Greece makes its mark on the Beaches with Trinity Taverna

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Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

It is not often that food has brought me out to the East End, but on this cold blustery night – Yuli and I decided to make the trek to an oasis hidden within a beachfront restaurant property with promises of authentic Greek food stylings. That place was Trinity Taverna.

Owned and operated by Peter Morentzos of Morentzos Restaurant Group and Danny and George Foulidis, the team has spared no expense at making this expansive (600 seated) restaurant with stunning lakefront views pleasing to both the eyes and stomach.

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Upon entry, you’re greeted by bold Mediterranean colours and a gorgeous ceiling made-up from thousands of birch branches, creating a Greek villa feel. The bench seating comes equipped with glorious pillows and a beautiful view of the open-kitchen. Beside the kitchen, you’ll notice the fresh seafood counter, whom Peter Morentzos told us shipped in fresh almost daily. They also have a very expansive wine list, including many Greek wines. If you’re uncertain of which wines to pair or have never had a Greek wine, not to fear — their sommelier is very wise and knowledgeable in all things Greece and wine. For example, he treated us to a beautiful red (Boutari Naoussa Xinomavro), which just made the top 100 of the Wine Enthusiast list.

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Chef Pierre Restivo and his kitchen team turns each ingredient into journey through the roads of Greece. For our appetizers, we were delighted with the Trilogy of Spreads, which included six different tastes such as house-made tzatziki (using a goat-milk yogurt, bringing out a smoothy richness and tang), tarama (smoked salmon, caviar and garlic) and htipiti (feta and spicy red pepper). Each of the dips had their own richness and I was seriously considering asking the kitchen to send me with a vat home. Alas: I did not work up the courage to do so. If only snacking at home could be this — elegant.

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Next up, we were brought out a Lamb Tartare (lean lamb loin, fresh mint, shallots, thai chilli oil and quail’s egg). I have never been much of a tartare fan but thought, when in Rome. So I took a chance on this dish and have been dreaming of it ever since. The kick of the thai chilli oil mixed in with the beautiful fresh taste of tartare. Perfect, especially for a lamb tartare. Something so very rarely seen.

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To balance things out, we tried out their Iceberg and Romaine Slaw where razor-thin cucumbers and julienned iceberg are married together with a sweet, simple white-wine vinegar dressing. The results are light and refreshing.

We decided to take the seafood counter out for a spin, testing out the following hot offerings: Shrimp & Feta, Baked Scallops and their standout trophy dish, the Octopus. The tomato and feta sauce served up with the shrimp was hearty and brilliant. If I’m not mistaken, we scooped up every last bit of the sauce. Now let me tell you about those scallops in three words (and trust me you’ll thank me later): saffron béchamel sauce. If that doesn’t scream to you: get in my mouth, I don’t know what will. But that Octopus – it was glorious. Grilled and prepared with an aged balsamic, it was pretty much everything.

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We also munched on some of my favourite offal meat, sweetbreads. Pan-seared in a lamb stock, white wine reduction and truffle oil, the meat was juicy and tender and packed many of the flavours in. The house-made sausage was up next, delivered with hints of citrus and delicious flavour.

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But let me tell you this: the main dinner offerings is where they win everything. We were treated to a sampling of four dishes: Rabbit Stifatho, Veal Cheek Moussaka, Trinity Taverna GYRO and Pan-Seared Lamb Chops. From these four dishes, the two that stood out to me the most were Rabbit Stifatho and Veal Cheek Moussaka. First things first, the rabbit in a delicious stew of onions, tomato confit and cinnamon. The braise leaves the meat to be tender and the flavouring really comes out in this winter hearty Greek dish. With the Veal Cheek Moussaka, you’re taken into a cosmic heaven of foodie delight with layers of scalloped potatoes, braised and stewed veal cheeks, tomato-confit sauce and eggplant once again in a beautiful béchamel sauce. Decadence at its best.

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A note of advice: leave room for dessert because you will want it and well, by the end of this feast you will be sluggish with so much delicious food. Treat yourself to the wondrous Feta Cheesecake (topped with caramelized figs) or Baklava.

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This restaurant is a perfect escape from the everyday Winter blah’s and also to find your own road to Greece right here in Toronto.

All photos by Yuli Scheidt.

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Winter is coming to Spin Toronto

Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

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When one thinks gourmet, high-end food – one does not think: ping pong club. But Executive Chef Jon Lovett has taken to changing the minds of King West ad execs and ping pong lovers with his beautifully crafted and inventive table treats specifically with his new Fall/Winter offerings.

