Well, it’s been about two weeks since the move to Toronto and I’m pleased to report we have more or less settled in. We’ve met quite a few very nice people in that short time – also, a number of weirdoes. But I suppose that’s to be expected. Toronto is a bigger city. Also, unlike Vancouver, Akemi and I can’t simply live as recluses. Necessity forces us to go out, encounter others and, in some instances, interact with them. The fact that I’ll strike up a conversation with just about anybody helps (or hurts depending on the relative sanity of my impromptu conversation partner).
The dogs have also settled into a nice little routine that includes four daily visits to the local dog park where Jelly leaves her stroller to get in her short walks, Bubba does his best to avoid contact with other dogs, and Lulu stubbornly refuses to return home until she has visited the dog run where she too ignores the other pooches in favor of begging their owners for attention.
I do miss Darlene and the gang at The Book Warehouse in Toronto. I’ve checked out a couple of the local book stores and have left underwhelmed. The sole exception is Bakka-Phoenix Books (84 Harbord Street), a terrific shop specializing in genre fiction. I spent a good half hour chatting with the staff while Akemi sat patiently by, endlessly perusing an illustrated Miyazaki book.
Even though I vowed to stick to digital versions while here in Toronto, I couldn’t help myself and picked up a selection made up of staff member Leah’s recommendations and some titles that caught my eye:
Presently reading Norman Lear’s Even This I Get to Experience. Just finished – and loved – the first volume of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, recommended to me by Prodigy Pictures Development Wunderkind Nat Cooper. I swung by The Silver Snail and picked up volumes 2 and 3 yesterday. And also brought home a bunch of other comic books and graphic novels Natalie sent me home with on Friday, among them Buzzkill by Donny Cates that I thought was pretty darn terrific as well. Speaking of comic book, it looks like it’ll be trade paperbacks only moving forward as Marvel has apparently wrapped up (canceled?) the only two single issue series I was collecting: The Thunderbolts and the awesome Superior Foes of Spiderman.
The eating, meanwhile, has been good. WAY to good. Some of the highlights –
The crispy prawn rice rolls at Luckee in the Soho Met. I don’t even like rice rolls but thought these were great. I’m not a huge fan of some of the entrees, but their dim sum menu items are uniformly great.
The sautéed sweetbreads at Le Neuf Cafe (9 Clarence Square) which, by the way, makes the best desserts in town – everything from salted caramel eclairs to their tiny chouquettes that Akemi has become addicted to and now picks up on almost a daily basis.
Wahlburgers (A Mark Wahlberg burger joint, 46 Blue Jays Way) opened her recently and I checked out their promising-sounding Thanksgiving Burger. The patty was flavorful but the stuffing and roasted butternut squash were decidedly not. The side of sweet potato tots (Actually made from yams. For some reason, people in Toronto don’t know the difference between a yam and a sweet potato) was disquietingly sweet. Everyone else in line ordered the signature Our Burger. Maybe I’ll order that next time. Or just go Burger’s Priest which I’ve been meaning to do.
After stocking up at the St. Lawrence Market this morning, we returned home where I made myself a bacon sandwich using two types of bacon (back bacon and peameal), Bourgogne cheese, and micro greens.
Tonight, we head out to a special event dinner at a local Italian eatery that is hosting a special guest chef from Vancouver: none other than our buddy Chef Robert Belcham (Fuel, Refuel, Fat Dragon, Camapagnolo, Campagnolo Roma). I will, of course, report back.
Last night, I had THE perfect meal. And, by “perfect”, I mean perfect for me. And no wonder given that my dinner was planned and prepared by Chef Rob Belcham. No one knows my culinary likes and dislikes, leanings and particulars better than Rob and the gang from Campagnolo/Campagnolo Roma/Fat Dragon.
Fellow owner Tom Doughty texted me earlier this week to let me know they had some very special pork in and would I be interested in having dinner at Campagnolo? Would I!
So, last night, Akemi and I showed up at Campagnolo where we were greeted by Chef Belcham who had that glint in his eye, the look of someone who was about to spring a surprise. As it turned out, several them over the course of our meal. No menus for us on this night. But I wasn’t worried. We were in infinitely capable hands.
