We’ll see you in there.
Connect to customize your food & drink discovery.
Sponsored by BMW Canada.
In honour of October being National Pasta Month, the team at TasteToronto had the pleasure of cruising around the city with BMW brand ambassador chef Craig Harding -- the man at the helm of Toronto restaurants La Palma and Constantine. Equipped with our very own BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupé, chef Harding guided us through a day filled with pasta, pizza, wine and fast cars (not bad for a Monday!).
Now, I don't tout myself as a car fanatic or someone who knows anything about the ins and outs of automobiles, but I must say the BMW M8 has converted me. It is not every day that I find myself driving around in a luxury car like this and it became apparent from the double takes as I cruised around the city. With over 600 horsepower and an acceleration time of 0-100 km/h in 3.2 seconds -- there is no denying that the BMW M8 is an outrageously powerful machine.
Suited with an appropriate means of transportation (all in our own respective luxury ride thanks to COVID), a mission to cook La Palma's new dish and a full day tailored for a gourmand, chef Harding shared a few of his favourite Toronto food stops. From the German sports car to the Portuguese fish shop and the artisanal pasta shop, the day felt like a remarkable jaunt around Europe.
Chef Craig Harding outside of Osler Fish Warehouse.
The first stop on the itinerary is Osler Fish Warehouse in the Junction. This unassuming storefront houses an abundance of freshly caught fish and seafood specific to Portugal's Azores region. Filled with tuna, squid, octopus, clams, sea bass, red bream, whole moray eel, monkfish and more, the shop has no shortage of options.
As we gawk at the immaculate displays of impressive fish, Harding's eyes light up as he expresses his love for the Portuguese shop. He remarks that Osler's is a hidden-gem for high-quality fish in the city and open to the public. The chef relies on a wholesaler for most of his seafood products for the restaurant, but you can tell from his giddy demeanour that he is thrilled to be out shopping himself. "You have to be a good shopper," Harding remarks when prodded what qualities make a good chef.
We buy a whole octopus, clams, scallops and a few small mystery fish spotted with red and yellow blotches that catch Harding's eye. Upon inquiring into what fish we have chosen, the fishmonger quips that she is unsure of the name in English but instructs us to fry them whole.
Leandro Baldassare rolling out pasta sheets at Famiglia Baldassare.
The Mecca for fresh pasta, Famiglia Baldassare, is our second stop of the day. Owner and expert at his craft, Leandro Baldassare welcomes us into the pasta-making-hive responsible for supplying Toronto's best restaurants, with everything from cavatelli to ravioli.
We are lucky to catch Leandro when the shop is closed, as lines wrapping around the block are commonplace when Famiglia is open for lunch service.
As we gather around the chef's work station, the pure love and admiration for pasta making are apparent. On the wall behind Leandro hang handmade Mattarello rolling pins, ravioli cutters and gnocchi boards -- an ode to pasta making and a reminder to anyone in the kitchen that the foundations, traditions and old-school techniques of pasta should be respected. Yet, that is not to say Leandro has not evolved with the times.
The chef explains the hesitancy he felt upon giving in to some of the more modern technologies that greatly increased his production speed and quantity. There is a balance between juggling efficiency and high-quality, the chef explains as he crouches down to catch the tagliatelle from the machine that cuts it. In conjunction with the cutter, Leandro has created a rack stacked high with dowels that he drapes the tagliatelle over.
Leandro states that first and foremost, what he does is a craft and with that comes practice, dedication and respect to fundamentals. The artistry comes after.
Now, with more insight into every nuanced detail that goes into the craft, from the humidity to the types of flour to matching the right shape of noodle to your sauce, we are handed several boxes of cavatelli and sent on our way.
Our initial mission was to collect the necessary ingredients so we could head back to La Palma to cook chef Harding's new dish, but a quick, spontaneous pit stop was decided along the way -- an impromptu pre-lunch from Mattachioni, one of Harding's favourite spots for pizza in the city.
Opened back in 2015 by ex-Terroni vet David Mattachioni, this Junction bodega offers a small selection of Italian specialty items, pizzas, focaccia, Italian sandwiches and sweet treats.
Upon our arrival, Harding goes out to greet chef Mattachioni in the alley, who seems to have his hands tied up with his makeshift set-up for chili oil.
We order the S. Pagliacolo pizza with fresh mozzarella, rapini, smoked provolone, sausage and garlic, as well as the Boccadasse with tomato, hot cacciatore salami, olives, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil. Both are delicious and devoured in minutes, as we are famished from the morning excitement. After an enjoyable mid-morning snack in the park, we head back to our final destination to cook chef Harding's new dish -- Seafood Puttanesca.
The chef is cooking us Seafood Puttanesca, which officially launched on La Palma's menu on October 14, in celebration of National Pasta Month. As we enter through La Palma's back door, which leads to the impeccable open-concept kitchen, Harding tells us to hold tight as he prepares his mise en place.
The chef signals us to make our way into the depths of the kitchen and so we began watching a complex yet simple dish come together in 20 minutes or so.
The dish comprises grilled octopus, clams, olives, capers, scallops, tomatoes and fresh cavatelli. Harding explains pasta puttanesca hails from Naples, Italy and traditionally requires only shelf-stable ingredients such as anchovies, tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic -- the perfect pantry pasta. Harding swaps the anchovies for fresh seafood, which will vary depending on availability, in order to elevate the dish.
The chef leads us through the motions of making the dish. Harding shows us how one must braise the octopus until tender but still slightly chewy, how the clams are simmered in the tomato sauce and, of course, how vital it is to salt the pasta water (think slightly less than the sea, Hardings says).
Finally, we sit down to enjoy a feast of pan-fried scallops; fish tossed in cornmeal and fried whole and chef Harding's Seafood Puttanesca -- all paired with a glass of crisp white wine (again, not too bad for a Monday!). Again, if you're feeling like lapsing in luxury or just want to dream about your future sports car, it doesn't hurt to peruse the BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupé.
BMW M8 Competition Gran Coupé outside of La Palma.