Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Weczeria reopens on Broadway with a funky new decor

High-end dining pays tribute to its farming roots

In a tiny restaurant just big enough for a handful of tables, Chef Dan Walker of Weczeria Food & Wine developed a national reputation for serving modern French cuisine made from the highest-quality local ingredients. His newspaper ads as well as the photographs on the wall of the restaurant showcase the farmers and ranchers who work so hard to produce the food we enjoy on our plate.

Weczeria is reopening this week in a much larger space at 820 Broadway Avenue, and the décor is a playful tribute to the prairie farm. The restaurant was designed by Adam Pollock, who is also one of the servers, in a style that Dan laughingly describes as modern root cellar. Tiny lights twinkle like fireflies in the canning jars fashioned into chandeliers. Old barn boards and wooden crates provide shelving. The floor is bare concrete and the chairs are upholstered in burlap sack.

It’s a restful space with entertaining touches of whimsy – an elaborate chandelier manufactured from old wine bottles, an owl perched on a fence post, a barbed-wire sculpture.

It’s a big adjustment from a small restaurant with 9 staff to a much larger restaurant with 29 staff, but Chef Dan feels very comfortable with his team of core players.

Tanya, the restaurant manager, used to work at the Spadina Freehouse so she is used to big groups.

Drew Hormell is chef de cuisine. Originally from Newfoundland, he is already adding his own personal touch to the restaurant. A favourite Newfoundland dish, fries with turkey gravy and dressing, will be one of the dishes on offer at the bar. “It’s my comfort food,” he explains, adding that his wife is really pumped to know that the restaurant will be serving “Newfoundland treasure.”

The restaurant comfortably seats 48 to 52 people with additional seating around the large bar in the front of the restaurant.

Old window frames separate the long, narrow space into rooms so that it maintains the intimate feel of the original restaurant.

Weczeria can now serve large parties in the back section while still remaining open with seating for the general public at the front of the restaurant.

At the very back of the restaurant is the wine parlour with a round wooden table that will seat from 4 to 8 people. One wall holds the wine collection while overhead is a chandelier of wine bottles.

The kitchen space is as large as the original restaurant and was humming with activity when I visited.

The menu is posted on a chalkboard and changes regularly to match the food that is currently in season. The wines are all Canadian and one third to one half, such as Joie and Kettle Valley, are special order.

The heavy rains this spring have greatly interfered with Weczeria’s supply of local produce as two of the farms that Chef Dan relies on for the bulk of his vegetables and other produce have been flooded out, and he will have to find new suppliers.

Although the menu does not list any vegetarian dishes, Chef Dan assured me that there will always be a vegetarian dish available. So don’t hesitate to ask for it – maybe we’ll eventually get upgraded to the chalkboard!
Cocktails at the bar
Chef Dan worked with Steve Nydell from 6Twelve Lounge in the Sheraton Cavalier to develop a list with 10 different cocktails, which will be served with an ever-changing variety of small dishes, based on the food that is available in the kitchen.

Reach for the stars
Chef Dan Walker has set his sights on becoming the best restaurant in Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. His polished new restaurant with its quirky touches of Prairie humour is definitely a step in the right direction.

The restaurant will be open for lunch and dinner starting on Thursday, June 30.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 27, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – celebrating locally-grown garlic, locally-roasted coffee, local history and pioneer recipes

We Are Many
We Are Many, a youth-run arts and environmental organization, has set a goal of making Saskatoon garlic self-sufficient by growing up to one million bulbs of garlic within city limits.

Their website explains that local garlic is healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly, and more ethical than our current supply, most of which comes from China.

Marr Residence
The Marr Residence, 326 – 11th Street East, is the oldest building in Saskatoon which is still on its original site. It was built in 1884 by Sandy Marr, and in 1885 it served as a field hospital during the Riel Rebellion. Volunteers offer tours and a variety of different program activities, many of which include food.

Friday, July 1, 1-4:30 pm – an old-fashioned Canada Day celebration with games, entertainment and a chance to be part of the parade. They’ll be serving pioneer jam tarts from the 1880s.

Sunday, July 3, 1-4:30 pm – At 2 pm, Rob Paul will lead a walk along the river. You can make a 3D model or eat a cookie shaped like one of the birds and animals that live along the river.

Sunday, July 10, 1-4:30 pm – Celebrate the 107th birthday of the ice cream cone by decorating a cone-shaped cookie and munching on homemade ice cream.

(Thanks, Margo!)

Museo Coffee
Jimmy Oneschuk, Museo Coffee, is at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market every Saturday and some Wednesdays. Be sure to stop buy and taste his locally-roasted coffee.

Jimmy says that he started roasting his own coffee in order to have control over freshness and flavour as well as the price paid to the farmer and traceability to the farm.

