Black Tartan – No Contest! - theHumm January 2020
Black Tartan – No Contest! - theHumm January 2020
By Sebastian Weetabix
Weetabix is in a self-congratulatory mood for having praised chef Ian Carswell and his Black Tartan Restaurant some time ago (theHumm, July 2017). We are pleased to report that both have continued to develop. Ian has been recognized as an outstanding talent and earned a place on the national stage by winning the Ottawa edition of The Great Canadian Kitchen Party. For those interested in cuisine and gastronomy, this is an important event and a significant honour.
Readers of this column know that Weetabix does not do “critical reviews” and will not be surprised that the idea of competitive events in a field like cuisine begs for some comment; herewith a few, and then back to topic. Virtually every human activity can be the subject of competitive ranking — the primary purpose of which is to bestow bragging rights and social credit — some of which can be monetized. The field of athletics is dominated by performance contests, both individual and team related. But what are outcome measures and what do they mean? In many cases, at least the first question is easily answered: “fastest” or “highest” are quantitative measures of performance that permit resolution higher than the limits set by the random variables of any course. Winning by a nose is still winning.
Meaning, of course, is a different matter — and winning by a nose is particularly appropriate to food since aroma is a key part of any dining experience. Weetabix would point out that second best is not the same as second rate. No Olympic qualifier can be fairly described as second rate, and even the Buffalo Bills (in their worst year) were clearly capable of playing at a level well beyond most college teams. So how and why is this relevant to competition between chefs? We should start with a brief examination of the idea of ranking. When only a single dimension of performance is measured this is simple; but when there are multiple attributes to consider, distillation of performance to yield a single numerical rank ranges from difficult to impossible. Hold this thought long enough for a rant on food criticism.
The rise of the internet and sites like Yelp have had devastating effect on serious food critics, since uninformed and unqualified posts can get the same attention and distribution as more considered opinion. Readers of sites that permit uncurated postings are subject to a barrage of opinion and have no way of knowing which comments are “paid advertising”, which are malicious, and which are genuine but ignorant of any reference standards. Reading what has been accurately described as a “great washroom wall” is not informative, and few readers possess the ability to qualify the information presented there. On the other hand, free content draws readers, and there is no longer a willingness to pay for qualified opinion. Conscientious critics are an endangered species due to habitat loss!
Enter the “Culinary Contest” — food as entertainment and perhaps the salvation of critical standards. Reality TV shows aside, there are many media options that testify to the public’s interest in food and cooking. It is therefore a natural consequence of basic human instincts that formal competitions would develop in this field, but the issue of metrics of merit is complex, as is the fundamental landscape. Make things too simple and the whole enterprise is simply a burlesque — who cares about the time it takes to fry an egg, although this might matter if you need to hire a line cook. On the other hand, constructive creativity is not simply a matter of combinatorial novelty. Blueberry coulis might have its place but probably not with lightly smoked trout roe. Enter the serious, qualified and knowledgeable judging panel and a credible venue.
The Great Canadian Kitchen Party (GCKP, formerly known as Gold Medal Plates) is an outstanding example of a constructive competition. Organized to help raise money and awareness for Canada’s Olympic Athletes, it provides an opportunity for selected chefs to get together in a collegial setting and show off their creativity and skills to their colleagues. In many ways this “contest” benefits both participants and the industry as it combines the entertainment of trying to rank across multiple attributes with a qualified judging panel. Weetabix was fortunate to be able to chat with the formidable Anne DesBrisay who heads the Ottawa panel of GCKP. Anne, for those of you who don’t know, has written extensively on food in Canada and is a conscientious and careful reviewer. She described the GCKP events as an “opportunity for chefs to step away from safe menus, work as a team, and develop a dish that is competition worthy”. True that — and important to chefs since even being chosen to compete is a singular honor that is recognized by their peers. The industry of haute cuisine is surprisingly interconnected and GCKP plays an important role in developing collegial relationships and in providing public relations based on merit. It is a counterweight to the earlier-mentioned washroom wall. Because it is a national event, it also provides exposure that new talent could not afford; most public relations and advertising in the industry is, due to economics, local. For a young chef in a small town, simply being invited to participate is already a victory with benefits; to win at the regional level, in competition with an outstanding group of peers, is an extraordinary and meaningful achievement!
