John Ash at the Cookbook Co. Cooks
Foodies in Calgary are fortunate to have the Cookbook Co. Cooks. Over the years Gail Norton and her team managed to put Calgary on the culinary map attracting cookbook authors, famous chefs and food professionals from across Canada and the US to their cooking school at 722, 11th Ave. SW. Along with their City Palate magazine, the Cookbook Co. is definitely the place to go for all things culinary in Alberta and beyond.
Each season, the Cookbook Co. together with Farm restaurant by Janice Beaton and Richard Harvey’s Metrovino host collaborative specialty dinners for book launches, special guest chefs and culinary professionals. Janice Beaton needs no introduction in Calgary. For over a decade Janice Beaton Fine Cheese has been the place to go for cheeses, charcuterie and related items. Janice grew up on a farm in Cape Breton Island watching her grandmother making cheese and storing it in a root cellar under their house to ripen until it was ready to consume. This was an early introduction to cheese making that eventually led Janice to launch her cheese shop featuring a carefully chosen selection of Canadian and European cheeses in addition to other specialty items. Beaton was inducted to the prestigious Guilde des Fromagers and Confrerie de Saint-Uguzon, a France based organization recognizing exceptional cheese makers, vendors and experts from around the globe. Beaton later expanded her cheese business and open Farm restaurant at 1006 17th Ave. SW in Calgary and moved her cheese shop to the same premises. The restaurant helps promote the cheese shop and serves as a tasting room for the cheeses, although the menu is varied and is not limited to cheese dishes (the mac n’ cheese though is a must try). Metrovino (love the name) is also a Calgary icon, located next to the Cookbook Co. Cooks. Led by Richard Harvey, Metrovino carries a portfolio of great wines at reasonable prices. Their focus is French wines from small, family owned wineries but they offer an extensive array of hand picked wine selection from other regions around the world, notably from Spain. Richard opened Metrovino in 1996 after an illustrious career in the wine business that included managing the wine cellar at Vancouver’s Mandarine hotel and an importer’s agent for wines such as Mouton Rothschild, Hugel and Opus One of California. Being the thoughtful person that he is, after the recent flood in Calgary he published a note advising Calgarians how to deal with flood ravaged wines. Richard is currently a department head and instructor at the Sommelier Guild as well as teaching at the educational component of Metrovino Soif de Savoir.
Last week this trio held a specialty dinner to celebrate the release of a fourth book by John Ash, a James Beard award-winning author, teacher and chef. Ash is a legend in culinary circles, known as the creator of “wine country cuisine”. In 1980 he opened a namesake restaurant in Santa Rosa California with focus on using local and seasonal ingredients created to complement locally produced wines. Ash went on to author 4 award winning books and his book From Earth to Table: John Ash Wine Country Cuisine was named Best American Cookbook by the IACP and won the Julia Child Cookbook of the year. His latest book and the one celebrated at this gathering, is titled Culinary Birds: the Ultimate Poultry Cookbook. I cook vegetarian but a quick review shows this to be a comprehensive book about various birds (mostly chicken) with dishes to match from cuisines around the world. The chapter about sauces and seasoning contains recipes for flavoured butters, pesto, roasting garlic, Romesco sauce and even his variation for garam masala, all useful whether you cook chicken or not. Ash calls his birds “happy birds” (perhaps they were happy before ending up on the plate?) and promotes free range, vegetarian feed and antibiotic free husbandry practices. He is one of the first chefs and restauranteurs to promote sustainable farming, earth to table and ethical foods movement. Ash has had a radio show in northern California for the past 15 years and is an award winning cooking teacher at the Culinary Institute of America. I found him to be friendly, approachable and down to earth, quick to impart information from his vast knowledge of cuisine.