I’ve always said that I didn’t like the taste of coffee, but I like Jimmy’s!

City Perks
City Perks, on 7th Avenue just north of City Hospital, is now open from 7 am to 10 pm Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 10 pm on Saturdays, and from 9 am to 5 pm on Sundays. Their outdoor patio is a great place to enjoy freshly-baked cake or quiche and salad.

Wine Wars
The wine section of the SLGA is an international smorgasbord. Wine Wars by Mike Veseth examines some of the factors that are at play in the global wine market. Who really determines what kind of wine we’ll drink – winery owners, supermarket chains or consumers? An interesting look at the economics of making and selling wine.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

More good food and drink:
     Flavourful Saskatoon June 20, 2011    
     Good Spirit Bakery & Café, Watson
     Morning Bay Winery, Pender Island, BC
     Taj Mahal Restaurant, Saskatoon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Good Spirit Bakery & Café, Watson, SK

There are line-ups every Saturday morning in front of Good Spirit Bakery’s array of organic artisan bread at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

When I heard that Peyton Leavitt and Jonathan Lee had opened a bakery in Watson, I knew it was time to take a drive in the country. And I am very glad I did!

Farm-based business
Peyton and Jonathan own a farm near Naicam. They hoped to raise sheep and goats, but when that didn’t work out, they built a wood-fired oven and started selling bread at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market.

It’s a two-hour journey to Saskatoon from Naicam after a sleepless night spent making bread and that’s extremely tiring, so the couple started looking at other options and finally decided to open a bakery in Watson, 40 kilometers from Humboldt and a local hub for the region.

“We’re still a farm-based business,” says Peyton. “The farm supplies all the meat and eggs, and we’ve planted a huge garden that will soon supply us with fresh produce.”

The couple has worked out a division of labour. Peyton spends her days at the bakery, while Jonathan looks after the farm. Peyton bakes the bread for the Saskatoon market, and Jonathan sells it. But the transition hasn’t been easy. “We’ve always worked together as a couple,” says Peyton. “I’m really homesick for the farm.”

The baker’s son is also a baker
Peyton’s son, Asher Howe, loves good food, so cooking was a natural evolution. He made his first cookbook meal when he was 8.

Asher has been working in construction and renovation right across Western Canada. A few years ago, he decided he would like to contribute to the Good Spirit stand at the market and started making calzones and croissants on an occasional basis. But he loved his work and wasn’t’ ready to become a full-time cook until the opportunity arose to run a family bakery. Now Asher is on board full time and a vital part of the operation.

Charmaine, a Watson local, has become an invaluable addition to the team. Her muffins are so good that they are now her sole responsibility.

Opening a bakery
The first item on the agenda was a complete overhaul of the Watson Bakery. It needed new floors, new walls and a new ceiling. They added large windows on two sides of the building filling the seating area with light. The large old wooden tables, mismatched chairs and stained glass chandeliers, along with the wonderful aroma of fresh-baked bread, create an inviting space.

The large oven, with its many compartments, is out in the open. It’s in constant use all day long as the bakers turn out individual pizzas for the lunch-time crowd, batches of cookies and muffins and racks full of white, whole wheat and multigrain bread.
“We try to have fresh baked goods, still warm from the oven, available all day long,” says Peyton. “We don’t cook everything at once because we want it to be really fresh.”

Peyton and Asher have adjusted their menu to suit their customers. Customers at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market are looking for really healthy, artisan breads. The loaves are crusty and the flavours change every week. The residents of Watson are looking for something a little simpler so that they can make sandwiches for school lunches or toast for breakfast.

But the quality of the baked goods hasn’t changed. The loaves are made with 100% organic flour, honey, olive oil and sea salt. All the bread is started the night before so that it can rise slowly at a cool temperature. The pizzas are made with cold-fermented sourdough and mine was accompanied by a mixed salad topped with fresh berries. Prairie Sun Orchard ice cream is available for dessert.

Saturday brunch
Asher serves an all-day brunch every Saturday, and it sounds fabulous. There is a rotating selection of specialty omelettes, crepes (apple pie, strawberries and cream or spinach and goat cheese) and quiche served with salad, roasted herb potatoes and farm-fresh ham, bacon and eggs.

The most popular item on the menu is the huevos rancheros served with Asher’s homemade mango salsa. All the dishes are vegetarian with a meat option.

Coffee cake and croissants
As I was finishing my lunch, Asher pulled a fragrant coffee cake out of the oven and I took a generous helping home with me.

It was amazing – a rich sour cream, orange-flavoured cake layered with chocolate-almond streusel. It’s a long drive to Watson, but I may have to go back just for another piece of cake.

