It’s time. It’s been time for a while, but I haven’t been willing to admit it. I haven’t found the right place, the right concept or the right money. I’ve avoided facing it. But no more. It’s been fighting me for such a long time now. The new new thing is upon me. What took me so long?
Real estate gets gobbled up fast in the big city. You look at something, and it’s gone in an instant, likely a new “Blah Electric” serving $9 cans of beer and $6 entrees. More power to them. I won’t get into my thoughts on realtors and how the find me space. Use them to learn the ropes and find space yourself.
Finding the “right money” is tough too. It has to want to help, but not be bossy about things… like having it’s moms’ meatloaf recipe on the menu because “it is the best – ever.” You want win-win money – no regrets on the deal. Everyone being supportive about building something great. Nobody pushing for an liquidation-style exit strategy. Nobody looking for 25% profit margins after 3 months.
Concepts? Too many to list in my head. It’s been a bit of a struggle to get to the point where I’m at now. And it didn’t have to be. But it finally dawned on me. do what you’ve always wanted. Don’t worry about anything else. Focus on the passion. Who wants to open 5 Origin-style 300-seat restaurants, anyway? (Well, someone does).
Where does that leave me? I am going make the kind of food I best like. Food that makes you think. Food that challenges you. Food that tastes so amazing you can’t believe it can exist. Food that brings tears to your eyes. Food that deceives you and puzzles you. Food that you remember for years.
This is the new new thing.
Coming very very soon.
I’m sitting on my couch listening to “The Wreckers”, one of the songs on the Rush’s new album, Clockwork Angels. I’ve listened to it about fifty times in the 36 hours since I got it. I have not found too many things in my 43 years on this planet that I’ve cared about enough to hang onto for more than a few months (my wife would not be thrilled to hear this if she didn’t understand the context). Rush, as it turns out, is one of the those things. Rarely do you find something that speaks to you both intellectually and emotionally – something that can touch your soul – throughout your whole adult life.
Taking on this passion project didn’t happen overnight. It has been brewing for a long time, although I probably didn’t realize it when it first came to me. Perhaps I was trying to redeem myself for being introduced to Geddy Lee at the opening of Splendido restaurant, and being so awestruck, and hammered that I couldn’t think of anything to do except stare as my friend Chuck went on bothering this nice guy trying to have his dinner.
I did a birthday dinner in late spring of 2011 for a friend, whose girlfriend organized it with me. She asked that the food be based on “Buddhism and the wheel of life”. Ok. So what do I know about Buddhism? Not much. I’m an atheist with little or no interest in Eastern-based religion. `It was like asking my cat about calculus. Except my cat has the good sense to just go and poop.
“Duck in the forest” photo by Renee Suen
A few conversations later, I knew one percent more about Buddhism than before. Understanding Buddhism, like any religion, doesn’t happen after a couple of conversations or reading a book. It’s a process that requires dedication to the belief and faith…two things I seem to have left in my other coat. But not wanting to back down from a challenge, I wrapped my head around each concept as best I could, and tried to come up with some dishes that closely approximated them. “The light and the dark” became a cold tuna tartare with red wine poached pears, opposite a roasted halibut loin with white asparagus, potato, lemon, and horseradish cream. “The three evil animals: the cock, the pig and the snake” was a tough one. But it just hit me: Carbonara. It’s close – cocks don’t lay eggs – but we’re splitting hairs now. I also introduced the concept of “Karma” as best I could – spring peas appearing in different forms throughout the meal – whole, puree, marshmallow. I think I got an A on the dinner, even if I still failed Buddhism.
Fast forward to the elBulli tribute dinners. After 3 nights and 23 courses, prepped mostly by myself and with a small service team of 3-4 people, it hit me. If I can deconstruct some ideas like religion, why not music, or fashion (keep your eyes open for this) or anything really – why not? I mentioned it to Alison Fryer at The Cookbook Store. Apparently Geddy Lee’s wife used to rent office space upstairs, so Alison was friendly with them.
“Alison, I want to do this – do you think it would be ok?”
“Probably, but if you want, I can ask him. Just write me an email with what you want to say”.
And there it really began.
I forgot about it for a little while, got busy trying to get a new restaurant open, and all that kind of life-gets-in-the-way stuff. But when I attended the screening of the new movie about how Mugaritz in Spain has a musician write music to describe the food, I got kicked back into gear.
Deconstructing music into food is hard. It’s not just about listening to the piece, or reading the lyrics. It’s much much more. Take a song like “La Villa Strangiato” – 9 minutes, 12 part instrumental based on a nightmare. How do you even begin? There aren’t lyrics. So it’s hard to know where to start. But you collect what you do know. Twelve parts – get the time codes. Read about where the inspiration comes from. Listen to the music. Find out what musicians influenced Rush ( in this case, Raymond Scott – Powerhouse). Try and get some ideas as to what each of the twelve parts mean – even if it’s only to you. It’s based on a nightmare, right? So should we make the dish in all black and white – limiting ourselves to black sesame, squid ink, ash and carbon? There’s a part called “Pape and Danforth” (an intersection in Greektown in Toronto) – so that’s maybe something of Hellenic origin, like lamb and yogurt? And the part called “Monsters” – what could that be? How about a sea creature, like squid tentacles, dyed with beet or spinach juice ? This continues for some time until the madness sets in and then passes.
