I give you soup -- the beautiful broth that rejuvenates…
You’ll find a Ricarda’s in downtown Toronto and one in downtown Oakville; the former is a much larger venue than its Oakville sibling with its seating for under 70, but those customers will be sampling Ricarda’s chef de cuisine Mitch Ferron’s cooking at A Taste of Oakville in a couple of weeks.
“It will be fun. And that’s what cooking and restaurants should be. Fun,” he says as he anticipates the January 23 kickoff to the event.
The Hamilton-born Ferron attended George Brown College for his formal culinary training and spent some time at Quatrefoil Dundas, once an enRoute magazine top new restaurant in Canada.
As many cooks do, Ferron came to the kitchen by accident; in his original plans, he would have been in the U.S. on a golf scholarship coming out of high school. (You can get a glimpse more of who Ferron is in the 23 Questions, below.) But plans change.
“It’s funny how things happen,” he says. “One day, I’m in the kitchen cooking with my grandmother—she’s French Canadian—and I realize that I love cooking with her. I’ve always loved food, so I thought why don’t I try cooking school?”
Though he had only a couple of the required pre-requisites, Ferron applied to George Brown College and was accepted. “I knew it was fate then,” he says.
Now chef de cuisine at Ricarda’s for about a year—he was there at the restaurant’s build-out—Ferron takes his experience and training and supports as many local farmers and producers as he can in preparing his food. “We try to take those ingredients and enhance them the best we can.”
Familiarity is a goal for Ferron when he looks at both Ricarda’s and its place in the Oakville food scene. “There are a lot of great restaurants in this area,” he says. “I think that is sometimes overlooked. We work together to help build the food community here.”
The menu shows a strong French and Spanish influence with a bit of Greek flavouring. Shakshouka pops up, too, an egg and tomato preparation you might find in Turkey, Morocco or Tunisia. Ferron’s interpretation of the rustic dish has goat cheese and sumac and is available on the brunch menu.
Slightly less familiar pastas you’ll find at Ricarda’s include cavatelli, green garganelli and black truffle fregola sarda. The variety is nice to see.
The Eggs Benedict interpretation nudges the dish out of the traditional. The three-day cured gravlax that Ferron has created with salt, sugar, juniper berries and star-anise sits on a Cheddar-chive scone. The eggs are cooked sous vide at 145-degrees F. for 45 minutes. “We then drop them into acidulated water to set the egg whites,” he says.
The risotto is rich with a pleasant texture and flavours drawn from sautéed garlic to which is added calamaretti squid along with sea asparagus and zucchini. “Roasted tomato and roasted fennel broth round out the flavours and then we add some mascarpone,” says Ferron. It’s a delicious base for the pan-seared salmon that has a slight ribbon of pink inside. There’s a slight smokiness to the dish too.
Cornish hen is prepared two ways and served with a rich sweet potato gnocchi, carrots, some olives and roasted cauliflower, a vegetable and preparation I adore. “The legs are braised and the breast is seared,” Ferron says. “It’s garnished with a bit of date jam.”
The most artistic of the plates I sampled has burrata as its centrepiece (pictured above). The stracciatella-style Mozzarella cheese with its creamy, almost buttery, interior is surrounded by shaved heirloom carrots, fennel and some radicchio which gives the dish some balancing bitterness.
“Some of the candy cane beets are shaved and some are salt-roasted,” Ferron points out. Halved figs are brûléed and pistachio dust finishes up the dynamic plate along with a cherry-balsamic reduction. It’s a salad that’s virtually a meal.
Ferron is looking forward to “A Taste of Oakville,” and has a special menu planned to showcase what his kitchen can do and give guests value and flavour. “We’re doing things that aren’t on the menu to give them a little taste of our creativity,” says Ferron. “I’ve done other events such as this one, and I like it when restaurants do something special.”
The event, which features a couple dozen restaurants, is a good way for the relatively new Ricarda’s to continue to grow in the Oakville food scene, he says.
“I want the brand to grow. I want people to talk about the food and come here to eat and enjoy themselves,” Ferron says. “We can do that by keeping the food consistently good with bold flavours and great service.”
23 Questions for Mitch Ferron
Waterloo Region Eats: Best thing you’ve ever eaten
Mitch Ferron: My grandmother’s roast pork.
Other career you could have pursued?
Ferron: Professional golfer.
Ferron: San Pellegrino. And coffee, of course.
Beverage that once just about killed you?
Ferron: Black Sambuca.
Chef you’d most like to meet?
Ferron: Alain Passard
Best footwear (for the kitchen or otherwise)?
Ferron: For the kitchen, it would be Birkenstock Bostons. For everyday wear, that would have to be Vans.
Favourite “international food in your area?
Ferron: Hamilton’s Liu Liu Hot Pot.
What scares you in a kitchen?
Greatest failed recipe?
Ferron: Foie gras panna cotta!
Something that gives you great pleasure?
Ferron: Spending time with my wife. And our dogs.
A favourite teacher that you’ve had?
Ferron: Fraser Macfarlane at Quatrefoil in Dundas.
Do you ride a bike?
Moment in your life you’d like to have back.
Ferron: Not getting to say goodbye to my best friend before he passed away.
Where were you born?
Ferron: Cancer Bats.
Who would you like to cook for?
Ferron: The people who told me I’d never make it!
The thing you wish for Oakville?
Ferron: I wish for a continuously thriving food scene.
Go-to late night snack?
Ferron: Peanut butter. Jiff Crunchy.
Best thing about being a chef?
Ferron: Making people happy through food and being able to share that connection with them.
Dumbest purchase you’ve ever made?
Ferron: Ostrich skin cowboy boots.
Ferron: Hamilton. Vancouver is a close second.
TV chefs who annoy you?
Ferron: Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay.
Would you describe yourself as sweet or savoury?