“Come Hungry; Leave Entertained.” That’s the tasty thinking behind the GCTC Chefs & Shows, a marriage of the culinary and theatre arts, with the added pleasure of the food foreshadowing the performance.
Chefs & Shows is the brainchild of Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again, and Michael Moffatt, executive chef of Beckta, Play and Gezellig restaurants. The first of six such pop-ups – where a sit-down, prix-fixe dinner is served pre-show in the lobby of the Great Canadian Theatre Company – happened on Tuesday.
On the GCTC mainstay now is The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. The middle child of Bernice, Iris, assembles a casserole on stage. It requires a bag of frozen hash browns, a can of mushroom soup, 2 cups of sour cream and an onion (‘Schwarties’ from The Best of Bridge cookbook. Know it?) Iris is opening and dumping and stirring the comfort casserole in honour of her mother, Bernice, on a surreal night that calls for such comforts. And I’ll say no more, other than this: it’s a powerful piece of theatre by Canadian playwright Beth Graham, about family and the scourge of Alzheimer’s, remarkably well performed.
Chef Pat Garland and his team from Absinthe Café (chefs Jared Godin, Rachael Elias) had been tasked with a play-inspired, three-course dinner. Garland had read Graham’s play, and decided the best way to honour it was to open a dozen cans of Campbell’s soup, empty their contents for some purpose other than his dinner, and use the tins as table vases for fall flowers.
Because, well, the man has limits. He then called the first course “Tuna Casserole – Casserole de Thon” which apparently freed him up to smoke a mess of fall tomatoes and turn them into a gossamer sauce that was the scarlet canvas for a delicate lasagne, the sheets of fresh pasta interleaved with rich, tart ricotta and an English pea purée perked with pesto. Over this, Garland had perched seared Yellow Fin tuna, crusted with a crumble of the tomato skin he had dehydrated, with olives and basil. Yep, that’s tuna casserole.
The main dish was a confit of Mariposa duck – Confit de canard de la Ferme Mariposa – propped up on a square of ‘Schwarties Hash Browns,’ or what Iris dubs the “everything that’s bad for your casserole” as she fake-makes it on stage. Only Garland uses fresh potatoes, clearly bound without the aid of soup.
Dessert was a smooth and fragrant crème brulée (a la Vanille et son Sablé), topped with an Oh Canada shortbread.
The French bistro comfort classics served on Tuesday were totally logical – Pat Garland is a whiz with those – but the excessive French translations on the menu only made sense thirty minutes into the play, when… Well… You’ll see.
“One must tell it like it is. Not imagined, but remembered…” Iris says, as she stirs the casserole in The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble. “But… it’s going to get goopy,” she warns us. And so it does. Bring tissues.
And though Patrick Garland didn’t steal the show, he did set it up for us very well, and filled our bellies with most excellent goop.
The next Chef & Show pops up on November 8th when Katie Brown Ardington from Beckta teams up with The Last Wife, a play by Kate Hennig.
For the complete list, check out http://www.gctc.ca/plays/chefs-show