Then you take a song like “AfterImage”, you find yourself doing something completely different to try and explain death and memory of someone without making the dish morbid or depressing.
Eventually, you settle on some ideas, then you hit the books to see if there are things you can do to further develop ideas. Then you refine a bunch of times. Start testing out concepts and recipes. Get a team together. Then try to pull it off, and hope everyone gets it.
Photo by Renee Suen :: Sifu Renka
Photo by Renee Suen :: Sifu Renka
Photo by Little Baklava :: Little Baklava
Photo by Alexa Clark :: Alexa Clark
Photo by Ivy Knight/Swallow Food
I’ve been pretty thrilled to get involved up with Ivy Knight, Muskoka Brewery and The Grid to develop a new dinner series called “Hidden Kitchen. We’re hosting dinners once a month with various guest chefs, staff and ideas. Most recently, we did a BBQ dinner with Jason Rees of Pork Ninjas competitive BBQ team. His food is super great and it’s always a pleasure to cook with him. My team is pretty kick ass at all my events, and Esther and Kate (pictured above) were no exception, charming the crowd and delivering great service as always. In the end people had a great time and enjoyed some awesome food. More details can be found on Swallow Food.
Welcome to “Toronto : Down Under”, a celebration of Australian Cuisine.
We’re bringing yet another new dining experience to Toronto.
This year, Australia Day falls on Thursday January 26th. On this day in 1788, the First Fleet arrived from England at Sydney Cove to establish the first European Colony in what became New South Wales.
In the lead up to Australia Day 2012, we will be preparing an amazing meal : nine courses of food to celebrate the founding of our friends on the other side of the planet. We’ll be pairing the food with wine, beer, music and fun form Australia! Think Kangaroo. Wattleseed. Lemon Myrtle. Killer Seafood. Wine. Beer. Whiskey.
Luke Hayes-Alexander will be coming down from Kingston for THREE DAYS ONLY to cook some of the great cuisine he experienced on his two week trip to Australia, where he staged in some of the best restaurants in Sydney. Australian John Placko, one of the most knowledgable and skilled modernist chefs in the Toronto will be there. Rounding out the team will be Matt Kantor, of Secret Pickle, Little Kitchen and Ghost Chef.
Our hosts for the evening will be Alison Fryer of The Cookbook Store and Tony Briganti from Rosemill Development.
Luke Hayes-Alexander is the 21 year old Chef of Luke’s Gastronomy in Kingston. He began training himself at the age of 11 and became Chef the day after his 15th birthday. Since then, he has received an extraordinary amount of domestic and international press, including The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Citizen, Canada AM, Toronto Life, The Financial Times and Food and Wine Magazine. He was recently called ‘The Future of Fine Dining’ by Centurion Magazine.
This past September, Luke spent just over 2 weeks in Australia. He performed Stages in, and dined in, some of the country’s finest restaurants. He travelled through the Outback with 3 of Australia’s top Food Critics to be a judge at the legendary Blinman Camp Oven Cook-Off…he was the first Canadian to be invited to this event. CTV News wrote a great feature just before Luke left for ‘down under’.
Luke’s clients hail from all over the world. All comment on the playful, complex juxtapositions on his plates. Luke is just happy to be changing the way people look at food…one plate at a time.
John first came to Canada from his native country of Australia in 1985 for the “Taste of Canada” culinary competition. He also competed successfully in numerous culinary competitions in Australia, won gold at the Culinary Olympics in Germany as team captain of a regional team and was the first chef to represent Australia at the Bocuse D’Or competition in France.
He has worked for the Hilton hotel group, the Hyatt Hotel organization in Mexico as executive chef and opened two new restaurants in Sydney, Australia during his career.
John spent almost 10 years in menu development, as product development manager/executive chef at Cara Operations Ltd. and then as director of culinary development for Prime Restaurants Inc.
With the growing popularity of avant-garde (molecular gastronomy) cuisine, John has been demonstrating the techniques to numerous chef/culinology gatherings over the past 5 years and now runs hands-on workshops on selected weekends for professional chefs. His full time position is as director of culinary excellence at Maple Leaf Foods’ innovation and culinary centre, ThinkFOOD! His best dining experiences ever: El Bulli, Spain and Noma, Denmark.
After 8 Greuling days of prepping, shopping, equipment gathering, service and teardown, I’m beyond thrilled at how well the elBulli tribute dinners went over. A number of people wrote nice articles about the experience which can be found here, here and here. But mostly I’m thrilled at the overwhelming positive feedback from the diners that came directly to me. That we could take on such a difficult task and have it turn into such a great experience is beyond my wildest imagination.
