Thursday, 4 December 2008

A Spirit of Iron Chef Moment

On my last evening in Toronton during my November trip my family and I went to Canoe for dinner. Canoe is one of several restaurants run by Oliver and Bonacini, which perchance also owns the SOMA Chocolatier found in the Distillery district. As my sister pointed out in her Summerlicious blog entry, this restaurant was definitely worth the visit. Unfortunately it was too dark for me to take pictures without the flashbulg, and the flash would have been distracting to nearby diners. So, although there's no eye candy for you to see here, I must take a moment to share what I'd call my own "Iron Chef" moment.

Ah... "Iron Chef". "If memory serves me right..." it was arguably my favourite show on the Food Network while it still was on the Food Network. For those of you not familiar, the show's host had 3-4 chefs who were arguably the best in their cuisines (Japanese, French, Chinese, and later on Italian) in Japan who would compete against a challenging chef in Kitchen Stadium. Each epsiode a different challenger comes forth and both opponents must cook dishes with a theme ingredient of the day. Creativity and thinking (or cooking) outside the box has typically been seen favourably by most of the guest judges on that show, and sometimes the theme ingredients themselves require chefs to be super-creative in their cooking; ever thought of using foie gras in creating Japanese dishes?

Now that I've described the show in a nutshell, I must now explain why I felt I experienced an "Iron Chef Moment" as I'll call it. More specifically, I felt like I could've been in a guest judge's position (or perhaps I could be as wacky as Chairman Kaga, who knows?) when I had my dessert at Canoe. That night, I'd tried arguably the most avant-garde dessert I've ever had to date in my 20-something years of life: foie gras tart.

Yes, you read that right, foie gras tart... a dessert tart where the main ingredient is duck liver. Now, duck ethics aside, to an average person the thought of using foie gras, a savoury ingredient, as a dessert item seems unconscionable or outrageous. Of course, I was surprised and admittedly quite amused, so I asked the waiter about it. After the explanation, including the reassurance that the foie gras itself would be mild in taste, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to try it. Besides, with something as unique as this, how often could I experience such dishes?

Topped with cherries, the foie gras tart didn't taste like what I'd expected it to be. The flavour of the foie gras itself was subdued, and it was generally sweet. The slight saltiness of the foie gras, along with the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, was actually to me more reminiscent of a saltier version of a cheesecake. It definitely tasted richer than a cheesecake, and surprisingly the flavourings got along well.

In the end, what's my verdict about it? Well, first of all, full marks for creativity. There's no doubt about it that this was rather an unusual presentation of foie gras, yet this ingredient was used successfully in an audaciously unorthodox manner. As for taste, I'd give it high (but not full) marks. Again, the flavours went well with each other in the tart, and I'll admit that another mental barrier about food has been broken, but it was a tad bit saltier than I perhaps would've liked in a dessert. Furthermore, I think health concerns have now gotten the best of me. Foie gras literally is translated from French as "fat liver", and trust me, even you'd only want to consume them sparingly. It is more because of that that I find it hard to see myself trying it anytime soon, and it doesn't help that I managed to gain two pounds in two weeks' time by the end of this trip (that's way faster than the "Frosh 15" rate).

Though I may not touch foie gras in a while, I trust that I can try something new and/or unique again soon; creativity in this world, be it in food, the arts or any other field, needs to be continuously explored. Let this also be a lesson to you out there. There's no way for sure that you'll like or dislike something until you try it. Sometimes it takes a bit of guts (pardon the pun here) to jump that mental barrier, but sometimes there can be surprising rewards in the end.