In 1994, in the run-up to opening Canoe-the now iconic Oliver & Bonacini restaurant on the top floor of Toronto’s TD Bank Tower project designer Yabu Pushelberg had what was then a novel idea about the flatware.
“They had done a very contemporary design for the restaurant,” Michael Bonacini explained. “They wanted to combine that with tableware from a past era.”
As luck had it, a consultant that Bonacini and his partner Peter Oliver had hired to work on the Canoe wine list promptly gave them the heads-up that the venerable establishment restaurant Winston’s, having finally reached the end of its long run, was up against the wall, and looking to offload its silverware and other old-school dining room accoutrements.
“So, after a short negotiation, we bought all of it the flatware, the Gueridon trolleys, even some custom glassware from Rosenthal,” Bonacini recalled. “I showed up [at Winston’s] on a miserable, rainy Saturday morning with a couple of dishwashers. We collected all the boxes and brought them back to Canoe to open them up and it was like Christmas.”
One of the boxes contained this silver-plated duck press. Such devices are currently enjoying a modest renaissance; their heyday was a century ago, when French fine dining ruled the world and nothing impressed quite so much as a complicated tableside preparation (in this case, canard à la presse, wherein after a roast duckling’s breasts are carved from the crown, the remaining blood and marrow are squeezed from its carcass and combined with stock, brandy and butter to produce sauce au sang).
Unlike the rest of the Winston’s haul, this press never entered service at Canoe. But Bonacini has been carting it around since ’94. Nowadays, it sits on display at his country home in Caledon, Ont., a memento of dining traditions past and of a restaurant that was synonymous with the Toronto business establishment lunch for more than 50 years, until Canoe came along.