It was served chilled with melon and a touch of chili. I told Akemi that, back in the day, when it was on the menu at the old location, I used to have two bowls – one to start the meal and one to end it. It’s that good.
Then, it was time for dessert and I was presented with…
What a great dinner. Thoroughly satisfied, we – WAIT! THERE’S MORE! Onto our second round of desserts –
I don’t eat out as much as I used to but the dinner made me wistful for the good old days at Fuel/Refuel – and, quite frankly, eager to come back to Campagnolo to sample the incredible-looking pastas and pizzas that passed our table over the course of the evening.
The meal was nothing short of perfection. A huge thanks to Rob, Tom, and the rest of the gang!
Hey, Cos & Effect (Cos & Effect) kicked off on Friday and continues through the weekend. Akemi and I dropped by this afternoon and I snapped a few pics – which I’ll be posting as part of tomorrow’s blog entry. Here’s a sneak peek:
Well, this is sad: Refuel closes; Top Chef Canada contestant takes over space. Refuel, formerly Fuel, one of my favorite Vancouver dining destinations is closing its doors. Owners Tom Doughty and Rob Belcham will no doubt remain as busy as ever what with two of their other restaurants, Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma, doing brisk business and another Asian barbecue-themed restaurant, Fat Dragon, set to open soon. And, from what I hear, the staff will remain employed, moving to one of their other aforementioned eateries. Still, it is dispiriting to know that one more long-familiar element of my life will soon be no more.
Back when it was Fuel, I was there two, sometimes three times a week, dining with my ex, my fellow Stargate producer Martin Gero, or, occasionally, solo at the bar seating where I could chat with Tom, Rob, or Chef Ted and watch the open kitchen at work. To be fair, this was at a point in my life when I was dining out all the time – and, by “all the time”, I mean “all the time”. The only days I ate at home were when we ordered in. Unfortunately, high end dining took a hit with the recession and, as a result, the restaurant was rebranded, transformed into Refuel – more casual yet committed to the same quality ingredients. Some dishes remained on the menu (including the outstanding confit crispy duck) joining notable additions like the buttermilk-fried chicken, and the establishment continued to host special events like their annual snout to tail whole hog dinners, offering everything from crispy pig ears with salsa verde to succulent roast temple. I continued to frequent the place, though not as much as I used to, mainly as a response to the changes in my life and a desire to start cooking at home more (apparently, when they closed the books on Fuel, the reservation history revealed I had, in fact, been their #1 customer), but the food and service remained consistently great. In fact, under Chef Jane Cornborough’s stewardship, it became one of Akemi’s favorite restaurants in the city.
I had many truly memorable dinners at both Fuel and Refuel which, not so coincidentally, served as the site for most of my annual chocolate parties. And so, today, I’d like to rundown my Top 16 Most Memorable Meals at Fuel/Refuel. This list may not be complete however as the restaurant’s doors remain open until March 24th. That’s ten more days to try their lemon risotto with albacore tuna tartare, dry-aged beef burger, crispy confit duck, peanut & chocolate parfait, and many other dishes! There’s still time!
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog entry, my fellow co-worker, Kerry McDowall, and I have a little wager heading into the NHL playoffs. She, being the Canucks-obsessed fanatic that she is – has the Vancouver Canucks while I’m going with my hometown Habs, the Montreal Canadians. Whoever’s team advances furthest into the playoffs will be declared the winner (For those asking, if both teams are eliminated in the same round, then we’ll go with number of games won. If both teams win an equal number of games, we’ll go to point differential followed by points scored, points allowed, and, finally, the much-loved pro sports tie-breaker of last resort – the dreaded coin toss. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that and Montreal cruises by those pesky Bruins while Vancouver fans sing the Blues). The stakes are high. If I win, she’ll be making me dinner – which I will, of course, review for this blog – after which we’ll sit down to watch an anime of my choosing. If she wins, I’ll have to accompany her to a musical production of her choosing.
So, last night, I received the following email from Kerry:
Not to get cocky this early in the playoffs, but I was happy to see the Arts Club theatre is putting on a nice local performance of Altar Boyz between June and August this summer. The timing couldn’t be more perfect.