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With an in-house meat and breads program, one of the dishes that Jon prides himself on is the Charcuterie Plate ($12). All the meats are cured in-house for perfect smoke and great flavouring. Included was a delicious terrine, which made this just a bit fancier than your normal board and some classic crisps with preserves.

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Next up, we were treated to an array of beautiful and fresh Oysters (3 for $8, sourced from Rodney’s Oyster House) and served with a molecular gastronomy technique of hot sauce caviar pearls. This served as an extra little kick but also made for a stunningly gorgeous dish. I mean, how can you go wrong with freshly shucked oysters?

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Now this could only be a treat your grandmother would love but something that the adventurous and willing will try: beet-root flavoured deviled eggs (6 for $9) and let me tell you: they were probably one of my favourite items. But if that wasn’t up your alley (are you crazy) then these lightly battered in-house preserved pickles, deep-fried (of course) would be more your speed. $8/serving and with a wicked Ranch sauce, it was served up like one of the Blooming Onions you would have at the CNE in the Summer.

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Next up we had an impressive take on an old classic: the Chicken and Waffles Platter ($19), only this time we are delighted with a Stuffing Waffle and King Capon drumstick and yams. The chicken was incredible juicy and married well with all these holiday classic flavours, however I still think I prefer the OG Chicken and Waffles Platter. I’m a die-hard Spin Chicken and Waffles girl, what can I say? Chef Jon has always strived to make fun and unique food and this takes the cake.

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I have to say the next two dishes were two of my other favourites from the night: King Capon drumsticks (3 pieces for $12) and the Pretzels Bites with Cheese Sauce (9 pieces for $9). This chicken was off the chain. The sauce was rich and finger lickin’ good. Lots of Asian flavours and honestly, 3 pieces would not be enough for me. I’d want a bucket full! With the pretzel bites, it was squishy and the epic cheese sauce sold the dish. Just enough tang and the pretzel was not overly salty which was perfect.

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SPiN is a great place to let your hair down after a long day at work and take in some good eats, delicious cocktails (might I suggest the BFF or the Gin Blossom, $12.40 for 2oz. of alcohol love) and night to laugh at your pong mishaps.

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Photos: Yuli Scheidt

Gourmet Food & Wine Show is Coming

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Next Thursday (November 14, 2013), the 2013 Gourmet Food and Wine Show kicks off for another year for an entire weekend of all things food and wine. Taking place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, you’ll encounter everything here from wine seminars, cheese tastings and people walking around in bacon costumes. True story.

But the Gourmet Food and Wine Show is more than just a expo of all thing gourmet: it’s more of a mingling party. Down aisle one you’ll find Caesar Clint from Mott’s but if you’re feeing a bit pretentious you might find the boys from BarOne putting on a mixology show and mixing you up a Cosmopolitan. No matter what you’re looking for: this show has your bases covered and let’s your inner food & drink geek come out.

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Be warned: there are crowds at this event, but the wait times are surprisingly short. You can either make a game plan ahead of time or just play it by ear. Either way, wait times are never more than a couple minutes for sampling tickets.

Most importantly: have fun with it and experiment. Last year at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show, I took a Chilean Organic wine tasting class and also tried a Molson Canadian cocktail, which was surprisingly tasty. Don’t stick to the old favourites. Push your boundaries, make new friends and have fun. There are over 1,500 wine, beers and spirits to choose from – so go nuts.

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Tickets often sell out and are limited to those 19 years of age or over. Pricing ranges from $40 (VIP) to $25 (Weekend). Check the website for more details.

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Foodies Gather for 18th Annual Eat to the Beat

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Originally posted to Ama’s twice-weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

Eat to the Beat took place the other week and celebrated its 18th year raising funds and awareness for Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada at the Roy Thompson Hall.

Over 60 world class female chefs from the city of Toronto came out to prepare sweet, savory and sinful dishes for the thousands of foodies who attend the event.  The annual Eat to the Beat event takes place during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and helps attendees see that no one will ever face breast cancer alone.

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No Bull Burgers keeps it fresh, local and organic

Originally posted to Ama’s bi-weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

Sometimes when you’re looking for food, you just want the classic burger & fries. Well guess what Toronto? No Bull Burgers has just what you’re looking for to satisfy that craving and they are doing so without any of the fillers or processed ingredients. Just plain, pure and simple hamburger goodness.

No Bull Burger has been serving customers in the Queen and Parliament area for some time now however co-owner (part of the father/son team) Tony Tsakanikas decided it was time to expand the business and venture into the Upper Beaches area. Just recently, No Bull Burgers opened at 1019 Kingston Road in a bigger, brighter and more family-oriented expansion.

