behind taste canoe:
july to sept 2021
An in-depth look at bringing a nine-course tasting menu to life
Please note: Although this tasting menu is no longer available, we invite you to try our newest Taste Canoe experience.
a new beginning
A lot happened before we reopened our doors to (what we hope will soon be) a post-pandemic world: a top-to-bottom renovation in January 2020, three lockdowns, a summer rendezvous of Auberge avec Canoe, and takeaway services with Canoe at Home and Cellar54. Today, our front- and back-of-house teams, and you — our beloved guests — are finally reunited under one roof. And it feels so unbelievably good.
The last year and a half has given us the opportunity to reflect and instill renewed appreciation for our spectacular surroundings. We are full of gratitude for the unwavering support from families, friends, and guests alike who have helped navigate us to where we are today. It has also been a testament to our resilience, as we’ve harnessed these deeply moving emotions and channeled them into our drive to continue delivering remarkable service every day.
We are fiercely proud of and stand behind our Canadian suppliers and partners. We believe, to our core, in supporting local, which — to us at Canoe — stretches beyond Ontario’s borders and encompasses the rich flora and fauna found coast to coast.
Since he first stepped through Canoe’s doors, Executive Chef Ron McKinlay has been dedicated to showcasing the breadth of our country’s earth-grown riches and pushing the boundaries of what was traditionally viewed as Canadian cuisine. By applying the classical culinary techniques they’ve each acquired abroad to the finest raw ingredients curated across the country, our TASTE CANOE MENU is truly a culinary exploration and expression of Canada’s bounty.
Jump to course:
Oyster | Roasted Scallop | Crab Porridge | Nose to Tail | Halibut | Surf + Turf | Honey + Hay | Petit Fours
The tasting menu begins with a gently fried East Coast oyster nestled on a bed of bison tartare. Sustainably raised in Alberta with no added growth hormones, and brought into Canoe by Ontario Harvest, Spring Bank Bison encourages pasture breeding and minimal human interaction with this revered animal, whose hunting is steeped in Indigenous food history.
Harnessing maple’s lesser-known sister, birch, Chef McKinlay uses the syrup tapped from this northern foliage to create a savoury base to cure the bison. Adding a depth of flavour unlike other tree sap, birch syrup offers an almost bitter minerality, lending an added savoury layer to proteins.
On a personal level, birch syrup holds a special place in Chef McKinlay’s heart — it’s the key ingredient that helped land his job atop the 54th floor. Having only tasted it for the very first time on the morning of his interview with Chef Horne, Chef McKinlay whipped together two dishes incorporating this dark golden liquid and secured his job as the new Chef de Cuisine, and now Executive Chef. Supplied by Jonathan and Dyson Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods — a multi-generational family run business of foragers based in Ontario — birch syrup is now a Canoe kitchen staple in brines, cures, and glazes.
The second course on the tasting menu pays homage to the rich oceanic flavours of Atlantic Canada. Found in the cold, crisp waters of the Maritimes, these bountiful bivalves are harvested off the coast of St. John’s. Some shipments, if we’re lucky, are supplied by Newfoundland hand divers. A labour-intensive endeavour, these scallops are hand-picked from the surrounding marine environment in an effort to minimize disruption to the delicate underwater ecosystem.
Roasted whole with just a touch of butter to highlight the natural, clean flavours, the scallop is complemented by a layer of sea lettuce emulsion and topped with a flavour-packed Canadian XO vinaigrette. Brought to us by Nova Scotia’s FD Wild Foods, sea lettuce is an edible type of green algae, grown at or near the surface of the ocean. With a distinctive leafy-edged appearance, it is typically found on rocks along the coastline and offers to dishes a tender, briny hint of flavour. Whether dried and pulverized into a salty powder, or reconstituted and whipped into a bright green emulsion, this nutrient-rich sea vegetable lends a distinctly East Coast flavour to this course.
Having first emerged on the fine-dining scene in Hong Kong in the early 1980s, XO sauce features an umami bomb of dried seafood, aged ham, chili peppers, onion, and garlic. As the pricey and coveted beverage du jour among the well-heeled and wealthy, “XO” — an aging designation common given to extra old Cognac — was once colloquially used in reference to luxury, prestige, and that little “extra”. And so the staple ‘80s luxe condiment was born, eventually trickling down onto restaurant tabletops around and across the Pacific.