Upon arrival at the cooking school the two long, large tables were beautifully set for dinner and Mathew Altizer, catering chef at the Cookbook Co. together with Derek McCann, sous chef at Farm Restaurant were busy in the open kitchen putting last touches on the dinner to come. They have been working all day together with John Ash, preparing the six course dinner (including appetizer, desserts and cheese course) for this evening.
We were soon offered a glass of a Queen’s Sparkling Mocktail, a blend of white and green teas, roses, lavender, jasmine flowers and mint, prepared by Tea sommelier Guylaine Gagnon. of Zenboutique Tea Cellar. She was introduced by Janet Henderson of the cookbook Co. Cooks. “When we did a long table dinner along Steven Avenue a month ago, people had the option of purchasing alcohol or not and over a third of the people chose not to drink that night” said Henderson ,” we thought it would be interesting to explore a beverage other than water and we asked Guylane to help us provide a beverage that was something other than water either sparkling or still”.
Gagnon is passionate about teas and earned her tea sommelier certification through the Tea Association of Canada program at Bow Valley College in Calgary. The program involves 8 modules amounting to 150 hours of training and a final certification exam. The courses cover a broad range of topics, from the history of tea, processing and preparation methods to tea growing regions and types of tea grown in each of the regions. Throughout the training participants are taught how to develop a sensory profile and tea vocabulary. Much like a wine sommelier, the tea sommelier is then able to to match tea to menu items and explore the various nuances of tea as an ingredient in all things culinary, in addition of course to preparing the perfect cup of tea. Tea has so many levels and you need to be conscious of what you experience, explained Gagnon, “first smell the laves, warm them up and smell them again. Then when you pour the water you have another series of aromas and when it’s ready to drink, there are new aromas again, so tea evolves” she says, and adds “don’t miss the last sip in the cup, it’s the most concentrated”. I asked her about the water temperature for preparing tea and she said that each tea has its own temperature. The mocktail she served was complex with layers of flavours and aromas, each rising and subsiding as we sipped. Gagnon is so passionate about her craft that I think I caught the bug. I need to learn more about teas myself. More on tea later, with the cheese course.
As we sipped the tea cocktail and mingled, appetizers of Tuscan chicken liver toasts were passed around and soon we were asked to be seated for the first course and formal introductions. Janice Beaton, who has known and worked with John Ash for several years introduced him, speaking about his books and his clear commitment not only to local foods and sustainable agriculture but also to our planet earth. His message is that we have to be aware of how the way we eat affects our planet says Beaton. To illustrate his commitment to the planet Beaton quoted from Ash’s book From Earth to Table: “how food is grown harvested or slaughtered, fumigated and packaged, stored shipped and handled should be a concern to us all as cooks and eaters as well as residents on this planet.” “John’s longtime advocacy in this work is brought to bear yet again in this latest book” said Beaton, “this book is very timely and not only because of Thanksgiving. Interestingly, there is a lot of press on both sides of the border about humane practices or otherwise in raising poultry. The book is a beautiful resource from its well researched information to the photographs to its really inspiring recipes. This book will become a timeless treasure in your cookbook collection as it is in mine”.
Throughout his culinary career Ash has emphasized the importance of knowing where our food comes from. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Colorado where eating local, sustainably, seasonally, was “what you did because you had to, not what you talked about.”, he said. Later when he begun crystallizing this concept and sharing it with people, advocating knowing your farmer and where the foods came from he was looked upon as an “airy fairy tree hugging hippie. That attitude continued until we were faced with some of the real issues we face today, how food is grown, especially how chickens are raised” says Ash, “If you had been to a conventional chicken farm you probably wouldn’t eat chicken again.” The problem, he says, is not because people are evil but because we have gotten so used to having cheap food. “We spend so little of our income on food and there is room for change. The takeaway, the mantra that he hopes we take is that “we are on the cusp of a very important time in the food chain. We know more about food now that 10 years ago. Adopt the attitude from the movie Network, that “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore” says Ash, “become politically involved. Part of the solution is to share sources where “happy birds” are raised and share your sources with others” says Ash.
