Celebrity chef Mark McEwan meets me by the meat counter. Dressed casually in jeans and black T-shirt, the “tough” judge on Top Chef Canada looks very much at home in his high-end grocery store, McEwan, where we’re meeting to discuss its owner’s favourite summer dishes. (So, yes: meat.)
Mark makes no, ahem, bones about being a huge fan of beef from P.E.I., from whence he sources pasture-fed, antibiotic-free cattle. He worked with beef farmers on the island to create his Blue Dot program which guarantees that only top-quality meat is delivered to his store and restaurants.
A self proclaimed “meat guy” who likes his rib-eye cooked on the grill, medium rare, Mark is not a fan of fancy sauces; he prefers a nice rub of olive oil, garlic, kosher salt and cracked pepper. The secret for cooking a perfect steak? Take the meat out of the fridge one hour in advance, so it’s at room temperature when it gets put on the BBQ/grill — which should already be very hot before the meat hits, for a nice charring effect.
What does this Top Chef serve with his steak? Simply, whatever is in season, picked from the garden or purchased from a roadside fruit stand. If corn is in season, he will serve it with flavoured butters for an extra kick. He’ll include a side salad or two. The McEwan store offers a number of the chef’s, creations including a French bean with dill salad.
Next, Mark moves up the aisle, to the sausage counter. “We’ve eaten a lot of sausages on Top Chef,” he says, laughing, “especially in the first season, with Connie [deSousa, Co-Executive Chef and Co-Owner of CHARCUT Roast House in Calgary].” All McEwan sausages are made fresh; nothing is pre-packaged. Mark indicates the caseless sausage, which he recommends throwing on the grill with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then serving on a fresh bun.
Time to discuss my personal favourite, ribs, for which Mark suggests I try his recipe, Hong Kong–style, with Asian slaw: it’s all about braising the meat, reducing the sauce, and liberally coating the ribs.
While I’m not a big fan of cooking chicken, Mark teaches me the secret to grilling it perfectly. Crack the chicken open, flatten, and pre-marinade. Set the grill to a medium heat but place chicken at the sides of the grill and allow it to cook slowly for one hour and 15 minutes. To make things easy and save time, the McEwan store offers chicken that’s already been cracked open and marinated.
As much as he is a meat man, Mark also enjoys quality seafood. When he’s at his cabin, for instance, he often brings along a ton of oysters and teaches his guests to shuck them while the barbecue heats up. He serves them with a simple mignonette, vinegar, horseradish and onions.
If Mark is not serving oysters, he might give his guests a fine lobster, salmon, or octopus. The McEwan store makes it easy to serve such gourmet seafood meals at home, with a fresh seafood section that carries everything from butter-poached lobster to cedar plank salmon and braised octopus. Minimum prep time all around means more time to spend with your (impressed!) friends and family.
Although there is a hint of the exotic about Mark’s seafood counter, the chef insists that he has pretty simple tastes when it comes to food — with one weakness. He adores caviar. He says that his friends and he take turns sharing this expensive habit over some cold bubbly. I approve.
All in all, Mark’s theory for perfect summer food is to keep it simple, local and seasonal. But, now and again, go overboard and enjoy caviar and champagne.
McEwan (the store) is celebrating BBQ season all summer long by hosting weekend outdoor BBQs, from 11:30 am – 4:00 pm; come on up to Shops at Don Mills to experience BBQ the McEwan (the chef) way!
Gillian Young is a writer, researcher, and lush for life who blogs at Battle of the Bites and Healthy, Tasty, Cheap. She writes and produces videos about food, health, travel, her love of Champagne and French macarons. She spends her spare time romancing her butcher and looking for the best bites in town.