“Watch out ‘N Sync, the Altar Boyz are coming to town! Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham-the gefilte fish out of water-can sing and dance with the best of them, and these heartthrobs want to praise the Lord with funk and rhyme. With lyrics like “Girl, you make me wanna wait” and “Jesus called me on my cell phone” this irreverent (but never mean-spirited) musical-comedy will wash your soul clean with laughter.”
Haha… why yes, Joe, I do think we have a winner here. I can’t wait until my soul is washed clean with laughter, can you?”
Today, I responded:
“By the way, don’t bother adding salt to any of the dishes you’ll be preparing. I’m sure they’ll be well-seasoned by your tears.”
Already, the trash-talking has begun!
Some terrific progress on the Atlantis movie script today as I hit the fast and furious climax. A LOT going on here with all of our characters in play and events going down in seven different locations. I approach the scene that’ll some thinking “They wouldn’t dare!”. Yep, we would. And will.
New director Alex Chapple is deep into prep on Life. Brian (aka our Lieutenant Scott) worked with him on Law & Order and had nothing but great things to say about him in the lead up to his arrival. Alex, meanwhile, had some equally great things to say about Brian. Looking forward to their collaboration on this episode which will offer some significant insight into our various players including a little surprise or two. Or three.
Look what I got in the mail today. A French Bulldog t-shirt compliments of Deni B. Thanks, Deni. I plan to work into my summer rotation.
Hey, congratulations to Fuel Restaurant’s Rob Belcham who was named Chef of the Year at the 20th Annual Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards.
JJ writes: “Is this mean that Syfy plan to take a long break in the mid-season?”
Answer: I’m not sure what the network has planned.
Madwelshboy writes: “The Hollywood Reporter is saying that Amanda Tapping will guest star in SGU, is that true??”
Answer: That The Hollywood Reporter said this? By all indications, yes. Ha ha. Though, seriously. Several weeks ago when I mentioned having a wonderful time catching up with an old friend, she’s who I was referring to.
Major D. Davis writes: “1. Do you think the Atlantis movie will be released before or after the SG-1 movie is released?
2. If i wanted to write to one of the actors what address should i send it to?
3. What episode are you currently filming and how is it going?
4. Is that a group picture of the Atlantis, SG-1, and Universe cast and crew to the left of the picture of Kerry?
5. Are the uniforms in the second SGU trailer the Icarus Base Uniforms you said looked really cool, cause they look like the US army digital pattern uniform?
6. There is a rumor circulating that the Icarus Base is on a moon(not earth’s, just another planets moon). Is that true?”
Answers: 1. No idea.
2. If you want to ensure your letter arrives in a timely manner, I’d suggest finding out who their representation is and send it their way. They’ll see to it that their fan mail is forwarded to them. If it’s a member of the SGU cast, send it to the production offices as we see them most every day.
3. Water. It’s going very well.
4. Nope. We have yet to take the crew photo for SGU.
5. Those are the Icarus Base Uniforms.
6. No comment.
Shirt ‘n Tie writes: “Any sign of the PDL or Joel Goldsmith Q and A?”
Answer: Still no sign of the Joel Goldsmith Q&A, but I received the PDL Q&A today and it is fantastic. One response almost had me on the floor, laughing. Will have to hold off on posting it until early next week to coincide with a little something in the works…
Joshua writes: “ What’s the difference between IOA and… IOC i think?? The one they reference in Outcast. The guys Bates works for.”
Answer: The International Olympic Committee? Bates is in charge of greasing down the bobsled run.
Lauren writes: “Hey Joe, I was wondering if you’ve ever read any of the Harry Dresden books?”
Answer: Not yet.
Phil writes: “I saw that Janelle Monae is appearing in an ep of Universe. Do you know which one it will be?”
Answer: The talented Ms. Monae will make an appearance in Earth.
