A Tuscan Culinary Experience in Stratford

The Stratford Chefs School presents Chef in Residence Italian Culinary Maestro Paolo Lopriore

I had the pleasure of attending one of these dinners in Stratford last winter thanks to Mary Luz Mejia of  Sizzling Communications.

So when I received notice of this year’s culinary guests Chefs at The Stratford Chefs School, I jumped at the chance to go sample delicious Italian fare & also chat and break bread again with the lovely Kimberley Payne, the school’s executive director.

This particular dinner was brought to us all the way from Tuscany by Chef Paolo Lopriore of Il Canto, the highly touted restaurant in the 5 star Hotel Certosa di Maggiano, near Sienna, Italy.

Il Canto is considered one of the best restaurants in Italy and has been awarded with the “Three Forks” title by The Gambero Rosso Guide. It also ranks #39 in the S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011.

Chef Loprieri’s love of cooking was instilled by his mother who also taught him the value of fresh, local & seasonal ingredients. His talent caught the attention of Gualtiero Marchesi, under whom Chef Lopriore honed his craft in Milan, Florence, then in France and Oslo. His non-traditional style of Italian cooking eventually landed him the head of the kitchen at Il Canto.

So, without further ado and with three other food loving road trip companions, I headed out for the 2 hr drive to Stratford. Made longer by both bad weather & rush hour traffic, we were all starving and kept making it worse by talking about food pretty much the entire drive. I was almost desperate enough to eat stale crackers found in my van… I think someone offered me a mint and there were some fast food jokes inserted here & there.

We finally made it to The Prune Restaurant where most of the dinners are hosted. I love going there. It has such a serene, calming & elegant atmosphere. And the student servers always make you feel very welcomed.

I will apologize in advance for the quality of my photos, since I forgot my camera at home and was armed only with my trusty iPhone.

Our dinner started with  handmade breadsticks, crusty Italian rolls & whipped butter. We were poured Prosecco and then as an amuse bouche,  we were served a silky and most delicate egg custard I have ever had.

Amuse of Egg Custard with Chives & Tobiko

That was followed by a Sweet and Sour Eggplant Caponata with Shrimp. A very simple and subtle yet flavourful dish.

Caponatina di Melanzane in Agrodolce, Gameri in Padella

Next course was probably my favourite of the night. A rich, dark Squid Ink Risotto. I loved the colour, the texture, the flavour of this…I could have eaten more of that for sure. It was heavenly.

Riso al Nero di Seppia

If the risotto was my favourite, the following dish was a close second. The most tender, melt in your mouth piece of seared Venison with Blueberry sauce. This is where local met Italian as this could have easily been a dish served as Canadian food. The sauce was rich without being overwhelming and was a suitable accompaniment to the venison.

Nocette di Capriolo in Salsa con Mirtilli

Dessert was a very refreshing Lemon Pudding with Honey & a creamy coffee “quenelle”. This dessert wasn’t sweet at all; it was tangy and perhaps a bit overpowering for some. But the combination worked very well for my palate.

Budino al Limone, Miele e Caffe

Our lovely dinner ended with crispy Pistachio Tuiles, dark chocolate mint and white chocolate tarragon lollipops.

All courses were served with perfectly paired wines.

Chefs in Residence are assisted in the preparation & execution of their menus by the students but each guest chef has a main Student Chef assistant. Chef Lopriore’s was Beja Cassiano.

Chef Paolo Lopriore & Student Chef Beja Cassiano

My hat goes out to the Stratford Chefs School for always keeping their students so in touch with world cuisine, instilling respect in the craft of foreign chefs as well as our own.

Once again, big thanks to Mary Luz Mejia from Sizzling Communications, The Prune Restaurant, the students, Kimberley Payne, executive director and Eleanor Kane, co-founder of The Stratford Chefs School.

A much quicker drive back to Toronto feeling well fed and happy after a stimulating evening of laughs, great conversation and of course, amazing food.

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