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Toronto’s Charcutiers

For the last four weeks I have been going around town talking to chefs to see who is making charcuterie in-house and tasting some incredible stuff. It got me thinking. Who started this charcuterie frenzy?

If memory serves, we have to go back to 1998-99, my Xango days. I just moved here from Ottawa, and to get to know the city in the way I enjoy best, I spent my days off eating out to see what other chefs were doing.

Ironically, kitty-corner to Xango was Avalon, Chris MacDonald’s restaurant that held top honours for over a decade. Perhaps many people will disagree with me, but I think it was Chris who was the first to offer his own charcuterie on his menus.

After Avalon closed, a chain reaction started. The young chefs who had worked in MacDonald’s kitchen went on to run some renowned kitchens of their own — and also started making their own charcuterie.

Pat Reilly and Chris Brown did their stuff at Perigee, Scott Woods at Lucien and Doug Penfold at Cava — as MacDonald culinary partner.

Then, at the turn of the century, Jamie Kennedy opened JK, the Rubino brothers opened Rain, and these high-profile chef-owners began putting out their own charcuterie. And the beat went on and continues today. Marc Thuet sells his own prosciutto alongside his great collection of Alsatian goodies.

Just last year, Kennedy imported Boris Coquerl, a French master chef of charcuterie, to produce the cured meats for all the JK restaurants. We have a master of our own here in Ontario. Mario Pingue from Niagara Fall is now the go-to guy for local prosciutto.

At Cava, MacDonald and Penfold make magic, with MacDonald ceremoniously slicing prosciutto at the bar.

On display: Jamon Serrano, foie gras mousse, chorizo and bison bresaola
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Over the last year, Michael Steh of Reds has expanded his line of to great lengths.I sat down to his charcuterie platter one night, with no less than 20 items, from mortadella, fois gras a couple of different ways and a selection of flavours from his Slovenian roots. His inventory has nearly doubled since that memorable meal.

Micheal’s charcuterie platter:duck porsciutto, klobasa, house terrine, foie gras paté and more goodies
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Scott Vivian does his curing at JK at the Gardiner, and Mark Cutrara chef-owner of Cowbell is strong on curing meats from local producers.

The year’s biggest must-go resto is The Black Hoof, where on any given night after a dinner service, chefs from across town gather to taste their way through a great long list of crazy-good cured meat. And yes, to drink beer and wine, and compare notes about their night.

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Chef Grant Van Gamaren and front-of-house partner Jen Agg have really hit the city’s culinary chord. The Black Hoof is all about charcuterie, like no one else in town in.
Hanging with Gamaren one afternoon while heavy deliveries of meat and fois gras kept coming, he told me that his introduction to charcuterie was with Scott Woods at Lucien.

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What I liked most about Gramaren was his humility. I’m just a guy who wanted to open a charcuterie and I did, he says matter-of-factly. He also writes about his techniques — successes and failures both — on his blog Charcuterie Sundays, where his kitchen mishaps are there for everyone to see. He clearly doesn’t care. He gets it. We owe most of our learning to trial and error.

Here’s to all the misses that made this great hits

Yours in great charcuterie
Carlos

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*Spanish for: "Mmm. Wow. That's good!"