Faced with the prospect of a Tokyo culinary tour comprised of fatty toro, well-marbled kobe, and sinfully decadent desserts, I elected to put myself on a diet and exercise regimen. I wake up, do either a cardio or weight training work-out, have a protein shake for breakfast, a hearty salad for lunch, a protein bar for snack, and some broiled fish and veggies for dinner. The point is to ensure I’m able to fit into my suit for, at the very least, the beginning of my trip to Japan. So when Marty G. suggested we hit Fuel this past weekend, I demurred, imagining myself strolling through Omotesando in elastic-waisted sweats. But Martin presented a sound argument. The last thing I want to do is have my body acclimatize itself to this Spartan diet. I needed to throw my metabolism a curveball – and there was no better bullpen ace than Chef Rob Belcham.
So we went to Fuel and saddled up at the bar where we could watch the kitchen crew in action and annoy them with our inane banter. Seated right next to us was fellow foodie and editor of Scout Magazine Andrew Morrison and CTV news anchor Coleen Christie. They bore witness to our gastronomic excesses.
Now I was going to go with a three-course Chef’s menu – soup, salad, a modest fish dish – only to have my dining companion balk. While Martin didn’t actually come out and call me a punk ass bitch, that was the implication. “I’m doing six courses WITH dessert,”he informed me. Hey, Marty G. may be a champion eater but, compared to me, he’s freaking Nicole Ritchie. So, yeah. Six courses it was.
We started with the amuse-bouche, sautéed lardo (cured pork fat) on a bed of diced Gravenstein apple, a delightful harbinger of what lay ahead.
For our first course, we were served soups. The second they were set down in front of us, I feared I was the butt of some cruel prank. Martin landed the brodo with three plump little marrow meatballs. I got the cauliflower soup. Now, don’t get me wrong. The cauliflower soup was very nice, pureed to silken glory, but the marrow meatballs were crazy fantasy. Yes! Crantastic!
Our second course was the foie gras terrine for two, served with a sweet and sour apricot jam, toasted baguette, and maldon salt. Incredibly smooth and absolutely delicious.
For our third course, a little surf and turf Fuel-style: Seared scallop accompanied by some corned beef tongue served atop a bed of diced pumpkin. The sweetness of the tender scallop contrasted wonderfully with the savory crispness of the tongue.
The fourth course was a delight: stuffed trotter (yep – the part of the pig that trots). A really nice, hearty preparation that reminded me of the cuisine of my hometown of Montreal.
At this point in the meal, Chef Rob asked us how we were doing. Feeling cocky, Martin boldly suggested we up the ante and add an extra course. Rob was more than up to the challenge.
Our fifth course was a ling cod dish that, while very good, was a little like Daniel Baldwin at a family reunion. It’s not that he’s loved any less, just that he ain’t Alex, William, or Stephen.
As good as the preceding dishes were, the sixth course was the hands-down winner of the evening. The beef cap, served medium rare, was the best beef I’ve had outside of Tokyo. Fondy had some last time we visited and she’s been thinking about it ever since. Beyond tender. Beyond tasty. Bender and basty! I think I saw Marty G. shed a lone tear when he popped the last morsel into his mouth.
We finished with dessert: cheesecake with Coronation grapes and brown butter for Martin, and, Fuel’s latest addition, dark chocolate truffle, banana-caramel fitter, and coconut sorbet for me. Martin is a big fan of Coronation grapes and greatly appreciated his dessert. I loved mine and do hereby declare it my favorite Fuel dessert ever!
Well, back in the office today. While Brad and Robert worked on revisions to the first script, the rest of us kept busy in our respective offices surfing the internet, phoning home, and making final preparations for our trip to Tokyo. At a little after 11:00, we convened in the writers’ room and started spinning Alan’s story. We broke for lunch, then resumed the discussion on shipboard justice and the ever-developing interrelations among the crew. Factions, fractions, and surprising revelations. By the time we called it a day, we had beaten out Alan’s story.
Tomorrow = More SGU! My Whispers commentary with director Will Waring! And Schnitzel Day!
Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday boy Johnny E! and a recovering Davidd.
NarellefromAus writes: As it turns out, it was a problem with their equipment. Jelly’s sick, but thankfully not that sick!
Thornyrose writes: “So Mr. M, how is Maximus?”
Answer: He’s come down with the same thing. Now both of them are on meds.
