Monday, 30 September 2013

Chez Vous, Chez Nous B& B

Crazy as it sounds, I want to tell you a little bit about a bed and breakfast where I've never stayed! Just outside of the village of Lafontaine, is the B&B with the French name run by a girl with an Irish surname, who just happens to have a strong English accent. One of the last stops on the Huronia Food Trail is Stephanie Fitzgerald's cozy Chez Vous, Chez Nous B&B, which is very fitting as it would be a fine place to lay your sleepy head after a long day of shopping, touring and dining along the Trail.

Stephanie must have an adventurous spirit. She came to Canada in 2009 with her daughter and took a position as an investor relations manager in Toronto, only to turn in her business suit and buy a B&B in rural north Simcoe County after falling in love with the area while on camping trips. Chez Vous, Chez Nous, which translates to Your House, Our House, has been located in this circa 1830s farmhouse for over 30 years now. The guests sleep in the 7 bedroom extension added on to the original home. Since acquiring to property in 2012, Stephanie has been renovating to make her guests' stays even more pleasant. Ask her to tell you about some of the interesting things she has uncovered while working on this 180 year old structure.

I can imagine that guests here must awaken to the smell of bacon, bird songs and the distinct absence of highway traffic sounds. When they travel to the dining room, they will find themselves in a serene sage green space with lovely antiques throughout. They will be treated to a full English style breakfast made from locally sourced ingredients. On our visit, Stephanie served us mini pancakes with bacon cooked right into them, a favourite with the children who stay there, with local maple syrup for dipping.

Outside there is a long deck with tables, suitable I would think for sitting with a coffee or glass of wine and soaking up the rural landscape. Miles of green farm land surround the B&B, including acres of Fer-Mar potatoes and Stephanie's own personal kitchen garden. I can only imagine how starry the wide open night skies are around here. A lone punching bag hanging from the limb of an old tree caught my eye. Just how stressful is running a B&B anyway? I found it sort of funny and just had to take a picture. Stephanie assures me it is for fitness purposes only!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Legends Of The Phaal: Barrie Foodies Try The World's Hottest Curry!

I wasn't going to try it. No, not me. I was there to observe and take notes and definitely not eat any of the legendarily super hot phaal (pronounced fall) curry being made at Tiffins Curry In A Hurry that day. I am an infant when it comes to high heat foods. I love flavour and spice, but no inferno for me please. Sign me up for mild. As much as I enjoy Indian food, with all its exotic layers of scents and tastes, I was happy that another chef was going to be doing the eating instead of me.

Chef Kent Smith, owner of Michael & Marion's restaurant, on Bayfield St. just around the corner from Tiffins, is a regular diner and one of a growing group of heat lovers who stop in at Tiffins especially for the phaal curry. A while ago, owners Goldie and Kay, realized that people were travelling from Toronto to savour their phaal curry because Tiffins is the only Indian restaurant in all of Canada to offer the dish on their regular menu. Other eateries do phaal curry challenges once in a while, as Tiffins has done in the past as well, but none offer it every day.

I was invited into the tiny kitchen where Chef Kay creates all his flavourful masterpieces. The chef, all decked out in a bright scarlet chef jacket, started with a pan of hot canola oil and the first ingredient that went in was fennel seeds. After they sizzled for a minute or so, he added a tomato and onion mixture which was then flamed in spectacular fashion! All very innocent so far, but Chef Kay did have a handful of face masks just in case at the ready nearby.  Next came a generous ladle of chicken tikka and some cashew sauce and butter. A dollop of whipping cream added smoothness to the mixture. Up until that point, I would have eaten everything in the pan, but now came the source of the heat, a plate of 5 colourful chilies that been lurking to the side, waiting for their chance to turn the dish from vivacious to volcanic! Chef Kay piled the chilies up in the pan and then mixed them through the entire entree. Hello 800,000 to 1 million Scoville heat units!

The chef plated the phaal curry next to a mould of multicoloured basmati rice and garnished it with a clove and 2 chili pods. Who would be afraid of such a pretty platter? Me, that's who! Goldie, Kay's bubbly wife and co-owner of Tiffins Curry In A Hurry, carried the finished phaal dish out to Kent Smith, who was already set up with a glass of ice water and ready to dive into his lunch. My photographer son, Mitchell, snapped some pictures and I watched Kent dine and waited for something to happen. I half expected profuse sweating, gasping for air, rapid chugging of the ice water or perhaps even flames from his hair, but Kent ate away and carried on a conversation as if he was eating a dish of ice cream. I was surprised and possibly a little disappointed that nothing newsworthy occurred. Which leads me to my main question - why is Kent able to withstand the fire of phaal in his mouth and most others, like me, cannot?

