The Bauer Kitchen (TBK) executive chef Brian McCourt is an…
Sandwiches are the stuff of myth. In the 1760s, John Montagu, the gambling 4th Earl of Sandwich, a town in southeastern England, denied himself food for 24 hours while at his game of cribbage before he eventually succumbed to eating: when he did, so the myth goes, he demanded that meat secured between chunks of bread be brought to him so that his wagering wasn’t interrupted. The bread prevented any meaty-greasiness from soiling his cards – and a name for the foodstuff emerged.
The myth is one thing; the quality of the Earl’s sandwich was probably another. For Graham Pelley, who oversees The Cutting Board Sandwich Co. in Guelph, sandwiches deserve time, care and a value proposition.
“Quality is for us a huge thing,” says Pelley.
The current site of Cutting Board Sandwich Co. was formerly The Chickery, a David Adjey concept which Pelley was running. “When it closed, my partner said, ‘we could go look for another franchise, but why don’t we try and do something on our own'”? The Cutting Board Sandwich Co. was born and resides on Stone Road West, just across from the mall.
Fergus-born Pelley cooked his way through high school at pubs and various family-style restaurants before he was really serious about the industry. “My very first cooking job was at the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop in Milton. I was there for about three years,” he says. The joint has since disappeared, but Pelley adds that “getting into the kitchen saved me from washing dishes.”
Pelley, in fact, says he was constantly trying to get out of cooking — rather, he went to school for audio engineering and multi-media production — but was always dragged back in. “I cooked through school, and I think the kitchen chose me,” he says. A culinary mentor taught him early that cooking “doesn’t have to be greasy.”
He did a cooking internship with the Club Link luxury golf organization and ended up attending George Brown for his formal culinary training. He’s cooked at The Royal York and with the Rubino brothers at Rain before heading to Canoe and Langdon Hall with Jonathan Gushue. He helped open Bread Bar Guelph and then landed at the Charcoal Group as chef at Wildcraft.
Open now for just about five months, and with a staff of 10, the Cutting Board appeals to a broad range of customers — a good sandwich always fits the bill, says Pelley, because you can eat-in or take it away. “From years in kitchens, I have a large portfolio of sandwiches that I love,” he says with a laugh. “It’s simple stuff, and we’re not reinventing anything, but many of the techniques we use come from fine dining. Our chicken breasts are done sous vide, our porchetta is a shoulder from Mount Forest that is boned out, butterflied, seasoned with grainy mustard, thyme and rosemary. It’s rolled and hits the sous vide for 12 hours. It gets shaved nice and thin for a great sandwich.”
It’s obvious therfore that these are not your average sandwiches. There are 10 or so on the current menu, including Great Lakes whitefish fried to crispy perfection with an egg bun, a classic Reuben with Trotter’s corned beef and Russian dressing and a sammie with a cumin and lime chickpea patty.
“These are not traditional ‘deli-style’ sandwiches. About 90 percent of our sandwiches are hot and meant to be enjoyed right away,” Pelley says. There are soups and poutines (one of which includes deep-fried pickles), salads and sweets, as well. There are even devilled eggs.
He notes a classic beef dip — moist, amazingly tender and rich sirloin with horseradish mayo served on ciabatta — and what he describes as a “killer burger” that is a composite of burgers he’s made over the years. “The CB is beef and salt and pepper with a bit of dry-aged too, and that’s it. It gets seared on the flat-top for that crispiness outside.” Fresh fries are Yukon Gold, cut and blanched every day.
Several of the sandwiches feature bread from Elora Bread Trading Co. One of the cold sandwiches is a playful Waldorf Chicken Salad sandwich, and there are a few vegetarian selections with one that can be made vegan. “We try to stay in that neighbourhood,” he says. “We appeal to a broad range of people who appreciate good food properly prepared.” The sous vide chicken breast Cali sandwich with Provolone on sourdough is another very popular item.
Ingredients like mayonnaise and other sauces are made in-house as are all the soups. Real shakes number about four and change regularly; they include ingredients such as real vanilla beans; the salted caramel is delicious. “There’s a surprising amount you need to know to make a good shake base,” Pelley says. “You can’t over-mix it or it splits out and turns into butter. It was a lot of trial and tribulation. I can tell you that I learned a ton doing it,” he says with a laugh.
When they can be used and meet margin, Cutting Board satisfies local and seasonal demands. “Most of our meat, including the grind for the burger, comes from Trotter’s butcher in downtown Guelph.” The restaurant is licensed and has a number of local beers — including a very interesting product from the GoodLot Farmstead Brewing Co. in Caledon.
For all restaurateurs and cooks who care, the challenge is customer-education and encouraging them to understand what the goals of a restaurant are; with sous vide, hand-cut fries, special beef grinds and honest-to-goodness real shakes, these are not really sandwich lunches that you can dash off at home, stresses Pelley. He’s always looking for innovation in the centuries-old sandwich that will capture the imagination of diners.
“The Cutting Board is targetting people who understand fresh, inventive food with ingredients that are the best we can source and cooked right,” he says. “We are value driven and add a lot of quality to the humble sandwich.”
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