Toronto-based Joanna Sable is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who grew up with gourmet foods – her mother started Sable and Rosenfeld (love their Tipsy Olives!) with one condiment – Russian Mustard – and expanded it to the global company we know today. Her grandparents moved to North America after WWI – and by then, people didn’t want to get their groceries from a farm anymore – opening a can of food was a sign of prestige! She grew up in a family that opened said cans, and learned to cook from those humble beginnings. She remembers being quite young and making an after-school snack for her sister of sautéed zucchini – and her life in cooking snowballed from there.
Her innate love of food has inspired her interesting and full career in the food industry, from consulting to writing to chefing to recipe development and testing for cookbooks. Her gourmet canning business, Bumpercrop (which she has since sold), turned unwanted items on farms and made it into good food, such as pickled garlic scapes and green tomato garlic jam. She is currently a consultant to the food industry, and helps food businesses maximize their potential within their existing spaces.
When I asked Joanna about her work, she noted, “This is the most wonderful industry – the people in it have bigger hearts than anywhere in the world- they are passionate, givers, and every day I am proud to be in this place that I am. There’s not a minute of the day that I don’t love my industry and most of the people in it.”
Chef Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):
How long have you been cooking? Since I was born! My first food job was in a gourmet food shop and the owner pulled me into the kitchen and put me to work! My first recipe as a chef was chocolate mousse.
What is your favorite food to cook? Italian. The reason is because you have to buy the best quality of the simplest products. It has to be perfect to start with – the best olive oil, beautiful fresh lemons – there are so few components that everything has to shine. I love the challenge of starting from square one with the most perfect thing.
What do you always have in your fridge at home? Water, eggs, lots of condiments, bread, pickles, dog food, Sable and Rosenfeld goods. Always good cheese, always good breads.
What do you cook at home? Everything. It depends on if I am having a dinner party or just home. When I became a chef, I became bored with the same thing every night – I really like cooking like a caterer. When I have a dinner party, everything can be ¾ done before the guests come. The other night, I made a San Francisco style seafood stew – chorizo, seafood, fennel, etc. and everything was ready – just dumped it together 10 min before we sat down to eat and called it dinner. I like to cook where it looks effortless. Simplistic, easy things – what country do I want to cook from tonight? That challenges me. As a chef, I want to be challenged.
What marked characteristic do you love in a customer?
Someone who is willing to make changes and allows me to do the job they hired me for.
What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer?
People who are stuck and who hire me and waste their money and my time. Procrastinators.
Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Pyrex
Beer, wine, or cocktail? Wine
Your favorite cookbook author? Fanny Farmer and Craig Claiborne. These were my first two books when I was 19 and going to Europe to cook for the first time just before I went to Cordon Bleu in London – my best friend gave me those two books and to this day, they are my go to for reference. Also Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything – a phenomenal book for the start out cook. The other cookbook author I think is truly genius is Jamie Oliver – every recipe works.
Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Wipe down appliances
Favorite types of cuisine to cook? Italian, French, Mediterranean, Spanish, Portuguese, Jewish
Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu? Pork
Favorite vegetable? Artichokes
Chef you most admire? Daniel Boulud, Dan Barber – and for his generosity of spirit, Paul Boehmer
Food you like the most to eat? Simple, perfectly made food from any cuisine
Food you dislike the most? Bad pizza, soggy, gross, yucky pizza
How many tattoos?And if so, how many are of food? 0
Recipe: 5 Ingredient Mock Kimchi
Shred Napa cabbage and chinese cabbage – use both or whatever you can find. Dump it in a bowl with a jar of Chinese Chili Garlic Sauce, a few shots of Tamari, a few spoons of rice wine vinegar, and a sprinkle of sugar. Massage well and leave in bowl. Every once in a while, give it a mix. Cover overnight, drain, and use as a side for pork tenderloin or on sandwiches.
What a year this has been! It started last December, when I was one of the top travel bloggers in the world to visit the White House for a special summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. There was plenty of great food in DC (food trucks! and on the way, Cleveland’s Westside Market!) – a fantastic prelude to this year.
2015 heralded many trips, including a trip to Turkey in May, with Turkish Airlines, weekends at our cottage in northern Michigan (with grilled meats and fresh tomatoes), an epic Canadian road trip – driving from Kalamazoo, Michigan all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland!, forays into Ohio and over to Stratford, Ontario, and circling back to a cozy Thanksgiving with family that live close by. Here are the highlights. I think you’ll notice that the underlying theme is friends and family – because who else do we want to share meals with?