Weetabix could not resist delivering congratulations in person, and Ian Carswell found time to comment on his experience with the GCKP. Besides being thrilled with the outcome of the contest, he remarked on the value of the collegial benefits of the whole experience. “Everyone was helpful and we enjoyed the camaraderie and exchange of information; it was a win just to participate! We wanted to show the food scene why we are here [Carleton Place, in case you missed it] and our dish reflects the heritage of Lanark County”. We wish Ian and his crew best at the Nationals, which are actually being held in Ottawa at the end of January.
Besides the regular menu, consider putting yourself in Ian’s hands via the Tasting Menu (where you can try something new and different), and note that the Black Tartan is open for lunch as well as dinner — an excellent venue for a business meeting or just a treat in mid-day. “Vaut Le Voyage.”
Fiddle In the New Year! - theHumm January 2020
You’re in for a real treat on Sunday, January 5, when the Blue Skies Community Fiddle Orchestra will present their annual Little Christmas Concert. Directed by Cindy McCall, this all-ages group comprises 50+ fiddlers with guitar, percussion, penny whistle, viola, bass, cello and flute accompaniment. They will perform some of their recently perfected delightful repertoire. This enthusiastic bunch rehearses on Saturdays and Wednesdays at the Maberly Hall and hails from the rural areas close by. T......
By Sally Hansen
Art… and Soul
Almost twenty years ago for our May 2000 issue of theHumm I asked Dale Dunning why he was a sculptor. His answer (see the back of his Trading Card) remains the same today. There is no question that he has achieved his goal of leaving a lasting visual legacy; the good news for art lovers is that Dunning persists in adding to his legacy of sculptures that are “objects of reflection and contemplation”.
Most of his works across the intervening twenty y......
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Recycling Clothing: What’s Next? - theHumm January 2020
By — Sue Evans
Almonte found its beginning through production of woolen textiles. The first woolen mill, Ramsey Woolen Cloth Manufacturing Company, was incorporated in 1851. Over a period of time mills were established on seven different sites. By the late 19th century Almonte was known as the “little Manchester” of Canada. These mills produced high quality textiles that were shipped to manufacturers that created beautiful woolen articles of clothing that wore well for many years. When it became possible to generat......
Out of Sight…Out of Murder - theHumm January 2020
By — Heddy Sorour
Perth’s Studio Theatre is determined to help you beat the post-holiday blahs with their production of Out of Sight… Out of Murder by Fred Carmichael — a comedy-thriller that’s bound to entertain. “It’s a comedy with no Trumpian overtones,” chuckles director Grey Masson.
This play has it all: blackouts, lightning, a haunted mansion, a bewildered author, and all the dicey characters of an Agatha Christie thriller… any one of whom could be a killer. The difference? The characters ......
A Little Light in the World - theHumm January 2020
By Angie Arendt
If you had dropped by our place for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat sometime this past month, chances are you would have found yourself in a “do you remember…” kind of conversation. Maybe it’s because the shorter days this time of year lend themselves to introspection. Maybe it’s our tendency to get contemplative (and sometimes a bit nostalgic) during the holidays; considering the what, why, where, when and how of things like hope, peace, joy and love. Or possibly it’s the turning o......
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Jul 1 - 31 Exhibition: Jeweller Anne-Marie Chagnon
Jul 1 - Aug 25 Canadian Local: paintings, handweaving, jewellery
Jul 4 - Aug 31 Head Over Heels
Jul 6 - 27 Nolan Hubbard
Jul 21 - Aug 2 Bloomfest Garden Art Show & Sale
Jul 24 Brock Zeman
Jul 24 Rick Fines
Jul 26 Steve Stacey & Pat Robillard
Jul 29 - 30 Miss Emily w/opener Frank Ryan
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