Consumed: What Food Network host Bob Blumer ate last week
We’re asking top chefs and restaurateurs to document everything they eat and drink over the course of one week. Here, cookbook author and Food Network host Bob Blumer
To set the scene, I’m in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, at the Devour! film fest, where all of the films revolve around food, wine or spirits (or, as is often the case, all three). I’m here to host the after-gala screenings and interview the directors on stage. What follows is probably only half of what I actually ate every day.
8 a.m.: Breakfast bagel to-go
The Newfoundland-born host of my B&B, Victoria’s Inn, prepared a ham-and-egg bagel sandwich for me as I was running out the door to do a radio interview. Then I arrived at the station to discover there was another breakfast waiting for me. A station exec’s dad had caught a salmon in northern Labrador, and smoked it over moss and blackberry bramble. From that, she made me a salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Breakfast #2!
9 a.m.: Smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich
Later on, I did a joint cooking demo with my friend, the well-known Los Angeles–based chef Mary Sue Milliken. She prepared a bean tostada with fried chicken on top. I countered with a savoury crab cupcake topped with piped, beet-dyed mashed potatoes.
11 a.m.: Cooking demo
In the afternoon, I was a judge at the festival’s chowder competition. Judging chowder, which can be made in a variety of styles, is like judging a dog competition. How does one choose between a wiener dog and a St. Bernard? That said, my personal favourite was the entry from Charlotte Lane. It was very smoky, and by far the most complex.
1:30 p.m.: Nine different chowders
Afterwards, there was a little reception. The young man shucking in the photo below is a member of the Sober Island Oyster family. Obviously the child labor laws are suspended for Devour!
There’s this lovely coffee shop in the theatre called Just Us. I had many a double macchiato there.
4 p.m.: A double macchiato
Every night of the festival, there’s a tasting dinner based on one of the films, paired with wines, including many local ones. Tonight, five chefs created a multi-course meal based on Sour Grapes, a movie about a guy who makes counterfeit wine and hoodwinks many of the unsuspecting wine-drinking aristocracy. In that theme, there were a few dishes that were made from one thing to look like something else (a format I am deeply familiar with as the self-titled Surreal Gourmet). I think my favourite course of the night was made by chef Ray Bear of Studio East. What looked like sausage stuffed in squid was actually an inspired Cambodian-style sausage stuffed into an onion.
6:30 p.m.: A five-course dinner
Another highlight of the festival: chef Dominique Crenn (recently featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table) was the guest of honour.I had the pleasure of interviewing her on stage, where her passion and eloquence stole the show.
This morning, the B&B folks made me a cod cake for breakfast. After that, I went to the Wolfville farmers’ market. Craving vegetables, I gravitated to a garden-fresh chopped broccoli salad that tasted as good as it looked.
8 a.m.: Cod cake brekkie
12 p.m.: Farmers’ market broccoli salad
Tonight’s film was The Goddesses of Food, a documentary about women in professional kitchens. Five female chefs prepared the dinner in celebration of the film. The first course was cured steelhead trout served in a can. Looked like a can of cat food, tasted like heaven. It was followed by an earthy salad with pickled beet, fennel, and radishes. The next dish was a lobster and snow crab roll delicately wrapped in a mandolin cucumber slice. The white bean soup was topped with mascarpone ravioli made by chef Barbara Lynch—a well-known (and hilarious) chef from Boston, who I later learned stole a bus at the age of 14. In my photo, the soup is being modelled by my lovely wife, Kate, and Jason Priestly, an honorary board member of Devour! Chef René Lavallée prepared a Nova Scotia beef brisket and Mary Sue Milliken made a show-stopping apple and walnut capirotada, which is a cheffy version of what you and I would call bread pudding.
8 p.m.: Another five-course meal
After dinner, we went out to a festival party at a deconsecrated church where Matt, the festival bartender, was serving up his own special Jim Beam cocktail.