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When I sat down with Tony, he told me: “I just recently punched a home in the area and fell in love with the neighbourhood. There was no doubt in my mind that this area would be the perfect spot for our second location.”

As soon as guests walk through the door, they are treated to a variety of fresh, local and organic burgers prepared and treated on the grill-top. All burgers in the menu come with your choice of toppings (the usual: ketchup, mustard, pickles, etc.) as well as the option for guacamole,caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, and roasted red pepper sauce (all free of charge).

But if that had not sold you on No Bull’s brand of burger offerings, then perhaps their signature burgers like the Redneck ($8.95/burger only), which has beer battered peameal bacon, two types of cheeses, homemade whiskey BBQ sauce and a fresh 4 oz. house-made patty, made fresh with local and organic beef. Topped with lettuce and tomato. When I chatted with Tony about the signature burgers he told me, “A lot of the Signature Burgers came from trial & error over time through development with the staff. Sometimes we’ll change some of the signature burgers up and we’ll have regular customers asking where that burger has gone.” In chatting with Tony, he told me that they are hoping to develop a monthly feature burger, like a Turkey Thanksgiving Burger perhaps. I tried out the Redneck Burger and it was delicious! All the toppings were fresh and the burger was juicy. The biggest highlight was the beer battered peameal. A great burger, in a great spot.

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But if burgers aren’t your thing perhaps, then No Bull has other offerings: poutine (ranging in price between $5-9, you can get everything from Cheeseburger to Pulled Pork) or milkshakes (served up with Kwartha Dairy’s famous ice-cream) or perhaps you’re feeling like sandwich today (brisket and pulled pork on the menu, daily).

All food is made ready to order and takes about 8-12 minutes from time of order. Tony tells me, “Since we’ve opened the new location, we’ve had a really great response. There was a demand for food is this area and now, we’re offering it.” He tells me that with this location since its bigger than the original Queen and Parliament location, people can sit down, relax and enjoy their burgers without hurry.”

Check out No Bull Burgers, one of Toronto’s best kept (burger) secrets.

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Toronto rides ‘Gravy Train’ to first Poutine Festival

Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto is Awesome.

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Just last week, hundreds gathered into the Beer Academy for five hours of all-you-can-eat poutine mayhem dished up by events company Joylister. It was Toronto’s first Poutine Festival and it brought out the curd lover in all.

Five restaurants took place in the first Poutine Festival showcasing all that they had in the fries, curds and gravy combos. Some kept it simple but some went over the top and fabulous. The event was $35 and sold out within 2-minutes of tickets going on sale. For those lucky enough to get in, indulge they did!

 

As we navigated our way through the Beer Academy and made our “Poutine Routine”, we went into the basement to check out Great Burger Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Poutine. This was the one I was simply dying to check out, as I have a thing for rich Indian flavours and disappointed I was not. The sauce was light and creamy and the chicken was juicy & tender. I have always been afraid to try variations of butter chicken anything for fear of the butter chicken sauce being too heavy. But for this portion size, Great Burger Kitchen knocked it out of the park.

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Next up, we saddled up to Coquine Restaurant and their Duck Confit Poutine. Perfectly cooked pieces of duck with perfectly salted fries and brie cheese and gravy. It was like a flavour explosion in my mouth of perfection. All the salty flavours married perfectly together and didn’t overpower. You felt as if you were eating a 5-star French poutine.

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As we made our way upstairs, we noticed that crowds had swelled and it was time for a plan of action. We divided and conquered the lines so first up, we took on Lou Dawg’s BBQ, The Mighty Loutini. This poutine consisted of none-other than pulled pork, which had heaps of it on top. I have had the original Mighty Loutini at Lou Dawg’s but this mini-version did not translate very well. The fries didn’t seem cooked very well and the pulled pork while it was delicious, wasn’t the standard I expect from Lou Dawg’s. The poutine was good but not GREAT. For those who attended Poutine Fest, I would highly recommend going to Lou Dawg’s and having the Mighty Loutini there.

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Next up was the infamous Queen West eatery Poutini’s House of Poutine who was serving up two types of poutine: Traditional and The Works. Since we didn’t come to a Poutine Festival to check out Traditional Poutine, we went with the Works and man, was it good. Topped with huge bacon pieces, sour cream, chives, fries and gravy — it was like eating a big old baked potato. It also kind of reminded me of Lick’s Taters and Cream, only with some gravy. Either way, I was super into it.

After we ate (and drank) our way through the poutine selections, we decided to cast our votes for (as Joylister called it), 2013 Poutine King Champion. Both Yuli and I were split on the vote. She casted a ballot for Coquine Restaurant and their Duck Confit poutine and I was torn between Great Burger Kitchen’s Butter Chicken Poutine and Coquine Restaurant’s offering.