Asher prides himself on making authentic French croissants. It’s a three-day process as the dough sits overnight before the butter is folded and rolled into the dough four times, resting in the refrigerator between each process. On the third day, the dough is shaped into croissants and then left to rise one last time before going into the oven.

“The secret to great croissants is the layers of butter,” explains Asher. “If you rush, the dough layers aren’t as well separated so you don’t get the same light texture.”

History and crafts
The Watson and District Heritage Museum is housed in a beautifully-restored Canadian Bank of Commerce building, just around the corner from the bakery.

The historical materials are carefully arranged on two floors of the building and set the stage for a grocery store, a hospital ward, a family kitchen and more.

If you leave the bakery and turn in the opposite direction, you’ll find the Wood Bin Gallery with handmade objects created by over 50 local artists.

Location and hours
The Good Spirit Bakery & Café is located at 112 1st Street West, Watson, Saskatchewan, and is open Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and Saturdays from 10 to 4. You can call ahead (to order coffee cake!) at 287-3922.

Good Spirit Bakery, Saskatoon Farmers’ Market

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Shercom Industries, Saskatoon

Turning scrap tires into playgrounds, tennis courts and mulch, mulch more

Picture 80,000 tires cluttering up the landfill. They take up an absurd amount of space. If they catch fire, they smoulder for days. And the tires hold water, promoting mosquitoes and rodents.

Now picture Shane Olson, a local business owner who has been turning tires and waste rubber into useful products for over 15 years. Shercom Industries collects and processes approximately 80,000 tires every month. That’s one and a half million pounds of waste – and not a single pound goes back to the landfill.

The rubber is turned into child-safe paving for children’s playgrounds, into durable paved surfaces for walking trails and tennis courts, into parking curbs, speed bumps, ramps and garden mulch. The steel is recycled, and the nylon fibre is used by the oil industry to clean up oil spills.

That’s pretty impressive.

Too stubborn to quit
Shane Olson grew up on a farm near Melfort and spent a number of years operating the family farm, so he’s no stranger to business. He’s learned how to hang in there when times are tough, how to improvise and how to reach out to new markets. He’s needed all those skills, and then some, as he developed Shercom Industries.

Tire recycling was a brand-new field when Shane started up his business. In fact, for the first few years, he was recycling rubber buffing, a by-product of applying new tread to semi tires. In those early days, the company made wheel chocks and later developed an automotive riser that was distributed nationally by Canadian Tire.

In 1998, the provincial government introduced an environmental levy to encourage tire recycling. Now, Shercom Industries had a steady supply of material, but the specialized equipment required to shred and crumb the tires wasn’t available. Shane improvised, researching the technology, piecing together the necessary equipment, finding the money to buy a second shredder when the first one never worked.

When money got tight, Shane took a welding job on the graveyard shift in order to support his family, while spending the day developing the technology and finding markets for his products. Later, a fire destroyed the plant, just days before they began shipping their product after a major overhaul.

But Shane didn’t quit. “I was too naïve to know what I was getting into and too stubborn to quit,” he says. And that’s fortunate for Saskatoon and Saskatchewan. Shercom Industries now employs 30 people, is building a second manufacturing line and operates a secondary plant in Ontario.

Changing the shape of the tire
Shercom Industries is dedicated to putting recycled rubber to good use in a wide range of different products. “We’re farming tires,” explains Shane. “The true recyclers are the individuals, corporations and municipalities that purchase products made from recycled rubber.”

Consider the tires on your car. They’re tough. They resist extreme heat and extreme cold. But they’re also flexible. Recycling changes the shape of the tire, opening up an ever-expanding range of ways in which the rubber can be put to good use.

The first step in tire recycling is shredding. Shercom Industries has a portable shredder so they can go directly onto a site to clear up landfills or private stock piles, immediately reducing the volume by about 65%. There’s a twofold benefit as you get rid of waste and save on the costs to the environment of hauling large amounts of material from place to place.

Next, the shredded tire is processed into crumb, and the steel and fabric are removed. Shercom Industries produces a range of crumb from very coarse to very fine. The finest crumb is like icing sugar and goes into asphalt paving. Coarse crumb provides a flexible base for children’s playgrounds; there’s lots of give so children won’t hurt themselves if they trip and fall.

Shercom has just purchased state-of-the-art rubber paving machines that are self-propelled and lay down a continuous layer of rubber. The rubber paving provides an ideal surface for walking trails, jogging tracks or tennis courts. It’s permeable so there are no puddles. It’s non-slip; it has some give; and it’s durable.

Shercom Industries paved their first driveway in 1998. “It doesn’t have a crack in it to this day,” says Garry Gelech, Shercom’s General Manager.

Rubber Mulch
Shercom Industries is constantly expanding its range in order to provide products at all different value levels. The new manufacturing line will screen, colour and bag the crumb for use as garden mulch.