Featuring an all-Canadian line-up of ingredients sourced from coast to coast, this prized condiment is kicked up an extra notch by Executive Sous Chef Des Murphy, who has reinvented this sweet, smoky, and salty classic with a killer combination of local fare: Ontario shrimp, dried East Coast scallops, sea lettuce powder, house-cured Ontario Tamworth pancetta, and a variety of other housemade vinegars derived from Canadian seaweeds.
Marrying traditional dishes and cooking techniques, while showcasing the terroir of Canadian ingredients, is quintessentially Canoe.
A juxtaposition of techniques and textures, the third course is a special blend of land and sea flavours. Wild rice, naked oats, sunflower seeds, and ancient grains — purveyed by award-winning local Ontario food distributor 100km Foods — are folded in with Dungeness crab from the Pacific Coast. From its tender meat to its spiny shells, every inch of the crustacean is used — from boiling down for stock, to blending into a butter, to pressing into an oil. Dotted with daylilies — floral buds picked in Toronto, then preserved and pickled in 2019 — this bowl’s hearty flavour profile is accented by fragrant tartness.
Finally, the crown jewel: a crab albufera. A classic derived from one of Escoffier’s five mother sauces, this decadent Quebec foie gras sauce is combined with crab stock and a wine reduction. With calculated precision, it is loaded into an espuma (a foam canister gun) and aerated into a light and foamy texture. Enveloping the dish with richness, this flavourful froth is intended to be savoured with every spoonful of porridge. And what we are left with is a shining example of a technically modernized classical French dish that showcases the best of Canada’s terroir.
In the spirit of pushing creativity and culinary boundaries with Canada’s finest ingredients, the fourth course is another homage to the classical training Chef McKinlay acquired during his European and Australian tours. The butchery skills and breadth of knowledge required to create something from nothing, with no waste, is a nod to Chef’s ability to innovate, create, and celebrate the natural bounty around him. From spoots in Scotland, to kangaroo and finger limes down under, the most important lessons he learned after encountering and cooking some of the most unique local ingredients during his travels were that “techniques stay with you ― ingredients don’t.” Seizing the opportunity to showcase the best of Canada, with years of global training under his belt, has ultimately culminated in this dish: Nose to Tail.
Every single element of the Ontario Tamworth pig is respectfully used. You can find Chef McKinlay carefully crafting each element ― from trotters to snout to belly ― to maximize taste, texture, and presentation on the plate. Pushing both his creative limits and those of his team, he challenges each menu item to evolve, modernize, and further hone his cooking style. The final result is a show-stopping stuffed trotter. Deboned and slow-braised in port, red wine, and veal stock ― then stuffed with a chicken mousse and sweetbreads ― this underrated cut of pork is layered with fresh Ontario morels, hand-picked and supplied by a former Canoe cook-turned-forager. Crispy pig’s ears are braised overnight, then julienned, heavily seasoned, and quickly fried, like crackling little Canadian-style chicharrones. Every element of the head, snout, cheek, jowl, plus any butchered bits and bobs left over, are merged together in a crunchy croquette. A generous drizzle of piquant Madeira jus and a dollop of tart mushroom ketchup impart a chorus of sweet, sour, and spicy notes that cut through the pork’s fatty richness.
If there is one dish that captures Canada from coast to coast, the halibut is it. Pacific sablefish and Atlantic halibut are united to showcase the most exquisite features of each fish.
A classical French technique called larding, wherein a large needle is used to inject fat (lardons) into lean cuts of meat, yields an unparalleled richness and depth of flavour. The smoky, fattier sablefish is rolled in samphire (or sea asparagus) powder and larded into the lighter, more clean-flavoured halibut. Steamed to order and accompanied by smoked mussel, vermouth, and tobiko sauce, the fish is finished with dill oil and a type of East Coast seaweed called Nova Scotian dulse.
Canoe’s ethos is rooted in the union of old-school techniques and fresh new ingredients that emboldens us to highlight our country’s produce to the best of our abilities. Bridging the gap from east to west, using old school techniques with fresh new ingredients is exemplary of Canoe’s ethos and dedication to highlight our country’s nutrient-rich produce.
