Two decades after opening its doors at the top of the TD Centre, Canoe continues to deliver one of the city’s most elegant and adventurous dining experiences. The restaurant (known for its locavore philosophy and seasonal tasting menus) has also launched the careers of some of Toronto’s top chefs. To mark its 20th anniversary, the restaurant brought back some of those chefs, and former front-of-house staff, to work alongside the current crew for a one-night-only tasting menu.
Duck fat shortbreads and chocolates were just some of the canapés prepared by the chefs from Oliver and Bonacini’s other restaurant properties: Amanda Ray (Biff’s), Bill Osborne (America Restaurant), Julie Marteleira (Auberge du Pommier), Markus Bestig (Trump Toronto), Michael Robertson (O&B events) and Paul Brans (O&B restaurants).
Chef Markus Bestig torches kusshi oysters topped with nori meringue.
Anthony Walsh (left), who started at Canoe in 1995 as a saucier and currently oversees the food at all O&B restaurants, helps Michael Robertson (right) plate the red fife gnocchi dish.
Head bartender Jeff Sansone has been with Canoe since it opened.
The Cheese Boutique (a go-to fromagerie for many of the city’s top chefs) sent a deliciously stinky anniversary cake to mark the occasion.
First course: tanner crab simmered in a ball of chard leaves, and beer-battered cod with a jalapeño and sea buckthorn tartar sauce, prepared by Indie Alehouse’s Todd Clarmo, Canoe’s first executive chef.
A special sour wheat beer was made to go with Clarmo’s fish dish. “To me, it’s a nice change from a glass of wine,” he says. Log vase centrepieces were filled with mushrooms, wild flowers and dinosaur kale.
Cava’s Doug Penfold helps plate Clarmo’s dish. “It’s wacky to be here 20 years later and see all the people who have come and gone,” says Penfold. (He worked the vegetable station when Canoe first opened). “There is a camaraderie amongst everyone, even if we didn’t work together at the same time, just because this place is such an institution. I continue to be proud of my experience here.”
Second course: potatoes with PEI clothbound-cheddar sauce and gherkin broccoli purée by Canoe’s newly appointed chef de cuisine, Coulson Armstrong, and current executive chef, John Horne.
Third course: rabbit broth with fall vegetables, lobster mushrooms, sausage, chervil and truffle oil. “This is my take on the rabbit soup that was on our opening menu 20 years ago,” says Doug Penfold.
Fourth course: squid ink corzetti, steamed B.C. honey mussels, ‘nduja, bread crumbs and fried parsley from chef Basilio Pesce, Canoe’s sous chef from 2003 to 2006 and, most recently the chef-owner of now-closed Porzia. “I’m one of the old school guys,” says Pesce. “I remember sitting at [Canoe’s] bar with Anthony for an interview. It turned into this bizarre, two-hour conversation about food and cooking and it was clear that I needed to work for this guy.”
Fifth course: black cod with a miso and maple syrup–Screech sauce, cauliflower purée and dinosaur kale by Tom Brodi, Canoe’s chef de cuisine from 2004 to 2010 and executive chef of TOCA at the Ritz Carlton until 2012.
Sixth course: smoked duck breast, duck leg farcie and crispy onion crumble by Matthew Robertson, former sous chef at Canoe from 2009 to 2011, and currently the executive chef of Montecito. “I remember sitting down with Anthony after peeling carrots and picking chervil for a day, and he wined and dined me,” says Robertson. “I was a nobody cook but Anthony embraced me, and that hospitality is something I’ve carried to every restaurant I’ve worked at.”
Seventh course: venison with parsley root and black walnuts, and a black pudding tourtière by Anthony Walsh. “He’s the soul of Canoe,” says current executive chef John Horne.
For dessert, a sticky toffee pudding with Glen Breton whisky sauce and buttermilk ice cream.
And the Soma chocolate sampler: Porcelana dark-chocolate bar, which won gold at the International Chocolate Awards in London last month, and a trio of truffles (garam marsala, peach magnolia and fig balsamic) by Soma’s co-owner David Castellan, Canoe’s pastry chef from 1995 to 2003.
Front-of-house staff, past and present.
Chefs and cooks, past and present, as well as loyal dishwasher of 20 years, Bala Murugan (pictured in the orange shirt).