MyNameIsScott writes: “Wish me luck trying to get my tonsils to shrink down and fever to go away… all the while working at a used dvd store full of hicks and idiots.”
Answer: Good luck! Try Beaches. That usually does the trick.
Eugene from Aus writes: “Joe, are you planning to watch any of the soon-to-be-released movies anytime soon or don’t you have the spare time?”
Answer: I prefer watching movies in the comfort of my own home. I’m more than happy to wait for the dvd release.
Eugene from Aus also writes: “Oh yes Joe, another thing, are there going to be more auctions on the Stargate Legacy eBay page, or am I already too late?”
Answer: I believe it will be ongoing for a while.
Majorsal writes: “it hasn’t been stated yet, but did the sg1 movie officially get the green light to be made?”
Jahedur writes: “hi joe love your blog gives great insight into the stargate world. anyway i was watching some oldies…ahh season 1 and i started wondering when did you guys realise that when exiting the stargate having to make the guys all frozen over would be too much…”
Answer: The day a faux frost-covered Richard Dean Anderson stumbled out of the gate and declared “This is going to get real old, real fast.”
Whenever I peruse the menu at a local restaurant, I’m usually thinking: “What would I like to eat?”. On the other hand, whenever I peruse a restaurant menu in some other city, I’m usually thinking: “What would I like to eat?” and “When’s the next time I’ll be back here?”. In my mind, there’s nothing worse than a missed opportunity which is why, when I’m in a strange city, I tend to order an extra appetizer “for the table”, an extra main course “for the table”, and, more often than, every non-fruit-based dessert available. Such a strategy ensures that I get to sample as wide a range of plates as possible – short of ordering everything.
Like I said, it’s a dining approach usually reserved for my travels. However, there are rare occasions when I’ll apply it to one of my regular haunts. Like, say, last Friday’s lunch at Fuel. I’d been tipped off that September 26th would be the last day for Fried Chicken Fridays, so I stopped by to mourn its passing. Only problem was, even though I was looking forward to my final fried chicken Friday lunch, I really had a hankering for Fuel’s schnitzel sandwich. Rather than skip out on either, I opted for my own lunch combo: The fried chicken and schnitzel sandwich platter (pictured above).
Anyway, regulars to this blog know that I talk up Fuel a lot because – well, in my estimation, it’s the best restaurant in Vancouver. And a lot of the credit for that goes to Chef Rob Belcham and his crack kitchen team. So who is Rob Belcham? You mean besides being a Stargate fan? Read on…
So tell us about Chef Rob. How’d he get his start? Where did he do his training? How did he end up at Fuel?
Chef B: I started cooking when I was about 11 years old. I started to see wonderful food being prepared on TV. Justin Wilson, Julia Child and Jeff Smith were some of the people who helped open this new world to me. I only knew how to make a few things at first, with my family as the cautious guinea pigs. As I grew older, I cooked for friends as well (Gumbo was my signature dish).
It was not until I turned 21 that I made the decision to pursue cooking as a profession. I went to cooking school in Victoria, at Camosun college. After the first 20 minutes of my first class I knew I wanted to be part of the food culture. I’d entered a whole new world and I never looked back. My first cooking gig was at Rebar Modern Food, Victoria’s famous vegetarian restaurant. I went there to challenge the skills I had learned in school where the dishes revolved around the meat with vegetables as a careless afterthought. I came to learn about how vegetables behave under different circumstances and how the flavors and textures change through the seasons. I came to embrace how vegetables can be used to enhance the protein element of a dish and how a protein can enhance a vegetable.
From there I went on to cook at the Aerie Resort, a Relais Chateaux resort and restaurant, on Vancouver Island at the top of the Malahat. This was my entry into the world of fine dining. Multi course meals, menu’s written and served on the same day, cooking from the herb garden behind the kitchen and, of course, all of the best meat and fish the Island had to offer. After a couple of years, I did a week long stage (i.e. worked for free) at the French Laundry in Napa California, which led to a job offer. It was an incredible opportunity and eye-opening learning experience. It was like going to the majors in baseball or being asked to play in the NHL. The biggest thing you see at this level is the immense determination among the cooks to do the best they can.
