Recently, a client who I shall not name (yes I would have to kill you), approached me asking if I would be interested in creating a menu and hosting a dinner for 50 Toronto well-heeled foodies in an exclusive entertaining space. The event is coming up so I've been asked not to reveal any details. The client offered me carte blanche to create any food narrative and menu my precious heart desired. "Hmmmm" I thought, with a metaphoric index finger scratching my temple. "Anything I want?"
These types of offers are rare for chefs; a food event where I take a room of hungry guinea pigs on any epicurean experience I like. Oh, and making a profit on the evening was also not something I was being asked to consider. I’m in.
A big-deal Canadian celebrity chef was recently offered the same opportunity in the same space. His food was incredible. A celebration of the season's best, all local, and prepared with perfect technique. I expected no less.
This got me thinking about the often-overused term "local". One person’s local is another person's exotic. Depending on where you live there’s a given group of ingredients abundant to you. Fly those ingredients to the other side of the earth and they're suddenly rare, often expensive.
How about I take the most accessible, even mundane ingredients, along with dishes born of food frugality, and bring them together on one menu? A celebration of what’s local - somewhere else. Play with, what is for many cultures, the basic staples.
I also secretly wanted to poke fun at the pretense of “local” as being the most irritatingly, and incorrectly, touted term used in food today. Right there next to “organic”. I like doing that sort of thing. I wanted to create something exotic merely by the notion of a geographical transplant. An evening of poor people's food and leftovers, with wine pairing included all for a buck ninety. Should be an easy sell. Right?
If you're from Australia, England, Scandinavia or South East Asia, some of the items on this menu below not be extravagant. But from the vantage point of Southern Ontario, it might read a tad strange as a body of foods, a menu.
For instance: Bubble and Squeak is a British wartime era dish comprised of Sunday night's roast dinner leftovers mashed up and fried - similar to a hash. Kangaroo, from my homeland Australia, is a beautiful, lean, organic-by-default mild flavoured meat that‘s in such abundance it's culled and sold as pet food. Porridge was a staple dating back to the Vikings and often used in both sweet and savoury dishes. I’ll let you decipher the rest if you so desire.
Shining a little practicality on the often-pretentious discussions surrounding food does indeed tickle my fancy, but most of all I want these folks to have fun. If a curious culinary thought is triggered during the evening then that’s no so bad either. Here’s to celebrating mediocrity.