When I woke up, I had a Nova Scotia honey crisp apple—it was very crispy, as advertised.
8:30 a.m.: An apple
All of the food at the closing brunch was prepared by local culinary school students. It was a buffet, from which I chose a slimming assortment of egg strata, beet salad, mashed potatoes and a lobster béchamel crumpet, adorned with a poached egg.
10 a.m.: Close-of-festival brunch
In the afternoon I stopped by the Library Pub for a pint of McAuslan cream ale.
3:30 p.m.: A pint of cream ale and some scenery
The festival ends with a staff party at the festival director Michael Howell’s house. Michael also happens to be a professional chef. Using leftovers from the festival, he made a great Thai fish curry (which I devoured on contact and neglected to take a picture of).
People might think I travel in high style, but for my flight from Halifax to Toronto, I was actually in seat 40C, which is in the last row of the plane and right beside the bathroom. I forgot to take a picture of it, but I had a glass of Clamato, no vodka. Instead of a photo of that, here’s a sketch of what I think would make a better plane seat—especially back in 40C.
When I’m in Toronto I stay at the Gladstone Hotel. The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto. Back in the old days, it was one of the closest hotels to the Parkdale train station, so it was known as a hotel where women who were traveling to the city could stay, un-chaperoned. It was bought by the Zeidler family about 10 years ago, after which they engaged 37 different artists to each design a room. After staying there for about five years, I begged and begged and begged to design a room myself. Finally, Christina Zeidler allowed me to redo one of the rooms on the top floor. It’s one of only three rooms in the hotel that has a kitchenette, so I created the Surreal Gourmet suite. Now, when I come to Toronto, I usually get to stay in my own room, which has become my home away from home.
1:30 p.m.: Checking in to the Surreal Gourmet suite
As it was a Monday, I shot up to the Sorauren Farmers’ Market and did a little bit of shopping. I also had a refreshingly healthy black bean burger and an amazing Cacao Power cookie, which was the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Lastly, I bought some Montforte Dairy cheese. I installed a panini maker in “my” room when I designed it, and I fantasized about making a grilled cheese sandwich with it.
2 p.m.: Veggie burger and a cookie at the Sorauren Farmers’ Market
I’ve come to Toronto for the week to work on a culinary project for the photographer Edward Burtynsky. I spent the rest of the day beginning to physically build the sculptural food stations at a studio I am renting for the week. When I finished, it was late, so I stopped into Electric Mud and had a couple of their $2.50 Monday night beers. I love that place. I love the barbecue, I love the hipster roadhouse aesthetic, and I love the fact that they spin vinyl. One minute they’re playing some old Bon Jovi record and then the next, they drop some authentic Delta blues. I ordered ribs, coleslaw and beans (to which they add some of their meat trimmings, which makes them super smoky). I was exhausted from my weekend of eating, and went back to my room and crashed.
10 p.m.: Barbecue at Electric Mud
I like to start every morning with fruit, and today started with an Ontario Honeycrisp apple. I also start every day with a cup of tea. I travel with my own loose leaf, double Bergamot-scented Earl Grey tea, which I buy by the kilo from a company in Boston called Upton Tea Imports. I bring it with me everywhere I travel in a little caviar tin. It’s very aromatic and has a very full, round body. I get the disposable tea bags from Sanko on Queen West. If you are a committed tea drinker, I highly recommend this BYOT approach.
7:30 a.m.: An apple and some earl grey
My collaboration with Ed is for a big event he’s curating in December. Ed is known for his large-format photographs, and each of his series focuses on a particular form of environmental degradation. They’re all painfully beautiful. I’m taking five of his images and building food stations that are an extension of the image.
Normally when I’m in Toronto, I hit all my favourite restaurants, but I don’t really have time this week, so most of my food is on the fly. Even seeing some of my friends is on the fly. I wanted to visit with Zane Caplansky, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and spend an hour together on bikes at the gym. We talked non-stop about food, but the only thing I had there was water.
