A Muskoka Gem, part one: Dinner Theatre Redefined
Recently, Cory and I both had a chance to experience one of Ontario’s upscale resorts, nestled in beautiful Muskoka, the distinctiveTaboo Resort. Now although our trips up to this magestic space were made seperately, we both had similar experience – unbelievable! Below, is a look at Cory’s adventures, as he experienced Taboo’s famous Culinary Theatre. In part two, you will read all about my adventures up there, were I was treated to a special lunch prepared just for me and my guests! Dig in…
Dinner Theatre Redifined
Perhaps it is my early adventures in the performing arts that have led to me appreciate a little extra flair with my food. I’ve certainly enjoyed a number of culinary-based cinematic works of art like Mostly Martha, Babette’s Feast and Ratatouille. My real-life costar, aka my husband, however, prefers his food the way Joe Friday might order: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Therefore, it was a wonderful surprise when he accepted to make the Culinary Theatre at Taboo Resort part of our one-year wedding getaway. The resort was the first place we ever visited as a couple and though we had shared many memories there over the years, we had not taken part in this unique experience.
The stage for this production is a 16-seat chef’s table that surrounds the prep area where a six-course meal is prepared in front of your eyes. Audience participation is encouraged, as diners engage with the chef to ask questions about ingredients, technique, etc. There is also an option to add wine pairings selected by the sommelier.
On the particular evening that we were there, Sous-Chef Jeff Haynes was in the starring role. Having attended the same culinary college as Executive Chef Andrew Dymond and completed a co-op at the resort, Chef Haynes shared his creations, including a Thanksgiving-inspired dish, as well as tidbits about himself. We learned, for example, that celeriac is his favourite fall vegetable and that outside of the resort, his favourite chef is Michael Stadtländer.
Unlike your average stage production, the Culinary Theatre has the added bonus of allowing “audience members” to interact with each other as well. As each course, was served, we swapped stories of travel, real estate, dining and even the “taboo” subject of religion with the couple seated next to us.
As for the food, the true star, of the evening, we were treated to a great variety of tastes from horse carpaccio on crostini to lamb chops and rösti and an entr’acte of apple cider granita. The scene-stealer for me was the house-made porchetta with garlic, pineapple and ginger jus served with rainbow chard. And as for my husband, the dessert of white chocolate and Bailey’s truffle and hand-churned chocolate ice cream was worth the price of admission.
Culinary Theatre Menu
Carpaccio of Cheval with Crispy Baguette
Seared Ocean Scallops with Carrot Puree
Petit Choux, Double Smoked Bacon & Tobiko
West Coast Crab Cakes
Poached Hen Egg, Red Pepper Preserve
Spinach Leaves & Arugula Pesto
Bala Cranberries, Fine Beans, Yam Puree & Petite Carrots
Melted Garlic, Grilled Pineapple, Rainbow Chard
Mint & Apple, Roasted Cauliflower, Sheep’s Milk Feta
YukonRosti, Cardamom Yogurt
White Chocolate & Bailey’s Truffle
Double Churned Chocolate Ice Cream
Executive Chef: Andrew Dymond
Theatre Chef: Jeff Haynes
I was truly fortunate as there was a second act to our experience. After departing, Chef Dymond agreed to an email interview, which I’ve included below:
1) How long have you been running the Culinary Theatre program? What changes have you made to it over the years?
Our culinary theatre has been in operation for 8 years. Over the years the culinary styling changes with the experience of the Chef we have for the season. Past menus have been heavily influenced by Asian Fusion cuisine. Since I arrived at Taboo, we are more quality ingredient and selection driven. Allowing of course for an easy pairing of wines. In my opinion simply, quality, well prepared is always the best
2) What are the particular challenges/advantages to being in a resort as opposed to a stand-alone restaurant? Any difficulties accessing ingredients you’d like to use?
We have a number of different outlets, with a number of different styles of cuisine because we are a resort. Our casual restaurant “The Boathouse Grill”, is very popular in the months of July, August and September. When the weather turns cooler, our Lounge, Elements & The Culinary Theatre tend to get busier. Because of our location, we usually know well in advance how many people to prepare for, as we do a smaller proportion of walk in business, as opposed to a stand alone restaurant in the city.
So far we have had no issues getting quality ingredients. We capitalize on locally grown lettuces, herbs, leeks, onions, tomatoes, sprouts, blueberries, maple syrup & cranberries. Along with some great local purveyors of shiitake mushrooms, poultry, beef & Berkshirepork.
The majority of our seafood & meat proteins come up from Toronto, 4-5 times a week.
3) How far in advance does planning take place? Is it a collaborative effort?
Theatre can change daily, however we try to keep the same menu for a week at a time. Usually Jeff & I are writing the menus on Saturday, order product Monday, prep menus Wednesday, go live with new menu on Thursday pm. We find the quality of the ingredients at a peek for our busiest time, although we can replenish with deliveries Friday, Saturday & Monday.
It has been a collaborative effort, however I am a big proponent of allowing young Chefs to bring their ideas and creativity to the table. It works well because of Jeff’s “on stage” presence, skill level, and my experience. He & I think very similarly when it comes to simplicity, and focus on quality and true flavour.
4) What is the consultation process with the sommelier like?
When writing the menus, we are cognitive of flow of wines, along with the flow of each dish. Hopefully, by the time Markus (Our Sommelier), receives the menu, it’s easy for him to pair. However, if he has any concerns, we work together to modify or completely change a dish, so it makes sense from a wine perspective.
5) Any interesting interactions between guests you can share? (given the set up of the table) Or particular reactions to ingredients/dishes.
It’s interesting to see people’s reactions to unusual ingredients, ie: Tenderloin of Horse, Urchin, Skate, Sweetbreads, etc. Most people are very adventurous, and find these new culinary experiences a positive thing. We do have a lot of return business, so it’s easy to develop relationships with our guests, and see them bring different people to experience dinner.
6) At our meal, there were several accommodations made for allergies. Do you try to keep the dish as close to the original idea and just substitute/leave out the ingredient or do you create an entirely different dish?
We never want to compromise the original thought of a menu item, however if certain ingredients, or a substitution of ingredients is possible without changing the flavour, texture or appearance, we are happy to do it. Most times we will accommodate with a different menu item, so that our guest doesn’t feel left out of the overall experience.
7) If you repeat a dish, at what frequency do you do it?
There are some dishes we would call “signature”, however we try to never repeat them in the same month.
8 ) Will you only offer the experience if it is sold out? If not, any major differences when working for smaller group?
The culinary theatre is open for a minimum of 1 person up to it’s max seating of 18pp.
Smaller groups are a lot more intimate, however, it depends on the expectation of the guest. There are some people who are very engaging, and want to know everything you are doing, and there are others, who would rather just enjoy the meal for what it is. Either way we make it fun and as interactive as possible.
If there’s any other information about your professional background or that of the resort that you’d like to share, feel free!
2012 was in interesting season from a culinary standpoint. We have integrated a 30% of overall menu items which are a combination of Vegan, Raw & Gluten Free. We didn’t want this to stand out, but become a part of our overall philosophy about food. We have opened a world class spa on property, and we thought this would only enhance our guest experience from a health and wellness perspective.
If you caught yourself wiping drool from your mouth while reading this post, that’s ok, we experienced the same thing ;-) Stay tuned for part two next week, for more on the amazing Taboo and scrumptious pictures!