IT’S EASY FOR A CHEF TO BE ORIGINAL BUT A WHOLE LOT MORE DIFFICULT TO DO IT WELL. In the latter camp, consider this 11th course at a recent lunch at The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette: a slim wedge of perfectly cooked apple tart.
Its pastry shell is slim and nicely bronzed. Thinly sliced apple had been arranged in the shell nearly vertically, parallel to the outside edge of the crust. The fruit was not peeled, so the concentric circles were two-tone, alternating lines of dark brown skin and light brown apple. It’s very pretty. Especially after the waiter douses it with thick, warm cream, which he informs you has been infused with hay.
No time to waste; you tuck in.
It’s as good as it looks. No, it’s better. There’s a surprising, nutty note of buckwheat that plays nicely with the sweetness of the fruit. And there’s something else: the slim, moist layer of custard binding apple to shell is lending the package a sweet but unfamiliar earthiness. Have another nibble. Not custard. Apple compote? Nope.
“Jerusalem artichoke! That’s sunchoke purée in there.”
My luncheon companion appears dubious. But that’s how it goes when you discover an unexpected flavour in a familiar context and it fits in well. It’s disorienting. It also makes you think about what you’re eating. If it’s been delicious every step of the way, this process is good fun.
Here it had been going on for 10 courses already, every last one of them packing some similar trick or unexpected flavour that pushed boundaries without disturbing a familiar structure. Or just went somewhere altogether new that worked beautifully. It was a virtuoso show of imagination and technique. And the product of not one head chef but two, Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson, who clearly enjoy an intense and symbiotic collaboration.
“We like to make really comfortable flavours in a very unconventional way, or use a conventional way to arrive at something uncomfortable,” Chef Hadida affirmed of their shared creative outlook.
They both understand how to be provocative and shake things up with their impressive arsenal of techniques without ever losing track of why they’re doing it in the first place. Which is not to grab your attention, or that of your Instagram feed, but to stay true to the great ingredients they started with, and put something delicious on your plate.
“We’re not in the fine art business,” Hadida volunteers. “We’re in the making people-happy- with-nourishment business.” They do that very well indeed.