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The Year of The Pickle
Toronto's top chefs on their favourite pickled dishes

As food publications and high-end restaurant menus suggest, 2013 is the year of the vegetable. No longer is a 12 oz piece of meat the centre of the plate, nor is greenery just a mere garnish on the side.  Believe it or not, this trend is not simply just a response to the rise of vegetarianism or a fad diet, but rather it’s an intense craving and respect for the inherent sex appeal of good food. Vegetables are colourful, they’re shapely, they yield a variety of flavours and textures, and the options for preparation are endless! And while steaming is simple, and frying tastes great, one of the most cross-culturally popular methods is to pickle. Originating in India 4000 years ago out of the absence of safe refrigeration, pickling is no nouveau fancy-pants molecular cuisine. Somehow, however, it has stood the test of culinary time and in the midst of a Vegetable revolution, is a more popular choice than ever.  

Riding the wave of this trend, but not forgetting their early culinary roots, McClures pickles have been pumping out classic dill and spicy pickled cucumbers for the past 2 ½ years. The brother duo, Joe and Bob McClure, grew the business from a family hobby that originated with their Great Grandmother Lala’s recipe.

When I sat down with Joe in hopes of getting a glimpse of the “secret” formulation, he recalled his early exposure to his eventual namesake. “We used to wake up very early every August when all the fresh produce was in, head to the market in Detroit, pick up what was needed and pickle all day.”  Since then, he’s unlisted the support of Canadian distributor Salt Gourmet Foods and his processing plant in Detroit to bust out 912,500 bottles of pickles a year- that’s 1,560,000 lbs of cucumbers!  Him and his brother have also expanded the pickle empire to include Relish, Pickle Potato Chips (which are extremely addictive), Bloody Mary mix and an upcoming Bloody Caesar mix “for our Canadian friends.” 

So what makes these pickles so different than every pickle on the shelf or fridge? It’s nothing gourmet or exotic in there- simply “vinegar, garlic, dill and hot peppers” and a “non disclosure document on the specific amounts of each.” But rather, it’s the immense level of “care, quality, story and ideals behind the company” that set them apart from others.  

This past July, McClures supplied their goodies for Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium (AKS), a charity Iron-Chef style showdown series showcasing Toronto’s hottest chef talent. Four Toronto chefs battled it out using McClures pickles as the “secret ingredient,” and Joe and four celebrity judges sent home Rodney Bowers (Hey Meatball) with the win. So in anticipation of the final round of AKS this year, I sat down with the incoming four competitors to find out what they’re pickling up this year.

Carl Heinrich

Richmond Station

Favourite vegetable to pickle:  I am a sucker for pickled cabbage: sauerkraut! Choucroute Garnie is one of my favorite meals of all time and it revolves around soured cabbage.

Why are pickles so hot right now? Artisanal foods are a big part of dining right now. Chefs are introducing house made charcuteries, breads and preserves. Foods that are focused on ingredients and technique should taste better. Knowing your producer and
buying what is in season and delicious will always make for a better menu. This usually means buying food by the case and ending up with finding a way to preserve as much as you can at the peak of its freshness. Pickling is a great way to do that.

Dave Sidhu

Playa Cabana

Favourite food to pair with pickles: Anything that has a richness on the palate can probably stand to be paired with something pickled as a way to add flavour and texture.

Why are pickles so hot right now? I think diners’ palates are naturally becoming more curious and accepting of new flavours and pairings, and that’s led to more creativity on menus everywhere. It’s serendipity for pickles.

Dustin Gallagher

Acadia

Pickled items on his menu: Cucumbers, Carrots, Salsify, Zucchini, Mackerel and Pearl Onions.

Why he loves pickles: A pickle has all the flavours going on: sweet, sour, salty and umami. 

Thomas Davis 

The Stockyards

Favourite food to pair with pickles: Pork or beef.

Why are pickles so hot right now? I think pickling, curing, and preserving foods is a conscious movement of paying it forward and homage to many of our elders.

While the upcoming competitors certainly have some wicked pickle ideas of their own, they’ll be met with a whole new ingredient hurdle come this fall. Want to see what these fellas come up with? Then you’re not going to want to miss the final battle in the AKS series. Abbey’s Kitchen in partnership with Toronto Standard, and presented by Forty Creek Whisky will be bringing you the hottest pop-up food competition this year to help raise funds for local food initiative, My Food My Way (MFMW). On September 29th from 1-4 p.m.at Toronto’s MOD Club, our chefs will prepare two dishes each using a secret ingredient that will be revealed to the public on site. Guests will be able to purchase the dishes and drinks from the bar, enjoy the live DJ, buy gift basket raffle tickets, and finally, watch as a panel of celebrity judges choose the winning chef who will move onto the Food Network sponsored Delicious Food Show championship.  Tickets are available for $10 here, food for $5, drinks for $6, and a portion of proceeds will be donated to the MFMW.

The delectable dishes will be evaluated by:

Vikram Vij (Celebrity Restauranteur)

Alex Lifeson (Rush Guitarist, June Award Winner, Inductee of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Liem Vu (Host for Global TV’s The Morning Show)

Cocktail Deeva (Stephen & Chris Show)

Susan Merry (Owner, All the Best Fine Foods)

So join our chefs on September 29th to support Toronto’s budding food scene, an amazing local food charity, witness the unveiling of the secret ingredient, and enjoy what our chefs’ end up doing with it. Want a hint for what you’ll see? It isn’t going to be pickles. 

* This article was posted as part of Toronto Standard’s media sponsorship of Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium, of which McClures is a sponsor. 

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