The mulch is available in four different colours. It’s non-toxic, deters insects and rodents, drains rapidly, resists mold and doesn’t compact.

Curbs, Ramps and Tiles
Shercom products can be used by families, businesses or municipalities. Recycled rubber ramps come in various heights, providing easy access for everything from wheelchairs to lawn mowers to trucks.

Rubber parking curbs weigh 40 pounds; concrete curbs weigh 200. They’re easy to install, environmentally-friendly and come equipped with high-visibility reflective tape.

Interlocking tiles are easy to install over existing hard surfaces.

Home-grown solution
Shercom Industries not only collects our garbage – they transform it into useful products. And they’re local. “Working with communities, corporations and consumers,” says Shane Olson, “we can provide a home-grown solution to recycling all the scrap tires in the province and provide cost-effective, valued-added products.”

Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2011 issue of Fine Lifestyles Saskatoon. It's not a food story, but I was impressed by Shane's determination and by the important role he was playing in recycling and reusing a waste material.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas Luzón

A Proud History
The original owner of Bodegas Luzón was a medical officer on the island of Luzón in the Philippines during the Spanish Armada. When he returned home, he purchased land just outside the town of Jumilla and opened a winery. His home is now the central core of a large, modern winery, indicative of the winery’s respect for its history even as it expands boldly into the future.

The winery was purchased by the Fuertes Group in 2005, and they undertook an extensive modernization and expansion program.

The blend of old and new is fascinating. There is an old wine cellar, which was originally used to store bulk wine. It’s below ground with natural temperature control, but it’s so tightly spaced that barrels can only be moved manually. In contrast, the new cellar is much more functional, but it requires air conditioning. There is a total of 45,000 barrels in the two cellars.

Linking the two cellars is a long, long hallway lined with 200,000 bottles of wine that are aging. In an adjoining room is a wine library (“our memory”) holding samples of all the wines they have produced over the years.

Pride of Place
Jumilla is surrounded by mountains, and the best wines come from the higher-altitude vineyards. Hence the name of one of Luzón’s signature wines – Altos de Luzón.

The winery has two separate winemaking facilities, with the Nave de Altos dedicated to making wine from the highest-quality grapes. The grapes are picked by hand, delivered to the winery in 15 kilo. baskets and then sorted by hand so that each grape is still whole when it goes into the fermentation tank. The winery also maintains separate tanks for different fields, and specialized presses ensure that each wine can be treated individually.

In addition to their own vineyards, Bodegas Luzón purchases grapes from local farmers who are paid based on quality. The grapes are closely inspected by a machine that takes measurements at several levels within each truckload of grapes as well as by digital and infrared camera.

The very best grapes are used in Luzón’s wines. Lower-quality grapes are sold as bulk wine. If the harvest one year is extremely poor, the winery will not issue a wine that year, preferring to skip a year rather than to sell wine that doesn’t live up to their standards.

Balance and Respect
Luis Sanchez Sanchez, the bodega’s winemaker, introduced me to each of his wines. I wish that I could reproduce the conversation as I learnt so much about the art of making wine.

Two basic principles form the foundation for his work. First and foremost is respect for the grape and the unique characteristics of each varietal. That understanding and appreciation of the grape enables Luis to balance and blend the grapes for maximum enjoyment.

I believe that Luis is a native of Jumilla, and I sensed that he was justifiably proud of Monastrell, the native grape. But he also recognized that consumers need something familiar that they can recognize and that will introduce them to a wine. As a result, Altos de Luzón is a blend with 50% Monastrell, 25% Tempranillo and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Luis explained that the Monastrell is unique to this region and a response to the local climate, while the cabernet sauvignon adds structure. The Tempranillo balances the Monastrell and the Cabernet, adding fruit and finesse to the final product. The wine is aged for 12 months in 55% French and 45% American oak.

The dry climate and inorganic soil are ideal for organic wines. Luzon currently makes an organic wine that is 100% monastrell. The wine is from young vines in a new vineyard as that was the simplest way to obtain organic certification.

Plans are underway to grow organic Syrah, which Luis believes is the perfect match for the Monastrell. I look forward to trying it as I am coming to believe that blended wines are preferable as they permit the winemaker to highlight the best qualities of each varietal.

I enjoy Luzon’s Dulce wine, which is made from 100% Monastrell grapes that have been harvested late for maximum sweetness. There is no added sugar, and it is aged for 9 months, resulting in a rich, complex wine that is not overly sweet.

Luis says that sweet wines should always be served cold, straight from the refrigerator.

I visited 9 wineries while I was in Spain, and I learnt a great deal about winemaking, but I learnt even more about my own personal taste. When I open a single bottle at a time, I may be able to tell you what I like or dislike, but it’s not until I’ve compared one wine with another that I begin to appreciate some of the differences.

