Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chef Denis Cotter: For the Love of... Veg

I have a confession to make.

I'm a closet vegetarian. Or, more accurately, I generally don't eat meat.

Right now, a lot of my regular readers are probably like, "Uh, aren't you the guy who's spent the last year telling us all about your joyous experiences eating: duck, lamb, beef, waterbuffalo, venison, chicken, pork, wild boar, caribou, muskox, seal, walrus, whale, elk, and pheasant?!? You sell heritage breed pork to raise funds at the market every week! Dude, you ate horse!!!"

OK, OK. I did all that. But I did it for the culinary experience and to celebrate our local farmers and chefs, not as part of my everyday lifestyle. Don't get me wrong, I really, really appreciate a nice cut of sustainably-raised local meat cooked properly by an expert. But when it comes to cooking at home on a day-to-day basis, the Stacey kitchen is free of meat. 

[Other than fish, which, yes, I realize is not a vegetable, and which, yes, I know disqualifies me from being anything near a true vegetarian.].

When I'm cooking from the heart - at home for my family and friends - I'm cooking vegetarian, and so I was so delighted to get my hands on For the Love of Food - Vegetarian Cooking from the Heart, a cookbook by one of Stratford's most luminous culinary (and literary) talents - Chef Denis Cotter - who's renowned in his home country of Ireland as one of the best vegetarian chefs in the British Isles.

Chef Cotter, whose Cork vegetarian restaurant Cafe Paradiso is a perennial favourite among the Top 100 Best Places to Eat in Ireland, now has a total of four cookbooks to his name. His books (which include Cafe Paradiso Cookbook, Paradiso Seasons and Wild Garlic, Gooseberries... and Me) are really great reads as well as wonderful resources for creative, colourful and diverse vegetarian recipes and ideas.

Last week, Revel Caffe was host to the Canadian launch of Denis Cotter's heartfelt new book. Before signing copies, he gave a speech that included the announcement he's recently gained his permanent residency status here in Canada!

Those of us who attended the book signing were treated to a selection of really tasty dishes from the book as well as special recipes Denis is saving for books-to-come.

The superlative "Best Cheese On Toast In the World" Chef mentions in the video was, well... the best cheese on toast in the world (especially accompanying a champagne toast, above).

Fellow Revel Caffe regular Sam was offering savoury beet mini-tarts. Edible trivia fact: did you know in Ireland what we call 'beets' they call 'beetroot'? And that no matter what you call them they go great in a pastry tart topped with local goat cheese?!?

Revel Caffe owner/food lover Ann Campion (above) was serving my favourite dish of the night, a perfectly seasoned fried chickpea-flour-bread dish called Penelle (check out the Cafe Paradiso's website where the recipe for this beautiful appetizer is the June 2011 Recipe of the Month).

I can't wait to try out some of the recipes from this from-the-heart book. Now that we're in the middle of asparagus season, I think I'm going to try the Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs & Avocado-Cherry Tomato Salsa (pg. 36). Or maybe I'll try Love Soup (pg. 108)... Chef Denis (particularly well known around here for leading a Stone Soup collective cooking workshop at the Savour Stratford festival in 2009) shares the Italian Bread Soup recipe he uses to express his love for food and for his Canadian soulmate:

I like to think that the chef is a medium between the produce and the diner, but it is certainly true too that the chef adds part of his or her own love of their role in the process.
To cook with the same devotion to someone you love is a humbler act. It is focused on one very precious person and what you think will bring them pleasure or soothe their troubles. When that comes off, there is no punching the air or high-fiving, but a profound communion of two souls. 
Over a bowl of soup, no less.

Signed copies of Chef Denis Cotter's latest book are still available at Revel Caffe. Once they're sold out, you should head over to Callan Books on York Street in Straford to get a copy of this wonderful work of writing, photography and culinary creativity.


  1. I just served up his sweet potato pancake salad and it was absolutely delicious!!