Our modern revival of this traditional pairing, loosely coined in the ’60s, combines aged Albertan beef, Atlantic lobster, and crustacean-flavoured fungi.
In keeping with the classical techniques that enrich the flavour of each ingredient, the lean Albertan beef filet is injected with fat and encased in a layer of fatty pork. Using this process of “larding and barding,” lardo is cured in-house with a variety of Forbes Wild Foods evergreens that offer a subtle herbaceous flavour, then threaded into the filet (larding) and wrapped in bacon (barding).
With no detail too small, each plate is accompanied by a foraged branch skewer that was hand-picked, cleaned, and prepped by our chefs. A selection of land and sea ingredients — including P.E.I. lobster and lion’s mane mushrooms from Niagara — are bound together by the skewer. Also known as pom poms, the hearty lion’s mane mushroom is similar to lobster in taste and texture, and thus a natural pairing.
Bright golden Saskatoon chanterelle mushrooms, foraged by our friends at Pacific Wild Pick, are folded into a butter with piney, slightly citrusy Ontario spruce tips. Both the mushrooms and the spruce tips are from last season’s harvest — pickled and dried, respectively, to extend their lifespans while potentially developing diverse flavour profiles with each. Brushed onto the lobster skewer, the savoury, mildly herbaceous butter is a powerful reflection of the Canadian wilderness, where chanterelles and spruce tips tend to grow close to one another. Once the conifers are in season, the yellow fungi ripen shortly thereafter — and as a general foraging rule, ingredients that cohabitate in nature typically have complimentary flavours.
A vital source of nourishment for many farm animals, hay is typically used in the Canoe kitchen to dry-age meats naturally.
When soaked in cream, hay imparts an earthy, nutty flavour, that balances out the rich Canadian dairy with which the custard is made. Positioned next to a number of honey variations — from comb to jelly to parfait — the hay custard complements the sticky sweetness impeccably. Procured a few hours north of the restaurant above Georgian Bay, the candy-like wildflower nectar is hand-collected from bee apiaries by our friends at Osprey Bluffs Honey.
The final act in this tasting menu comprises a selection of mini confectionaries, each featuring a prominent and independent flavour. As its French name translates literally into “small oven,” petit four references the traditional method of baking these tiny, individually composed pastries — with formidable care and painstaking detail.
Featuring housemade spruce tip butter and quintessentially Canadian maple syrup, the maple sandwich is our take on the classic Canadian cookie from our childhood. Need we say more?
Enrobed in decadent 64% Dark Manjari chocolate, the miso truffle stacks layers of luxurious white chocolate and savoury miso into sensational one-bite morsels.
Based ten minutes away from our doors, Brodflour uses only premium Canadian heritage grains to cultivate the cream of the crops. The grains are milled on-site using a certified organic stone mill that reduces processing and preserves more vitamins and minerals its final flour form. In this burnt bread macalong, Red Fife — one of Canada’s oldest heritage grains, dating back to the 19th century — is baked into Brodflour sourdough, deliberately burnt to draw out a robust bitterness, then crushed into an almost savoury powder that cuts the heaviness of the rich white chocolate filling.
what lies ahead
This much is clear: for Chef McKinlay, the allure of traditional cooking is in its lengthy and tedious process of preparation – the repetition, the steady-handed patience required to elevate a simple ingredient into something unexpected, the unwavering commitment to drawing out the features of each ingredient and creating depth of flavour. The finesse involved in the days-long labour of love that Chef McKinlay pours into each dish not only gives him the ultimate satisfaction, but defines his modernized classical culinary style. Through this proactive dedication to creating a transcendent tasting experience, he leads the next young generation of Canoe cooks and chefs by example. Recently presented with Ontario Hostelry Institute’s prestigious Top 30 Under 30 award, Sous Chef Eric Valente is recognized as one of the best and brightest up-and-coming chefs in Canada.
Canoe’s unquestionably strong team of culinary artists, led by Chef McKinlay, is the driving force behind the envelope-pushing menus that have thrust the Canadian food scene onto the global stage and continue to spotlight our diverse and evolving food culture.
This rendition of Taste Canoe was available from July to September 2021. To make your reservation, please book online or call 416-364-0054.