There are so many different factors that influence the final product – the grape varietal, the season, the type of aging, the blending. And it’s only by tasting a number of wines, side by side, that you can begin to understand how each of these factors influences the taste of the wine.

If you enjoy wine, attend a tasting, so that you can compare a young wine to an older wine or one blend to another. Best of all, choose a tasting where the winemaker or company representative is present so that he or she can explain the background of the grapes and the wine.

Thank You
I was amazingly fortunate to be accompanied on my tour of Bodegas Luzón by Francisco Martínez, General Manager; Luis Sanchez Sanchez, winemaker; Isidoro Pérez de Tudela Guirao, Export Manager; and Patricia Nazaré. My heartfelt thanks. I only hope that my words do justice to your wines.

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 years of growing grapes and making wine

Monday, June 20, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 20, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – Eastview Bakery, London Porter, beer and brunch, rhubarb and sorrel

Beers and Ales Newsletter
Cava Fine Wines and Spirits is building an extension to house an expanded collection of beer and ale. They’ll be launching a beers and ales newsletter in July to feature new arrivals and to encourage feedback and suggestions for new products.

Email to sign up for the newsletter.

London Porter from Paddock Wood
Speaking of beer, I visited Paddock Wood Brewery this past week and picked up a few beers, the perfect beverage on a hot day. I really enjoy their London Porter, a dark ale with a smooth, rich chocolate flavour.

According to Londonist’s History of London Porter, there’s a lot of confusion about the origins of London Porter. We do know that it was first brewed in London at the start of the 18th century and was extremely popular. It was “either named after the porters who loved it so much, or after the fact that it was ‘portered’ around in pewter vessels by pot-boys who would have delivered it to homes and businesses. Whatever the truth, both aforementioned types of labourer would have benefited from this healthy beverage, which enabled ‘London Porter drinkers to undergo tasks which ten gin drinkers would sink under.’”

Eastview Bakery & Bistro
There’s a new bakery in town – the Eastview Bakery & Bistro at 3010 Arlington Avenue. Erla Campbell, owner, says that the cinnamon buns and cupcakes (iced by her daughter) are two of the most popular items.

There’s a large seating area where you can enjoy a tea or coffee. The bakery is only 3 weeks old, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Cava Caffe
Cava Caffe, next door to the Saskatoon Farmers' Market, is open for Sunday brunch during the summer. The menu includes breakfast sandwiches, Belgian waffles and frittatas.

Spring Sours
I love the tart flavour of rhubarb, and every spring I make rhubarb crisp. But this year I also followed a recipe in the spring issue of The Vegetarian Times and added some sliced rhubarb and raisins to a curried lentil stew. It was an excellent combination of sweet, sour and spicy.

Greek avgolemono soup traditionally relies on lemon juice for its fresh, tangy flavour. But I used sorrel from La Plaine Trail at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market instead. It was wonderful as the sorrel melts into the broth and pairs up well with the strands of egg.

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Flavourful Saskatoon June 13, 2011

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Architecture of a Meal

“You are invited to an evening of dining and conversation inspired by the creative genius of Zaha Hadid, Architect.”

I was surprised and delighted to be invited to a dinner party at Cathy Engel’s house with an architectural theme. At first, the twin themes of architecture and food appeared to be miles apart. But then I changed my mind.

What is architecture?
Wikipedia defines architecture, in part, as follows: “Architecture is both the process and product of planning, designing and constructing form, space and ambience that reflect functional, technical, social, environmental, and aesthetic considerations. It requires the creative manipulation and coordination of material, technology, light and shadow.”

Organizing a dinner party involves many of the same functions. You need to decide who to invite and how they will get along together. You plan a menu in terms of taste, appearance, culture, social expectations and availability. You set the table and establish the environment (lighting, music, furniture, dishes). Finally, at the end of the evening, you survey the remains and try to determine the success or failure of your dinner party.

Zaha Hadid
Cathy Engel was browsing through her husband’s architecture books, trying to decide on a theme for her next dinner party, when she came across a book about Zaha Hadid. Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and educated in England. She is the first woman architect to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an international award honouring a living architect for significant and consistent contributions to humanity and the built environment. Her firm is located in London, England, and has over 350 employees. She works on architectural projects around the world.

“She’s over 60, and she’s just hitting her stride,” says Cathy. “That’s very inspirational.”

Hadid is a proponent of deconstructivism, “an architectural style which contradicts the conventional methods of architecture to create a structure, which though aesthetically odd is functionally equivalent to the buildings made by general methods. . . . Deconstructivism focuses on changing the conventional rectilinear lines of a normal architectural building into non-rectilinear lines, transforming the external features of the building into distorted shapes and fragmented features.” (Bright Hub website)

Hadid’s website explains that her work integrates the natural landscape and geography with human-made systems through experimentation with cutting-edge technologies. It has been “hailed as architecture that transforms our vision of the future with new spatial concepts and bold, visionary forms.”

