Last night at The Department gallery space on Dundas West, a crew of Toronto’s top chefs banded together for the latest edition of their monthly, offsite supper series, this time with an art-inspired theme.
So what do chefs do on their day off? Cook some more, apparently.
Since January, a group of chefs—consisting of Beast’s Scott Vivian, The Stop’s Chris Brown, Parts and Labour’s Matty Matheson (who is not getting a patio after all), Cowbell’s Mark Cutrara, Globe and Globe Earth’s Kevin McKenna and Marc Dufour, Buca’s Rob Gentile, Bertrand Alepee (a.k.a. The Tempered Chef) and Lucien’s Guy Rawlings—come together once a month to host The Group of Seven Dinner, a pop-up meal that happens at a different location each time with a different theme.
In the past, there have been offal dinners, vegetarian feasts and seafood nights. This time, about 30 guests gathered at The Department art gallery on Dundas West, last night where the chefs (minus a busy Gentile) each made a dish inspired by a photo they have taken. And, like most pop-up dinners these days, diners find out about them solely through the chefs’ Twitter feeds (though Alepee says they’re working on an actual website).
“It’s a fun way to cook something different and see the other guys,” adds Alepee. “We’re not getting paid for this, we’re just doing this for fun and whatever money is left over after covering the costs goes to a charity like The Stop Community Food Centre.”
The price of a seven-course dinner varies each time, depending on the ingredients being used. For this night’s art-inspired meal, it’s $100, or $150 with wine pairings. With every course, a corresponding photo taken by the chef would be projected on the wall. “This is a photo of the Parisian skyline taken from Montmartre,” says Vivian as bowls of water-buffalo stew are presented to diners sitting at one long table. “I was there with my soon-to-be wife and that’s where I proposed to her. We were later walking around the markets and that’s where I had pot-au-feu [French beef stew[ for the first time.”
Matheson’s photo was of his grandmother that he never got to meet. He says his plate of scallops, foie gras, lardo and pickled blueberry broth was what he would make for her if she were still alive. McKenna and Dufour’s pictures from trips to Italy yielded fried sweatbreads and prosciutto. Brown’s snapshot of delighted kids visiting a farm for the first time resulted in a simple smoked trout with wild mushrooms and cabbage. Alepee thought of roasted duck when looking at his photo of a French castle; Cutrara made a cornmeal honey cake after taking a photo of a forest in Milton while traveling with his family; and Rawlings made sour cream topped with apples from the farm he photographed and garnished it with marshmallow root (an herb that looks like parsley, not the fluffy confection) that he foraged just off Shaw Street.
So while one chef goes upstairs to the gallery/dinner space to play curator, the rest of the boys' club was crowded in the downstairs kitchen prepping for the next course, knocking back beers, debating whose iPod playlist was the best and generally having locker-room conversations that were liberally sprinkled with f-bombs and jokes about the ubiquity of pork (apparently beef is due for a comeback). The chefs were having just as much fun (if not, more) than the diners upstairs.