Don't expect to find phaal curry on any menu if your travels take you to India. The dish was created in the United Kingdom, where there exists a long history of enjoying Indian food going much farther back than any taste for it here in Canada. The British Empire once extended into South Asia and the curries and tandoori dish recipes came back to Britain along with soldiers and government officials. Somewhere in that history, there were some that desired more and more heat and so phaal (or faal, fahl, paal etc.) curry was born. Chef Kay placed phaal on his original menu, when Tiffins Curry In A Hurry first opened its doors, unaware that he was doing something very unique in Indo-Canadian culinary circles.

As a professional cook, a food lover, a writer and a 30 year Barrie resident, I was really honoured to be asked to come and see this one of a kind meal be created and consumed. I have seen Barrie when it's downtown core had thriving but aging live music venues and bars, along with a selection of burger places and mom and pop family restaurants. Devastating fires and wrecking balls have laid waste many of the fine buildings we once had, but from the ashes new night spots have popped up along with a quickly increasing array of diverse eateries to choose from. Tiffins Curry In A Hurry is housed in a small, but perfectly sized (I think) space in a a 100 plus year old building just steps east of 5 Points. Who would have thought, three decades ago, that a Barrie restaurant would be drawing in customers from around the province with a unique Indian dish?

Kent finished his phaal curry and was on his way. He headed back up Bayfield St. to continue his work at Michael & Marion's. Before he left, he turned to me and said that the only think that disappointed him was the fact that I hadn't tried it too. Oh oh. Goldie took a teaspoonful of the phaal and some rice and offered it to me. With dares of "C'mon, Mom." from my photographer, I took a tiny bit off the point of the spoon and waited for something terrible to happen. Now all eyes were on me. Slowly the heat spread. I waited for it to get painful but it did not. In a minute, I was afraid I was going to lose my voice. I could only choke out a whisper as I was questioned about how I was feeling. But it got no worse than that and soon Goldie saved me from any possible further increase in heat by handing out the most delightfully cooling house made mango ice cream. I could not possibly do what Chef Kent had done, but I was mightily proud of myself for even trying that little bite, in the name of foodie science and exploration.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dubeau's Farm Fresh Foods

I don't think I had ever been in Perkinsfield before. It is the small francophone village with the deceivingly English name located in Tiny Township. Even Tiny isn't actually tiny, but named after one of Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe's small fluffy dogs! I visited Perkinsfield for the first time in June, when the Huronia Food Trail media tour bus stopped at Dubeau Family Farm at the corner of County Rd. 6 and Tiny Concession 11.

Stepping out and approaching the produce stand, I quickly saw some great deals on potted herbs and vegetables and started to figure out what cash I had brought with me, but just as quickly decided I better not try to juggle too many dirt filled pots on a coach bus.

Under the protective shade of the white canvas covered, aluminium sided produce stand, we started our look around the tables covered with all sorts of fresh and delicious looking fruits and vegetables. Strawberries were in season then and there were some really big ones on sale at Dubeau's that day. It was very appropriate then that we were offered a new twist on the standard (but very welcome) ice cold lemonade that we had been given at several stops along our tour, with a glass of strawberry lemonade. Apparently, it is a Martha Stewart concoction. I found a recipe for this delightful refresher, for anyone who is interested.

Dubeau Family Farm is so much more than a place you can grab a dozen corn on the way back home from the beach. I was expecting the fresh local produce, but I wasn't thinking about pies, jams and pickles all made by co-owner, Mrs. Kim Dubeau, the honey from Innisfil, local eggs or the home grown sunflowers and glads to complete your table. Later in the season, come back for a pumpkin or squash, or even a hay bale or corn stalk to decorate your front porch for fall.

Kim's husband, Dennis Dubeau, the man behind the field work, invited us out onto his land for a mini tour and talk about his 50 acres and what he grows on it. The land stretched to a far off tree line and I was amazed that a couple and 2 teen sons, with only occasional help from extended family, could run such an operation. I have a hard time getting my kids to hang up their back packs! They work hard 7 days a week from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., but I did hear that they all go away to Aruba in the winter. Maybe I would get more work out of my kids if I offered them a sunny vacation.

At the time of our tour, the Dubeaus were looking forward to a new venture for this summer - a pick your own tomatoes deal. I wonder how that turned out? I know my own tomato plants went completely crazy during that extreme heat wave we had in July and grew to 5 feet in height. They are now producing lots of juicy red tomatoes. Considering my tomato plants were almost completely neglected, I can only guess that Dennis Dubeau's well tended plants were an overwhelming success. I hope so. This hard working family deserves to do well.