When I left the Laundry I needed a bit of a break (14 hour days will do that to you) and the few waking hours each day that I could spend with my wife were simply not enough, so I became a private chef in the booming bubble of the Silicon Valley. It was a great change of pace, but it really took me out of my element, the professional kitchen. I found myself in various kitchens dealing with kids and dogs and random guests. This was a departure for me as I was a foul mouthed cook and that had to stop immediately (except with the dogs). I did however, work for some really wonderful families and made some great friends.
My wife and I were ready to settle down and start our own family, so we moved to Vancouver to be closer to home. I started working as a Sous Chef for Robert Clark at C Restaurant and I became a Dad after my first summer there. I was the Chef De Cuisine after my second summer and continued on for another three (I also helped open Nu restaurant in 2005). It was Chef Clark who taught me how to be a chef and it was Harry Kambolis who inspired me to open my own restaurant. In the winter of 2006 Tom Doughty, C Restaurant’s sommelier, and I started construction on Fuel and we opened the doors on January 3, 2007. It was a long path, but I knew it was where I was meant to be.
Research is important. I remember hearing that you went to New York and, because of the limited time available and your desire to sample as much as the city had to offer, on some days you ended up having three different breakfasts, three different lunches, and three different dinners. True?
Chef B: I was in New York for 2 ½ days and ate at 18 different places. I had never been to the Big Apple before and had been reading about the restaurant scene for years so I went all in. From the basics, a burger and crinkle cut fries in Madison Square Park, to a lazy lunch at a 5 star restaurant, and everything in between. The amazing thing was that I did not even scratch the surface when it came to good food in New York. I cannot wait to go back.
(On a side note I just got back from 2 and a half days in Las Vegas where my wife and I hit eight restaurants.)
One of the things that I love about coming to Fuel is the kitchen’s willingness to experiment and try new things. Of all of the dishes you’ve created for Fuel, what has been your proudest accomplishment to date?
Chef B: This is a very difficult question as we change the menu all the time. I will say when I made my first really good batch of dry cured sopresseta, I was as proud as a first time Dad.
On the flip side, what has been the most memorable dish that didn‘t work out?
Chef B: We try new dishes on an ongoing basis. I can safely say that for every dish that makes it on the menu there at least 3 dishes that will never see the top side of a table.
The Queen of English is coming over for dinner. What will you be making?
Chef B: A simple roasted chicken.
Many celebrity chefs have cited early influences that helped shape their success. Who or what were your earliest culinary influences?
Chef B: I was raised in an environment where food was a bit of an afterthought. I do have some great early memories of trout fishing with my Father and Grandfather. I never thought of food as anything other than sustenance until I became a cook. Most of my influences came from eating as many different things as I could and working with some really great cooks. I will say it was Thomas Keller who helped me to understand the importance and appreciation of the raw ingredient; that each component was something to be revered and respected.
You’ve won an all-expense paid trip to anywhere in the world. Where are you going? And, more importantly, what are you eating?
Chef B: I have eaten my way all over the US, Canada, France and England (so far). I have learned it’s not about how many stars the critics have rated the restaurant, or who’s name is above the door; it’s about the love and honesty that the cook has put into the food that really counts. (With that being said I would love to eat every roadside Barbecue place from Kansas City to Houston to North Carolina.)
What’s your food philosophy?
Chef B: Take what Mother Nature has presented us and treat it in a way that allows the natural characteristics come shining through. Also, to bring ingredients together in such a way as to have the end product be much greater, and tastier, than the sum of its parts.
You’ve been invited to test your culinary mettle on Iron Chef America. What secret ingredient are you secretly praying for and which of the Iron Chef’s are you going to take on?
Chef B: I would love to do Battle Pork. My chef/combatant would, of course, be Mario Batali. Because I know we would have a good time afterward, no matter who won.
What’s with the tats? Is there some sort of connection between chefs and tattoos?
Chef B: I started getting tattoos before I became a cook. My sleeves came at a time when I was a private chef and I had the time and disposable income to dedicate towards getting them done. As for the connection between cooks and tattoos; they do cover burns and cuts quite nicely.