East-West Reunions

East-West Reunions

Good news for the city: Patrick Lin is coming back from Hong Kong to take over as Executive Chef of Senses down at the Soho Metropolitan. I have a huge amount of time for Lin. Remember him as chef of Truffles in the early 1990s? And then a triumphant return there towards the end of the decade? Hotelier Henry Wu soon wooed him away to become executive chef at the Metropolitan Hotel and to cook in the open kitchen at Hemispheres Restaurant & Bistro. Most recently he has been executive sous chef at The Royal Garden Hotel in Hong Kong where he managed the food and beverage operation of the hotel, including its restaurants Dong Lai Shun, Inagiku, The Royal Garden Chinese Restaurant, Sabatini and Greenery.

The last meal Lin cooked for me was at Hemispheres in 2001 and it was a doozy. They had dimmed the lights in that high-ceilinged room during his tenure, trying to romance it into a trysting space. I remember a beautifully balanced spinach cream soup poured over peppery sautéed golden chanterelles: unblended spinach leaves sautéed with butter and garlic provided surprising moments of intensity. Delectable lobster tail, charred but still rare, lay draped like some pale but blushing odalisque over zucchini ribbons and petals of dramatically colourful heritage tomatoes, their flesh as soft as the accompanying mango and avocado. Taro root sticks and crisply fried lotus root made sure textures weren’t too yielding while pepper oils extended the flavour palette. My main course was a superb rack of sucking pig, with the crispest of cracklings, paired with a tender, bacon-wrapped confit of its leg meat. Baby vegetables (mostly apple and turnip) danced merrily around the meat chanting their high-pitched but barely audible apple-and-turnip nursery rhymes. The sauce, a rich, dark reduction, smiled at their antics with slightly condescending affection.

Yes indeedy, a dinner to remember. I can’t wait to see how Lin will impose his aesthetic on Senses and what his latest long sojourn in Hong Kong has done to his cooking. Meanwhile we wait for Senses’s previous star, Claudio Aprile, to throw open the doors of his next venture, Colborne Lane.

This week, I also had a letter from Barry Chaim, proprietor of EDO, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. I have a very poor sense of the passage of time. Mostly I feel about 22 years old, though some mornings I feel 198. The mirror shows someone completely unrecognizable on the few accidental occasions when it catches my eye—always an unpleasant shock. Like the Molly Turgess episode of Green Acres. 1986, however, does have some resonance as the year when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs and the year I settled in Toronto. More interesting, I suspect are the memories Barry Chaim has of opening EDO, which I will quote, if I may: “EDO opened its doors for the first time in January of 1986. At that time, there were 45 restaurants in Metro Toronto offering Japanese cuisine. EDO became a midtown favourite among the adventurous, as Japanese cuisine had not yet become well known nor broadly accepted. The name we chose from the beginning was “EDO – Fine Japanese Dining”.

“Today, many of the items on our menu are the same as they were when Kazuhiro Matsutake, our founding chef, was with us for five years before he returned to his home in Nagasaki. David Chung took over for five years as head chef at a critical transition point. Today, our executive chef is Ryo Ozawa of Fukuoka. Chef Ryo is an award-winning chef who left a brilliant future in Japan to bring his family to Toronto. Chef Ryo’s sense of balance and flavour, his extensive repertoire and his ability to have his team produce beautiful dishes has enabled EDO to maintain, and even to go back to meeting, our original objectives of providing fine Japanese cuisine.”

I can vouch for all this. Barry was one of the pioneers of Japanese cuisine in Toronto and he taught me a huge amount about it at a time when I still thought yakitori was a talkative politician and gobo a Shakespearian clown. EDO was then—and still is—about a broader gastronomy than just sushi. Barry and his team were also leaders in the matching of wine with Japanese cuisine. So, a toast to EDO for two decades of excellence and 20 more years to come.

Still no more than a dusting of snow for the skiers in this neck of the woods. So why not sign up for the Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championship weekend in crisp, snow-choked Whistler (February 1 to 4)? As well as taking part in the ultimate chefs’ challenge starring Canada’s top seven chefs, you can go skiing with Steve Podborsky and snowboarding with Ross Rebagliati. Of course, if you do, you’ll miss the tasting of extremely rare single malt Scotch whiskies I’m leading on the Friday afternoon (thank you, Chivas)—most of them never before available in Canada—but I will save a dram or two for the après-ski.