was told it was yams, and dumplings.  I assumed it was like fried dumplings etc.  As it turned out it was just boiled yams, banana and dumpling.  I would recommend getting it with rice instead to soak up the delicious coconut curry sauce that is poured on the shrimps.  The provisions are just boiled and very bland and meant to sop up the sauce but they were a bit hard to eat.    My friend ordered the Ackee and salt fish.  I tried a forkful of it and enjoyed the taste of it.  It was full of flavour.

The food is a bit more upscale and presented a little nicer than the Ritz Restaurant chain but I think they should expand their menu a bit to stand apart from other Jamaican Restaurants in Toronto and the GTA.  

They are a work in progress and plan to make changes to the interior and hopefully will add on some new things to their menu soon as they are planning on developing a catering menu.

I would like to see more touches made in the dining room and they said they were going to work on a few decor changes.

The place is owned and run by a husband and wife team who are the chefs while they have a young girl manning the counter.

Just an FYI... don't expect fast food service times. The wait was a little long but I hope they improve  once they get into a groove.
I will revisit the restaurant when they make the changes and will do a follow up post.

The restaurant seems to be building a regular clientele so it can only get better for them once they reach out to more people through social media.

If you like Jamaican food then check it out.  The prices for an entree were approx. $12 although my dish was $15 with tax for the provisions.  Try the rice and peas, they were very good.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Culinary Showdown - Chef Lynn Crawford and more Celebrity Chefs compete


This week I was invited to go to Chef Lynn Crawford's restaurant Ruby Watchco in downtown Toronto for a Fundraiser for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's fundraiser the Culinary Showdown which takes place on December 7, 2013.

At this special event we got to nibble on some of Lynn's partner Chef Lora Kirk's great appetizers and sip some wine.   The food was great as I knew it would be because I have been to the restaurant in the past.  It's a great restaurant that I wish I lived closer to and could afford to go to all the time.

Here are some photos of some of the nibbles that were served.

We were all encouraged to sign up for the Culinary Showdown which I had already done at a previous event but now it's time for me to try and build my fundraising goal to reach the required $2500 to be able to join Lynn Crawford's team or one of the other Celebrity Chefs like Chuck Hughes ( another one of my favourite chefs)  or the West Coast Rockstar Vikram Vij or Top Chef Canada Judge Mark McEwan or Restaurant Makeover/Takeover chef Corbin Tomaczeski and Dean McDermott (Tori Spelling''s husband) and the great Tyler Florence will be on hand to host the event.

I need to raise $2500 to join one of their teams to compete, but if I raise $1000 I get to go to the event and watch the battle.

I need lot's of to reach the $2500 goal and every little bit helps.   

Click here to donate if you are able to and you will receive a tax receipt.  

If I am able to raise enough money to participate I will blog about my experience after the event.

If you are able to help sponsor me I want to thank you very much for helping me to do something good for a lot of people and help me sharpen my culinary skills.