Two and a Half Perfect Days in Montréal
Oct 31, 2009 | From the kitchen of Rose
It seemed a lot longer--that's how many terrific things were packed into that short space of time by our hosts Michelle and Jonathan of Appétite for Books in conjunction with publisher Wiley of Canada.
Appétite for Books, located in the beautiful Westmount area about 20 minutes from the center of downtown Montréal, is a very special bookstore offering cookbooks from all around the world. It is most unique in that it has a professional quality kitchen setup as a demo area towards the back of the store. The place provides a most welcoming home to regional and international authors and food lovers from the community and other regions of the province.
It was quite prophetic that the message in a chocolate fortune cookie from dinner at the Chinatown Brasserie in New York City three nights earlier was: "The weekend ahead predicts enjoyment."
I left on a Thursday night from a 70˚F New York City to arrive in a slightly snowy 33˚F Montréal. Woody, coming from similar cold weather in Minnesota, was waiting for me to clear customs. We had to return to immigration, however, thanks to his Mid-western honesty in reporting the Golden Lemon Almond Cake and MyWeigh Scale in his bag. This only delayed us for a short time and then we were in the taxi enjoying delicious ham sandwiches on Mexican rolls Woody had made and brought along.
When the cab arrived at the hotel, Woody jumped out to grab our bags from the trunk and the driver jumped into the back seat to brush all the crumbs from Woody's side. "Excusez nous," I whispered horrified switching immediately to French as if it would somehow make it more excusable, and then in a louder and defensive voice as it occurred to me out popped "Çe n'est pas ma faute!" (It's not my fault.") The previously silent and disinterested driver grinned and came back with "Ç'est toujours comme ça." We laughed and it became a bridge of warm connection and marked the beginning of our welcome to Montréal.
Many Interviews Day One:
Two radio interviews, a TV. interview, and press lunch--fun but exhausting--probably in most part because the interviewers were so interesting it took much energy to make the most of it. And what was most enjoyable was that each person had a different focus and personality.
Lisa Winston, CFMB radio talk show host had an engagingly warm, personal, and introspective quality, which made me forget we were on the air. We got to cover a surprisingly wide and in depth range of topics.
Sue Smith, dynamic host of CBC Radio Noon made the half hour of call ins from across the province evaporate as if it were just a few minutes. Questions covered the gamut from hoping there was a coconut cake in the new book which lead to a discussion of the beloved Montréal Queen Elizabeth Cake (something new to me) to convection baking. This is clearly a very popular show as we had so many call ins we only got to half of them.
By the time I got to our 1:00 lunch date with Lesley Chesterman, fine dining critic and columnist for the Montréal Gazette, I was not ready to meet another whole new personality. But as luck would have it Lesley and I were old friends. True we had only ever met for one brief visit to the farmer's market 4 years before at the IACP conference but some rare people give you an infusion of energy rather than sapping the little you may have left. Not only was Lesley a pastry chef, she was a major kindred spirit so lunch at the Kitchenette turned into such a gab fest of our common histories--people we both knew--places we both had been--we agreed to continue with the interview questions by phone a few weeks later. The food, which I largely ignored in favor of the conversation, was excellent.
Most memorable was the sticky toffee pudding prepared as an ice-cream Sunday, and garnished with caramelized popcorn. Woody drank in the conversation while eating and taking photographs and notes.
After saying a regretful goodbye, Jonathan escorted us over to the nearby TV station to do a 4-minute segment with Mitsumi Takashi, co-anchor of CTV News. He mentioned that she was a person of unusual sophistication and intelligence and that she would have an unusual point of view--both of which proved to be true.
I got slightly delayed in makeup where the makeup artist Elaine Rozga turned out to be a portrait artist of such quality her work was featured on a PBS documentary. She also happened to have two of my baking bibles from which she and her late mother from Belgium used to bake, so we had much to talk about.
I might add that my usual day consists of sitting at the computer writing and baking so experiencing so many talented and lovely people all in one day was almost overwhelming.
Mitsumi gently reminded us that we were expected on the set and with exceptional charm and grace, somehow managed to expand the 4-minute segment into what seemed like a half hour. She told me before the cameras rolled that my book inspired her to talk about the importance of beauty not just functionality in our pressured daily existence. She suggested that baking is a luxury not a necessity and that it was important to allow this into our lives. She also covered the chapter contents of the book and gave me time to express the points that were important to me.
