dinner

Interview with a Chef: Ottawa Ribfest’s Matt Smith of Gator BBQ

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Nick Smith, left, and his father Matt, of Gator BBQ.
Photo credit: MORGAN MODJESKI / THE STARPHOENIX

 

For over 30 years, Gator BBQ has been delivering mouth-watering chicken, pulled pork and ribs to the hungry crowds of Rib Fests all across North America. Touring Canada and the Northern United States, the Smith family of Port Dover continue to win countless awards and events with their signature southern BBQ cuisine. On the eve of Ottawa Ribfest, I caught up with Matt Smith to discuss his humble BBQ beginnings, his secret for achieving great tasting barbecue and if he ever gets tired of being around so much BBQ!

How did you get involved in the BBQ business?
By accident mostly. I used to be part of the carnival circuit for Conklin Shows and eventually crossed paths with a fella who ran these Ribfests. I started my own team and its grown from there—must be 20 years at least. We were there at the very start!

Tell me about the BBQ process. Boil or bake? Smoker? Hardwood or gas?
Always smoked. Ribs, pork and chicken are done in our smoker (Southern Pride) for various times depending on the meat. Although the fuel is propane, there’s a wood oven that heats the smoker and pumps the heated smoke throughout. (more…)

The best thing I ate this month – January 2015

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I received  more than a few puzzled stares when I announced that I had just dined on chicken and waffles at Hooch Bourbon House restaurant. For hardcore obsessives of Southern cuisine, there is nothing more heroic than these two combinations. Where today, most chicken is served devoid of bones or skin, this Cornish hen is proudly dished-up bone-in, skin-on and artfully displayed on its cutting board canvas. A perfect tribute embodying the soul of the south in the dead of winter. The smokey-sweet chipotle maple emulsion provides a compelling counter to the soft, chewy buttermilk waffles and tender crispy chicken. This is a stunner of a dish. A simple, good thing elevated to symphonic heights. And it was the best thing I ate this month.

Hooch Bourbon House restaurant is located at 180 Rideau Street in Ottawa.

Hooch Bourbon House on Urbanspoon

{Guest Blog} No, it isn’t wrong to use food as a reward …especially when Cool Food Dude is cooking!

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I seem to be surrounded with people who are obsessed with food. Everywhere I go that’s pretty much all folks want to talk about. My friends and family have long hinted around about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friends Tony and Lyana. Enjoy!

What happens when you combine three of my favourite foods, sweets and drinks together? Easy. Magic in a bowl.

I experienced that magic when my wife and I were invited to CoolFoodDude’s place for dinner. This dude pulled out all the stops. The meal was incredible from beginning to end. But one dish resonated with both my wife and I: his spin on Thomas Keller’s Five-Spice Roasted Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Beurre Monté from The French Laundry restaurant cookbook. We spoke about it on the drive back home. Imagine this: chocolate, lobster and coffee… all in one dish. That happened to us that fateful night. Listen, you wanna talk about palette overload? This dish had it all. It was savory, sweet and injected with my go-to drink that keeps me going day in and day out: coffee (salivating as I type). Man, it was bananas. Arguably one of the saddest moments of my life was saying goodbye to that last bite. I almost ate the plate!

Keep in mind that this is coming from a guy (me) who was privileged enough to grow up in a family of chefs, so the CFD should be proud. His cooking is always extraordinary and top-class, but on this night, it was on a whole other level, and, we were honoured to be a part of it.

I still dream about it at least once a week. I think about it at least twice a day. Thanks CFD, I’ll never be able to enjoy another lobster. Unless you make it for us again! But you know, whenever you have the time. No rush or anything.

Two amazing Thanksgiving recipes

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One down, one to go. Just finished serving up a scrumptious Canadian Thanksgiving spread and I’m gearing up to dish out American Thanksgiving in a few weeks. And there’s a common element in both of my feasts. The turkey and the cranberry sauce.

Try out Food & Wine’s Apricot-Glazed Turkey. This roasted turkey tastes as good as it looks. It’s rubbed with olive oil, sprinkled with a mixture of coarse salt and pepper, and stuffed with bay leaves, lemons, garlic, thyme, roasemary and sage. The gorgeous mahogany colour comes from a glaze of lemon-infused apricot jam. The meat is flavourful and moist. And, it all cooks in less than three hours.

Cranberry Sauce

Bon Appétit’s Cranberry Sauce with Vanilla Bean and Cardamom is a tangy and flavourful relish. Fresh cardamom and vanilla seeds make for a version that’s sweet, sultry and exotic. It’s my family and friend’s favourite.

Book review: Heritage

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I feel as though I have been searching for this book my entire life. See, I’ve had a full-on obsession with Southern cuisine as far back as I can remember. It is my favourite food. I am drawn by the cuisine’s hallowed traditions and unique cooking styles. And in this book, I have discovered someone that shares my love of one of the greatest cuisines of the world.

James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock is an emissary of Southern food and culture. He is best known for his work in Charleston, SC, where he is the executive chef and partner of restaurants McCrady’s and Husk.