At the end of the night, after all was said and done, Joylister tallied the votes and Coquine Restaurant won out amongst the restaurants for 2013 Poutine King Champion. Joylister has gone on record as stating they will be setting up more food events in the future. Stay tuned to their website.

 

The 2nd Annual Roundhouse Craft Beef Festival

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Toronto has been blessed with having not one but two summer beer festivals this year. However this one on the weekend was strictly dedicated to arts & craft of well, craft brew. The 2nd Annual Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival was a chance for Toronto city patrons to experience some great beers from Ontario craft brewers while soaking up the sunshine.

As Yuli and I decided to head down on Saturday afternoon (contemplating taking a ride on the small gauge steam train outside the Roundhouse, which proceeds from the Craft Beer Festival go to the Toronto Railway Heritage Museum) we were met with some moderate crowds. Nothing too insane for a Saturday afternoon. Entry to the Roundhouse Craft Beer Festival was $10/pre-show including your cup but no tokens. Tokens were sold for $1/each.

We made our way into the grounds and were greeted by some familiar craft brew faces: Steam Whistle, Flying Monkey’s, Amsterdam and Great Lakes Brewery. But a lot of these brewers came ready to impress and were not just hawking their normal brews. Displayed in their tents were feature brews or one-off, experimental brews. For example: Steamwhistle offered up a RoundHouse Rye and Hogsback Brewing had been hawking a pint called the Alohog Coconut Pale Ale.

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Navigating our way through the grounds, we tried to be as adventurous as we possibly could trying Ciders, Apple Lagers and everything under the sun. What we came to notice was that a lot of brewers were offering rare brews, special to this festival and perhaps something that we would never be able to find again in the LCBO or in other establishments (like TALLBOYS). It was like developing a relationship with that brewery in particular. For example: Left Field Brewery had everyone had the festival test-drive one of their more popular brews (a hoppy IPA titled the 6-4-3) and had all those in attendance develop their own rookie playing card. Makes you feel part of the craft beer & Left Field team.

The Roundhouse (part of the Steamwhistle) was a perfect venue for the venue with beautiful views of Toronto and lots of room for people to stretch out under a tree with their poutine for one of the potential food truck vendors (example: Hogtown Smoke or Dobra Jesti).

All in all, the Craft Beer Festival was a great afternoon filled with excellent beers and good times.

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Cool City Oyster Yard Nestles into 99 Sudbury

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Photos by Yuli Scheidt

Originally posted to Ama’s weekly column on Toronto Is Awesome.

Cool City Oyster Yard is now open off to the side of 99 Sudbury. It’s hidden away just far away from Queen West that you feel like you’ve reached a beachside paradise. The restaurant patio is made of reclaimed wood and overhead you are surrounded by big summery umbrellas. If you close your eyes hard enough, you may just think you have reached paradise. But then you’ll hear the chimes of streetcars soon enough to remind you you’re not too far from home.

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Cool City Oyster Yard is the brainchild of Marco Petrucci (El Mocambo) and Executive Chef Michael Pataran (one-time resort chef in the Caribbean). Together they joined forces to bring a space that provided beach-front chic while still providing great eats. This translates in all the little details being taken care of upfront: brown paper being laid down on the tables, bars made up of packing skids and uncovered patios.

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First up, we decided to try the namesake oysters out. Available in seven to nine varieties daily (we were able to try that day Washington’s Kumamoto and Nova Scotia’s Northern Nova at $3.10/each, P.E.I.’s plump Lucky Limes at $2.75 each, Nova Scotia’s Green Gables and New Zealand’s Coromandels at $3.50 each.), dozens are discounted and served on trays. You are served up house-made condiments with your oysters including a Jalapeño lime, Bahamian hot pepper sauce and my favourite, Japanese pickled shallot and cucumber vinaigrette.

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Of the oysters presented that day, our two favourites were the plump and juicy New Zealand Coromandels and the slightly tangy Lucky Limes from PEI. Shucker Misha was quick and efficient at his job, ensuring that no oyster meat was left on the shell thus not making it difficult to slurp back. He was also very entertaining to watch behind the bar, as he took a moment to show off his impressive shucking skills.

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To wash down our oysters, we ordered up some beautiful summer-time drinks: the Pimm’s Cup and the Bahama Mama cocktail, which consisted of pineapple, Malibu and orange (just to name a few). The cocktails on the menu are beautifully executed and well done. They are all excellently paired with the dishes and again pair well with the beachfront vibe. Cocktails are available by the pitcher ($45) along with draught beer. Plus, lots and lots of sake.

