“Sometimes you have to look back in order to move forward.”
Ever since we introduced Taste Expo 67 back in June 2018, we’ve been bound to the idea of retrospection. With an exciting restaurant renovation planned for the new year, we’ve looked at these last few months as an opportunity to reflect on the past 24 years and find ways to honour our history through our cooking, before we officially turn the page onto the next chapter of our story. As such, we’ve directed our attention towards the next installment in our nostalgia series, Taste Nostalgia: Childhood. With this menu, we’ve adopted a playful approach, highlighting some of our favourite childhood food memories.
“We wanted this to be a nod at culinary nostalgia that our guests could relate to,” says Chef de Cuisine Ron McKinlay.
We decided to crowdsource childhood food memories from guests, both in the restaurant and on social media, as well as our own Front of House and Back of House team members. We tallied up the results, took note of the trends and commonalities, and then it was up to Chef Ron and his talented team to craft a menu that would resonate with our guests.
The tasting menu begins with a smoke show. A glass dome is lifted to release a plume of smoke and reveal a small stack of delicate tater tots. The crispy potatoes are accompanied by a wild and tame mushroom ketchup that adds earthiness with a vinegar kick and a bit of sweetness, as well as a dollop of whipped crème fraîche and Acadian caviar for a little extra indulgence.
Next up is Chef’s personal favourite: heirloom tomato soup + grilled cheese.
“I love seeing guests’ faces when the tomato soup comes to the table. It’s just fun,” says Chef Ron. “It’s something that’s so simple. It’s a memory, but everyone probably has a can of tomato soup in their cupboard right now.”
Chef figured plating this tomato soup in an ordinary bowl wasn’t going to cut it, so he decided to do something extra special. Working together with Assistant General Manager Jane Suh and Manager Charlene Lunau, the team created their own branded can in which to serve the soup.
Beyond presentation, Chef was focused on ensure this dish tasted really, really good. “There are no powders, foams or tweezers involved in the grilled cheese, just really nice brioche and good quality cheese,” says Chef Ron. “And we sourced the best ingredients we could for the heirloom tomato soup.”
The pasta course is something that hits close to home for most Canadians: mac ‘n’ cheese.
“I love making pasta by hand and we always try to include a handmade pasta on the menu,” said Chef Ron. “Hand-rolled macaroni goes all the way back to my time cooking in Australia with Chef Scott Pickett, but it is a lot of work. We literally make it fresh each day before service.”
As for the cheese, Chef Ron sourced a great quality cheddar from our friends at Cheese Boutique.
“You still have the mouthfeel, the taste and those similarities to Kraft Dinner, but everything is just better,” says Chef Ron. “Plus we add a bit of cheeky truffles on top, because why not?”
The main course presents two unique options for guests to choose. For those feeling fishy, the shake + bake features a beautiful halibut loin and cheek, crusted in spices designed to mimic the popular breadcrumb coating of our youth. The fish is accompanied by lettuce sautéed in butter, tarragon aïoli and a warm tartar sauce.
The alternative option is one that’s near and dear to a lot of our guests’ hearts: meatloaf. But this is not your grandma’s meatloaf, Chef warns. This dish is built around a classic French terrine made with bison and pork, each chosen for their quality and nativity to Canada. The meatloaf is served with vibrant green peas and tiny Atlas carrots sourced from 100km Foods, as well as wild Saskatoon chanterelle mushrooms from Pacific Wild Pick, a younger mushroom forager based in British Columbia.
Inspired by his own mother’s recipe, Chef Ron made sure to include “mom’s gravy” underneath the meatloaf; its sweet caramelized ketchup flavour cutting through the fat with each bite. Speaking of fat, sitting on top of the terrine is a beautifully scored and seared slice of foie gras, adding a layer of luxury and extravagance to the classic dish.
To transition guests into dessert mode, Chef Ron has created his own interpretation of ants on a log. “Growing up, I definitely remember having celery with peanut butter and raisins,” he recalls. “We’ve taken all of those elements and created a pre-dessert that cleanses your palate, carries you from savoury to sweet, and lightens you up for the main dessert.”
Subbing in savoury and salty olives for raisins, Chef has dehydrated and sweetened them to go along with the refreshing celeriac sorbet and crunchy peanut brittle. “A lot of trial and error went into that one, but it works,” he says.
Any fast food aficionado will be intrigued by our drive-thru apple pie, which pays homage to the Golden Arches iconic dessert. Elevated by a white chocolate ganache and drizzled with a dulce de leche sauce, this sweet throwback dessert is one worth savouring.
To end the tasting on an extra sweet (and fun!) note, guests will enjoy Chef’s pixie dip with evergreen sherbet. “We collected different evergreen leaves and branches to make our own tea mix,” explains Chef. “We then hydrate it, make it into a powder, and season it with sugar and acid to create a sweet and sour flavour. It’s grown-up Fun Dip!”
While there are plenty of other food memories that Chef Ron wishes he could have included in the menu—from the Aunt Jemima pancakes and maple syrup he used to enjoy on Saturday mornings, to a riff off of McCain’s Deep’n Delicious Chocolate Cake—he’s thrilled to see his cooking produce a positive, emotional response throughout the dining room.
“You see the nods, smiles and the ‘ah ha’ moment,” he says. “At the end of the day, we want to hit that memory moment for our guests.”
Taste Nostalgia: Childhood will be available from now until mid-fall. To make your reservation, please book online or call 416-364-0054.