Here is a list of farmers raising their birds in a humane, responsible way, provided by Mathew Altizer, catering chef at the Cookbok Co. Cooks and Derek McCann, sous chef at Farm Restaurant
- Green Acre Hen at Crossroad Farmers Market
- Ewe-Nique Farm Champion Chicken
- Spragg’s at Kingsland Farmers Market
- Sunworksat Calgary Farmers Market
- Winters Turkey
- Country lane
- Noble Farm Ducks
How is this list from a vegetarian food blog?
As the speeches were winding down a salad of curly frisée greens with soft poached duck egg and crisp maple roasted bacon was set in front of us. The soft poached egg melted beautifully over the crisp frisée, the maple added a sweet flavour element and the tangy but light dressing brought it all together in a melody of crisp and soft, sweet and tangy, covering a pleasant spectrum of colours and flavours. A vegetarian adaptation of recipe, provided here, is based on the original recipe on page 173 in Ash latest book celebrated tonight, Culinary birds, the ultimate Poultry cookbook.
Wines were introduced by Jonathan Bray, President at Purple Valley Imports (wine and spirits). Salad is usually a difficult pairing because of the vinegar in the dressing and as I say in my own wine book (yes, I wrote one, for family and friends) if in doubt use Champagne. Sure enough, the salad was paired with a bubbly Backyard Vineyards Blanc de Noir Brut.The sparkling wine, made in traditional Champagne method (fermentation in the bottle), is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in their Langley vineyards in BC. The wine is fermented in the bottle and riddled by hand (see image below).
The next course was a chicken and shrimp meatball soup (p.73) floating in homemade chicken broth together with long skinny white mung bean noodles. The broth was sparkling and clear with southeast Asian flavours. The noodles were cooked in advance and added to the soup bowl (as were the chicken-shrimp balls) before the hot broth was poured in. I noticed some guests eating the noodles with a fork and the soup with the spoon. The broth was a little sweet with garlic, ginger and soy flavours coming through. The soup was paired with a Backyard 2012 Gewurztraminer, often the wine to pair with Asian flavours. This Gewurz was fragrant and perfumed on the nose, medium dry with lemon and honeydew notes and light acidity. It’s a friendly and easy drinking wine and paired well with Asian flavours in the dish. It sells for under $20.
Next course was duck breast with grapefruit. I didn’t see it in the book but in my recollection it was a duck breast, grilled and slice diagonally to reveal crisp outer layer and pink interior. It was lightly coated with airy and foamy grapefruit sauce and served with a few pieces of fresh grapefruit. Grapefruit was hard to match with wine. The sauce on the duck was mild so the Backyard 2010 Meritage seemed to work with it and was my favourite wine (and pairing) of the evening. Meritage is a North American name for a Bordeaux blend. Typically a Bordeaux blend includes 5 grapes grown in the Bordeaux region of France. In Canada a meritage must contain at least two of the five. This meritage was made with three: merlot cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. I believe that the grapes are grown in their own south Okanagan vineyards. The meritage was nicely dry with cherry and blackberry notes. It held up well against the fatty duck and even the grapefruit slid by unnoticed. At least this is what I have heard:). As a palate cleanser before dessert Jonathan Bray brought a couple of bottles of Backyard Nosey Neighbour White, a light and aromatic blend of Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztramniner.