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But if oysters aren’t your thing, they offer so much more. Take for example the Hamachi ($21) dish that we ordered up. Served with wasabi peas, rice flake crust, pea puree, snap peas, radish and a pickled cucumber slaw – the dish was fresh, clean and embraced everything about summer. All the flavours sing together and the Hamachi really comes through as the true hero.

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Finally as a final treat to ourselves, we finished off with something that could only be described as simply irresistible: Popcorn Prawns ($16). These plump, battered shrimp from heaven are batter fried covered in a chive aioli and then smoked in lemon salt. As soon as the plate in set down on your table, this scent of deliciousness hits your table and the first bite your take cannot be described. This was probably the best dish I had of the evening.

The patio does tend to become packed quickly, as seating is only for 45-50 people and is weather dependent. But if you’re in the mood for some delicious cocktails and oysters, then head on over to Cool City Oyster Yard.

Interview with Chuck Hughes: Heart of a Chef, Soul of a Seagull

Chef Chuck Hughes photographed by Dominique Lafond

Chef Chuck Hughes photographed by Dominique Lafond

Originally posted on Ama’s weekly Breaking Bread column on Toronto is Awesome

Chuck Hughes is a man who loves food. He also loves making you laugh and showing you a good time in the process. Depending how much Food Network Canada you have watched in your day, you may or may not have become acquainted with this French-Canadian chef’s show, “Chuck’s Day Off”. Well, just recently Chuck released his adaptation of the television series (also titled, Chuck’s Day Off) in book form and I had the chance to speak with him on the phone regarding the book, his travels and life, in general.
The book reads like small window panes into Hughes life, with shout-outs and short stories of important people and situations in his life. One that stood out to me most was his tale of his tattoo artist. As many chefs are covered in tattoos from head to toe, Chuck explained “my artists and I have been friends for just over 20 years. He is someone who means a lot to me and I love cooking for.” Chuck got his first tattoo when he was just 18 years old and from then it became an addiction, with several food tattoos covering his arms too However, his first tattoo was a dedication to his mom.

It was Chuck’s mom who inspired him to go into cooking. He tells me, “My mom is seriously the bomb. I always thought I was going to get into advertising or marketing. But when I was 17 years old, I got my first job in a restaurant. I loved the restaurant and cooking. My mom truly believed in me and pushed me to get into the culinary profession.” Since then, Chuck has had many opportunities to cook in the kitchen for his mom and family, as documented here.

But Chuck’s life has always been a great inspiration in all his dishes. For him, food is the greatest connector of all people. “Food inspires people. Life can be so crazy and complicated. But the one big thing that brings people together and people can communicate through is food,” Chuck tells me with great confidence. So for him, he tries to find comfort wherever possible when he is cooking. For Hughes, food should not be, “elitist or stressful. It should be something that people feel in their hearts. That is the comfort of food.” With this style of cooking, he likes to keep it simple and from the heart, like Chicken Noodle Soup.

But Hughes cannot escape his celebrity chef title, as much he may want to. He was one of the youngest chefs to beat out Bobby Flay on Iron Chef USA. But he is humbled by the title telling me, “if you really watched Iron Chef, they hated that Lobster Poutine and that is what I’m famous for!” with some laughter. “My grandma respects herself and she wouldn’t even eat my poutine”. But after much discussion he tells me that having the title is weird, fun but also really humbling. “Cooking is a lot of things: it could be cooking an egg or making a salad. But through & through, I never aspired to be a celebrity chef and I’m just having fun while I’m here.”

You can pick up Chuck Hughes book now at bookstores across the nation. Or you can catch Chuck flying around the nation in his chef spirit animal form of the seagull, which he explained: “may not be noble, but knows how to hunt, float on water and definitely get free food”.

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Luminato Festival – Future Taste of Toronto at the Kids’ Table

Luminato Festival has always been incredibly great at engaging all aspects of this cultured city: arts, music, fashion and food.  But for the 2013 portion of the festival, they have decided to take their food portion one step further. Throughout the opening weekend (Saturday June 15 and Sunday June 16), the city’s best chefs will be showcasing the diversity of Toronto through a culinary collaborations with youth in our city.

Future Tastes of Toronto: At The Kids’ Table is set to inspire, delight and engage young food lovers.  Luminato Education and Outreach projects has paired together engaged chefs, such as Chef Tom Filippou from Loblaws with students from Gregory Peck school (with many other schools included as well) with intensive workshops, chef-in-the-school visits, rehearsals and training sessions.

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