The meal
Cathy based each course of the dinner menu on a different architectural work by Zaha Hadid.

The first course was soup based on Malevich’s Tectonic. Malevich was an artist-philosopher who emphasized heavy black objects floating over lighter white objects. Hadid’s design, which includes a habitable bridge over the River Thames, uses technology to defy nature. (I was unable to find a good photograph of Malevich’s Tectonic; this graphic is of a Habitable Bridge design, again over the River Thames.)

The salad course was based on Monsoon, a restaurant that was designed to integrate the opposing concepts of fire and ice. In the salad, the tomatoes represent fire while the buffalo mozzarella balls represent ice.

The J.S. Bach Chamber Music Hall in Manchester, England, was designed to house solo performances of Bach’s music. Swirling ribbons wrap around the audience creating fluid spaces that merge and spill into each other as a “response to the intricate relationships of Bach’s harmonies.” The daikon radish strip around my Portobello mushroom (others ate steak) reminded us of a mobius strip, and it was illumined from below by a small tea lamp.

The dessert represents a deconstructed vision of Madrid’s central business district. Again, I couldn’t find a photo of the appropriate work, but I felt that this proposal for the Cardiff Bay Opera House contained a similar approach with geometrical objects abutting one another.

Standing ovation
Cathy’s architectural meal was greatly enjoyed by all of us who had the good fortune to be invited. I was far more aware of the shapes and patterns in the food, and we were never at a lost for a topic of conversation as we eagerly anticipated each course as it emerged from the kitchen.

Thank you, Cathy, for a great meal. I learned a great deal about both architecture and food.

Cathy Engel is the manager of the Bulk Cheese Warehouse, and she loves cheese.

The architectural photographs are from Zaha Hadid’s website.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wines of Jumilla: Bodegas San Isidro

Bodegas San Isidro is the first and largest wine cooperative in Jumilla. And it’s huge. Canadian wineries are minuscule in comparison.

The cooperative, which was formed in 1934 as the Sindicato Agricola El Progreso and renamed in 1943, has 600 members. They produce 8 million bottles of wine a year as well as selling wine in bulk. There are 700 tanks holding between 20,000 and 2 million litres of wine each. There are 3000 barrels in the cellar, and even the barrels are huge!

It’s hard to imagine overseeing such a huge operation that stretches from the fields to the production and aging facilities and involves so many different players. And yet, San Isidro strives for quality just as much as the smallest artisan winery.

They proudly report that King Juan Carlos used to enjoy a bottle of their Sabatacha wine when he was serving in the Spanish navy in nearby Alicante. In fact, Sabatacha became a code word that he used to organize get-togethers with his friends (sabado – tarde – chateo, which means Saturday afternoon get-together).

Quality control
Quality is the underlying principle guiding all the winery’s activities.

The cooperative has a team of inspectors who visit each of the farms and evaluate the site and the vines. The inspectors determine the harvest date, and it is the bodega which groups together grapes of similar quality and characteristics.

The very best grapes are reserved for San Isidro’s premier label – Gemini (original name of Jumilla). The Gemini grapes are sorted and processed separately from all the other grapes. There is even a separate Gemini cellar.

BSI uses a great many concrete storage tanks, as do many other Spanish wineries. It’s interesting to note that some North American wineries are now introducing concrete tanks after relying for many years on stainless steel tanks.

One advantage of concrete tanks, which is particularly important in a hot country such as Spain, is that concrete will maintain a constant temperature.

The cellar
Walking up the aisles, I crane my neck and am amazed by the sheer quantity of wine that is produced. But it’s not until I enter the cellar that I sense the true spirit of the winery. The air is rich with the aroma of aging wine, and the oak barrels are both familiar and exotic. I linger, marvelling at how such simple ingredients – grapes and wooden barrels – lend themselves to the complexity and variety of the wine.

Bodegas San Isidro exports approximately 40% of its wine although that percentage is increasing due to Spain’s economic crisis. The winery has a line of organic Sabatacha wines, which are sold primarily in France and Germany. Lacrima Christi is a sweet dessert wine of Monastrell grapes that has been aged for 10 years in (enormous) oak barrels.

The cooperative also processes olive oil, collecting both grapes and olives from its members.

