Sunday, April 25, 2010

NAC's Taste5 + Food Bloggers10 = Unforgettable

Clockwise from top:
Brandade crab galette
Soya-stained torchon of foie gras with warmed duck confit
A A A three ways
Honeybush semolina spring rolls
Crisp skinned salmon, wasabi crack

What's an evening like with a bunch of food bloggers in the national capital's art centre in a kitchen that serves hundreds of people many nights of the week with a chef who loves to talk about his life and work? Memorable.

Between the camera clicks and lip smacking, it was a night full of animated talk of all things food. I often ask people about their most memorable meal, and this was one of them for me. It wasn't just the food, but the people I was sharing it with along with the ambiance of being in a working kitchen.

The Role of Food Blogging and Restaurants

Food bloggers are a passionate group of people. We don't make much money, if any, blogging. Yet we spend many hours baking, cooking, photographing, researching, writing and maintaining our blogs. With the proliferation of food bloggers, the restaurant world is wondering what to do with us. Grant Aschatz of Alinea in Chicago recently discussed the line between enthusiastic foodie and an obtrusive one in his blog

So it's exciting to read this tweet from Chef Michael Blackie (@michaelblackie) after the event:

The food blog movement...are we a movement? All I know is that I was blown away by the generosity of the event the NAC put on for us.

The People

Chef Blackie entertained everyone and kept the evening running smoothly. He studied at George Brown College in Toronto and worked in Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Mexico before settling down in Ottawa in 2003. He was born in England but raised in Montreal with a mum who cooked "lots of stodgy British food." He started in kitchens as a dishwasher, and now has been known to cook his meat in one (jump to 1:47 in the video)! He says you'll never see green pepper on his plates and wants Caesar Salad banned from his menu at the NAC.

The food bloggers in attendance are some of the most avid ones in Ottawa and surrounding areas. Many I've met a few times, but mostly I "know" them through Twitter, email or blog comments. We are an eclectic group who tend to work by day and blog every other hour. We are IT managers, math teachers, technical writers, translators, moms, public servants, communications consultants, website designers, federal government employees, marketing directors, entrepreneurs, but most of all we're lovers. Of food.

• Don and Jenn (@foodieprints) from FoodiePrints  
• Jodi (@SimplyFresh) from Simply Fresh 
• Shawn (@shawndearn) from MediaStyle 
• Matt (@mtkayahara) from Kayahara 
• Rachelle from Rachelle Eats Food  (who we'd love to see on Twitter!)
• Paola (@Cestboncooking)
• Lana (@lana_stewart) from Apron Strings 
• Heather (@aftertheharvest) from After the Harvest
• Robin (@mintyfresh) from Minty Fresh 
• myself, Shari (@whisk_food_blog) from Whisk: a food blog

The Experience

Clockwise from top: Sauté, Plate, Tour, Sip, Talk

Janet Covert (@jcovert), eMarketing Officer at NAC, expertly organized this event and took great care to ensure our enjoyment. When we walked into the kitchen, we were handed a glass of Champagne mixed with maple ice wine sauce. It was sweet, sparkly and a simple, but special, way to start the festivities!

After a brief welcome from Chef Blackie, we were broken up into teams and assigned to one of five sous chefs (Chef Sharma, Chef Bento, Chef Cook, Chef Morris, and Chef St. Louis) who had already done most of the mise en place for our assigned plates.

While the first team was preparing food, the rest of us had a tour of the huge kitchen. This wasn't the first time I had been in that kitchen. {Last Fall, I was one of many Le Cordon Bleu student volunteers for Chef Blackie's 2009 NAC Gala with Yo-Yo Ma and saw The Chef in action. I peeled onions, I minced shallots, I winced, and I rolled fresh spring rolls that night.} I could tell they had spent hours preparing the kitchen for the onslaught of cameras. Everything was in its place, with white tablecloths on several of the stainless steel work counters.

