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Connie DeSousa and John Jackson chowing down on some PEI aged beef at Blac.
Connie DeSousa and John Jackson chowing down on some PEI aged beef at Blac.

What chefs are doing for their summer vacation Add to ...

David McMillan

Chef and co-owner of Montreal’s Joe Beef, Liverpool House and McKiernan Luncheonette Bar à vins

My partner, Fred Morin, and I work it out so that our restaurant is closed for only the first two weeks of August, but we manage to take a month off each. For my own vacation, I have a relationship with Peter Hoffer, the Canadian landscape painter. He recently acquired a beautiful property in the Laurentians on the side of Bark Lake in a town called Barkmere, Que. So we’re here with our families. Peter has his children and I have mine here, and it’s that weird, classic European relationship of the artist and the chef. I cook for everybody, as many meals as possible over a wood fire outside, and Peter takes everyone for boat rides. Our wives are here, paddleboarding, kayaking, trying our hand at fishing, and, you know, making sure the kids don’t drown.

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It’s good for me because I usually manage all our social media, but my cellphone doesn’t work out here, so I can’t monitor anything. No Twitter, no Facebook, no e-mails. Just the fact that I can disconnect from all that is a vacation itself.

Being near the water all day – it’s a beautiful, pristine lake – I couldn’t imagine a place better than where I am. There’s also a beautiful organic farm, Runaway Creek Farm, five minutes away. And the other great thing is there are no restaurants within 80 kilometres, so I’m weaned off completely from being able to go out for a bad meal, let alone a good one. To eat simple boneless, skinless chicken breasts with zucchini sautéed in olive oil, and have that be your dinner? It’s kind of refreshing.

I also brought up two magnums of Prince Edward County wine that Ontario winemaker Norman Hardie made for Joe Beef. I had one of them earlier this week and it was phenomenal. To me, it makes so much sense to drink that wine by this lake for some reason. The smell of the air with this wine? It’s perfect.

As told to Wency Leung

Darren Glew

Head chef at the Drake Hotel in Toronto

I’m leaving soon for Saskatoon for two weeks for a friend’s wedding, where we’re cooking for 120 people. It’ll be three days of cooking breakfasts, lunches and dinners, culminating in a wedding-night feast of two whole roast pigs. It’s sort of a vacation, but whatever. That’s what we like to do, right? The whole thing will take place at my friend’s soon-to-be wife’s family farm, about 20 minutes outside the city.

We’ve been planning the logistics for this event for about two years – like, how much food in general we’re going to need and how we’re going to cook pig. But you never really know what you’ve got until you show up, so we’re planning on hitting up the farmers markets when we get there.

In the meantime, I’ve just been relaxing in Toronto and enjoying time with my wife as much as I can because having free time is rare. For the most part, the weekends and weekdays are either very busy at work or precious time for sleeping. But I force myself to walk to work every day, just so I can enjoy the weather and so I don’t wake up in September and go, “Where the hell did the summer go?”

Every once in a while, I’ll hit up the farmers market. It’s just nice to see what’s sort of popping up for the season. I’m really loving the peaches this year. We’re using them in soups (right now, we have a peach and watermelon soup), in pickles, in desserts and main courses.

Because of the unusual weather this spring, we haven’t had a lot of the canned fruits, like the cherries and free-stone peaches. But the cooking peaches have been amazing. They came in early and they’re still going, which is, like, happiness.

As told to Wency Leung

Alex Cruz

Partner of the foraging company Société-Orignal in Montreal

I’m spending most of my time in the yards at the moment. Summers are so busy that taking a nap in the afternoon often counts as vacation – if I can take a nap between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, it’s an extreme luxury. I had two this year. But I try to combine business and pleasure at the same time.

We went to the Gaspé region, because we are trying to recreate a garden on the beach seashore. That was a lot of work, but one of the things We did was have a picnic on the beach. It was a great evening with my girlfriend’s family. We improvised spaghetti Bolognese, which we cooked on a small propane stove. The breeze was great, and we found fresh sea parsley and sea rocket leaves growing just next to us on the beach. With a few beers – that’s pretty much how we like to celebrate.

Another great summer moment: One week out of three, I do my own deliveries. I wake up at 4 a.m. for the drive to Toronto. It’s a great drive where I can take in the sunrise, and all the planes flying above the 401. One night when I was driving back to Montreal, I stopped at a service centre and got a Tim Hortons coffee, with one milk, and smoked a homemade cigar that a friend, who grows Mapacho tobacco in his backyard, offered me as a gift. I rarely smoke but an industrial coffee and a cigar is the perfect gastronomic pairing.

As told to Christina Vardanis

Rob Gentile

Chef at Toronto’s Buca Osteria & Enoteca restaurant

We were in Italy twice. We go there often – we like to educate ourselves as much as possible. It’s a working trip, but the good part about it is, it’s a great job. You get to eat, drink and whenever possible work in interesting places all over the world.

Everywhere you go in Italy is a different learning experience – you see different things that chefs are doing, the different ingredients there. On my first trip there, I had the opportunity to work in a three Michelin star restaurant in Licata, in the southernmost tip of Sicily. The things you see there compared with things you see in Toscana are very different. There’s an abundance of grapes, raisins, olives, pistachios, almonds, and a lot of offal – different types of organ meats – which is very cool. Our pastry chef is from Sicily, so after working in the restaurant I went to Palermo, where he lived, and he showed me around.

The second trip was to the east coast, with my chef de cuisine, Ryan Campbell. We travelled to Venice, then Treviso, down the east coast to Senigallia, then Ancona, all on the water, then back to Rome. That was a completely different experience – For the whole trip I didn’t see one piece of cured meat, no parmigiano-reggiano. They were unique areas, and The abundance of seafood was unbelievable. We went to a restaurant that specialized in sweet aqua dolce – the river it was on had turned freshwater, so all the local catches were freshwater fish. And all the oceanside places served saltwater catches. It was unbelievable.

As told to Christina Vardanis

Connie DeSousa

Chef and owner of CHARCUT Roast House in Calgary

Summer for me started after the Calgary Stampede when we welcomed a couple of friends and fellow chefs from San Francisco into the CHARCUT kitchen. We’d start the day with delicious baked goods and spend our afternoons at the farmers markets with a coffee in hand.

Typically, we do farm tours in the summer or take in an Okanagan wine country tour. But This year, my business partner and co-chef, John Jackson, and I headed west for a few days to Vancouver to stage a pop-up, making use of the bounty from Granville Island Public Market. We incorporated chubby gooseberries, raspberries, tomatoes, local potatoes, green beans and fiddleheads – all harvested in their prime – into a special menu.

We also made a marathon of dining out. We tackled pizza, pastas and fully loaded charcuterie. We hit a downtown steakhouse for thick cuts of PEI Blue Ribbon beef, Dungeness crab, prawns. We feasted on sausages made by chefs Brad Hendrickson and Dale Mackay.

After Vancouver, we visited north Saskatchewan for some lake fishing for northern pike and yellow perch. We spent a day foraging for saskatoon berries in the remote North.

Between our travels, my husband, Jean Francois, and I purchased and moved into our first house in South Calgary, with a garden plot. We christened the kitchen by making home-harvest kale and Portuguese sausage. No place like home!

As told to Wency Leung

Interviews have been condensed and edited

Follow on Twitter: @wencyleung

 

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