I’ve revised this blogpost countless times struggling how to best describe the amazing Charlie’s Burgers dining experience held this past Sunday in Toronto. For those people who don’t know what Charlie’s Burgers is all about, see my pre-experience posting here. For those diners in attendance at the Charlie’s Burgers Arctic Diplomatic Incident at Campbell House on Sunday, they—like me—are probably: 1) still nursing a hangover and 2) wondering if the event actually happened or if we all fell down the same rabbit hole together.
After receiving clues from a man sitting on a cement block in an alley off of Queen Street, guests found their way to Campbell House where they were greeted with prosecco and promises of an incredible evening. Paul Finkelstein (chef/culinary teacher at Stratford Northwestern Secondary School, and host of the Food Network’s show, Fink) and Steve Cooper (Provider of Northern Food, or “Steve the Forager” as he came to be called) briefed the guests and gave them a teaser of what was to come. The guests filed downstairs and took their places at the dining tables.
Before each course was served, Paul and Steve shared some history and information of the product and where it came from. They told the diners of what it took to get the product from the far reaches of Canada’s Arctic to its final form on the plates while regaling them with tales and anecdotes of their travels throughout the North. Steve, having grown up in Coral Harbour, Nunavut and Hay River, NWT, and who spends most of his lawyerly days traveling throughout the Arctic, had many stories; Paul got to tell of his recent trip to Cambridge Bay that he and 18 of his culinary students went on in November. By the end of the night, they were a well-oiled team and just might have a future on stage somewhere.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, Chef Louis Charest and his staff were busy preparing course after incredible course. I will not go into detail as to how tasty, divine, orgasmic and mind-blowing each dish was nor how each dish exceeded the previous dish in taste and presentation because words cannot do justice to the food we ate.
I was (and remain) gobsmacked. On the way back home to Edmonton, Steve and I sat in the Toronto airport lounge, heads back, eyes closed, basking in the afterglow of this transcendental dining experience. If I had to choose the culinary highlight of my life, there would be no contest; the Arctic Culinary Diplomatic Incident just knocked off the #1 spot: a trip from Igloolik, Nunavut to Dallas, Texas in 2007 aboard Sir Richard Branson’s private plane where I was plied with wine and mouth-watering chicken tikka masala by a model-esque flight attendant. On that trip, Steve found airplanes and other transport for a global warming expedition Branson was a part of. When it comes to finding anything in the North, Steve’s the man.
On that note, let’s have a look at the product Steve supplied and the end result created by Chef Charest on Sunday:
First up, the Pangnirtung Fiord Roasted Turbot with Salt Pickled Lemon Roasted with Beurre Blanc and Batawana Bay Herring Roe:
Below, Tuktoyaktuk Smoked Meat Sandwich (Smoked Whale Meat and Smoked Musk Ox on Mustard Seed Bannock), Chelsea Pickle on the side.
The smoked meat sandwich was followed by Ceviche of Narwal Muktaq, Frozen Narwal with Soya, with Fried Narwhal Morsels and Wakame Salad.
Cape Dorset Arctic Char 4 ways (Tataki, Ginger Cured, Fennel Candied and Smoked) with Rice Wine Radishes, Apple Crème Fraiche, Fried Fennel, Celery Root Remoulade.
Mipkuzola Chips and Dip – Oven Baked Mipkuzola (Air Dried Muskox) Chip, Muhamara Caribou Kibbeh Nayyeh, served with Zatar Mayo, Fresh Pita and Pomegranate
Igloolik Walrus Mac and Cheese – Igloolik Igunaq Bacon Bits and Grilled Igloolik Walrus with Aged Cheddar Mac and Cheese and Pan Seared Foie Gras (the walrus was a bit “aromatic”, hence the clothes-pins).
Inuksuk Profiteroles with Spun Sugar and filled with Ice Wine Akutaq (“Eskimo Ice Cream” made from caribou fat).
The cost of this dinner? $235 per plate. Now, before you pass out from that sharp breath you’re taking in, consider this: the cost of a round trip to Pangnirtung, Nunavut (where the turbot came from) costs about $3500. A round trip to Iqaluit (char and narwhal) runs about $1800. For many of the people in attendance, tasting this northern fare exquisitely prepared by Chef Charest was an eating experience of a lifetime and worth every penny.
Read another attendee’s posting here .
The big question though, remains: Who is Charlie? I think I know. At the beginning of the evening, an elderly gentlemen shuffled around the foyer occasionally glancing into the dining rooms. He had a twinkle in his eye and looked like he had secrets a mile deep. He had the stature of a boxer…broad shoulders, thick chest, solid handshake. When I asked him his name he chuckled, “I’m nobody.” I nodded and turned my head for a second. When I looked back, he was gone. Hmmmm.