When the first dish was ready, many hands were available to plate and keep up with the moving bowls on the worktable with a conveyor belt. In minutes, we were photographing our dishes and tasting the work of Team Crabby. This process repeated itself over the course of the evening. The teams who were first up actually participated in preparing the food more than the other teams who preferred to languish at the table sipping wine, chatting and recording the event.

The Food

Taste1: To start, Team Crabby prepared the Brandade crab galette. The galette was positioned neatly in a purée of fennel, curry and corn soup. There was a touch of heat from the curry, but overall it was sweet from the corn. I was wishing I had a spoon to slurp up the remaining soup in my bowl because it was so good. As well, each plate was accompanied by a matching wine, described knowledgeably by Sommelier Tegan Schioler.

Taste2: Next was my favorite dish of the evening (helped along by Team Flamer): soya-stained torchon of foie gras with warmed duck confit (see recipe below). Foie gras has grown on me over the years. This one sat precariously on top of a butter-drenched crostini of Brioche.

"Gotta have the butter. You know what, it'll probably kill me someday,
but I'd rather live a short life and a sweet life than a life with no flavour."
– Chef Michael Blackie, from one of his videos
The dish was rich, without being too unctuous, and set off by the greens on the plate. The sugar-torched fig was a soft palate cleanser along with the texturally pleasing cubes of green apple gelée.

Taste3: My team, Team Crack, plated the next dish: crisp-skinned salmon with wasabi crack. This was a gorgeous, stunning dish framed by the black slate. The wasabi crack added mainly color to the plate and not much oomph to the taste. This dish, though pretty, could use a dash of tweaking. At this point I was nourished and satisfied, but there were two more plates to taste! The portions were generous that night.

Taste4: A A A three ways, by Team Ménage, showed off braised short ribs, braised pulled beef cheeks and seared tenderloin. A squeeze from the lime brought out all the flavours in the jus under the rib.

Taste5: Retiring to Le Cafe's dining room, we were served port and coffee along with the final tasting dish (assembled by Team Bush): honeybush semolina spring rolls. Roasted pineapple and banana were blanketed by a crispy wrapper. The cubed mélange of fruit provided the bed for the wrappers, and the banana ice cream sat on top of a sponge disc and was served with an NAC-logo-painted chocolate wafer.

It was a marvellous night. I overheard one of the wait staff say they had never seen so many pictures taken of one dish at one time. Food bloggers have been known to take more photos of food than their children!

The team at NAC plans to start a "Gourmet Staycation" that will replicate the vibe of this evening. I know that will be a hit.

The Question

The success of this evening was due in large part to the participation and novelty of being in the kitchen at the chef's table. Granted, we're all foodies and this was an event that more than satisfied a food blogger's requirements of food, photography and discussion. However, I wonder what happens if you take away the participation. Would the expectations be higher?

Being involved in the event (and no doubt the free-flowing wine) helped this night succeed. The critics' hats came off, and the evening gushed with energy and excitement. It was a magical event, and one not easily duplicated. I hope to return another night and experience the same magic without all the camera clicks and flashes...well, I may have to take one or two photos!

Interview with Chef Matthew Cook

Chef Matthew Cook was the sous chef assigned to my Team Crack. Yes, he's called "Chef Cook". Was it destiny for Matt? I asked him for a brief interview.

Whisk: How long have you worked at NAC?
Chef Matt Cook: I have been working at the NAC for three years.

Whisk: What's the most interesting aspect of your role there?
Chef Matt Cook: One of the most interesting things is creating new dishes for the Fab Five Table d'hôte Menu, which Chef Michael Blackie implemented. The Fab Five is a special menu designed around ideas from the NAC cooks. It has been both fun and inspiring to work with both Sous Chef John Morris and Chef Blackie on this task.

Whisk: What's it like working for Chef Blackie?
Chef Matt Cook: Chef Blackie has a strong vision of what he wants. He is determined to bring out the fullest potential from his team. He brings forth a wide range of knowledge, and I have learned a lot from his highly stylized and modern approach to food. He has high expectations that can prove to be challenging, but with no challenge there would be no progression.