Jumilla’s economy
The size of Bodegas San Isidro reinforced for me the importance of winemaking to the economy of Jumilla. 600 farmers and their families rely on Bodegas San Isidro for their livelihood. And there are over 40 other wineries in this region. For this community, wine is not a luxury – it’s a way of life – and they work very hard to support and maintain the industry while also respecting the grape and the wine, both of which have a life of their own. It’s not a routine office job. It requires courage, patience and passion to work in harmony with the weather, the soil, the vines, in the hopes of creating a superior wine that people around the world will enjoy.

Thank you
My thanks to Magui Gomez Gomez, Director of Enotourism, for her hospitality. Her warmth and enthusiasm are memories that I cherish.

Jumilla, Spain: 5,000 Years of Growing Grapes and Making Wine

Monday, June 13, 2011

Flavourful Saskatoon, June 13, 2011

Foodie news and events in and around Saskatoon – Winey Wednesdays, harvesting fruit trees, lunch-time concerts, Sunday markets, public spaces

Calories Restaurant
Calories has been one of my favourite restaurants ever since it opened. And you can drop by for a drink (or dessert!) as well as a full meal. They have an outstanding wine list, and Mike is extremely knowledgeable about each of the wines and the wineries.

On Mixed up Mondays, cocktails (margaritas, martinis, mixed drinks) are only $6 when you order an appetizer. Tap into Tuesdays offers $5 pints and $10 burgers or beer-based tapas. And my personal favourite, Winey Wednesdays offers 10% off all wines and 2 for 1 pizza fritta. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a taste of a new offering. The Spanish rosado that I tried last week was excellent!

Out Of Your Tree in Saskatoon
Out Of Your Tree in Saskatoon, a fruit harvesting co-op currently focusing on North Park Richmond Heights, is an urban fruit sharing group.

Fruit is harvested cooperatively rather than going to waste. A group of volunteers harvests the fruit: one third is left with the home owner, one third is donated and one third is kept by the volunteers. The group is looking for volunteers and for home owners with fruit or other produce to share.

For more information, call Danae at 664-2857 or email

Sushiro Fiddleheads
Sushiro has tempura fiddleheads – what a great way to serve a seasonal treat! (a full story about Sushiro and their upcoming wine and tapas bar coming up shortly!)

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market
The Saskatoon Farmers’ Market is now open on Sundays from 10 am to 3 pm. It sounds like there are lots of activities for kids (not to mention the great playground across the street).

There are exercise classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 9:30 to 10:30 during June and July.

Summer story time for children (toddlers to grade 2) is Wednesdays from 11 to noon and runs from June 15 to August 31.

The Spacing Road Show – Celebrating Saskatoon’s Top Public Spaces, 7 pm, June 20, Remai Arts Centre (Backstage)
Spacing magazine is on a cross-Canada road tour to celebrate the publication of its first national magazine featuring Canada’s 100 best public spaces in large cities.

On June 20, Matthew Blackett, the magazine’s creative director, will be joined by local urbanists Jyhling Lee, Mairin Loewen and Ryan Walker for a discussion on the top five Saskatoon public spaces featured in the national issue.

Cost is $5 and you receive a copy of the magazine. (I took a look at it on Saturday at McNally Robinson, and it’s beautifully designed and more like a book than a magazine.) The event is hosted by Great Places Saskatoon.

Broadway Art Fest, June 25, 10 am – 5 pm
Broadway Art Fest celebrates Saskatoon’s visual arts community by showcasing local artists, artwork and art organizations. Participants will have an opportunity to observe, buy, discuss and even create art. In addition, there will be a sidewalk sale, a silent auction and the debut of Broadway’s Live at Lunch.

Live at Lunch Summer Concert Series, Broadway Avenue
The Broadway Business Improvement District is hosting live music concerts and a hamburger barbecue and prizes every Friday during July and August from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

Amore and Amaretti
I have spent a weekend in Tuscany – soaking up the sun, luxuriating in sun-ripe tomatoes and a never-ending flow of Chianti, mesmerized by charismatic Italian men. Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford is a delightful escape – perfect summertime reading (and lots of recipes).

Flavourful Saskatoon is a weekly Monday feature. Email me if you have products, events or places that you would like me to include.

Flavourful Saskatoon June 6, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Renee Kohlman: sweetsugarbean

The art of food – from gardening and cooking to blogging and photography

Food is such a sensual pleasure. My mouth starts to water as I read about rich chocolate desserts or admire a photograph of a plate heaped high with fruits and vegetables. So it’s no surprise that food blogs are popular.

Renee Kohlman’s blog, sweetsugarbean, is delicious. Renee loves desserts so she appeals to anyone with a sweet tooth. She’s also a strong believer in using fresh, local produce and is a regular shopper at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Her enthusiasm and enjoyment of all life has to offer is contagious, and she’s a wonderful photographer.

The fine art of cooking
Renee grew up in Saskatchewan moving to Montreal to attend art school at Concordia University.