Whilst in Turkey, I had many memorable meals (because, after all, Turkey is known for its delicious cuisine!). From the huge, dripping
honeycomb on our breakfast buffet to freshly baked simits slathered with nutella to roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob to Turkish tea and coffee and freshly squeezed strawberry juice, we did not go hungry. I loved the meals of fresh fish, yogurts, and grilled meats, but the highlight for me was at 360 Istanbul, a rooftop restaurant that served traditional Turkish cuisine with modern twists. I had the kebabs, and a gorgeous salad, but the highlight was the dessert – a creme brulee with mango sauce, salted caramel popcorn, and a nutty caramel ice cream. It was a melange of every taste you can imagine – sweet, salty, umami, smooth, crunchy, syrupy, icy, warm. The view was pure Istanbul, wide-ranging and gorgeous; the company was delightful.
Toronto hit my 2015 best food list because of our lunch at America Restaurant, by Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, located on the 31st floor of the Trump International Hotel and Tower. Our daughter enjoyed a cauliflower macaroni and cheese that she said was the best she’d ever had; Ed had a delicious Wellington beef burger with brisket, slaw, and artisanal bun. I had the speckled trout tartine – this genius dish consisted of grilled piece of house made sourdough bread, with French remoulade sauce, daisy capers and elderberries and leafy greens, finished with pieces of sous vide smoked speckled trout, served rare. This dish? It is one of the best things I have ever eaten – the crunch of the bread combined with the creaminess of the trout and remoulade, and the fresh and pickled accoutrements – it was perfect. We enjoyed a great view, lovely art, and excellent company, including a new friend that felt like family.
Newfoundland St. John’s gets a three-fer for the nod for favorites, with a plus. The plus is an event we went to on our very first night on the Rock – Food Day Canada. There were chefs from Newfoundland, as well as from all over Canada, each showcasing the best of their restaurants and regions. I can’t even begin to say how great the food here was, but I will say that I have built a healthy respect for the chefs, farmers, and producers that work within the island and the weather to create such imaginative, delicious food. (Interviews to come!) Also, please note that while I have many favorite restaurants in St. John’s, I’ve focused on fine dining for this 2015 roundup.
Tavola Tavola, a small Mediterranean bistro, is located downtown. What the unassuming facade hides is a treasure within. The food, mostly small plates, is a mix of Mediterranean and local. Take, for instance, a dish I’d sampled at Food Day Canada and was delighted to find on the menu: BBQ Smoked pork shoulder with Newfoundland Molasses Baked Beans, a roll of crispy chicarron, and a swoosh of arugula puree.
Now, let me tell you why this is so amazing. First, the Rock is known for its baked beans. And, as a midwesterner, I can attest to the nourishing properties of baked beans, especially in the cold winters, but also for fun in the summer. These baked beans? The absolute best I’ve ever eaten. A humble dish, elevated to the stars. Now, I must mention (because my brother is a firefighter, and you know how they love food and work hard on bbq dishes) the bbq smoked pork shoulder. There were crispy bits. The kind you long for, covet when someone else is pulling the pork, snitch when you’re pulling the pork, guard with a fork when there are poachers about. LOTS of crispy bits. Any restaurant that serves this? Immediately in my favorites list. Tavola on that list? CHECK.
The second reason why I love Tavola? It’s owned by Great Big Sea musician Bob Hallett. I was lucky enough to dine with him that day, and hear stories of growing up in Newfoundland, fish, halibut (did you know they are enormous?), community, and bringing the meals he loved while touring home. It isn’t often you dine with a famous musician – even less so, I’d imagine, one that is so down to earth, friendly, and welcoming.
Adelaide Oyster House
While this happening restaurant is somewhat loud and a bit hip for this mama, I have to say that not only was the service incredible, but the food was extraordinary. Adelaide Oyster House has won many awards – and in one visit, you can see why. I had the kale salad (don’t hate – it was sooooo good!); we also ordered oysters (of course), fancy cocktails, fish tacos, charcuterie with olives, and a birthday cake/dessert plate that needed to be tripled. By the end of the evening, we’d danced in our seats (and out of them) to the fantastically curated dance music, made new friends with our servers and chefs, and cemented friendships over food – the best way, isn’t it?
Chef Todd Perrin of Mallard Cottage has not only restored an historic cottage in Quidi
Vidi Village, but has brought back traditional Newfoundland cuisine – with a twist. There’s an herb garden outside, and across the alley, another garden. The fish is freshly caught, and on Sunday brunch, there’s a $10 CAKE TABLE.
Now that alone should do it for you, but let me tempt you with other things we ordered at our table, including a fresh Caesar salad with cured pork cheek and piled high with thinly grated parmesan, a fresh scallop ceviche, a chilled lobster bisque that was the best soup I’ve EVER EATEN, fresh halibut, cod, fresh Newfoundland scallops, and a dessert assortment that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
New Brunswick, Canada, was a complete surprise. I had no idea of the fresh seafood along the Acadian coast, the locally sourced food, the creative cuisine, the beauty of the landscapes, and the rich cultural heritage. My best meal here was in Miramichi, at 1809 Restaurant, along the Miramichi River. Yes, I loved it so much that I interviewed Chef Jesse MacDonald for i8tonite.
