6ix Questions with Mark McEwan

Chef Mark McEwan needs no introduction, but I will take a shot at one regardless. One of the city's most successful chefs and restauranteurs, he's been the creative mind behind some of our most memorable meals, from his fine dining restaurants to his catering to his grocery stores. Mark will once again be treating the city to a unique dining experience at Toronto's first ever Rosé Picnic. Celebrating the love of rosé wines, the picnic will be an afternoon of wine paired with food from Chef McEwan’s restaurants. If an afternoon of wine and exceptional food under the sun weren't good enough, proceeds from the event will benefit Rethink Breast Cancer, an organizaton for young women affected by breast cancer. I chatted with Chef McEwan about pairing rosé with food, philanthropy, women in the restaurant industry, as well as what he eats when he's dining al fresco.


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We seem to be in the midst of a rosé revival.  What foods do you think pair best with dry rosé? Sweeter, fruit-forward rose? Sparkling rosé?

Not all dry, sweet or sparkling wines are the same, but there are some sure-fire pairings that will satisfy even the most discerning palette; especially if the wine is served cold on a beautiful summer day! 
With a dry rosé, I would serve a light salad or a light pasta, especially with seafood, raw and lightly cooked shellfish and goats' cheeses. I would also try to add ingredients that pick-up on tasting notes of the wine. You can be bolder with a full-bodied, sweeter rose and serve at a summer BBQ or even with spicier dishes like a light curry. There is also a wide range of sparkling rosés available and it's  tough to go wrong with pairings if serving quality sparkling. Cheese is always a great go-to, as are oysters or fresh fruit. Sweeter sparkling rosés are fantastic when serving desserts like tea cakes, tarts or cupcakes. There is so much variety now, you can find a rosé to suit any dish! 


McEwan's  Rosé Picnic's Vegan Picnic Basket. Fire roasted eggplant sandwich with spiced chick pea spread, roasted Ontario peppers, sweet pickled onion, pesto aioli on olive ciabatta roll. Seasonal vegetable crudités with classic hummus. Grilled broccoli salad with roasted corn salsa. Crisp root vegetable chips. Double chocolate coconut cake.

McEwan's  Rosé Picnic's Vegan Picnic Basket. Fire roasted eggplant sandwich with spiced chick pea spread, roasted Ontario peppers, sweet pickled onion, pesto aioli on olive ciabatta roll. Seasonal vegetable crudités with classic hummus. Grilled broccoli salad with roasted corn salsa. Crisp root vegetable chips. Double chocolate coconut cake.


The Chew Street community supports food and wine business that use their platform for social good.  We love that the Rosé Picnic supports Rethink Breast Cancer.  How do you choose the philanthropic organizations you collaborate with?

There are so many fantastic philanthropic organizations out there and many in our own backyard. The McEwan Group is and has been involved in many charitable initiatives over the years in many different fields, but one issue that everyone in the McEwan family feels very strongly about is food waste. We have partnered with Second Harvest and other similar organizations for years. Any excess food at all properties is donated to Second Harvest and many of our team members volunteer regularly. Ending hunger in our neighbourhoods and ensuring everyone has access to nutritious food while minimizing food waste is a priority for us. 

What, in your opinion, is the most underrated or underused spice?

Sumac. This tangy spice is most prevalent in Middle Eastern cooking and adds a bright flavour to dishes. The tartness is perfect in spice blends, dry rubs, sprinkled over salads or even used in cocktails. It's so versatile, has delicious flavour and a fantastic colour. It's a spice every kitchen should have. 


McEwan Rosé Picnic Basket.  Southern fried tandoori chicken with coriander yogurt sauce. Jewelled rice salad. Masala spiced cauliflower. Roasted jalapeño corn bread. Raspberry trifle with cardamon cream.

McEwan Rosé Picnic Basket.  Southern fried tandoori chicken with coriander yogurt sauce. Jewelled rice salad. Masala spiced cauliflower. Roasted jalapeño corn bread. Raspberry trifle with cardamon cream.


Now, more than ever, there is an increasing awareness of sexism in the restaurant industry.  How have you created a working enviromnent where both men and women can be successful?

