I’ve said it over and over and over again in this space but the generosity of the Toronto food community never ceases to amaze me. Over the past 6 years running my Petits Chefs after-school cooking club, I’ve been fortunate enough to welcome some pretty impressive chefs to work with the boys in our
kitchen lab and we’ve also been fortunate enough to have been invited to cook in some of their kitchens. From the tiny kitchen at Mata Bar, to The Gallery Grill, Lisa Marie, En Ville Catering, The National Club and Luma, the boys have cooked in some pretty amazing spaces. I often get asked “Do they know how lucky they are?” I’m going to guess that they DO realise they are lucky but perhaps it won’t hit them until later in life just how special all these experiences really are. What I find is that these trips and workshops only serve to contribute to their “can-do” attitude – nothing seems impossible for these guys. I guess I’m setting the bar pretty high but that’s my goal, really – make them believe that anything is possible because until you realise something is difficult, it’s not.
This week, the boys got to take part in a very special field trip – “our first full day trip!!!!” For the boys on the trip, the excitement of missing the entire day of school might possibly have been enough. But for those of us accompanying them, it was a little more than just a day off school (and lots of lesson plans to leave for the classes I was away from!). We were going to Langdon Hall for the day to work with Executive Chef Jason Bangerter. Wow, right? Langdon Hall, a member of Relais & Châteaux, is known across the country for its fine cuisine and is the only restaurant in Ontario with a Five Diamond CAA/AAA rating, but it hasn’t always been a Country House Hotel. Built in Canada by the son of an English man who inherited American wealth, the grand home was intended as a summertime contrast to life in New York, London and a château in the Loire valley. Langdon Hall has a storied past and has been operating in its current iteration as a “Country House Hotel and Spa” since 1989.
Jason began his culinary career at George Brown College Chef School, followed by a three-year apprenticeship at Le Royal Meridian King Edward Hotel. He headed overseas where he worked in prestigious kitchens in London, Germany and Switzerland as well spending free time as a stagiaire in some of London’s top restaurants. In 2002, he returned to Toronto, to join the team at Auberge du Pommier, one of the city’s best restaurants. Jason received many awards and accolades during his time there including Restaurant of the Year by Post City Magazines. After eight years, he was selected to lead and open two of the new restaurants at the TIFF Bell Lightbox – O&B Canteen and the more upscale dining room and lounge Luma. In the fall of 2013 he accepted the position of Executive Chef at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa in Cambridge.
I first met Jason back when he was working at Auberge du Pommier in 2010. Over the years, our paths have crossed a number of times at food industry events. He invited the boys to cook in the kitchens at Luma in 2012 and spoke at a conference I was organising in 2013. As he moved to Langdon Hall soon after that, the idea of cooking with him again looked much more challenging, given that it’s located around 90 minutes away. A long way to go for an hour’s class. The last few times I’ve seen Jason we’ve chatted about bringing the boys up for the day. And finally over the past couple of weeks the plan came together. I’m lucky to have the support from my school admin (who I know were sad they could not join us – “are you sure you don’t need extra supervision?” 😉 ) and my colleagues (because pulling students away from school for a day means catch up needs to be done) and on a misty, rainy Monday morning this week, we set out on our day of adventure.
The plates at Langdon Hall begin in the gardens of the property. The food here is inspired by the seasons, what grows on the property and what’s available from local farmers, foragers and artisans. Jason did a wonderful job of explaining to the boys the “garden to plate” story as we spent the morning in the gardens which are just starting to awaken from their winter slumber, looking at all the plants growing on the property (some are just there in the wild, many are deliberately planted for kitchen use), tasting the leaves (so many leaves, so many flavours) and flowers then, later, seeing them appear in some of the dishes we tried.
Inside, the boys got a glimpse in the kitchen (it’s so small considering the volume of food it produces) and Jason explained the various stations and the workings of a professional restaurant kitchen to them. Then, we got cooking. Jason has recently been involved in creating his own signature chocolate blends with Cacao Barry (milk and dark) and had just received the “Terroir Lait” samples so the boys were amongst the first to try it.
Of course, we had to make something with chocolate and Jason decided on a simple (yet elegant) chocolate ganache, something I personally think everyone should know how to make. Ganache is really versatile – in liquid form you can use it as a sauce. Let it set and you have a lovely dessert just waiting to be topped with berries, fruits, nuts or other “cripsy bits” (see below). I often use ganache as a filling for my macarons. Its uses really are endless. And it’s SO simple to make.
Cream, glucose, chocolate and butter. Life’s essentials, right? The boys (and their supervisors!) were lucky enough to take this ganache home although I am not sure how many of them let it set overnight…. Ahem. Mine is in the staffroom fridge and I’m taking a little spoonful every now and then. With a 3pm coffee, it’s the perfect amount of sweet.
Our “hard work” done, we entered the dining room set up just for us….
I love what Jason did with the menu. Simple ingredients, sophisticated presentation. A most delightful meal…
The boys were intrigued by the sweet potato soup with pears but decided it “really worked”.
The main course was an elevated frittata with intriguing crispy lentils on the salad… A really interesting take on a quiche or an omelette as the boys told us. A few of them were unsure of this but as soon as they tasted it and it was a familiar flavour and texture, it went down a treat (for most of them!).
Filled with all sorts of good, the boys headed outside, determined to recreate this photo (and yes they got to ask about Drake – yes, Jason met him and cooked for him!). Asked to thank Jason for one thing in particular, most of the boys thanked him for the chocolate. And the food. 🙂 As the adult supervisor on this trip (and very much an onlooker), I can’t thank Jason enough for his incredible generosity (he’s “like, in charge” according to one of the boys “and he spent the day hanging out with us!”) for taking the time to set up this day. It’s no mean feat to be juggling one of Canada’s best restaurant kitchens and a group of 10 -13 year-olds at the same time. But Jason did so with effortless grace and good humour (there were some, well, interesting questions during our Q & A at the end of our meal!).
A HUGE thanks to the staff at Langdon Hall for welcoming us with open arms, and especially to Jason. I am sure more than one of the boys might have gone away from that experience thinking he might like to follow in your footsteps.