The seafood chowder was the best I’ve ever had – even with daily seafood chowder eating in Ireland – and my stuffed haddock
filet was divine. We dined out on the deck at sunset, enjoying the ambience, company, and delicious food. Our time in Miramichi was too short, but filled with great meals, excellent company, interesting conversations about place and food, and a warmth that the Rodd Miramichi so beautifully filled in our travels.
Montreal gets two best food nominations – and I know that if we were there longer, it would have been many more. Another reason to go back…
Let me tell you how much we love dumplings. Wait, it can’t fit into this very small paragraph. Let’s just say top 3 foods our family loves. So when we were in Montreal, a visit to Chinatown was a must. We’d had great dumplings in Toronto, but not SUPER GREAT dumplings. Canada needed to step up to the plate and bat some excellent dumplings our way.
Meandering through Montreal’s Chinatown almost seemed sacrilegious – why weren’t we getting Montreal smoked meat? The lure of the dumpling, I answer. We found Oh! Dumplings, right next to a square where a hundred people or so were dancing. It was a sign. We ordered some of the 12 types of dumplings here, and then the scallion pancake, because the table next to us kept ordering more of them. Well, it’s a good thing the dumpling ladies were fast at making the fresh, juicy dumplings. Everyone left happy, including we three. Canada’s dumpling reputation was restored.
Breakfast at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth
Often, hotel breakfasts are meh. Cold cereal, hard apples, gross coffee. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth changed all that with their luxurious breakfast buffet. Now, the thing that enticed me most
was the bread station. LOOK AT THESE GEMS! But if you didn’t want to carb out, there were several kinds of yogurt, an array of cut fruit (11 bowls!), pitchers upon pitchers of fresh squeezed juices of all kinds, and the spacious hot bar. Here, you could get a made to order omelette – or 3 other kinds of eggs, several kinds of sausages, plenty of bacon, french toast, crepes with a brown sugar glaze, several kinds of breakfast potatoes, and, my favorite, a European-style array of many sliced meats and even more gourmet cheeses. The coffee was delicious, the environment was beautiful and elegant, and the service, well, these waiters know their stuff – and are funny, to boot. We fueled up here and were satisfied until dinner. It was the perfect start to every day in Montreal.
Closer to home (in Columbus, Ohio), we enjoyed an incredible meal at Guild House. One of the Cameron Mitchell Group restaurants, this new restaurant is worth visiting. We loved it so much that we interviewed Chef Patrick Hofer for the Chef’s Questionnaire here at i8tonite.
The restaurant is beautiful, has outstanding talent in the kitchen, and sources locally and organically when possible. As the Guild House notes on the menu, “There’s a lot of love on every plate.” We had extraordinary appetizers (be sure to get the cheese plate with house made crackers and local sourdough toast), entrees (Lillie said that lasagna was a masterpiece, and the best lasagna she’d ever had – and she’s a lasagna connoisseur), non-alcoholic shrub beverages (swoon), and desserts. My favorite was the toast with burrata, avocado, pickled red onion, and salsa verde.
OR the Prime rib cap, sweet onion relish, Pointe Reyes blue cheese, mustard vinaigrette. Let’s be honest – you can’t go wrong with anything on this menu. It also features in my mind as a top pick because it was here that our teen daughter announced that she was a gourmet cuisine aficionado. Now, while I’ve known this for years, it was this restaurant that sharpened her instincts for dissecting a menu, picking out the bits that attract you, and chatting with the waiters and chef to learn more.
Closer than Newfoundland, a visit to Stratford, Canada taught me a great deal about this well known theatre town. There is so much going on here with the food scene that I can’t wait to go back and eat. Every meal was a treat, and much of it is locally sourced. One of my favorite meals was our lunch at Mercer Hall Inn.
The meal was outstanding – truly, some of the most clean and fresh tasting food I’ve had in a long time. We went back into the kitchen with Chef Ryan O’Donnell – and saw some of the ingredients he was working with, including freshly baked bread, wild rice crackers, and gorgeous, colorful vegetables straight from local growers. He’s an artist, with a full palette of organic, local food to create with – and an instructor at the Stratford Chef School. Mercer Hall also features tea from Tea Leaves – home of Canada’s first Tea Sommelier, Karen Hartwick – a genius at delicious, enriching teas.
Thanksgiving was special. I loved it for the family, for cooking
together with my mom and aunt and daughter, for the tablecloth and dishes and place cards we use every year, for the decorations that are familiar and the dishes that we tweak a bit each year (or not). It’s the perfect combination of tradition and deliciousness, and is always a highlight of my year.
And the coffee:
We moved to Kalamazoo this spring, although I’ve lived here before and grew up a half hour away. I am so happy that there are many great coffeeshops in town, including Black Owl (purveyors of Kalamazoo Coffee, roasted out back), and Something’s Brewing, home of delicious coffee and homemade cinnamon pop tarts. Yep.
When you think back to your favorite meals, what made them so great? For me, it’s a combination of company and delicious food. Luckily, I have had plenty of both this year.