I think the culture of any kitchen, or any organization for that matter, is created by a variety of factors, including the founder's values and how leadership roles are shaped. I value talent and hard work and it happens that many of our managerial roles are filled by women. Whether it's Chef Missy Hui helming the kitchen at Fabbrica, or our General Managers at North 44, ONE Restaurant, Bymark and Diwan all being women, to our Head of Catering or Director of Communications roles being filled by women as well, we aim to empower our employees. Every voice is heard and our team-members grow as the McEwan Group grows! 


McEwan Rosé Picnic Basket. Herb roasted beef tenderloin with Russian mustard aioli. Roxy’s potato salad with horseradish, thyme and celery. Garden bean salad with dill and garlic. Cured tomato baguette with whipped butter. Pecan and brown sugar butter tarts. Two Signature chocolate truffles .

McEwan Rosé Picnic Basket. Herb roasted beef tenderloin with Russian mustard aioli. Roxy’s potato salad with horseradish, thyme and celery. Garden bean salad with dill and garlic. Cured tomato baguette with whipped butter. Pecan and brown sugar butter tarts. Two Signature chocolate truffles .


Your menus feature food from the Middle East and North Africa (Diwan), to traditional Italian (Fabricca). What do you do to ensure the diversity of your offering remains authentic?

I let the creativity & talent of our chefs as well as quality ingredients speak for themselves. It's a tough question to answer as some dishes are inspired by and some dishes, like with our pizza at Fabbrica that follows the Vera Pizza Napoletana specifications, are very traditional. There is such diversity in our kitchens that dishes are authentic to McEwan standards, where we really strive for fresh produce and exceptional ingredients. We try to make as much as we can in-house (from our pastas to sauces) so we know that every element on a plate that is served to our guests is tasty! 

What would be on the menu for a picnic or al fresco meal in your backyard?

I am an avid gardener so I love to serve crudites & roasted veggies that I have grown myself. Again, I love family-style cooking so big roasts or whole grilled fish is a preference. Simplicity is key and so is a good glass of wine.  



Toronto's first annual Rosé  Picnic will take place Saturday July 22, 2017 at Fort York.  You can purchase tickets  and pre-purchase picnic baskets.here. Food will also be available for sale on site.  Learn more about Rethink Breast Cancer here.

Recipes You Need to Know - Cardamom Mojito

Happy National Mojito Day! To help celebrate this timeless rum cocktail, we wanted to share a recipe created by the International Bacardi Brand Ambassador, Juan Coronado.

Coronado believes Rum and Bacardi represent more than just a drink, but a culture - a way of life taking you back to the Caribbean roots of summer, island music and positive vibes.

We believe fresh ingredients are the key to the best cocktails and hope you love sipping on this fresh, unique twist on the classic mojito - the Cardamom Mojito.




Megan Munro is a lifestyle, food, beauty & travel writer.  Her passion for travel has taken her to 36 countries and she now calls Toronto home.  Follow Megan at @immfab  

How One Local Business Turned Unused Space into Gardens that Give Back

We love the work done by FoodShare. This local non-profit has been creating innovative programs since 1985 to ensure food security for everyone in our city. One of their signature initiatives, the School Grown Program, provides access to food and income for Toronto students. An urban schoolyard farming project, grows vegetables and fruits on school rooftops and lawns to create student employment and access to healthy food.

To date, the School Grown Program has employed 108 high school students, paid out $200,000 in youth wages, and grown $68,000 worth of fresh produce.

Higgins Event Rentals, a local family run business and FoodShare sponsor, was inspired to do some giving of their own. They worked with FoodShare and had Toronto students repurpose unused space at their Etobicoke head office into produce-yielding gardens. Not only did the four gardens installed at the front of their building transform the space, revenue from the installation of the gardens will go to the School Grown Program.

Debbie Wolgelerenter chatted with Andrew Zimbel from Higgins Event Rentals and Katie German from FoodShare about food security, community, and more.



CHEW STREET: I understand that Higgins Event Rentals has long been a supporter of FoodShare but that this was the first time the two organizations have collaborated on a School Grown program project. 

AZ: The Higgins Family has “We Care” as one of our Core Values. To us that means caring about the events we supply, the customers, our staff and suppliers as well as the greater community.  As an example of this core value, Higgins Event Rentals has been a supporter of FoodShare through its Recipe for Change event for many years.  

