Tag Archives: Culinary Grand Prix

Adorable Animals Never Tasted So Good

Adorable Animals Never Tasted So Good

The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, former Governor General of Canada. The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Barack Obama, 44th President of The United States of America. And me. Guess which one of these four doesn’t belong…

Give up?

Well, you’re wrong. It’s Barack Obama. Why? Because unlike Ms. Jean, Mr. Harper (or “Stevie”, as I used to call him on the playground back in the day), and myself, Mr. Obama has never eaten a seal. You know… those cute little tricksters from the Arctic? Adorable right? Delicious too.

Less than a week to go before Christmas, and I found myself dining in Toronto’s historic Campbell House on the corner of Queen Street and University Avenue. There was no special occasion, except there totally was. It was Charlie’s Burgers‘ (CB) last meal of the year, and in true pathetic fallacy fashion, reflected the biting cold and swirling snow outside.

With two celebrated chefs cooking their way through the North Pole, our Arctic Culinary Diplomatic Incident began. Chef Paul Finkelstein traveled with students to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut inside the Arctic Circle to source all the evening’s food. Chef Louis Charest, having cooked for royalty, heads of state, dignitaries, and diplomats, also worked as Sous-Chef within the Prime Minister’s Residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and won five gold medals at the Culinary Grand Prix in 2001. No big deal.

After meeting a man on a wine barrel sitting outside, we were directed to the Campbell House. Once inside, we traded our money – stuffed in marked CB envelopes – for a glass of Prosecco. In no time, our hosts Chef Paul along with Steve Cooper (a Nunavut lawyer and food connoisseur), explained the intricacies involved in catching and foraging items for the evening’s menu, including seal, walrus, and whale. They were certain it was one of the first times this type of food was being served in Toronto, especially as fresh as it was.

Sidenote: When I walked into the bathroom, I met an ice bucket full of Steam Whistles. As a waiter told me: “Charlie has a saying… You should never take your drink in the bathroom, but you should never leave the bathroom without a drink.”

Anyhoo. Some hazily-remembered thoughts on the menu – a dozen glasses of wine will do that to your memory…


Pagnirtung Fiord Roasted Turbot
salt pickled lemon, beurre blanc, Batawana Bay herring roe
Prosecco Asolo Montello DOCG – Veneto, Italy

Tuktoyaktuk smoked meat sandwich
smoked whale meat, mustard seed bannock, chelsea pickle
2009 Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie Printaniers, Barre Freres,France, Loire

  • This ended up being slightly altered – A smoked muskox sandwich, on the homemade bannock bread and with homemade mustard, with a piece of whale jerky on the side. Whale jerky was very salty, tough yet tender, nice and meaty.
  • This wine was struck from the list at the last minute. Replaced by an interesting and tasty German schnapps, Doornkaat, that was more reminiscent of vodka. Still… Good call!

Ceviche of narwal & maktag, narwal with soya
fried beluga morsels, wakame salad
2008 Chardonnay, Baglio del Sole, Feudi Del Pisciotto, Sicily, Italy

  • Narwal (also known as The Unicorn Of The Sea), as was explained to us, is what the Inuit use as their energy bars. Small stamp-sized pieces are placed between the gums and the cheek, and left to disintegrate for hours. An extremely fatty piece of meat, as it melts in the mouth, the fat gives the body energy. Unfortunately for us, our narwal-consumption had to be done rather quickly. Incredibly tough meat, but letting it melt even a little produced a soft and velvety strip of fat peeling off the narwal.
  • The second dish of the night to include whale, one of the waiters walking past us asked if we liked whale balls. Hell yes we do! And he brought us more.
  • All the wines were expertly matched, but this in particular was a knockout. Also, never had an Italian Chardonnay before, to the best of my knowledge.

Cape Dorset Arctic Char 4 ways
tataki, ginger cured, fennel candied, smoked, rice wine radishes, apple crème fraiche, fried fennel, celery root remoulade
2009 Bergerie du Capucin, Pic Saint Loup, Dame Geannie, Languedoc, France

  • Highlight of the night. The ginger-cured char was outstanding, the smoked was just right, but the stand-out was the fennel candied char. Hot damn. Paired with fennel that had soaked in syrup before being fried with cayenne peppers, it was sumptuous and left everyone wanting more.

Baked mipkuzola chip, muhamara caribou Kibbeh Nayyeh
zatar mayo, fresh pita, pomegranate
2009 Bergerie du Capucin, Pic Saint Loup, Dame Geannie, Languedoc, France

  • A type of pâté made of caribou, and served with homemade corn chips and baked muskox chips. A nice little treat.

Iglukik walrus mac and cheese
Iglukik Igunag bacon bits & grilled Iglukik walrus, pan seared foie gras
2007 Barbera Asti DOC, Scagliola, Piemonte, Italy

  • First off, how “Toronto Elite” did I feel, eating walrus macaroni-and-cheese. I imagine that’s what Mr. Burns eats for comfort food. And rightfully so! The pasta and cheese sauce itself were spectacular on their own, but the addition of grilled walrus elevated this dish to never-before-seen heights (hyperbole!). The walrus itself was not gamey nor too fatty, though it had a distinct “seafood meat” taste.
  • The other surprise in this dish were the deep-fried rotten flesh balls. Of course, the proper term is Iglukik Igunag, but that’s just semantics. It’s actually rotten walrus flesh that’s frozen, and then cooked. More surprisingly (or perhaps not so much given the rest of dinner)… it was delicious.

Qikitarjuaq bouillabaisse
musk ox, rack of seal, cloudberry juice, fried soba noodles, saffron sabayon
2004 Volnay Santenots 1er Cru, Domaine Jacques Prieur, France,Burgundy

  • The second wine to hit a grand slam. Nice touch to be served seconds (and thirds) of some these bad boys.
  • The bouillabaisse itself was very favourful, but the seal… wow. So tender and soft and light… No wonder Stevie’s a fan.

Inuksuk
ice wine Akutak profiteroles blue berry, spun sugar
1998 Ice Wine, Vidal, Pilliteri Canada

  • The profiteroles were made using fat from the caribou we had previously consumed, and it was rich and tasty. And cute too!

One of the two best meals I had all year (the other honour going to Michael Stadtlander’s Haisai), and certainly one of the best I’ve had in my life. Charlie, you make good burgers.

NOTE: We asked about photography and were told it was forbidden. While that stopped us, it didn’t stop these fine folks from grabbing some amazing shots. I suggest you check them out: