rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Hotel Intercontinental Centre
225 Front St. W.
Mon.-Sun., 6 a.m.-10:30 p.m
***1/2 (out of 5)
Chef Jonaton Lome is still recovering from the opening night of the Auto Show at the convention centre adjacent to the hotel where he works, but he sends out a little sample of what he’d been working on the day before with my lunch — a thick slab of foie gras and duck breast terrine wrapped in prosciutto. It’s a nice sample of what he’s trying to do at Azure, the restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental on Front Street, right at the junction between the Rogers Centre, Union Station and the Air Canada Centre.
Lome is young, even by chef standards, but he’s been in the business since he was a teenager, signing on to George Brown’s cooking school at 15 before leaving to work his way up the ladder in a series of Toronto kitchens. His apprenticeship began at Bistro 990, working up through La Maquette on King Street and a stint in Brad Long’s kitchen at the Air Canada Centre before moving on to Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar. It was a range of experience he was grateful for when he took over Azure less than two years ago.
His responsibilities at the Intercontinental aren’t as demanding as, say, what he’d be called upon to do just down the street at the Royal York; room service is another department, so he can concentrate on special events — custom menus, chef’s tastings and dinners for special guests, as well as Azure, his principal forum. Still, hotel chefs have to deal with challenges that, say, an owner/chef wouldn’t have to face.
"I had a discussion with our new food and beverage director," Lome recalls, "who said that they’d like to have asparagus on the menu all the time, for example. I really don’t want to ship asparagus from Peru or wherever this time of year. Trucks chugging along the 401 and across Canada — besides the fact that I don’t think it’s a particularly great product — yes it tastes like asparagus, but we can get asparagus that tastes so much better for four months of the year here in Ontario. And from an environmental perspective, if I’m going to have someone like Cookstown Greens driving 100 miles to deliver something versus the Mexican asparagus, I’m going to go with Cookstown Greens."
Most chefs in the city prefer to work with local ingredients, and Lome has gone a step further and put together a series of dishes meant to showcase uniquely Canadian ingredients for the hotel’s in-transit clientele. There’s the duck breast on a wild mushroom and lentil ragout with a beet and sundried cherry sauce, and a plate of Quebec cheeses served with a walnut shortbread. He even ends the meal with a few complimentary squares of maple fudge, just to punctuate the northern theme.
Of course, it’s a hotel, so Lome also features burgers, fried chicken and a chicken pot pie on his menu — all dressed and upgraded, but there to provide a comfortable place for diners. There’s always a temptation to transform an old standby, especially if you know how, but Lome opts for humility and says it would be unfair to the customer.
"To me, with a Caesar salad or a steak, you want to make it interesting, but generally people who want a Caesar salad or steak don’t want you messing with it too much. They want a nice, tasty, well-presented meal, a well-cooked and well-marbled piece of meat. They don’t want you re-inventing the wheel."
Maple squash jam
• 1 lb butternut squash peeled and cubed
• 150 ml maple pure syrup
• 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
• 4 tbsp butter
• kosher salt to taste
• fresh ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 275 F. In an oven-proof dish, lay the butternut squash in an even layer and sprinkle the squash with the maple syrup, butter salt and pepper.
2. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and roast until the squash is tender, approximately 45 minutes. Remove the foil and roast the squash for 10 more minutes to dry out some of the moisture.
3. Transfer the squash to a food processor and puree until smooth. The squash puree can be sealed in canning jars and will hold for several months as long as the jars are not opened. Once opened, use within one week.
courtesy of jonaton lome of azure