Heritage is his very first cookbook and offers a mix of traditional and contemporary recipes in chapters such as “The Garden” and “The Pasture.”  The recipes (e.g., butter-bean chowchow; pork belly with herb faro, pickled elderberries, chanterelles, and sumac; buttermilk pie with cornmeal crust) range from simple to sophisticated. Pork rinds, for example, are cooked sous-vide and dehydrated before being deep fried.

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A weekend escape to T.O., part 2

CN Tower, Toronto

Sometimes I just need to escape to the big city. True, it comes with some headaches like snarling traffic and unruly crowds. But the benefits of being in a metropolis far outweigh the liabilities. If only to get me out of my food slump.

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Chipotle, Chipotle, how do I love thee? I may seem strange to profess ones love to a fast food restaurant but considering the jam-packed Yonge street location, I am not alone in my adoration of the burrito bowl. And like long-distance lovers reunited after a lengthy time apart, it was oh so sweet. I long for the day when we can once again be together. Chipotle, it wouldn’t hurt you to save me some gas money and move to my neck of the woods. I love thee but how much do you love me?

Chiptole, Yonge Street Toronto Yonge Street, TorontoYonge Street, Toronto Yonge Street, Toronto

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Boston Birthday Bash

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There is some inexplicable and subconscious comfort in being around good friends.  Especially ones that are full of generosity, good humour and affability. Friends who will honour your birthday with a night centered around your favourite team even when it is not theirs.

Recently, I was feted with a Boston-themed soiree by these friends of mine and treated to a meal of staggering proportions, a ‘Best of New England’ menu accessorized with Red Sox napkins, balloons, plates and cups. The crab salad was fresh, fragrant, zingy, crunchy with equal parts sweet and creamy. The chowdah was the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve had plenty. The broth was clean and allowed the palate to fully access all the flavours of the ingredients with the corn and the chives providing a boost of flavour. The risotto was decadent and flawless. Hefty chunks of perfectly cooked lobster surrounded by tender rice in the most tasty of broths accented by a side of fresh greens.

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Restaurant Review: Taqueria La Bonita

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Ottawa is 3,366 km from Mexico but quite suddenly I am a mere 10 metres from truly authentic Mexican cuisine. The drab, generic strip-mall location is quite a distance away from Cabo San Lucas but this should not deter you from experiencing the genuine Mexican classic dishes found at Taqueria la bonita.

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Why you should always spiral-cut your wiener (a.k.a BBQ #6)

I have a buddy that’s the coolest guy around. He’s also hilarious and extra kind. He and his wife both. And my buddy just happens to be a pro with the BBQ. You see, he owns a Weber so you know he’s serious. I am lucky enough to score an invite now and again to partake in his grilling extravaganzas. Yes, I am blessed.

Quite originally, he spiral-cuts the hot dogs. You heard me. Check out this video. The spiral-cut improves the wiener-eating experience by increasing the surface area of the frankfurter, thus resulting in a better grilled wiener and an extra tasty hot dog.

My hands are a bit shaky so the image below appears blurry. But there’s no mistaking that the hot dog was delicious.

The burgers looked like steaks on the grill and were juicy and delectable. The salad and the corn was just the right touch to finish off this meal. My friends really take care of me when I come over. I was stuffed. Oh, and if you haven’t already noticed, I like ketchup.

It’s late September and this might be the end of BBQ season for me. Unless I get a few more invites. Here’s hoping!

{Guest Blog} Stuffed Banana Peppers. Why Not?

I seem to be surrounded with people who are obsessed with food. Everywhere I go that’s pretty much what folks want to talk about. For a while now my friends and family have hinted around about getting in on the blogging action. So why not let them? Here is a guest post courtesy of my friend Ebie. Enjoy!

Well, this was unexpected. As I watched much of my veggie garden turn crispy during our drought this summer, only the pepper plants didn’t succumb. In fact, they thrived. Who knew those spindly stems and delicate leaves were such hot weather warriors?
So now what to do with this single crop bounty? Yeah, yeah, I know. Freeze them, can them for winter—I’ll do that too.  But incorporating “just picked yummy goodness” into meals this time of year is the point of little backyard gardens. Besides, the plants worked so hard that I felt I owed the pepper-plenty some starring roles, and yet another pepper-based salad just wasn’t cutting it anymore.
I decided a main course of stuffed peppers would give them the distinction they deserved. Never mind that recipes for stuffed peppers normally call for sturdy Bell peppers, it was time to improvise. These smaller, thin-skinned rebels don’t stand up obediently for stuffing and cooking, so a little creativity was in order.
Seeding the skinny peppers needed some deft coaxing, but their more subtle flavour was worth the effort.
The faster and easier part was preparing the stuffing. No, I didn’t actually measure anything. I used some ground beef, onions, garlic, rice, seasoning and an egg for binding so all the ingredients would be compelled to feel the love.
I soon discovered it was a good idea to snip the pointy ends to prevent the peppers from splitting like little balloons as I stuffed them. A dab in flour helped to keep the stuffing from escaping during cooking.
Three cans of cubed tomatoes, processed until smooth, were just enough to cover the peppers comfortably while they simmered for about an hour.
Starring role this time around?  I think “yes.”