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A round-up of the posh nibbles for the VIP crowd and tips on making them at home, if you dare

Canapés, hors d’oeuvres, crostini, tapas – call them what you will, they are all finger foods with various origin stories that combine myth, legend and possibly a few lies. Arguing about them is way less fun than eating them, but if we want to get technical about canapés – which are enjoying a resurgence on some restaurant menus now that COVID paranoia is waning (it is waning, isn’t it?) – we must nod to the French. Canapé derives from the word for sofa, and it is traditionally a piece of bread with something on it. Nowadays, you can pretty much call it what you will, and replace the bread as you like with some other stable base – though, for some, even the base is optional. Now that TIFF season is upon us, we asked some caterers and chefs how they go about designing a perfect canapé for film festival parties and events.

Spicy cauliflower taco

From: Pusateri’s catering team

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The annual celebrity-studded NKPR Countdown Event, hosted at the home of NKPR’s Natasha Koifman, was lavishly catered during the last week of August by the team at Pusateri’s. The elegantly attired guests – mostly wearing black, but with some contrarians – understandably require dripless nibbles, like a one-bite taco that also fits the vegan-friendly bill. There’s just enough heat to whet the appetite, along with a little citrus and slaw zing to beg a second (or third).

Prep is quick and easy: Toss cauliflower florets in spiced flour and chili powder and oven roast until golden brown. Spread warmed tortilla shells with mashed avocado, add cauliflower florets, and top with pico de gallo, pickled onion and slaw. Mini clothespin optional – but it helps keep things in their place.

Kadipatta murg

From: Dharampal Negim, chef, Adrak Yorkville

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Adding a modern twist to a quintessential South Indian dish, Adrak’s Kadipatta Murg is a juicy chicken thigh marinated with curry leaves, served with red pepper mayo and green apple salsa. “During TIFF, ease of dining is imperative, and this canapé allows for quick nibbles during busy festive parties,” Negim says. The marinade is made with curry leaf powder and spices, which give a unique green colour after the chicken is cooked in the tandoor. “It’s a great hit of flavour, texture, and protein after a long day.”

The marinade is made with curry leaves, ginger, garlic, green chilies, black pepper, garam masala, hung curd and curry leaf powder (for a quick home version, simply sub in your favourite curry sauce or paste). Marinate the chicken pieces for at least four hours and bake at 425 F for 10 to 12 minutes. To cheat, garnish with a ready-made flavoured mayo and a fruity salsa.

Tomato tartare

From: Andrew Wilson, executive sous chef, Fairmont Royal York

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Based on a classic steak tartare, this canapé substitutes the beef with the beautiful tomatoes from the Royal York’s rooftop gardens. “As well, this is a pivot with the way the world is moving into a diet that involves eating less meats and lighter foods,” Wilson says. The profile is light and fresh, the tomatoes seasoned as one would with classic beef tartare (shallots, capers, gherkins, chives, basil, olive oil). The lemon zest helps brighten up the flavours. “We salt the tomatoes and dry them out slightly to get a bit of a denser texture as you would find with beef for a tartare.” Flavours are bright and zippy, perfect to pep up a palate at the end of a long day of screening and preening.

Attention serious at-home chefs: It takes about 14 hours to complete, including time to slice, salt and dehydrate the tomatoes – drying the tomatoes takes most of this time. “You will need to blanch and skin your tomatoes, slice them about a half-inch thick and dehydrate them for 12 hours. You can dry them out in your oven at 150 on a wire resting rack.”

Cristal champagne sabayon and caviar with buckwheat blinis, clementine and white sturgeon caviar

From: Vikas Wankhade, executive sous chef, The St. Regis Toronto

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And what’s a TIFF without some serious caviar and Champagne bling and blini? This is a canapé designed for Hollywood A-listers attending VIP events at the St. Regis, which means you’ll need to wield all your star power to get a taste. But you can try your chances by hanging around the Astor Lounge, the hotel’s lobby bar, enjoying Champagne and cocktails at the TIFF-anointed party space, which is open to the public. “Our decadent and creamy Cristal Champagne sabayon is made by whisking Cristal Louis Roederer Champagne, egg yolk and sugar with hints of clementine,” Wankhade says. “Guests will enjoy this on a buckwheat blini topped with white sturgeon caviar.”

If trying this at home, note that authentic ingredients will run you several hundred dollars – you could use cava (about $20) instead of Champagne, but should you?

Peaches + dreams

From: Laura Maxwell, executive chef, The Drake Hotel

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A canapé that makes local ingredients the star, with ripe Ontario peaches macerated in a stone fruit liqueur topping sourdough bread, with basil, pistachio and figaro, a French-style cheese from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Lancaster, Ont. A one-bite cheese and fruit course that’s surprisingly complex, yet light and refreshing.

This takes about an hour plus marinating time, so it’s best for home cooks with time and passion. Lightly grill a whole peach, turning every 30 seconds. Cool, pit and slice into equal pieces. Toss into your favourite peach or stone fruit liquor (briolette, in this case) and macerate for at least 30 minutes. It you have the time, refrigerate overnight and add a touch of honey. Cut sourdough bread into bite-sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil and toast for four to five minutes at 425 F. Top with peaches, add figaro cheese (or a goat’s cheese) and with a sprinkling of demerara sugar overtop, and brulé with a kitchen torch (or under the broiler). Dust with pistachios and basil and enjoy.

Sato maki

From: Jordan Sclare, executive head chef, Chotto Matte

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This is a signature sushi roll at Chotto Matte, named for group head sushi chef Keita Sato who opened the first Chotto. Faithful to a classic sushi roll, its familiarity and colour make it a great party snack. The asparagus lends crunch, while the flamed salmon and miso vegetables add softness and savoury elements. “Guests love watching this roll get flamed table side, making it absolutely perfect for TIFF events,” Sclare says. “This roll always makes it to the catering menu for our dazzling premiere and private parties.”

Once the sushi rice is ready, it only takes three to four minutes to make. The sushi rice, seaweed, branzino and asparagus make up the inside-out sushi roll, which is spread with the salmon tartare on top, garnished with the miso vegetables and cut into eight pieces. Blow torch for two seconds and serve. Needless to say, hosts with a blow torch at hand are most likely to have the skill and panache to pull this off. You could skip this step with no harm done.

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