Now came the tough part – finding a job. Renee wanted something creative, that she could feel passionate about. She wanted to enjoy life as well as earn a living.

Renee had always loved to cook so when a friend suggested cooking school, it made a lot of sense and she thoroughly enjoyed her two years at NAIT in Edmonton.

Heading north
Renee’s first job was at a wilderness fishing camp in the Yukon, and she spent four summers there cooking for a staff of 16 to 30 people. “The Yukon is magic,” says Renee. “Go at the end of August or the beginning of September when the bugs are gone. The colours and the northern lights are amazing.”

Renee then moved on to a full-time job at The Arbour Restaurant & Tea Room in Edmonton’s Rutherford House and enjoyed the creativity and independence of developing the lunch and high tea menu.

Renee was at The Arbour for four and a half years, but family ties were calling her home to Saskatoon.

Moving home
Three years ago, Renee purchased her brother’s house in Pleasant Hill, just a few blocks away from her mother’s house. Her sister was having a baby, and her brother lived nearby. It was good to be home and surrounded by family.

Renee soon settled into a job as executive chef for a local catering company. She planted a big garden this spring and, although she enjoys the occasional trip back to Edmonton, Saskatoon is definitely home.

Writing about food
Given Renee’s degree in Fine Arts, it’s not surprising that her enjoyment of food has expanded to include a blog. The primary hurdle was feeling more comfortable at the computer, but once sweetsugarbean was up and running in January 2011, Renee added a Facebook page.

I shamefully admitted that I enjoyed Renee’s blog but was unlikely to make any of the recipes. Renee reassured me by saying that food blog readers rarely make the recipes. They enjoy looking at the photographs and following people’s lives. As a result, Renee always tries to provide some back story about what’s going on in her life so that people can feel connected.

Renee says that about half her followers on Facebook are friends while the other half are strangers who are becoming friends. “It’s really neat to get comments,” says Renee. “You develop a rapport.”

The majority of Renee’s posts are recipes, but every few months she posts a restaurant review, and she includes some additional information and sneak peeks on her Facebook page.

Food photography
Renee says she has an idea in her mind of what she wants her photographs to look like, but she may take as many as 150 shots to come up with 6 or 7 shots for her blog. She has successfully submitted a number of photographs to Tastespotting, an extremely popular food photography site.

(A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reports that TasteSpotting receives over 5 million clicks each month and the site receives as many as 1,000 submissions a day.)

Renee enjoys blogging and reading other people’s blogs. And occasionally she weaves a dream of making it big like Julie Powell (Julie Julia) or The Pioneer Woman whose food blog has turned into a book and a movie. “She’s just a Mum with four kids in Oklahoma, but now she’s a millionaire,” exclaims Renee.

My dream is a little simpler. I hope that one day I’ll actually eat one of Renee’s amazing desserts. In the meantime, I’ll drool over the photographs.

Postscript: From Blogs to Books, a recent post on The Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog, is an interesting account of what it takes to turn your blog into a book.

Photos by Renee Kohlman: Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango and Black Beans, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, Red Velvet Cupcakes

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

La Formatgeria la Seu

Tucked away in one of the narrow alleys that weave their way through Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a tiny cheese store, La Formatgeria la Seu, that has developed a devoted following.

The store opened in 2000 on the site of one of Barcelona’s first butter-making factories. The owner, Katherine McLaughlin, formerly of Scotland, has travelled all over rural Spain, visiting farms and getting to know traditional cheesemakers.

Farmhouse cheeses
The store carries 20 to 25 farmhouse cheeses from small producers. The number varies, depending on the season and the availability. Katherine only purchases what she believes is good in terms of each cheese and its maturing age. For example, the Manchego has been aged for at least 6 months and must be unpasteurized.

I lunched on Queso de la Serena, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese from Extremadura in southeast Spain. It was wonderful – runny and creamy with a sour note that gave it personality.

La Formatgeria la Seu offers tastings by appointment for small groups of 1 to 8 people on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Bar Zim
Katherine, in partnership with her sister Mary and Francesc Mas Gutierrez, has recently opened a small wine bar next door to La Formatgeria. Bar Zim is a tiny bar with a huge personality and, if their choice of wine is anywhere near as good as Katherine’s choice of cheese, it must be extraordinary.

La Formatgeria la Seu personifies so many of the values that I believe in. Katherine loves cheese and she has taken the time to know and understand the cheese-making process throughout Spain. Katherine knows each of the cheesemakers by name.

The store may be small with a limited number of cheeses, but each one of them is excellent.

Thank you, Katherine, for telling me about your store and sharing some of your cheeses with me. I only wish that we had a similar store where I live.

Click on the following photograph for a slideshow of Barcelona architecture:
Barcelona Architecture