Whisk: Were you destined to be a cook given your last name? Why did you choose a career in the culinary world?
Chef Matt Cook: Haha… I suppose maybe I was. My family was the biggest push for me to pursue cooking. They’ve always enjoyed my food and encouraged me to attend culinary training. I am an aspiring musician and the culinary world gives me another form of creating.

Whisk: Can you give some advice to others who aspire to work in a fast-paced, high-profile kitchen?
Chef Matt Cook: Every kitchen can be very demanding, stressful, and competitive. This is multiplied and more extreme during a typical show rush at Le Café. With a passionate and interested mind this shouldn’t stop someone interested in cooking. Focus, ambition and the love of food are things I would say are essential traits for anyone tempted to enter the culinary world. It’s tough, but the rewards are present in the progress you achieve.


Taste5 at NAC
Chef Michael Blackie and the kitchens in which he's worked
Video of Chef Michael Blackie in action
Café Cam is the live video feed of the pass in the kitchen of the Le Café at the NAC.
Tip: Watch between the hours of 11:00 to 2:00 and 5:00 to 7:00.
MB Cuisine videos 
Sunday Brunch at Le Café ($27.95 per adult)
07 Cabernet Sauvignon, Galilee, Golan Heights, Israel was the best wine of the night. {But I think Le Café has bought up all of Ottawa's supply!}
Lev Berenshteyn, NAC photographer who shared with me some tips about using my flash and pointed me in the direction of a great website about photography: Ken Rockwell
Ottawa food bloggers meet Chef Blackie, an NAC blog post


• Jennifer Covert (@jcovert), eMarketing Officer at NAC
• Natalie Peachy, Marketing Manger at NAC
• NAC (@CanadasNAC)
• NAC Sommelier Tegan Schioler
• Mr. Peter Herndorf, CEO of NAC (who made an appearance to shake everyone's hands and say hello)
• Chef Sharma, Chef Bento, Chef Cook, Chef Morris, and Chef St. Louis

Created with flickr slideshow.

Recipe for Soya-stained torchon of foie gras with warmed duck confit & green apple gelée and sugar torched fig

(This was my favorite dish of the night. We were given all the recipes from the Taste5 event, which was also a nice touch for a bunch of food bloggers!)

Serves 6

Marinating the foie gras

16 oz foie duck liver
10 oz kecap Manis
10 oz yamasa Soya
1 medium onion, sliced
3 fingers ginger, sliced skin on

In a sauté pan with a touch of oil sauté the onion and ginger over high heat until gold brown, transfer to a container along with the kecap manis and soya. Place the whole foie gras in the liquid and allow to marinate for a minimum of 24 hours, refrigerated.

The next day. Remove the foie gras and allow to reach room temperature usually one hour resting. Next using a bamboo skewer or tooth pick de vein the liver. Gently lay each foie gras onto a parchment lined baking tray, pre heat a oven to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Place your foie gras in the oven and allow to warm for no more than 5 minutes this process is to allow the foie gras to cook. Remember Duck liver is 90% fat therefore the liver will dissolve quickly. Depending on your oven this process could take as little as 3 minutes to as much as 8 minutes. A good measure is 10% of the fat from the foie gras will pool around the liver, Quickly transfer the heated foie gras to a freezer and stop the cooking process and allow to rest in the freezer for a minimum 1 hour. Next lay a full sheet of saran wrap down on a flat surface and form an 8-inch long by 2-inch loaf of the cooked foie gras, For this class I have added some of the duck confit from step two enhance the texture of the foie gras torchon.. Ensure to remove any access fat that rendered during the cooking process. Keep this fat for cooking vegetables or searing meats. Roll up the loaf in the plastic wrap like a cigar ensuring to maintain pressure and shape. Twist the ends to seal. Reserve in a freezer until ½ hour prior to plating.

