By Amy Sanderson
On January 24, 2017, Torontonicity had the pleasure of participating in the first hands-on cooking workshop and a sneak peek at the delicious menu created by Azure Restaurant at the InterContinental Toronto Centre for Winterlicious 2017.
Upon arrival, the hosts graciously offered us a glass of wine to start and allowed guests to mingle before our cooking lesson. Next, we were brought into the kitchen and introduced to the two head chefs: Grace Di Fede, Chef de Cuisine and Shawn Whelan, Executive Chef. Chef Di Fede manages and oversees daily food preparation at Azure. Her main role is to create inspired menus that pay tribute to contemporary Canadian cuisine with innovative seasonal dishes. Chef Whelan brings over 30 years of culinary experience and is responsible for all cuisine in the restaurant, banquet, meeting space and 24-hour room service.
We were given chef hats and aprons to cook with, which we got to keep! The first lesson was preparing the meat dish, Port & Black Cherry Braised Veal Shank. I volunteered for this part! We were instructed to season then braise the meat. I had always thought braising the meat was to seal in the juices, but learned from Chef Whelan in fact it is only meant to caramelize the meat, thereby creating more flavour for the gravy! Once braised, we set the meat aside then added the ingredients and brought the pot to a boil, placing the meat back in. The recipe asks to cook in the oven at 350 degrees for 3 hours allowing the meat to become tender and juicy.
The next station was the Octopus & Scallop Escabeche. At this station, we were shown how to poach seafood (in this case, scallops) in a hot mixture of wine and spices. The dish was then delicately assembled with the rest of the ingredients looking both fresh and tasty!
The last station was the assembly of the Tiramisu Parfait – I got to help with this one. We layered the mousse then dipped savoiardi cookies in Kahlua and topped with cream, powdered cocoa and a biscotti biscuit. I have never met a Tiramisu I didn’t like.
After all this hard work, we got to sit down and order our meal. The dinner menu created for Winterlicious is $48 and $28 for lunch, not including beverages. The dinner menu features three courses where we selected one of three options for each.
Squash & Caramelized Pear Soup – maple & Oka fritters – This is the one that I chose. The soup was velvety and satisfying and the sharp Oka cheese in the fritters added a lovely zest.
Leaves of Mache & Baby kale – frisée + dates + radish + feta cheese + citrus & honey basil house vinaigrette
Octopus & Scallop Escabeche – orange + lime + avocado + shaved fennel + endives + balsamic reduction
Lumache (pronounced lu + mak + ay) Pasta with Gorgonzola Cream – spinach + royal gala apples + hazelnut crumble – This was extremely rich and delicious. I couldn’t finish mine, but brought the remainder home. If it’s possible, it tasted even better the next day.
Port & Black Cherry Braised Veal Shank – osso bucco + marscarpone risotto cake + arugula + gremolata
Grain Mustard Coated Salmon – couscous + fennel + radicchio + blood orange nage
Lemon Cheesecake – graham crust + candied lemon + citrus segment salad + toasted sesame seeds – I must admit I tried all the desserts! This one I think was my favourite
Tiramisu Parfait – savoiardi cookies + mascarpone mousse + kahlua coffee + cocoa – as good as it sounds
Apple Pecan Tart – sweet crust + pecan crumble + honeycomb ice cream
We were offered a selection of wines to accompany each dish.
Dinner was impeccably served in a wonderful, open, solarium-style room. We enjoyed our dinner and thanked our gracious hosts.
Winterlicious begins on January 27, 2017 and runs until February 9, 2017. For more information or reservations, visit Azure Restaurant located at 225 Front Street West, 416.597.8142.