Toronto Sommelier at Four Seasons Pours a Glass for Chef Thomas Keller

Drew Walker, wine director at Café Boulud & D Bar in Toronto’s Four Seasons Hotel. Where did you grow up? I grew up in Niagara, in Port Dalhousie, with my parents Bruce and Nancy, and my older sister Kate. Tell us about a time when your life was different? When I was 19 years old, I lived in the Caribbean and worked long hours as a bartender in a great little bistro in the Cayman Islands. It was my first experience in the food and beverage industry, and it shaped me quite a lot.  I learned so much from the […]

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Hot Child in the City: Beckta Restaurants Ignite Ottawa Dining

Note: I’m finally posting this story online: it was originally published in Ottawa Magazine, the sister publication of Toronto Life, back in 2003 when Steve Beckta opened his first restaurant on Nepean Street. Why now? Two reasons. First, the story still gives you an insider peak backstage at a top-notch restaurant and what’s like to be in a small, hot, high-performance kitchen. Second, Steve is about to move from his original location on Nepean to Grant House at 150 Elgin Street, which was built in 1875 and is undergoing a $3.5 million renovation (pictured above) for a November 19 opening. […]

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The Passion of Steve Beckta: Hospitality and Service

Continued from Part 1: Steve Beckta Restaurant Eight months later, the capital has become bricks and mortar. This morning, the restaurant is dark, cool and silent like a stage set. Even in shadow, the Mediterranean tones are soothing: the azure sky splashed on the walls, the amber setting sun on the suede chairs and the field-flower dappled yellow of the maple floors. The glassware on the tables glints like sun catching on the sea. Paul Quinn, the general manager, comes out from the back to the bar and offers me a cup of tar-black coffee, then, with a shaky hand […]

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Backstage at the Hottest Dining Ticket in Ottawa

Continued from Part 2: Steve Beckta Restaurant Pastry chef Rebecca Macmurdo isn’t listening to the banter; she looks as though she’s trying to defuse a bomb hidden under the caramelized bananas. She works with small, deft hand movements, her face is inches from the plate. She’s responsible for both desserts and canapés, she is the first and last person to touch every diner’s meal. “I like prep,” she says cheerfully as she sets up her line of ingredients—golden beets, baby heirloom tomatoes, micro greens, beet and sugar jellies and caramel crunch. Later in the afternoon, I venture downstairs to another […]

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How do You Define Restaurant Hospitality? Take it with a Grain of Sea Salt

Continued from Part 3: Steve Beckta Restaurant At 5:30 p.m. Beckta greets the first guests, chats amiably for a few minutes, and then hostess Anique Montambault escorts them to their seats. Soon, the early guests are floating through their conversations on their first glass of wine. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the first wave of canapé and appetizer orders hits Macmurdo. The servers buzz around her “pass,” the eye-level counter where she puts up the amuse bouche canapés and salads as they’re ready. It’s the narrowest point in this river of activity where the pace either flows or chokes. Ripples of […]

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Why Do Restaurant Reviews Dismiss Wine?

Continued from Part 4: Steve Beckta Restaurant Tonight, though, there are no kids in the place; and the adults have moved beyond their starters to the main courses. In the kitchen, the first ripple hits the entrée station. Vardy, now standing between Fraser and cook J.P. Filion, tapes his wristwatch to the beam of his station. “How long you looking at Ross?” Vardy asks. “Five minutes,” Fraser replies. He’s searing foie gras, which will be topped with a caramelized blini made by Filion and then Vardy will finish them both with apple butter. In minutes Fraser and Filion contribute their […]

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Firing on All Burners: Juice Monkeys Thrive in the Heat of Service

Continued from Part 5: Steve Beckta Restaurant Anne DesBrisay was also happy to broadcast her enthusiasm—though she privately admitted later that given all the hype that had attended its opening, she had been nervous reviewing the restaurant. She was relieved though to find that it was indeed “a clear cut above, in all kinds of ways, but mostly in its service department.” “Beckta can only do good for this town in terms of raising the bar on service standards,” says Ottawa Citizen restaurant critic Anne DesBrisay. “The trend toward chef-owned restaurants is growing (yipee), but it means the chef’s in […]

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Sommelier to Restaurant Owner: Steve Beckta Keeps the Fire

Continued from Part 6: Steve Beckta Restaurant When I step back through the wall of heat into the kitchen, Quinn is telling Vardy: “They loved the béarnaise—they ordered the steak just for the sauce. But they thought the steak itself was a little salty.” “Tell ‘em to go to hell,” says Vardy smiling. In fact, Vardy and all the staff take customer feedback seriously. They’ve adapted a number of dishes because of such comments, and made other changes too. For instance, the tasting menu, rather than just listing the food and wine, now explains why certain wines were paired with […]

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Pairing Wine and Seafood, Shellfish and Steak with Sommelier Allison Vidug

Allison Vidug, sommelier at the Shore Club in Toronto, shares her tips on pairing wine with fresh seafood and shellfish, as well as great cuts of juicy steak. Tell us about the wine list at The Shore Club. Since I took over the wine program, my focus has been on creating a classic list with wines that suit the menu.  The Shore Club’s menu is all about simplicity and quality of ingredients used in steak and seafood dishes. The wine list will include classics from the Old World, New World and, great Canadian wines — which I am most excited […]

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The Paperbag Princess: She Who Brings Her Wine to Restaurants

As we walk into La Colombe restaurant, we’re greeted with warm light and laughter. All the tables in this modest 36-seat bistro are taken, except the one we reserved. On every table there are open bottles of wine that the diners pass back and forth, topping up their glasses. Occasionally, someone reaches discreetly under the table and brings up a new bottle. I spent my early adult years in Nova Scotia and Ontario, so I’ve been trained to select wine politely from the restaurant’s list. I’d no more bring my own booze than I would my own cutlery or linen. […]

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