Friday, November 5, 2010

Guest Post: Meet a Gold Medal Plates Chef: Chef Michael Potters of Harvest

The following post continues a series of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef" interviews you will see on the Fridays leading up to the Gold Medal Plates Event in Ottawa. It's from one of Ottawa's most amazing food bloggers – Shari of Whisk: a food blog.

For this installment of "Meet a Gold Medal Plates Competing Chef", we get to know Chef Michael Potters from Harvest (106 Bridge St., Picton).


One drizzly Sunday afternoon, I took a drive from Ottawa to Picton (only two and a touch hours away) to interview Chef Michael Potters of Harvest restaurant. Chef Potters is one of ten chefs invited to compete at Gold Medal Plates in Ottawa, and it was the only restaurant on the list where I hadn't dined so I was curious.

In July, Picton is a booming tourist-filled town. At the end of October, it's quiet and resting before the Christmas rush of visitors. I enjoyed a pear and chèvre croissant at Miss Lily's Café for lunch and poked through the many quaint shops along the main street before meeting with the chef. It was a charming afternoon.

I met with Chef Potters in his kitchen. I love peeking in someone else's fridge, and he volunteered to show me his walk-in fridge where a dozen fresh rabbits (raised by a friend of his) were hung and waiting to be braised for November's Countylicious prix fixe event. As well, I saw a box of fresh Whitefish that were ready for the fillet knife and a container of pink fish eggs that would become caviar after three days of salting and rinsing.

Chef Potters is a busy man. He runs his own restaurant and also hosts the series on W Network called Chef Worthy, which pits family and friends against each other in a friendly kitchen competition.

Not one to sit when there's service in an hour, Chef answered my questions while filleting some of his fresh Whitefish caught from the nearby lake.

Chef Michael Potters, Harvest
Photo by Steven Elphick

What's your philosophy when it comes to food and your restaurant?

You can see it today. The Walleye came right out of the lake right here. We use all kinds of local products, as much as we can. I wouldn't say that we're 100%, but we keep about 80 or 90%, depending on the time of year. I have relationships with the local farmers, about 15 of them, and not just farmers. We have cheese makers, some great wine makers, and fishermen too. We have someone who does foraging for wild stuff, such as violets, lamb's quarters, all kinds of little flowers, and some mushrooms.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for the dishes you create?

I think the main thing I try to accomplish is simplicity and purity. I think that's accomplished through not over-working anything too much, not handling it too much, making sure the ingredients are beautiful and really fresh.

What inspires me? Years and years of working dishes. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. Other times it's the tasting menu that I have to deal with on the fly, and I'll come up with a dish there. It just sort of happens.

All my food is French technique. When I worked in Toronto, I worked with French guys. Most of my food is French-based. Of course, once you have French technique, you can mix a lot of different things into it. I just don't go country to country. If it's going to be Spanish influence, it'll be Spanish. If it's going to be Italian, it'll be Italian. I don't jump borders very much. It doesn't work.

What's the ingredient you can't live without? (other than basics)

Pig. I can't live without a pig in my life. I have one outside in my pig pen. Her name's Rosie. We do a lot of charcuterie. So I think that's the thing I can't live without. There has to be a pig around at all times.

Is there anything you won't eat?

No. Absolutely nothing. I eat pretty much everything, even dog. Some things I may not like as well as others, but my palette doesn't say no.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Häagen-Dazs ice cream chocolate chunk

What was your most memorable meal and why?

Best thing that someone cooked for me? I was at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I had lunch there with my wife and daughter, Mia. My daughter was only about 9 months old at that time. I had simple pasta with cherry tomatoes. Best thing I ever ate in my life. I think it was the company.

Best thing that I've ever cooked? It was a family dinner. My wife's 30th birthday. I had to work that night so I didn't get home until 10:00, and we just kept eating until 5:00 in the morning. I cooked her foie gras terrine with black truffles, fresh Dover sole, we did all French service. We had 500 grams of Albino Beluga caviar. It was beautiful.

What would your last meal be?

In a restaurant? A meal cooked by Alain Ducasse.

To cook for myself? A piece of seared foie gras.

If you could travel to just one place in the world for food, where would you go and why?

Right now I want to go to Spain. I think they're cutting edge. I'd go to El Bulli before it closes. I heard it was closing. Don't know if that's true or not. I'm not necessarily into molecular, but I think it's interesting. And it's not what I do. I don't consider it all that natural. I just love Spain because of the freshness of all their ingredients and their approach to food and all the beautiful ingredients that they use.

Describe your perfect Sunday.

If I ever get a Sunday off, I like to wake up in the morning and cook pancakes with my daughter, who is nine now. And spend the rest of the time with her. That would be my perfect Sunday.

For those who are newly attending the Gold Medal Plates event, how would you describe it? What can one expect?

