It takes a special kind of chef to open up his kitchen to the paparazzi.
And no matter how you want to slice it, nor how enthusiastic our praise, that's what we were, we dozen or so camera-weilding foodies, when we stepped off of the freight elevator into Chef Blackie's kitchen on Wednesday night.
Having worked at the NAC for some sixteen months (an experience for which I will forever feel lucky), I am no stranger to the special moments that can happen within the giant walls and multiple storeys of the fortress-of-the-performing-arts, bound both to protect them and present them. But none were more special that this - a unique opportunity to not only step inside what some might consider one of the best kitchens in the city, but to participate. To cook! To tour! To plate! And to eat, in the company of the same chef who happens to be in the process of turning what has always been considered fine dining at the NAC on it's head.
From the immense Chef's Table (it can seat 24 in a pinch), to the personalized tour (if I could have snuck that new induction cooktop home in my purse, I absolutely would have), to the fabulous team of chefs who get to call the experience that we were part of on Wednesday their work, to the smiling faces of the staff, and the welcome from President and CEO Peter Herrndorf, we were spoiled, surprised, and I don't think anyone sitting around that table would have been able to wipe the smiles of glee off their faces for anything.
While we were really there to get a sense of Blackie's new Taste5 menu (which you can try yourself - and should - from Monday to Saturday on nights when there are performances in Southam Hall), this was about more than that. It was about embracing a community that very rarely gets to sit as a group and chat with some of the greatest chefs we can find and have a conversation. It was about showing a broader audience that just because a restaurant might have been around for decades doesn't mean that there aren't fresh ideas and surprises waiting for you.
The NAC should count itself lucky to have Chef Blackie blazing a trail towards something completely different (and delicious) for a place that represents, as do the NACs stages, some of the best that Canada's culinary arts scene has to offer.
If you haven't given the "new" Le Cafe a try, you should. I know, I, for one, will be back.
Check out my full set of photos and commentary from the evening here.
And to read more, check out the commentary of the rest of the very very good company I was keeping, including C'est Bon Cooking, Simply Fresh, Whisk, Shawn Dearn, Lana at Apron Strings, After The Harvest, Foodie Prints, Rachelle Eats Food, Kayahara, and of course we can't forget our lovely hosts @jcovert and @michaelblackie. The entire night was such a pleasure, I can't wait for it to happen again. I can only hope that I'll find such a vibrant, interesting, and opinionated collection of foodies in my soon-to-be-adopted hometown.
(And sidenote: did I mention that he sent us home with recipes, on top of it all?)