After thoroughly enjoying the many delicious dishes on offer at last year's inaugural edition of Celebrity Chefs of Canada (@CELEBCHEFCANADA), it was with great excitement that I eagerly accepted Chef Michael Blackie's invitation to join the media team for this year's celebration of food.
Taking place at the National Arts Centre on March 25, it is billed as an exciting partnership between talented local chefs and the national superstars who are transforming Canada's culinary landscape.
The event will include live demonstrations, lots of tasting and an opportunity to meet and mingle with some seriously brilliant chefs.
I was assigned the delightful duty of interviewing Chef Patrick McMurray who will be participating in the food demonstrations as well as supplying tasty eats for the event's after party.
Chef Patrick is the owner/chef at two fine Toronto eateries, Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill and Ceili Cottage. He's also the proud holder of an impressive credential: World Oyster Opening Champion.
When did you decide to become and chef and why?
At 14, I began a stint as a butcher's assistant; two years later I started in the restaurant trade, although at the time I was thinking about it as a future career. I wanted to follow in my parents' footsteps and be a teacher, then save enough money to open my own restaurant upon retirement.
After studying Kiniesiology at university I ended up taking a job at Rodney's Oyster House. It was a ton of fun and helped me realize one can make ends meet in this business if you work hard enough, so maybe I didn't need to have another career before plunging into the restaurant world.
Starfish has been open for 10 years now and it's been two and a half years for Ceili Cottage. I also do a lot of teaching; for example, I run a training program called Oysters 101 for the Marriott Hotel chain.
I feel so lucky to be able to have fun at work and make a living doing what I love.
How would you describe your personal approach to food?
I love pretty well everything about food. I like things to be as natural and simple as possible; I'm a huge fan of organic, hand made, slow food.
Oysters fall into that line because they are the original, sustainable seafood and it's actually beneficial to the species to harvest them. I also think it's very important as a chef to be happy with what you are doing in the kitchen because that will translate to your plates.
What would you say to someone who has never tasted a nice, fresh, raw oyster?
I really like to educate people to help them get excited about tasting oysters. For example, the variety of oysters we have available to us in Canada is probably better than pretty much anywhere in the world.
I tell people, ‘you have to try it before you say you don't like it'. I usually find a nice small oyster for newbies and I don't stare at them when it's time for them to decide if they are going to try it. Sometimes all they taste is the brine (oyster liquor) but that's a good start.
What's your favourite beverage to enjoy with oysters?
It depends on the moment. Beer can be great; when it comes to wine, I generally recommend a Muscadet, Sancerre, Chablis, unoaked Chardonnay or Champagne.
What are a few of your favourite food destinations?
I always have a great time when I visit Prince Edward Island. I also love Vancouver, although I haven't yet had much of a chance to explore it foodwise. I absolutely adore Ireland, which I've visited numerous times. Lately, Asia has been totally inspiring me as well. Everytime I go, I learn so much and I love street fooding there.
Any professional goals you haven't achieved yet?
I have lots of ideas; I have three or four other restaurants in my head; I'd love to do a nightclub as well. TV would be fun too, especially to educate viewers about sustainable seafood. I also envision creating the one hotel in the world which will come to be known as a destination for having the finest oyster bar in the world.
What will you be offering up at Celebrity Chefs of Canada?
My demo will be a condensed version of Oyster 101, talking about the five different species of oysters, the tasting ranges and how to shuck them. I'll talk about the seasons, how they are grown and harvested, why they are good for you. There will be magic, unicorns and rainbows.
As for food, I'll be shucking at the Oyster Bar along with a team of students from Algonquin and I'll also be dishing up my popular Hogtown-style Oyster Chowder, which is lovely and rich.
What are people sometimes surprised to learn about you?
That I know way too much about oysters; people often remark that they did not know there was that much to know.
To learn more about the local and visiting chefs participating in Celebrity Chefs of Canada 2012, visit http://www.facebook.com/celebChefsCanada. Tickets for the event are available at http://nac-cna.ca/variety/event/2295. All proceeds go to the National Arts Centre's Youth and Education Trust.