We're going to have some things prepared ahead of time. We'll cook on-site. We'll do our mise en place before we get there. For people who have never been before, it's ten spectacular dishes. So it's a real gastronomic treat. Attendees are going to eat something that's been created solely around the purpose of winning. Everybody goes all out. It takes a lot of time and a lot of thought. So you're going to find that it's going to be a really fantastic event.

Also, it's not only the food. Some of the marks are based on the pairings of the wines. We took a lot of time to pair our wine with the dish so that it will have the perfect match. [Chef Potters will be using Prince Edward County wines, of course.]

And it's an opportunity to meet our athletes. [The goal of Gold Medal Plates is to raise substantial funds for Canada’s high performance athletes.]

How would you prepare for a competition like Gold Medal Plates?

I've thought about the dish for about three weeks. I'm still not quite finished it. I started testing it yesterday. I'm a little bit behind because we're seasonal. But the main thing I did was first of all, made sure I could get everything I wanted locally. Then, I had to do some dish engineering because you have to serve 500 people. So the dish has to be executable quickly with a huge amount of flavor, and it has to have style, creativity and presentation. So with all those components, it's been on my mind a lot.

[After we finished this set of questions that we've been asking all the chefs who have been invited to Gold Medal Plates, I had some time to ask a few more.]

How come you became a chef?

That was because I was terrible at academics in University. I liked to cook more than I liked to study! Cooking finally took over. And I think for chefs, there's a passion for it. If you don't have that passion, you'll never be able to survive with the amount of hours and stress that you do. You either learn to love it because you give up everything. You give up your family time, you give up your social time, you're working when everybody else is not, so you have to make sure you love it. And I think it just talks to you and says, "yeah, this is for you." Most people drop out. There's not too many left in my culinary class from George Brown in Toronto in 1982.

When did you come to Prince Edward County?

Seven years ago. We opened a small restaurant called Milford Bistro in the tiny hamlet of Milford. At that time, the local food movement wasn't happening. It was just beginning. I started to develop relationships with farmers and egg producers. Then we were on Opening Soon on the Food Network. Our episode won a Gemini award.

I don't think we knew that Prince Edward County was going to be booming at that point. It was more of a lifestyle change to get out of the city. It was more for our daughter so that she could grow up in nature and understand which way the chicken is up.

You know they put the chicken up the wrong way in the store, right? The breast is up, but the chicken runs with the breast down. You should know that!

I've always been interested in educating kids. We had two kitchen tours this week and both tours were with kids under the age of eight. It was great. We started off with crudité of a purple carrot. Something they'd never seen before. They all tried it. I never force them. And with my daughter, I never force-feed anything. So now she tries everything. I never really pushed. My dad used to make me eat Brussels sprouts. So the one thing I really dislike the most in my life is Brussels sprouts!

What's the next food trend?

Local's going to hang in there. What we'll have will be offshoots of the local movement: more markets, better butcher shops, more naturally raised animals. We're going to see a huge shift in our culture towards sustainability as we deplete stocks. We don't have any cod left.

At a restaurant level, we'll become cheaper and more creative. Chefs will have to learn to use ingredients that aren't as expensive (more off-cuts). We'll see more braising, and more creativity that will come from that.


Clockwise from top left:
Amuse bouche of lamb liver paté and crostini
Quebec Foie Gras ($22)
Bay of Quinte Walleye ($24)
Millefeuille ($10)

After talking with the chef, I sat down to enjoy a meal before driving back to Ottawa. Out the window, the colors of the leaves cast a warm glow.

Inspired by the chef's love of foie gras, I had to order his Quebec foie gras with baby beets and Niagara Vidal Ice syrup. It was beautifully seared and creamily rich inside. The sweet beets were perfectly round and just soft enough to stay on my fork without slipping off.

The Walleye was caught that day in the Bay of Quinte and had a nutty taste and flaky texture. But it was the Pomme Ciboulette (those perfect little rounds of potato slices) that charmed my tastebuds and begged for more.

For dessert, I chose the Millefeuille. A crunch, a cream, a freeze and minty fresh delighted my sweet tooth.

Picton is a perfect day trip, and this restaurant is worth a visit.
"Cooking is like love.
It should be entered into with abandon or not at all"
- Harriet van Horne
{from the menu at Harvest}
Facebook Page: Gold Medal Plates Ottawa

To purchase tickets for Gold Medal Plates, contact Sue Holloway (contact information below) or click here.

Details

Harvest
106 Bridge St.
Picton, Ontario
(613) 476-6763

Gold Medal Plates Ottawa
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 6:00 pm
National Arts Centre
53 Elgin Street

Sue Holloway
818 Nesbitt Place
(613) 274-3107 phone
(613) 274-0851 fax
Email Sue Holloway

Countylicious
Prince Edward County's prix fixe menus from participating restaurants
November3-27, 2010

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