MasterChef Canada Judges Share Their Favourite Ontario Food Experiences
Food Master Chef Canada Judges, Claudio Aprile and Michael Bonacini, share some lessons from their kitchens and top tips for creating locally sourced delicacies at home this Spring!
Claudio Aprile and Michael Bonacini are known for their distinguished careers at some of the country’s best restaurants and as judges on CTV’s MasterChef Canada. They may not always have the same opinion on TV, but Aprile and Bonacini both agree that Ontario is home to world-class food and drink. They share some lessons from their kitchens, what makes a great restaurant experience, and some of their favourite Ontario delicacies.
Mediaplanet: What area do you consider to be a well-kept culinary secret in Ontario?
Claudio Aprile: North York really has a very vibrant culinary community. It’s a lot of wonderful Persian, Chinese, Japanese — little udon shops. The quality that you get and the authenticity that we have in North York, it’s really vibrant. I really like Parkdale too. I think there are a lot of little diamonds in the rough there as well.
Michael Bonacini: Up at our country home we are lucky that we are able to forage for mushrooms. We can also grab some crab apples and lamb’s quarters or venison, and whip up a ragout with them.
MP: What do you love about farmers' markets?
MB: There’s a sense of excitement. A thrill. It’s feeling that you’re doing good for yourself, for the community, for that particular grower. Having a taste of country living and healthy lifestyle. I think it supports and encourages and grows that community.
MP: Do you have any tips for shopping at a farmers’ market?
CA: When I’m at a restaurant or a farmers’ market I like to get to know the person behind the counter, even if it’s for a quick 20–30 second exchange. It’s a real sign of respect. Get to know whoever is behind that counter at a farmers’ market. Become friends. Friends generally treat their friends really well.
MP: Do you have a particular ingredient that is a must-have in your kitchen?
CA: Right now, at this moment: ginger. I grate it every morning and I add it to water and I feel amazing after an 8 oz glass of cold water with freshly grated ginger.
MB: Foundational ingredients for me, whether I’m at the cottage or in the city would be things like a great salt for seasoning. A good pepper mill. Lots of butter. Olive oil. They are the sort of go-to ingredients that you will find in my pantry and have been for years.
MP: What is your favorite dish to make with mushrooms, as they are in season?
CA: A very simple thing I like to do is caramelized mushrooms. Caramelization of vegetables is a great way to extract flavour. Get some great local mushrooms — perhaps some chanterelles — and caramelize with some whole butter and some really great reggiano on toast with olive oil. It’s a match made in heaven.
MB: I’m a big mushroom lover. I love them with any kind of meal because they are incredibly versatile. At Oliver and Bonacini we are quite well-known for our mushroom soup. The original recipe that I developed was a mixture of wild and tame — a half dozen varieties of mushrooms at least. No butter. No cream. It was light, wholesome, and healthy. And of course a risotto.
MP: What is your favorite dish to make with fiddleheads, as they are in season?
MB: The season for fiddleheads in Ontario is fairly short and brisk. You use it whenever and wherever you can. You use it as a side vegetable; you make a nice soup out of it. You use it as part of a ragout with other vegetables. You use it in pasta dishes. You go to town because you know the season is short and sweet.
MP: What are your thoughts on restaurants that focus on local ingredients?
CA: I think for a restaurant that’s doing local food needs to be creative. There needs to be a real element of surprise with some of the dishes. I want the chefs to reveal something new, something I haven’t had before and that speak to who they are.
MP: Does it make a difference using locally sourced products rather than store bought?
MB: It is a combination of that moment in time and knowing where that produce actually came from. Who was growing them? Who picked them? That makes the difference.
MP: What are some key elements that make a restaurant great?
CA: I think service is 75 percent of the experience. It relies on how sincere and caring and positive the service is. It starts the moment you walk into a restaurant. It’s the whole package — just like theatre. It’s hitting all the senses. How the lighting hits you, the aromas in the restaurant. If you feel that you really belong there.
MB: I think like a recipe there are a number of ingredients that make a restaurant great. Those ingredients can be things such as the ambiance, the style of service, the music, the warmth that is exuded by the staff. The calibre and quality of the ingredients that are being used in the kitchen. The sensibility of the style and design. You need to have a vision of what that restaurant is.
MP: What projects are next for you in your culinary career?
CA: I’m in construction right now on a new restaurant. It’s opening in June. We are going to have four very distinct elements in the space all in one. One is an a la carte menu. We’re going to have a kitchen counter that sits six to eight people which is going to have a blind menu where the kitchen just cooks for you. In addition to that we’re going to have a really great bar with its own menu and a really great patio on the corner of King and Church.
MB: We are about to open up in Montreal, some time in early May. We are about to open an event space in Calgary called Hudson. We are looking at a few other projects in the Edmonton area. We just opened in January a brewpub in Liberty Village called Liberty Commons.
MP: Do you have any favourite foods or beverages produced in Ontario?
CA: I go crazy when berry season hits. Mushroom season. It’s really one of the most exciting times to be a chef. There are so many wonderful things coming out of the ground. I think Prince Edward County is on the verge of becoming our own Napa Valley within the next decade. It’s really exciting to see how these small, boutique purveyors are producing world-class products. Norman Hardie Wines are the best in the world. Cookstown Greens grows some of the most incredible produce you can find anywhere. Herbs by Daniel are phenomenal as well.
MB: I am partial to my share of wine. I love taking trips to Niagara-on-the-Lake not just for the wine, although we will drop in to at least two or three wineries. And I like to do a new winery every once in a while when we’re out there. One of the new ones that I visited was Two Sisters Winery. I ate very well at Two Sisters last summer. It is always around cherry-picking season that we go.