By: Shawn Micallef
At first glance Frank is not the kind of restaurant you associate with Slow Food. Not “slow food” as in speed – it’s likely most people don’t want to be rushed out of a space like Frank – but rather the Slow Food Movement. This past Sunday the restaurant played host to “A Sweet & Savoury Taste Workshop on Eggs and Grains” presented by Slow Food Toronto.
The Slow Food Movement was founded in Italy in the 1980s as an activist response to fast food chains, specifically a McDonalds outlet that was set to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Since then the movement has spread around the world and expanded its mandate. Part of Slow Food Toronto’s mission is to build a community that includes producers, artisans, chefs and food activists as well as “supporting local, small-scale sustainable farm operations”.
The Slow Food event at Frank was indeed a workshop as it brought together an interesting collection of people. Certainly some of the diners (or “tasters” to be true to the event’s billing) were part of Slow Food Toronto, but there were others who were new to the scene, as my tasting partner and I were. As well, the farmer responsible for most of the food were eating was present. We don’t often get to see who’s responsible for our food, so this was a unique experience.
Stoddart products for sale.
Harry Stoddart, of the Stoddart Family Farm located in the Kwartha Lakes region, began the workshop by talking to us about his farm’s history (been in the family since 1819 when his ancestors emigrated from Ireland). The activist element of Slow Food was not ignored in Frank’s swank surroundings as Stoddart did discuss some of the regulatory difficulties he experiences being a niche producer, particularly with the Supply Managemangement system in Ontario.
Though Slow Food Toronto does have a political bent, they don’t sacrifice the dining experience. That seems to be part of the point of a workshop like this, to demonstrate that Slow Food is not about sacrificing the pleasure of food, but rather, enhancing it. In fact, the communal table we sat at was filled with confirmed foodies, most of whom worked for Loblaw’s President’s Choice, designing new food products for Canadian stores. This was not just part of their research, it’s something they enjoy doing.
Frank’s executive chef Anne Yarymowich began by welcoming everybody to her restaurant and gave us some background on the event: the other invited chefs were preparing new dishes with Stoddart’s products, and for some, it was as new an experience for them as it was for us as diners. The best part of the evening was when each dish was served the chef responsible came out and spoke about what he or she made and the challenges the organic product posed. We learnt that spelt flour is hard to work with when Chef Donna Dooher remarked that using spelt reminded her of how processed our food usually is, and though she “wasn’t very happy about working with spelt at 10AM yesterday,” she was pleased with the results. Not perfect, she said, but a successful experiment.
As a non-foodie, these details went unnoticed, as everything that came out of the Frank kitchen was exquisite looking and artfully presented. We noted the idea that we were actually eating tiny, ephemeral works of art that exist for only a few minutes before being destroyed (or devoured, depending on your perspective) while surrounded by a building that houses artworks that are, essentially, eternal. What’s the difference between consuming a painting and eating these lovely “quail eggs in nests?”
When we sheepishly told our Frank waitperson that we were vegetarians – always a moment of stress at foodie events – they returned a few moments later informing us the kitchen would accommodate by altering the few dishes with meat in them into vegetarian versions. The dexterity at which the restaurant industry can pivot for customer needs is always remarkable. The great irony of the night that with so many dishes to taste, we were only given 5 or 6 minutes to each each one, so slow food can indeed be fast sometimes.
Quail Eggs in Nests on Crispy Pancetta with Cranberry Hollandaise by Chef Donna Dooher of Mildred’s Temple Kitchen
Duck Egg en Cocotte with Duck Graisserons, served with Spelt Flour Buttermilk Biscuits by Chef de Cuisine, Martha Wright of Frank.
Ravioli filled with Duck Yolk and Celeriac Puree by Chef Leslie Steh of Far Niente
Spelt and Wheat Donut with a Hen Egg Sabayon by Chef Leslie Steh
Local Apple Tart with Spelt Flour Crust by Chef Donna Dooher.
Miles Crepes Cake: Rye Flour Crepes Layered with Caramelized Russet Apples, and Hen Egg Royale, Baked and served with Woolwich Dairy’s Chevre and Honey Ice Cream by Pasty Chef Christopher Measson of Frank.