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.
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!
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.
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!
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.