Are you flummoxed about fixing your festive feast? Baffled on how to put your best brunch forward? Four rooms from the President’s Choice Insiders Collection are popping up for consumers to check out this season’s hottest holiday entertaining trends. Starting today through to December 18, visitors can check out the 70 new prepared products for harried hosts, and wander through four rooms — Dine, Mingle, Brunch and Gift Giving — at a custom-built culinary space on the corner of King St. West and Blue Jays Way in Toronto (363 King Street West).
Boldfaced names such as social columnist Shinan Govani and ET Canada’s Cheryl Hickey stopped by yesterday night’s media preview of the space, munching on appetizers such as PC’s gochujang chicken wings and listening to ideas about the evolution of ingredients and consumer awareness from Momofuku chef and star attraction David Chang.
“If you heard about gochujang 20 years ago, you might have heard about it in a Korean restaurant, and if any chef was using it at all, it would have been called ‘sweet-spicy Korean red chili paste’,” said Chang. “It’s a huge signifier as to where we are in terms of food today.”
Chang, whose magazine Lucky Peach that he co-authors with editor Peter Meehan is a significant tastemaker in the culinary world, shared his history of using prepared product, and how society’s notions are changing about its use. When Chang first opened Ssäm Bar in New York, he used a variety of ready-made ingredients, which angered some critics and customers. “We were limited in terms of our size and scope, and if someone can basically make something better than we could, we didn’t care because we couldn’t make it at that time,” he said. “The reality was that a lot of those products were made with esoteric Asian ingredients that I couldn’t get. And now we’re able to get a lot more of it because people’s tastes have changed quite a bit.”
Taking a prepared product and making it your own was one of the themes that President’s Choice executive chef Tom Filippou kept returning to throughout the evening, whether mixing with guests or demonstrating risotto. “It’s about being part of the party with our inspirations,” said Filippou. “If you’re constantly back and forth in the kitchen, you’re not enjoying your own party.”
Chang, who said that he used PC Black Label argan oil in his restaurants, praised the idea that previously prohibited ideas and ingredients are now accessible, and that while customers care more about where their food comes from, availability is much higher. “If you stop putting categories on where you get your food, all of a sudden supply becomes so in your favour. As a chef, you want as many colours to cook with as possible,” said Chang. “When you’re put in a situation where you don’t have something and you need a trusted source, that’s what you use. I think PC’s been a particularly good example of that.”
The event — which senior vice president of marketing for Loblaw Companies Uwe Stueckmann described as an evolution of the ideas started with the company’s Crave More launch last year — looked to the fashion world for new presentations and themes. “We were inspired by the fashion industry and its ability to be declarative about trend,” said Stueckmann. “We wanted to approach this in a fantastical, over-the-top way, while still allowing the food to shine through.”
In the Dine room, guests walked up to a lavishly set table amidst a sea of black and white elegance with a wee hint of gothic thrown in, for a storybook tale straight out of Grimm. The room is all about ingredient inspirations and classics with a twist, such as Strawberry Blonde potatoes grown specifically for PC, layered with olive oil, thyme and two-year-old cheddar, or beet and goat cheese fresh pasta. “We’re always looking for the new, the next and the never been done,” said Filippou. “Traditions are great, but why not make your own traditions?”
From a dinner party to a winter wonderland, guests stepped past a dark curtain into a mock forest in the Mingle room, replete with misty fog swirling around the floor, and branches adorning the walls. Bedecking the tiered glass trees were a variety of international treats, including butter chicken poutine and a crisp and crunchy selection from the PC Thai-inspired hors d’oeuvres collection, created in Thailand.
In the Brunch room, a toy train piped merrily around a track past a wooden block castle, but instead of bearing coal, it brought naughty treats such as smoky bacon-flavoured maple syrup and waffles with Speculoos cookie butter.
And it’s not a party without a farewell gift: guests could snap a pic with the reflective selfie wall and snag a box of white chocolate bark or chocolate covered caramel popcorn with sea salt in the Gift Giving room.
Can’t make it down to join the fun? Viewers of Food Network Canada and Global will get sneak peeks with ET Canada hosts as well as celebrity experts Gail Simmons from Top Chef and Canadian chefs Ned Bell (Cook Like a Chef) and Danny Smiles (Top Chef Canada), who will spotlight the best of the boutique with shot-on-location mini specials.
For details such as boutique hours, information on hands-on, interactive workshops and more, visit the President’s Choice Insider Collection site.