It certainly wouldn’t be possible without the incredible team around me. Most especially to Alison Fryer and Tony Brigante for the venue and support, and John Placko of Maple leaf for getting us all the equipment we needed to run this event, as well as just kicking ass in the kitchen and constantly perfecting the recipes. Michelle Rabin was not only a huge help in the dining room, but also in the kitchen, prep planning, errand running, recipe testing, ideation and general support. Michael Chartrand for showing up early every day and getting all the snacks ready, and Jacquie who, while despite her nagging me over not having liquid nitrogen, gave me ingredients and some helpful advice on pastry. My servers, Wade and Esther, you made a smooth evening possible. And James and Scott, you are the lifeblood of the kitchen. I cannot thank you all enough.
And now it’s time to move on and make some dinners that are even more outrageous and challenging. Stay tuned.
It’s looking like the elBulli imitacio dinners will come in around 23 courses. We’ll be starting in 1991 and moving to 2011. TappanNitro, Liquid Nitrogen, spherical gnocchi and ravioli, cocktails, the works.
The kitchen for the cookbook shop is coming along nicely, it will be a good test to push out all this food. Expect a similar dining experience to elBulli (aside from the drive to get there). We’ll move through snacks, tapas, plates, pre-desserts, desserts and possibly morphs. Cocktails will will be present as will a couple of different wines. Although I think the food tends to prefer whites over reds, we’ll try and have both. No pairings, we’ll just pour what we get. This dinner is really about the food anyway.
The entire evening’s events will be available online during dinner at elbulliTO.com. The site will contain menus, recipes, beverages, and information about elBulli and the team working in Toronto to create this event.
If anyone has an industrial freeze-drier they can loan me, let me know.
Since the Globe and Mail article, I’ve gotten about 1000 requests about the elBulli dinner, so I thought I would write up a little summary on the details and what I’m considering for the dinner.
First of all, the Globe and Mail said eight courses. I don’t know if I’m capable of limiting myself nor my guests to that few, so I think there will be a bunch more. Second, Marc LePine and a couple other folks are doing similar dinners. I’m going to work hard to not duplicate, so that anyone trying to get into all of them will be even more amazed.
As for the event, it will be held on October 24, 25 and 26th in the evenings. I suspect it will start around 7 and go until 11, depending on how many courses and whether everyone arrives on time. The dinner will be held in the kitchen of the Cookbook Shop on Yonge and Cumberland in Yorkville. There are only 12 seats per night, and I expect tickets will go fast. I think they are going on sale for $105.
The dinners will focus on the evolution of elBulli cuisine, starting from the early days (1991) and move quickly into the 1994-2002 era. We’ll do a couple of more recent dishes as well going all the way up to last year. My goal is not only to showcase how elBulli evolved itself over the years, but also showcase some of the breakthrough dishes they created. I’ll be breaking down the menu into the various styles of dishes and explaining what is being done and how it is important. I’m still working on it, there are so many options, I need to line up the entire thing and then scale it down.
Other than that, I’ll announce tickets sometime around September 17th. The best way to stay on top of this is to follow me on twitter at @mattkantor of subscribe to the mailing list (click on the link above that says “Newsletter”).
I’m very much looking forward to this dinner and seeing you many of you lucky ones there.
Sept 6 2011 – Toronto
Toronto’s secret pickle discovered to be a fraud.
Un-named Sources inside the Secret Pickle supper club, founded by Alexa Clark and Matt Kantor, have revealed what rumors have been saying for months: pickles have been absent from plates since the second pickle dinner.
Ms Clark, the cofounder of the successful supper club, could not be reached for comment.
“It is rumored she has left town after these allegations surfaced” , said one ex-secret pickle attendee, who wished to remain nameless. “Ever since the Toorshi pickles appeared at the first two dinners, we haven’t seen anything even slightly pickled. Its like they don’t even believe in vinegar anymore.”
Mr Kantor would only speak through his lawyer, Scott Cosenza:
“My client denies these malicious rumors one hundred percent. While it’s true that we have cut back on pickles in recent events, it’s due to the massive pickle shortage that had plagued Ontario farmers throughout the year. Furthermore, out of respect for the 100 mile diet and the belief that we should work with Ontario produce as much as possible, we have declined offers from the mass-produced pickle farms found in Poland, Israel and Alabama.”
Zane Caplansky, owner Caplansky’s Deli, didn’t appear surprised at this news. “so few people understand the pickle to begin with. I used to think that the Secret Pickle folks did too, but unfortunately, they seem only interested in delighting their customers with all the other less interesting flavour profiles, skipping the sweet and sour combination that makes the great pickle what it is. We may never how they still maintain the great dishes that they have, but I hope that they find their way someday. I have sent them both copies of Save The Deli, a book that will hopefully shed light on their obviously corrupt souls.”
A spokesman for The Crown has denied that any charges are forthcoming.
4 neighbourhoods. 12 nights. 12 guests with 1 menu every night. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. Little Kitchen On The Road.
For three nights at each of four locations, dinner begins at 8pm for 12 lucky diners who have reserved in advance. Expect at least 5 courses. We’ll be serving at a communal table, so we can all share the cuisine and conversation.
Tickets on Sale Sept 17th for Future Stops!
October 3-5 : To be Announced on Sept 17th.
October 24-26 : The Cookbook Store – an Edible Evolution of elBulli, 1983 to 2012
November 14-16 : Olliffe Butcher Shop – Meat and Beer Extravaganza