Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Michelin Men: Stratford Chefs School Guest Chef Alexandre Gauthier

"If there was ever a year to be at the Stratford Chefs School it's this one."

This past Monday, I was invited back to the Old Prune as a media guest of the Stratford Chefs School's Executive Director Kimberley Payne. I absolutely loved the Mexican dinner designed by Oaxacan Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo and executed by Student Chef Simon Briggs the week before. And after this second incredible dining experience in less than a week, I could not agree more with Kimberley's statement above.

The thing I love about the Chefs School Dinner Series is that the Old Prune turns into an entirely different restaurant every week (or even a few times a week). Before Christmas, Italian Chef Riccardo Camanini turned the restaurant into a platform for his stylish and sophisticated cuisine. Last week, thanks to Chef Pilar, Stratford finally had an authentic Mexican restaurant, however fleeting. This week the Prune was transformed into a French auberge by Chef-In-Residence Alexandre Gauthier from Le Grenouillere in a town called Montreuil-Sur-Mer in France. Our student host narrated the story of how Chef Gauthier returned to take over the kitchen at the family-run seaside inn at the request of his father, who  was lamenting the recent loss of their coveted Michelin Star status. Today, the restaurant has regained its Michelin Star ranking under Chef Alex.

The aforementioned Italian Chef Riccardo has remained in Stratford into 2011 to study English, and continues to contribute to the learning experience at the Chefs School. He was also in the kitchen on Monday. He's also a Michelin Star chef. So by my count the students at the Stratford Chefs School were learning under two Michelin chefs on the same night, which is something Kimberley assured us was unprecedented.

'Us' consisted of myself and three kindred food-crazy-blogging-and-Tweeting spirits who braved some wild weather to drive up to Stratford just for this special dinner... then drove back to the GTA right after! One word: Respect!

We all raised a sparkling glass of as-yet-unreleased 2007 Cuvée from the night's sponsor Huff Estates Winery (located in my old stomping ground of Prince Edward County) to toast the making of new friends. The  student host for the evening described Chef Gauthier's style as one of meaningful contrasts and juxtapositions, like 'crunchy vs. soft', 'hot vs. cold', and 'light vs. hearty'. We were also told to expect some improvisations and creativity, à la jazz, as the kitchen was riffing without recipes.

The first dish offered generous slices of garnet-coloured beef carpaccio topped by a pile of tangy apple ribbon folds and an egg mousse foam. The contrasts were already evident as the crisp apple complemented the velvetiness of the beef and the creaminess of the mousse.

Myself and fellow blogger Christine Cooper of coopSpeakEats were invited into the kitchen to take some shots of the students and their French mentor in the thick of mid-service. I got a pretty good pic (above) of the chefs-in-training sending out the second course - a white bean puree with foie gras, croutons and garlic butter that was about as rich and indulgent as I could imagine. Christine was able to snap some truly superlative photos of all the beautiful dishes, which are presented alongside a well-penned write-up in her own blog post describing this memorable meal.

The third course was a vivid, vibrant mid-winter taste of spring-to-come in the form of Pea Gnocchi with Fresh Peas, Powdered Dry Peas, and Pea Broth. Again, the softness of the gnocchi set off the crisp crunchiness of the raw pods. The green-on-green visual was stunning and artful as only French cuisine can be.

OK, so to quote my previous Chef School Dinner Series blog post, in which I described the  Pickerel Fish Tacos  served on Chef Pilar's stellar Mexican menu:

Hands-down the best thing I've eaten in 2011 (and it's going to be a tough one to beat).

Well, as it turns out I discovered my new Best Dish of 2011 less than one week later: What are the odds?!?

The Crispy Veal Tongue with Creamy Wheat Polenta, Pesto and Caper Butter (above) was some seriously un-awful offal. The two-inch-thick bovi-lingual medallion was seared to a caramel crisp on the outside, and after biting through this toasty exterior we encountered this gorgeous, creamy, pâté texture on the inside. This dish had to be tasted to be believed: the caper butter provided a saltiness that brought out the meaty flavour and toothsome consistency of the veal tongue. Let's not understate how amazing this dish was: It is the current and undisputed title-holder for the Local-Come-Lately's Best Dish of 2011!

We all got to get out hands a little sticky with a palate cleanser consisting of straight-from-the-comb honey with lemon.

This was followed by a vertical dessert consisting of a white chocolate silo filled with citrus cream and  surrounded by mandarin slices. The crunch of the white chocolate tube was perfectly balanced by the cream within. Did I just write that? This is definitely starting to slip into Food Porn territory...

Finally, the petit fours appeared in the form of two types of Bon Bon (translation: Good Good) strips: white chocolate and orange or caramel. Could I have both?

I have a lot of respect for John DiBattista, the Student Chef who executed that night's complex and  heady dinner. From what I gather, he left an existing business and career to become a chef (which makes him a role model for my fellow diner and blogger Jennifer Hall [aka thefashionistafoodie

Echoing the conclusion of my previous Chef School Dinner Series post, if you are in Stratford and you haven't taken advantage of one of these dining opportunities, make sure you go before it's all over next month! As my third dining companion that evening- Chef Rossy Earle from Belfountain Inn in Caledon - posted on Twitter under her @PanCanCooks identity: Dinner was really exquisite, I loved everything about it!! Rossy, Christine and Jennifer all traveled back and forth on white knuckle roads to attend this unique dining opportunity: once again, I feel so lucky to be Stratford's food blogger, since I got to walk there!


  1. Hey Steve,

    Great blog! This is Kevin from Toronto. Not sure if you remember me but I met you in Stratford a couple times (once on the farm tour and once on the beer and cheese tasting).

    I didn't have your email address and was hoping to ask you a couple questions. Could you shoot me a quick email to Thanks!

  2. A shout out from one of those three crazy food blog ladies from T.O.! That drive, there and back was simply worth every single minute of it. Fantastic evening and just a bonus to meet up with a like minded, food loving, blog writing, kindred spirit of food. Enjoyed your post very much!

    All the best! Christine a.k.a. coopSpeakEats!