Duck Confit

5 pieces duck legs
4 pieces garlic cloves
4 cups rendered duck fat
2 cups kosher salt
½ cup sugar
1 bunch fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary)
4 to 5 pieces bay leaves

Mix all the spices salt and sugar together and sprinkle them evenly over the legs. You want to press the legs with the dry cure mixture. Pressing the legs means that when you are accelerating the marinating process. Leave in this curing mixture for 24 hours. After this time you can take your duck legs out and rinse them lightly with cold water. Put the duck legs into the rendered duck fat and place in the oven for 2 hours, at 350 degrees. You know when it is done when you can put a knife into the meat and have no resistance.

Green apple gelée and sugar torched fig

1 pieces apples
3 sheet gelatin
1 cup simple syrup (sugar and water mixture)
30 g sugar
2 pc fresh figs

Cut your pealed apples in a fine dice. In a sauté pan give them a quick sauté with some butter to soften them up, pure in a blender. Place in a bowl with the warmed simple syrup and fold in the gelatin sheet. Place on a sheet pan so that you can cut the gelée out. Let sit for 30 minutes in the fridge to set. Heat a pan on medium high heat. Cut your figs into quarters sprinkle with some sugar and touch with a blow torch.

Plate Assembly

1 piece Brioche cooked in a peppercorn tin (sorry no recipe something I keep for myself - Chef Michael Blackie)

Place the torchon in the middle of the plate. With the gelée cut into dice arrange on the plate around the torchon stack. Garnish the top of the torchon with the caramelized fig, finally garnish the plate with some of the baby watercress.

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    kellypea said...

    Definitely a passionate group of people, we! Sounds like a fabulous evening both food & company. How great to be recognized as being influential. It will be interesting to see where the role of the food blogger is in five years...Great write of of the event.

    Barb said...

    Thank you for all the great foodie links! I just signed up by rss to all that had the option on their blogs! I already subscribe to yours. I'm having a $40 CSN Store giveaway right now on my blog if you'd like to participate.

    Malak said...

    Sounds like this was an awesome event! Love the stories and the photos and the interview and the quotes from Chef MB! Great stuff!

    Rachelle said...

    Shari, as usual, your photography is exquisite! Wonderful recap of the entire evening. I love reading everyone's posts and their takeaways.

    As for the twitter comment... guess I should look into that! soon...

    lisa is cooking said...

    How nice of Chef Blackie to suggest food bloggers should be embraced! Sounds like an amazing event.

    EB of SpiceDish said...

    What a fabulous event!! Thanks for sharing. I love the idea that local food bloggers are as important as local food. SO true!

    Lynda said...

    Wow! That sounds like a really fun event. How nice for them to respect the bloggers enough to treat you so well! I love the photos and your descriptions. Everything looks so tasty.

    Manggy said...

    Gosh, I would have loved to taste all those dishes :) Thanks for (the very impressive) recipe!!

    Lana said...

    I loved your write-up and photos. And you even caught the little details like the colourful cutting boards. So great!

    Unknown said...

    Great post Shari! your photos are amazing and I love your interview with Chef Cook. So glad you enjoyed the event.

    Katie said...

    Hello! I LOVE the idea of creating food blog communities! Please check out and add my blog to your list of blogs:

    I started blogging in September 09 - it's become my favourite part of the day!

    Looking forward to some good reading on your blog.

    Moni at

    kingstongirl said...

    love your blog! im doing link love all week and tomorrow i'm listing you!

    The Beached Blonde said...

    while i appreciate food as much as the next person, foie gras is inhumane and despicable i really feel strongly against something like that and hope that everyone would take the time to look up what it actually is and how those ducks become so grossly enlarged by force feeding. i am not a vegetarian but believe if you are going to eat a animal, it should at least have had some sort of decent life span before death. look it up. its brutality and eating it is poison for your soul.