8 a.m.: A gym sesh with Zane Caplansky
When I come to town I like to hang out with my chef friends, and I try to see as many of them as I can. I called up Matty Matheson, and five minutes later, there we were together, sharing a bagel. He’s such a great guy—I call him and he’s there. That’s the kind of cache I have in this town—all the chefs want to hang out with me.
9:30 a.m.: A bagel from Nu Bügel with Matty Matheson (sort of)
A little sidebar: for a guy who’s somewhat conscious about his image when he’s having his photo taken, that’s just about the worst shot I could take with a mouthful of bagel—and it’s a selfie! I’ve got no one to blame but myself for that one.
According to the time on my camera clock, it’s 10:17, and I’m in an office tower on Bloor Street doing a Campo Veijo wine tasting. Breakfast of champions.
10:17 a.m.: Wine tasting
From there, I went to the studio to continue building out my food stations. I ordered in butter chicken, saag paneer and some garlic naan from Banjara. It was excellent. Here’s a tip from my artist friend Suanne, who lives around the corner from the restaurant: when you get takeout, you get twice as much for the same price as staying in. We could probably eat the leftovers from this “lunch for two” for the next three meals—but that wouldn’t make for much of a food journal.
1 p.m.: Takeout from Banjara
I went back to the Gladstone around 8:30 p.m. My idea was to watch a bit of the U.S. election and then go somewhere for dinner. That all went to shit pretty quickly. I watched the coverage for about an hour downstairs, then went up to my room with a half-dozen people. When I designed the room, I created a bar stocked with beer and a half dozen bottles of my favorite budget wines. We raided the six-pack of Steamwhistle in the fridge. By then, I’d given up on food, but someone ran out and picked up some chips. At that point, it was all about comfort food.
Midnight: Beer and chips (and more beer and more chips)
On Wednesday morning, I had a glorious bowl of homemade granola with yogurt and blueberry compote, and my usual earl grey, at the Gladstone.
8 a.m.: Granola at the Gladstone
After breakfast, I went back to work at the studio. Lunch was the House Special sandwich from Porchetta and Co., and a side of rapini and coleslaw. Perfection on a bun.
Noon: A sandwich from Porchetta and Co.
After a full day in the studio, I went to Drake One Fifty for dinner. We had two of the night’s specials, and each one was better than the next. First up was a duck ragu, with what I assume was house-made pasta. The second dish was a spin on bouillabaisse with black cod, various legumes, a wonderful broth, and some toast and aïoli on the side. Stunning.
8 p.m.: Dinner and wine at Drake One Fifty
I collect wine. At home I drink my favorites and when I’m out I look for great value wines. We ordered a Nero d’Avola, which is a Sicilian varietal that I had the privilege of drinking in Sicily a few weeks ago. It was such a luscious wine, it’s hard to believe it was one of the least expensive wines on the list. The chef sent out a dessert board for my dinner companion (and fortuitously, me as well). It included a butternut-squash-and-pumpkin cake with sea buckthorn berries, panna cotta with honey and a smashed brownie.
Thursday was an epic day. You’ll see a huge contrast between Thursday and Friday, and that’s the contrast between my life on the road and my life at home. I woke up at 7 a.m. and worked out on a stationary bike for an hour. If I’m not having breakfast at the Gladstone, I’ll pick up something down the block at Mabel’s or the Drake. At Mabel’s, I gravitate to their Egg Toast Cups, which are a brioche-type bread with veggies and a cracked egg baked in the middle. At the Drake I buy their blueberry scones. I often bring a half dozen of them home to L.A. with me. They’re the lightest, flakiest scones ever, and paradoxically, at $2.50, the best.