Back in the car, Jonathan warned us that we needed to take a walk in order to prepare our bodies and be fit to enjoy the gargantuan feast ahead of us at the famed Pied de Cochon. We had just enough time to walk through the old city and I'm sure the cold rain helped along with the exercise. Actually Jonathan took a huge risk inviting us to this dinner. It was so laden with foie gras and other delectable's I feared I would collapse for several days after. (We learned that the restaurant buys over 50 kilos/110 pounds of foie gras a WEEK.) It was not the case. I woke up feeling refreshed despite the fact that this amazing dinner gave new definition to the term wretched excess! Here are some of the highlights:
Decadent but deceptively innocent looking foie gras cubes, deep fried so exquisitely crunchy on the outside with hot liquid foie gras within
Delicious and meltingly tender duck breast carpaccio
The best pot au feu ever with incredibly tender short ribs, and new garlic
foie gras poutine--chunks of sautéed foie gras, cubes of cheese curds, and French fries--can you believe it?!
And for dessert: schomeur: brown sugar crunchy on top, and maple sugar buttery within, and Maple sugar tart--two regional classics.
A good time was had by All!
Michelle and Jonathan also invited my dear friend and fellow baking cookbook author, blogger, and poet, the beautiful in every way Marcy Goldman (much more about her and her new books in a future posting).
The Book Event:
We arrived at Appétite for Books about an hour ahead of the demo as Lesley sent a photographer from the Gazette. Jonathan had spent the morning doing the prep for the demo and also making other cakes from the book for tasting. He made tons of mini white velvet cupcakes, the Double Whammy Groom's Cake baked in a rectangular pan, and the Apple Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake just for Michelle and himself. We also served the Golden Lemon Almond Cake Woody had brought as the one I was demoing wouldn't be ready to eat til the following day.
I got to pipe the raspberry buttercream on the cupcakes and discovered a fantastic new technique. I started off making rosettes and then, instead of starting the spiral at the outside of the cake I started in the center and spiraled almost to the edge, which effortlessly formed this exquisite rose.
The store has room for maximum 45 people to gather comfortably around the demo area. The very first participants I saw were Trina and her sister. Trina had come to my classes in NY many years ago and afterwards sent me her fabulous homemade orange marmalade. About 1/3 of the participants were our fellow bloggers. Blogger Carlos brought me a special pinecone he found in France last summer shaped like a rose. He also brought a can of maple syrup that he promised to send when I told him I wasn't able to check my bag and surely it would be confiscated by security (stay tuned from Woody's experience with them).
I intended for my demo to be a vehicle for imparting many tips and to encourage questions and indeed the uber delightful participants cooperated with lively queries and comments. After the demo we spent a second hour signing books and chatting.
As a perfect finale, just before leaving the store, fellow blogger Kim arrived saying that she was coming from a long distance away to show me that she had a first printing of The Cake Bible and that she had made every cake in book and it had changed her life.
Jonathan, Woody, The Cake, Me, and Michelle
Our celebration dinner was at Il Mulino, highly recommended by Lesley Chesterman on her blog as one of the most perfect dinners of her life, which indeed it was. They treated the guests as if they were old friends and the refined but cozy setting was a perfect respite finale--so much so that we both forgot all about photographic documentation until the very end of the meal so this is all we have to show of the dessert
(We were so caught up in the moment and the unfussy but elegant presentation, exquisite flavor and texture of the food, not to mention the 2005 terra Bianca wine.)
Day Two and a Half
Before taking off for the airport we had a fun breakfast with Marcy Goldman and Woody got to try a Montréal bagel. It's quite different from its NY cousin--still chewy but about half the heft. I carefully explained to the waiter the degree to which I wanted it toasted and Marcy defended me explaining that we are both bakers and these things matter very much to us!
We enjoyed 3 ½ hours of nonstop talking and promised to reconvene on her next visit to New York. But our Montréal adventure was not yet over. There was still customs to come or should I say overcome: Although Woody had checked with Northwest Airlines about bringing the Thermopen probe thermometer and had no trouble bringing it on the plane when traveling to Canada, getting it back into the U.S. was another thing. The adorable young customs officer, smiling and telling us his grandmother is a pastry chef, said that both the thermometer and the offset spatula are considered weapons. He allowed that the offset spatula could not be used as a weapon very effectively but the thermometer probe could do damage. I retorted that the thermometer was indeed a weapon--the weapon of the pastry chef--and he laughed in sympathy and appreciation but Woody was, none-the-less, sent back (by the officer's supervisor) to check his bag.
We have Woody to thank for all these photos he managed to take while seamlessly helping with all aspects of the visit. Marcy called Woody a treasure and Michelle in a lovely note to me gave me a new moniker "doyenne of all things delicious." In short, we were both invited back.