Next course was a French cheese paired with hot tea served in an insulated tea glass. To be precise, Pont L’Eveque cheese tartlet with pear and white wine jelly paired with Yunghu Hong Cha Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong Tea. The course was prepared and provided by Guylaine Gagnon, the certified tea sommelier of Zenboutique tea Cellar. Gagnon said she is proud to be the first Canadian importer to buy tea from that tea garden and we were the first Canadians to taste it. “The tea is Taiwanese high mountain oolong. , grown at 4000 feet above sea level, and in tea it’s a desired quality” says Gagnon, “the higher they are grown the more aromas they deliver. Oolong tea has big leaves that expand and can be steeped over and over. it is sweet, has notes of cinnamon and dried flower like gardenia and has a lingering caramel after taste”. The tartlet she offered showed how tea can pair well with foods and can be a nice alternative to wine or alcoholic beverage when you cannot have alcohol. “Tea can enhance food and create a nice gastronomy experience” says Gagnon, “I tried to do paring based on texture so I chose a tea that is more smooth but has a little thickness in the liquor”. The cheese she picked was the famous Pont L’EvequeFrench, one of the most famous cheeses of France from Normandy region, named after the village where it is made. It has been made in the same fashion since the 12th century. It has a whit-orange washed rind, a delicate bouquet and a rich softness in its interior. It is one of three cheeses that Normandy is known for, the others being camembert and Livarot. To me the tea and cheese matching was a bit of a pleasing revelation and something I’d like to pursue further. The fragrant aromas and light sweet palate of the tea combined with the cheese into luxurious creaminess on the palate and brought out the best in each.The cheese, pear and wine jelly, with or without the pastry brought a little crispness and oaky undertones. I believe that Gagnon said she made the wine jelly from an oaky California wine to which she added a cinnamon stick to link it with the cinnamon notes in the tea. “I hope to convince you that tea pairs well with food and can be a nice alternative to wine” says Gagnon. Listening to what people were saying, I think we were convinced, or at least intrigued about the possibilities.
Meeting John Ash and listening to his food philosophy was very interesting and clearly in this particular audience he was speaking to those already converted. We all understood the importance of sustainable agriculture, eating locally and the connection between our health and the health of our planet. Perhaps a few will rise to his “call to arms” and join the political movement bringing about the necessary changes. As he quoted the famous line from the Network film, “I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it any more”. Coming from plant based food philosophy myself I agreed with his ideas of humane treatment of animals and perhaps would even take it a step further towards reducing eliminating the need for animal foods altogether. However, this blog was never intended as a platform to convey a food philosophy it was only intended for me to cook what I like and share it with you. I enjoyed meeting John Ash, learned from his discussion of food ideas and was inspired by his love of food and his professional expertise and enjoyed the warm, down to earth manner of his interaction.
Well, if you have read this post all the way through you certainly deserve a recipe. I used Ash’s salad recipe from his book (p.173) and made this adaptation to make it vegetarian by replacing the bacon with roasted red pepper and adding a little goat cheese. I didn’t have the exact frisée either, but you get the idea and you can always go to his book for the original. There are a few salads in the book that I would like to try. I also didn’t have duck egg so used a regular poached egg instead. The salad is crisp and creamy with a hint of sweetness, very good. Enjoy.
Frisée Salad with Poached Egg, Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese
2 organic eggs
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 large handfuls of frisée greens, washed and torn into bite size pieces
1 small red pepper, roasted over flame and cut into strips (or use good quality roasted pepper purchased from a specialty store. Italian groceries usually have it)
1 tablespoon shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 teaspoon grainy dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Roast the pepper over a gas flame until the skin is blackened.
Place in a dish, cover and let cool. When cool enough to handle peel or rub off the charred skin and cut the flesh into strips, discarding ribs and seeds.
To poach the eggs bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil. Add vinegar, lower heat to steady low simmer.
Break the eggs into 2 ramekins or small dishes. Gently slide the eggs into the simmering water. Let the eggs cook about 2 minutes for soft yolk state.
Remove from water with a slotted spoon.
Drizzle enough salad dressing over the frisée and toss to coat (you will have some dressing left over).
Pile the frisée on two large plates.
Drizzle some of the remaining dressing over the roasted peppers and toss to coat.
Arrange the roasted pepper strips over the frisée.
Place a poached egg over each salad.
Sprinkle with more salt and pepper.
serve immediately while egg is warm and soft.