Hot off the barbie
I’m posting early this week to give everyone a chance to participate in the World’s Longest Barbecue on Saturday, August 4th. It is the brainchild—love child?—of our most indomitable culinary activist and all-round gastropatriot Anita Stewart, and the instructions can be found here. As can the details of the grand prize—a Weber Genesis E 310 gas grill valued at $899. I’ll be on Corfu by the time you read this but I will take part, doing my bit by firing up the charcoal barbecue on my terrace (using coarse chunks of olive charcoal burnt by pals in the village) to grill whatever meat is available but finishing it with a very Canadian maple syrup-based barbecue glaze.
I hope the meat will not be the poor goat that my wife found last week, stuck in the gluey mud at the bottom of a cave in the mountains above our village. She and her three girlfriends fashioned a litter of branches and dragged the nanny out of the mire and back into the daylight—no mean feat as the cave system is vast and the climb up very steep and fraught with brambles and vipers. They carried her home to our house and installed her in a conveniently empty room (my study) with water and foliage. All the goat wanted to do was sleep. In other parts of Greece, goat is reckoned a viable, even a desirable meat for the barbecue. Corfiotes have little taste for it, preferring lamb, so perhaps the creature will be spared. My wife has a soft heart for kids of any kind and will cherish it.
Here in Toronto, of course, the barbecue is seen as the natural domain of the Canadian male—often his only foray into the culinary arts. When we lived in the suburbs, we observed the ritual summer weekend firing-up of the grill—and when I say observed, I mean we watched it rather than took part ourselves. It was interesting to see the daddies go to work, scouring the griddle and donning the apron (the curious echoes of freemasonry apparently lost on them). Their inner Fred Flintstones took over as they lambasted meat with sweet, ketchuppy sauces, while their wives and daughters laboured much harder in the purdah of the kitchen, making potato salad or pasta salad or coleslaw or all of the above. The result? As often as not a burger (undeniably delicious) or a steak (its finished quality entirely reflective of the quality of the meat at the instant it left the butcher’s—or more often the supermarket’s—slab). Canadian men love to barbecue. They do it in the snow and they do it in the searing heat of August. Their contribution to the destruction of the ozone layer is incalculable. It reminds me of the urban myth (an undoubted lie) about John Wayne and his alleged infatuation with Texas barbecue. So deep was his love of charred and crusted meats (say the believers) that it was found, upon autopsy, that his colon alone weighed 80 pounds. That little story put me off barbecue for years and years.
Last week I went to Cluck, Grunt & Low, the southern barbecue restaurant on the corner of Bloor Street West and Walmer Road. It’s a lot of fun on a hot evening with the garage-style glass walls swung up into the ceiling, obscure westerns playing on the TV screens and the walls lined with barn boards. We sat out on the narrow sidewalk deck and over-ordered. Paul Boehmer was the chef who got the place of the ground but he has now moved on. The new menu is Marc Thuet’s and many of the meats are cooked down at Atelier Thuet— slow-barbecued in cool but smokey combi ovens. It’s not perfect but it’s the best barbecue in town—especially the beef ribs and the pulled chicken croque monsieur, an exceptional sandwich. Lovely cocktails served in Mason jars; awesome Mississippi mud pie for dessert (like some luxe and wicked chocolate brownie topped with melted marshallow and napped with caramel and chocolate sauces) paired with Thuet’s fabulous Wild Turkey bourbon ice cream. A true addition to Toronto’s foodscape.
But we were thinking about this Sunday and Ms. Stewart’s barbecue—which now embraces Canadians around the world. Let us all participate!