A Visit From… L’Unita head chef Stephen Gouzopoulos

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Ask Stephen Gouzopoulos, head chef of L’Unità restaurant, and he won’t contest it. However, cooking and making people happy is a passion of his, be it man, woman, or his wife, who ceaselessly motivates him.

On the fourth floor, we’re pretty much obsessed with the Food Network and, well, all things food. We’re fascinated by the life of a chef, be it starting their day early at a fisherman’s wharf to score the freshest catch of the day, or where they eat when they’re not feeding us.
We asked Stephen to give us a day in his life. Here’s what it’s like to walk in this chef’s footsteps:
8 a.m. – Wake up, take dog for walk and feed.

8:30 a.m. – Have breakfast with my wife, who teaches Pilates, yoga and reiki.

9:30 a.m. – Coffee, check emails and what’s new in the city food-wise.
10:30 a.m. – Get ready for work, walk my dog again, and head to work.
Noon – Arrive at resto, check stocks, set up kitchen.
12:30 p.m. – Accept produce, order check product (very important) and sign invoice.
12:45 p.m. – Set station, get ready for prep.
1 p.m. – Start short ribs braising.
1:30 p.m. – Start meat and fish butchery.
2 p.m. – Accept remainder of deliveries, check product.
2:15 p.m. – Head out to Riverdale Farmers Market, talk with farmer Ted. Gather produce     for remainder of week.

3:15 p.m. – Back at resto, unload produce. Continue to prep for night’s service.

4:30 p.m. – Review specials with FOH (front of house).

5 p.m. – Put up staff meal (tonight it’s fried chicken and salad).

5:15 p.m. – Set station for service and do station checks (check other cooks’ work and stations).

5:30 p.m. – Service begins.

5:30 to 10 p.m. – Service: orchestrate service, ensure food quality is up to standards and control the flow of the food and FOH.

10:30 p.m. – Pack up station and clean kitchen.

11:30 p.m. – Place orders for following day.

Midnight – Go home for dinner and time with my wife.

For those dreaming of becoming the next top chef, start practicing with a hand-picked recipe from L’Unità:

Pork chop with braised escarole, honey roasted shallots and pine nuts

– Butcher bone-in pork loin into 12-oz. chops.

– Brine pork for seven hours.

Brine

500 grams salt
400 grams sugar
4 cardamom pods
Half a bunch of thyme
3 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 head garlic
4 litres water


– Bring all ingredients to a boil. Ensure salt and sugar are dissolved and cool.

– Once cooled, fully submerge pork chops and place weight on top to keep chops covered in brine for seven hours.

– Remove and rinse.


Escarole

– Blanch escarole in salted boiling water and shock in an ice bath.

– Reserve for later.

Honey roasted shallots

5 large shallots
4 tbsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
Half a bunch of thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic

– Peel and quarter shallots. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Celsius. In a large frying pan, heat honey and oil over medium. Add garlic, bay and thyme. Once honey is melted, add shallots.

– Toss to coat shallots in mixture and place in oven on the bottom rack. Roast for 10 minutes, or until a dark golden colour is achieved.

To finish the dish
– Grill mark the chop and then place on pan in the oven eight to 12 minutes for medium.

– In a small frying pan, heat up 1 tsp of olive oil and add blanched escarole. Season the escarole with salt and pepper. Add 1 tbsp of honey roasted shallots and 1 tsp of toasted pine nuts. Cook until all ingredients are hot. Taste for seasoning.

Plate the dish and top the pork chop with Kozlik’s maple mustard. Enjoy.

*Our pork comes from Perth Pork. A heritage pig farmer in Perth, Ontario hand-delivers the meat every week.

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Yum, yum: Quinn’s Irish Lamb Stew

One of the best St. Patrick’s Day parties in the city can be found at Quinn’s Steakhouse and Irish Bar. This Thursday, this authentic Irish pub (owner Gavin Quinn came to Canada from Ireland) will have live Irish music, dancing and all the Irish fare you could possibly eat in one day.

Here’s one of their great recipes from chef Paul Pisa that you can whip up on your own if you can’t make it down to the Sheraton Center.

Lamb and Guinness Irish Stew
Photo by R. O’Brien.
6 to 8 servings
Ingredients:
2 lbs lamb shoulder                                            
3 Tbsp. oil                                                               
2 Tbsp. flour                                                           
2 large onions, coarsely chopped                          
1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)           
2 Tbsp tomato puree (dissolved in 4 tbsp water)    
1 ¼ cups Guinness stout beer                                    
2 cups carrots, cut into chunks                              
1 sprig of thyme 
Salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Cayenne pepper (a pinch)
Fresh parsley, chopped
Preparation:
1.   Trim the lamb of any fat or gristle, then cut into cubes of 2 inches (5 cm) and toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of oil.
2.   Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture.
3.   Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add onions, crushed garlic, and tomato puree to the pan. Cover and cook gently for about five minutes.
4.   Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole dish, and pour some of the beer into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.
5.   Pour the mixture and remaining Guinness onto the meat; add the carrots and thyme.
6.   Cover the casserole dish and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, two to three hours. The stew may be cooked on stove-top or in a low oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Scatter with chopped parsley.

For more details on Quinn’s and its other fine establishments (Shopsy’s, PJ O’Brien and The Irish Embassy), check out quinnssteakhouse.com or follow them on Twitter. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Media, Darling: Corey Mintz

Fed is a column in the Toronto Star written by Corey Mintz about his experiences of cooking for people in his home. Guests have included Toronto Mayor David Miller, lawyer Clayton Ruby, director Sarah Polley and the troglodytic Mole People that live in the basement apartment. Before this spoiled lifestyle, Mintz was a restaurant critic for the Toronto Star. Before that spoiled life, he worked for a living, cooking.

He always has Tic Tacs on his person and looks both ways before crossing the street.

Read him online
Read his blog
On Twitter: @coreymintz

How can someone grab your attention with a pitch?
Write cogently. The relevant information needs to be up top. I once received a pitch that began with “since the dawn of time …”. If your information is good, there is no need to disguise it with jibba jabba. For my column, the guests could be anyone, as long as they’ve got something interesting going on. But in 45 installments, so far only one guest has come from a PR agent. Nothing takes the place of knowing and trusting the PR source. But for me that’s a short list. There’s only one name on it, Debra Goldblatt, and she never pitches me anything.

What do you find most useful when dealing with public relations professionals?
Timeliness and truthfulness. If a story is good, exclusivity is a bonus.

What is the biggest mistake PR professionals make?
I can only apply this to my area of food. The mistakes I see again and again are: 1) Not understanding the subject you are speaking about. 2) Forgetting that your clients represent you as much as you represent your clients. If you are asking writers to write about, and eaters to eat at, a crappy restaurant, you’ve lost your credibility.

Your pet peeve (pertaining to PR)?
Nonsensical lead paragraphs attempting to associate every vodka cooler, rib festival or pair of solar-powered jeggings with Mad Men or Sex and the City. It oozes vapidity. Also, a lack of humanity, sincerity. A lot of the people I deal with only want to be seen as communicating their client’s message (with permissible asides about shoes, Glee, cupcakes, jogging or cats/children). Without having a personality, it’s hard to believe anything a publicist says. Why not contact writers to make an introduction without pitching anything? That’s how I got my job.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
It’s criminal to presume that your audience is dumber than you. It was either Roosevelt or Churchill who said, “Talking smart to a pimp, you done broke the first rule.” For me, that’s never a problem since I am not very smart. Still, I always read my work out loud before filing it. If the author thinks it sounds like a con, so will the audience.