I have been eating breakfast again—at least on those mornings when I wake up in Stratford: not because I’m hungry—far from it—but because I’m staying at The Three Houses, an extremely comfortable and beautifully decorated B&B owned by David Lester. His breakfasts are the best I have had in many a year. They begin with a goblet of his very crisp and holy granola mixed with sliced banana and apple, pear and fresh berries (I have no idea where he finds such ripe, juicy raspberries with the wind-driven snow drifting in the corners of his garden). There is coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice, toast or some thick buttered slices of the wickedly heavy, moist zucchini bread that he bakes. Home-made jam or marmalade can be applied (I choose the marmalade because Lester uses Seville oranges and it’s delectably bitter). Then there is the egg moment—maybe scrambled eggs tossed with croutons and some of Ruth Klahsen’s soft white goat cheese, or an omelette folded over mushrooms and fines herbs. Scrumptious. And, because the world is small, it turns out that my host is close friends with half a dozen people I know on Corfu, so there’s plenty to talk about.
Conversation has been equally stimulating with the Stratford Chefs School students—at least with those who climb the stairs at Rundles to the luxe salon that is my temporary office and pedagogic rendezvous. There’s a golden piano and the paintings on the walls are delightful. M.F.K. Fisher gazes out from one elegantly understated frame as she does from the syllabus, her writings a central part of the first year gastronomy curriculum. Some of the students have shared their synopses and insightful commentary on her work with me; others are looking for an opinion of their technical writing. I’m enjoying it immensely but have no idea at all whether I’m of any use. I continue to be most impressed by the senior students’ “dinner lab” efforts, during which one of them is chef for an evening, preparing a menu drawn from some superstar’s oeuvre. Last week we enjoyed the vicariously prepared dishes of Nobu, Paul Bertolli and Hiro Sone courtesy of students Benjamin Sachse, Jennifer Orrange and Kendra Brothers, respectively. As an added bonus, one blizzard-blustered afternoon, Rick Mercer showed up to film his entertaining television show at the school’s various premises, watching a class tenderize octopus then sticking his hand into the creature and turning the slithery corpse into a glove puppet. Life is veined with surreality as a Stilton is riven with mould.
Meanwhile, back in the metropolis, half a dozen embryonic restaurants are currently inching along the industry’s birth canal, bound by municipal red tape and squeezed by provincial restriction, jostling and elbowing to see who can open in time for the pre-Christmas bonanza. January’s empty slump will eventually give them the time to sort themselves out. They will all be eligible for inclusion in my top ten new restaurants list in next April’s Toronto Life, vying against some pretty stiff competition from other 2007 newbies such as Colborne Lane; One; Greg Couillard’s Spice Room; Foxley; Cowbell; L’Unita; C5; Amaya; Cluck, Grunt & Low; Marben; Lucien; Veritas; The Citizen; Jacobs & Co.; Tati Bistro; Prime and more. Not a bad list, this year. Culling the weak and imperfect is always a challenge and a sad responsibility. Mwa-ha-haaa…