“I come from a food family,” says B.C.-based Paul Stewart, executive chef at the Harbour House Hotel on Saltspring Island. “And the aromas of cooking were always part of our childhood, especially around the holidays.”
Having recently won the award for best brunch in the country from Food Day Canada, Stewart believes that the traditional midmorning meal is a great way to share the holidays with the ones you love. “I have so many wonderful memories of holiday weekends with my mother and grandmother. It’s such a perfect time to connect through food.”
Following are Stewart’s tips for creating a brunch that will yield fond recollections for years to come.
It may take some planning, but Stewart believes that canning and storing food in the fall to use later in the year is a real help when it comes to holiday entertaining.
“Putting things away for the winter months, even though it’s a lot of preserving, makes things much easier,” he says. “It’s nice when you can take out the strawberries you froze, a jar of canned peaches or some homemade chili sauce to have with eggs.” In lieu of homemade preserves and condiments, seasonal produce such as root vegetables and winter herbs, organic edibles and freshly crafted sauces and jellies (as opposed to store-bought) are good alternatives. Whichever route you choose, easy and unencumbered is the way to go. “Brunch,” says Stewart, “is a meal [for which]you put some time aside and enjoy at a leisurely pace. Being prepared lets you keep it relaxed.”
The guest list
Keeping it small and convivial, Stewart believes, is the key to a successful brunch. “Six is a good number of people to cap it at, as it’ll still retain a sense of intimacy and you won’t be overwhelmed. It could be three couples or a select gathering of family members, like mom and grandma.” It also helps if the guests are (mid-) morning people.
A casual approach dictates a casual ambience, Stewart says, suggesting a rustic seasonal centrepiece made of boughs and pine cones, a fire in the fireplace if you have one and an array of lit candles even though it’s daytime. “Essential oils to fill the house with a wonderful smell are also nice,” says the chef, who favours orange oil, rosemary oil or a combination of the two.
And when it comes to music, he favours the classics – Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Diana Krall’s modern-retro takes. “When you’re listening to Christmas songs, they may as well be good ones.”
According to Stewart, sweet, savoury and sensual are vital tasting notes when putting together a brunch menu. To wit, “I like to make good stuffed French toast using sourdough bread. I cut a trench into a slice and put either brie or a good sharp cheddar, like a Balderson from Ontario, in it. I then soak the slices really well in egg batter and throw them into the oven to soufflé them. I like to serve the brie [versions]with my frozen harvest strawberries, thawed and poured over top. For the cheddar, some caramelized apple, maple syrup and Chantilly cream are good pairings. These are all sensual foods with great mouth feel, suited to a brunch.”
As for drinks, Stewart suggests adding a few fresh or defrosted berries into mimosas made with fresh orange juice. “On the West Coast, we have a ton of great [berry]options. You can use anything from lingonberries to gold or red raspberries – just drop them into a glass, cover with your bubbly of choice and top with orange juice.”
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