Cheese Boutique partners with top chefs for indie food fest

Cheese Boutique partners with top chefs for indie food fest

Patrick McMurray at the Festival of Chefs (Photo by Davida Aronovitch)

The Cheese Boutique was abuzz with food enthusiasts last weekend for the launch of its annual Festival of Chefs. Now in its sixth year, the shop’s gastronomic fair showcases the creations of top chefs from across the city—paired with local wines—on Saturdays and Sundays throughout May. We stopped by to check out a round of offerings from Starfish duo Patrick McMurray and Kyle Deming—and to pick up a little oka on the way.

McMurray tells us that people were lined up before the store’s 8 a.m. opening, and with good reason: last year, the hero of the half shell gave away some 1,200 top-of-the-line oysters. This year, his offerings included sweet and meaty clams from British Columbia (“Look at that colour—beautiful!” cried a keyed-up McMurray) and five-year-old whiskey-soaked Ontario farmhouse cheddar. (Look for Guinness cheese at his soon-to-open Ceili Cottage on Queen Street East.) We love Deming’s County Clare salmon, roasted over Irish peat turf to give it a rich, smoky flavour. Top it all off with a glass of fruity Niagara Stratus white, and it’s the most fun we’ve ever had grocery shopping.

How did Cheese Boutique convince 10 of the city’s hottest gourmets to give away their coveted creations? Established in 1970, the shop is a long-time provider of homemade cheese and specialty imports to many of the top kitchens in the province. Second-generation cheesemonger Afrim Pristine explains that the Festival of Chefs started as the occasional demo for chefs, clients and friends. It has since snowballed into a top epicure event. The April 30 launch party featured two lambs on a spit (polished off head to toe), six cases of champagne (ditto) and 500 people. The secret to this success isn’t just a good nose; it’s impassioned eating, explains Afrim: “At family dinners, we don’t talk about sports, politics or history. We talk about food.”

The Cheese Boutique’s founding father, Fatos Pristine, takes a break from dispensing tea to give us a tour of the family jewels, housed in the “cave,” where mammoth cheeses are stored for aging. Fatos says of a 12-foot, 398-kilogram Italian provolone that looks like a medieval battering ram: “We risked our lives getting it in here,” he says.

Still to come at this year’s festival are appearances by Mistura’s Massimo Capra, Frank’s Anne Yarymowich and Epic’s Ryan Gustafson, among others. As for what’s on the menu, “You’ll have to come in and find out,” says Afrim.

Come to think of it, we might need some gouda, too.