8 a.m.: An “egg toast cup” at Mabel’s
As part of my Burtynsky project, I went to Dufflet’s main bakery to meet with Dufflet Rosenberg herself. I designed a cake in the form of a granite quarry for 120 people, and she’s making it. While I was there, Dufflet gave me a tour of her bakery, which is the size of a football field. When I lived in Toronto in the ‘80s, I used to go to Dufflet’s on Queen West. She’s gone from those humble beginnings, to a building with walk-in ovens and a walk-in dishwasher where they roll the carts in, close the door, and the entire room becomes a dishwasher. It’s an insanely “YUGE” operation, yet every item looks like it was made in her original Queen St. location. I couldn’t be happier for the Willy Wonka of baking.
9 a.m.: A tour of Dufflet’s main bakery
On to Cheese Boutique, where I met with Afrim Pristine. Afrim is the quintessential gracious host. Whether you’re a regular who’s there to buy a small wedge of cheese, or someone like myself buying $500 worth for an event, you are always greeted with an espresso. This time I was given a precious little chocolate-filled doughnut as well.
12:30 p.m.: Sandwiches from the Cheese Boutique
I picked up two sandwiches on my way out of the Cheese Boutique for lunch, which I shared with Suanne, the owner of the studio where I’m working. I don’t work for the Cheese Boutique marketing department, but everything they sell there is truly amazing. The muffuletta, and the fresh cheese, tomato, and an olive spread sandwiches powered me through the afternoon.
At the end of the day, I raced off to the Distillery District to attend my friend Denise Donlon’s book launch. They had little nibbles out, including some egg rolls. From there, I went next door to see Manteca perform for their new record release.
9 p.m.: Mini egg rolls at a book launch
Dave Sidhu invited me to come check out his new Filipino restaurant, Dolly’s Mojito Bar, in Bloordale. So I raced across town around 10pm. I ordered the purple yam crunchy salad, the pancit bihon (a glass noodle dish), and the lechon. I’ve had lechon in the Phillipines and Dave’s is even better. I couldn’t resist one of their delicious mojitos, made with their own house-pressed sugar cane.
10:30 p.m. Filipino food at Dolly’s Mojito Bar
It was just about midnight when I finished, and Dave still hadn’t arrived. He called me from STK in Yorkville and insisted that I meet him there. In an effort to keep Uber in business, I jumped in a car and headed back east. When I arrived at Dave’s table, I was offered a taste of someone’s left-over steak, and a glass of a full-bodied, earthy red wine was poured from the bottle on the table. I can’t figure out if STK is a dance club that thinks it’s a steak house, or a steak house that thinks it’s a dance club, but the Yorkville crowd was eating it all up. I called it a night at 2 a.m.
1 a.m.: Steak and wine at STK
I woke up at 5 a.m., had a cup of tea, and headed to the airport. I didn’t eat until I landed back in Los Angeles because it was only a few hours ago that I was nibbling on that piece of steak from STK. I was outside LAX, waiting for an Uber when a woman with a little pull cart came up to two airport employees who were standing close to me. She was selling watermelon and orange segments sprinkled with chili-lime—much as they do on the streets of Mexico. I’ve never bought street food at LAX before, but it made for a perfect, refreshing treat.
10 a.m.: Street fruit at LAX
When I got back to my house, the pendulum immediately began to swing from what I eat on the road to how I eat at home. For lunch, I made a big salad with kale, pomegranate seeds and a few other ingredients I foraged for in my fridge.
12:30 p.m.: Homemade kale salad
As part of the pendulum’s swing, I managed to squeeze in an invigorating kilometer-long swim at my YMCA. For dinner with my wife, I bought some rapini (inspired by my Porchetta lunch) and Canadian whitefish at my local grocery store. I accompanied it with a lovely bottle of Imagery’s Cinsault. Cinsault is usually a blending grape used in the Rhone region, but these days it has become increasingly popular to bottle blending grapes on their own. Cinsault is used by winemakers to soften up wines. On its own it’s a super-soft wine—which helped pave the way for a super soft landing back home.
7 p.m.: Whitefish, rapini and wine at home