“Dining together with friends and family, is certainly one of life’s primal and innocent delights, one that is both soul satisfying and eternal”
If you’ve been anywhere close to a television or radio in the past few days, you are probably feeling the same as so many others…uncertain. Uncertain of trust, uncertain of faith and uncertain of what tomorrow will bring. The people of France (as well as the many other places affected by the recent attacks) must be craving, more than ever before, a bit of normalcy in these trying times. When I think of those families that are trying to get back to living a regular life, I think about how the dinner table has most likely become a place, now more than ever, where stories can be shared and fears can be distilled. Eating together at the table, as Julia believed, has always brought a sense of connectedness to our hectic , and sometimes troubled lives.
Thinking about France recently has also made me revisit – at least in my head – my trip to Paris years ago. When I travelled there, what I remembered about the French, as a nation, was their “joie de vivre”. But, what I remember more vividly was the food and it’s elegant simplicity. I’m sure in many places, there were extravagant meals being served, but I revelled in the beauty of the simple elements that would inevitably become a meal….a warm baguette from the market, a few pieces of cured meat from the butcher, a hunk of cheese from the fromagerie and a bottle of wine all enjoyed on a bench in the streets. Mornings were even sweeter, celebrating the first meal of the day with simple breads and jam – jam that seemed so much better than the jars we buy in North America. When I returned home, I found Bonne Maman at a grocery store and, remembering that it was one of the brands we enjoyed on vacation, I scooped up a sampling of the few jars that I had discovered. It brought me back to my time in France and, to this day, other than the homemade preserves I make myself, it is the only jam I buy.
That’s why I was so excited to receive an invite last Saturday by the lovely people at Branding and Buzzing to a wonderful lunch held at Cluny in the Distillery District in Toronto. Partnering Chef Paul Benallick with the wonderful jams from Bonne Maman resulted in a meal that was nothing short of spectacular!
For decades, Bonne Maman has created special preserves following traditional, cherished recipes. Today, Bonne Maman continues shaping the sweetest moments by producing preserves in France using all natural ingredients with no artificial colorings, no additives or preservatives.
So, with a group of wonderful women, all connected somehow in this wondrous world of food, we sat at a big table, shared stories of food and love and broke bread together while enjoying an absolutely unforgettable meal.
As we arrived, our goodie bags that were filled with jams, breads, cooking oil and an apron, were beautifully displayed alongside an inviting basket of freshly baked crusty mini baguettes which would later be slathered with different kinds of jam!
The table was set with a variety of Bonne Maman jam (red currant, chestnut, cherry, dulce de leche) with a detailed description of our meal tucked into a pretty napkin.
It didn’t take long for the stories to find a common thread and laughter to connect us all!
While we were at the table, Chef Paul was busy in the kitchen preparing our first meal…Warm roasted heirloom carrot salad roasted for 8 hours with Bonne Maman red currant jelly and served with ducca, hazelnuts and sunchoke puree.
With a sprinkling of mild chilies, the dish was spectacular as it was presented on individual slate platters. Chef Paul said “the tenderness and sweetness of these carrots really shine when you roast them for this long”.
It didn’t take long for me to ask questions of my fellow diners! When I spoke to Chef Christine Tizzard, she talked about how much she loved this jam and said “it reminds me of picking ground cherries as a child in the East coast…so fresh”. Like me, Christine said that, Bonne Maman is the only jam – other than her own homemade jam – that she will buy. She’s is so lovely, really showing her East coast charm!
Ola was enjoying a sampling of the open jams on a piece of the wonderful breads that were presented at the table alongside our first course.
It was hard to stop snapping pictures of the fantastic food that Chef Paul prepared for us…it was all so beautiful!!
Mise on place, which means everything in it’s place, is what chefs expect before any meal prep. In most cases, it’s chopped onions and carrots. For chef Paul, it was his jars of jam, ready to be used creatively with each dish.
As we chatted and ate, our next meal was being plated in the kitchen. Here, the roasted acorn squash is being plated atop the Bonne Maman dulche de leche vaduvan (a French spice mixture).
Finished with grilled east coast halibut cheeks and steel cut grits, the flavour combination of this dish was exceptional. I rarely order a dish twice, but I would definitely order this again when I come back to Cluny!
Can you tell how happy this meal made me?!?
And, it wasn’t just me that was giddy…the ladies were definitely enjoying every single moment of this meal!
The third course was an explosion of flavour. The confit fingerlings were served in wonderful small cast iron vessels, as was the most spectacular spiced walnut and Bonne Maman cherry jam chutney. The final side was a warm brussel sprout and quinoa salad with dollops of soft cheese…a remarkable taste combination. The sides were so memorable (I will be absolutely be trying to recreate these as home!) and paired so perfectly with the table showstopper…roasted duck!!
Chef Paul prepared his tray in the kitchen, ready to be carved table side and served family style!
As he carved the duck he explained that the duck that he received from a family farm was aged by hanging it for several days and then brined to ensure a moist bird. It shredded so beautifully – mouth watering!
Our dishes were full of such extraordinary flavour! Using the Bonne Maman jams to create this dish was a real eye opener for me. Using the tart and sweet balance of each jam really brought out the flavours of each and every bite.
And finally…dessert!! In the kitchen, the plating has begun. Bonne Maman chestnut spread is “brushed on the plate with a dollop of red currant jam on the other side using the mild bitterness of currants to offset the sweet notes of the chestnut spread. The dressed plate was then topped with Bonne Maman chestnut spread stuffed profiteroles and served with milk chocolate chantilly mousse….
Piping in action!!
Finished plate, with it’s final sprinkle of crunch clusters, ready to wow the guests (and it did!!)
A final shot with the man of the hour, Chef Paul Benallick, surrounded by his biggest fans…ladies who dine!!
Thank you so much Branding and Buzzing for organizing this wonderful event, Chef Christine for entertaining us while we dined, Chef Paul Benallick for doing your magic in the kitchen, and to Bonne Maman for providing the vehicle to create such a sensational meal.
The splendid photography in this post is by the talented Jeffrey Chan courtesy of Bonne Maman