Higgins Event Rentals Instagram.

Higgins Event Rentals Instagram.

We were so inspired by the event, we asked our favorite question: “Can you tell me more about what you do?”  Our contact, Heidi Pyper from FoodShare, told us more about the School Grown Program.  Having moved to a new 55,000 square foot building with lots of green space, we thought that buying a garden from the School Grown Program would benefit both the students involved and our community of chefs, caterers and employees. 

Our intention is to allow our chefs to come and harvest herbs and vegetables once they have grown. We are also using this opportunity to spread the message of FoodShare to our community of customers and influencers.  

CHEW STREET: What is an easy tip people or businesses can integrate into their day that could help increase food security in Toronto? 

AZ: I have two tips that business can integrate into their day that could help increase food security in Toronto. 

The first is to plan ahead.  If you plan your event with enough time, caterers can source products locally and have time to customize menus to suit the season. 

The second tip is to hire and buy locally. Food security, in the end, comes down to people having enough money to buy enough to eat.  By hiring locally, business provide employment and employment allows citizens to buy the food they need.  It is a nice circle.



CHEW STREET: How did the School Grown program get started? Was it easy to get schools and students on board?

KG: We started at Bendale BTI when a really engaged principal and teacher were looking for a community partner that could turn the vacant green space into a market garden that would provide hands on curriculum connections for their horticulture classes to use.

This grew into three sites and a youth employment program that also provides credit opportunities for students at these three schools. The gardens now also engage the business, foods, photography, science, language, arts and co-op classes.

CHEW STREET: I remember taking home ec in high school, but not learning very much about where my food actually came from. What are some things schools could be doing to improve students’ agricultural knowledge in general?

KG: A growing project goes a long way! Indoor hydroponic tower gardens, a few raised beds — it doesn't have to be big. We work with 30 students a year in the employment program, but all of the youth in the school get to see food growing from seed to harvest just by coming to school every day with our garden beds out front. 

Higgins Event Rentals Instagram.

Higgins Event Rentals Instagram.

CHEW STREET: How can interested businesses and organizations get involved in the program?

KG: Buying a garden from School Grown or purchasing our produce provides a revenue stream for our programs that helps immensely. We would love to build more gardens for businesses across the city.

We always welcome donations as well. Every dollar goes a long way in our program because we can leverage each dollar into more funding for youth wages and more revenues from produce sales. 

CHEW STREET: What impact does the School Grown program have on the communities it serves? How does it address issues around food security?

KG: We believe in providing paid employment for School Grown students so that they can make their own food purchasing decisions. Students are also gaining the invaluable skills of being able to grow and cook their own food.

We also spend a lot of time thinking critically about our food system and the importance of working towards food justice and food sovereignty for marginalized communities. 

CHEW STREET: What is your long-term vision for the School Grown program? Are you planning to expand even more schools? More businesses?

KG: We are currently looking to establish a larger flagship school site that has much more room to expand our crop offering. We've reached the peak of what we can grow in our current space restrictions. We are excited to think of a larger scale site that could have more perennials, root crops, cut flowers and gathering spaces. 

We would love to sell more garden boxes to more businesses! We welcome all inquiries — get in touch! 


 

Further details about FoodShare’s Field to Table Schools and School grown program can be found at www.foodshare.net/program/schoolgrown

Debbie Wolgelerenter, Chew Street's newest contributor, lives and works in Toronto and has a passion for social good.  She is a Senior Advisor within the Ontario Public Service and volunteers her time with causes that relate to gender equality and diversity. 

Recipes You Need to Know - Champagne Pickled Strawberries

Fresh, seasonal and local fruit is one the best things about summer. Farms are overflowing with strawberries and the only thing better than eating them raw by the pint is this recipe for a quick pickle. A quick pickle is an easy way to squeeze every last bit of flavour out of your fruits and vegetables. This recipe swaps out the standard vinegar for champagne vinegar and replaces white sugar with maple sugar for what I consider to be a better, tangy sweet flavour. Use these juicy gems to garnish your cocktails, on top of salads and crostini, and as a sweet garnish on a cheese board.