From the Mount Julian Kitchen

by Mandy Weaver, Culinary Chef

And so, with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

Spring and summer seem to have blended into one and descended upon us in a rush and I, for one, am happy to welcome it in.

Greetings from the Mount Julian kitchen. I feel that it is high time I introduce myself. My name is Mandy and I will be cooking for you today. Taking the freshest ingredients I can either forage myself, gather from the garden (with Bob’s blessing, of course!), or source from local providers. Preparing and assembling said ingredients into a coherent dish for your sensory pleasure.

In my first couple weeks at Viamede, there were some adjustments made into my new surroundings: new relationships built, new foraging locations sought out, and new menu ideas blooming into existence. The North Kawartha area has proven to be a fascinating location, flush with much familiar vegetation as well as a few ‘new to me’ items ripe for the avid forager to discover. I always keep in mind the sustainability of the item foraged. Thus far in my short time at Viamede Resort, we have collected, frozen, pickled, preserved, dehydrated and utilised spruce tips, ramps (also known as wild leeks), lilac flowers, chive (so much chive), daylilies, as well as many other wild flowers. Now, berry season has started!

Bob the Gardener and I go for regular tours of the gardens to see what is usable now, and what I can start planning to use in the coming weeks. He’s grown oodles of lettuce varieties and herbs galore. The carrots, beets, and radishes are just at the baby stage, which pair perfectly with fish or make an enticing amuse bouche, and, don’t tell him, but I’ve even started getting into his peas.

I still have much to discover in the field of local farmers (mind the pun), however, Buckhorn Berry Farm has had a phenomenal strawberry season. Fingers crossed I make it out one more time before the berries are all gone.

Having been born and raised in Norfolk County on the shores of Lake Erie, farming, foraging, preserving and freezing has always been a big part of my life. To now be in a position that, though far from home, brings me back to my roots, I feel quite blessed. I am grateful to my parents for providing me with a solid foundation in sustainably harvesting from the land, as well as the Viamede Team for inviting me in and providing me this opportunity to expand my knowledge, while also pursuing my career and living my dream all at the same time.

Signing off for now,

Mandy

 

Enjoy a 5, 7, or 9 course tasting menu at Mount Julian restaurant – call or email to reserve your table!


The Winter Harvest

by Executive Chef Alexander Barron

We’re well into November and the snows are falling hard.  It’s a visual (and thermal) sign of crossing into winter, though on the calendar it’s still autumn, and the kitchens are preparing to cook through the long snowy season.

In order to make it through, this year we are growing our own greens and sprouts in the main dining room with its floor-to-ceiling windows.  We are still learning the best method, but if you stay with us this winter you may see one of the cooks trimming greens for your salad or sprouts for a garnish on your plate.

Foraging is not completely finished either, as there are a few things we can harvest even through the snow cover.  Many of our perennial herbs can simply be uncovered and trimmed, and then covered up again with snow to protect them from the cold air.  We will also be harvesting sumac straight from the trees to play with.  Part of the fun is seeing what is still available.

This time of year much of the Ontario harvest is still good and fresh (kept in proper storage) so we can pickle a good variety of vegetables.  We’re also getting excited about squash, pumpkin, cabbages, roots, apples and pears which keep well.  They’ve gotten something of a bad name as part of a boring winter cuisine, (think boiled vegetables with no flavour! or don’t if you prefer), but we think this is just part of the cook’s ever-changing challenge to keep food interesting and appetizing.  It doesn’t hurt that Ontario now boasts excellent greenhouses as well.

As the earth quiets, and settles for a long winter’s sleep, it’s time for these beautiful ingredients to shine. The whole culinary team at Viamede is looking forward to serving up hearty, nourishing, and imaginative meals. We can’t wait to welcome you!


Mount Julian’s Fall Harvest

by Alyssa Joynt

As the leaves turn from green to gold, the numbers on the thermometer start to drop, and we watch summer roll into fall, it is the perfect time to look back at the summer gardens of Mount Julian.  When we say that the food we serve is local, we really aren’t kidding.  For the next installment of the Mount Julian blog series, Chef Alexander took me on a tour of the gardens around Viamede and explained how he uses each plant in various ways to create incredible meals.

One of the first gardens I saw was the one situated right next to Mount Julian. The building has gardens both on the side and facing the lake, and all are filled with delicious greenery!

 

 

This lavender has a very short growing season, but can be used in crème brûlées and infused into almost anything, especially in dishes involving cream and milk.

In the neighbouring garden, a variety of greens take centre stage.  Our goal is to grow all the lettuce used at Mount Julian, and the leaf lettuce seen here can be used in a classic salad or as a burger topper.

 

Right next door is Genovese Basil, which is used in classic pesto.  One of the dishes featured this summer included a homemade pesto that was made with these pretty homegrown leaves.

 

Leaving the Mount Julian side of the property, we explored the gardens by the main building.  These pear tomatoes, which are a kind of cherry tomato, grow right near one of the outbuildings by the main entrance to Viamede.  They aren’t quite ripe in this picture, but once they are, they are delicious!

 

Right beside the cherry tomatoes are string beans and peas, both of which are beautiful and fresh veggies for any dish!

 

While I recognized many of the plants on my tour, dinosaur kale was a new introduction.  Another neighbour of the incredible pear tomato, this is a very large and extremely tough variety of kale that would generally not be eaten raw.  When the leaves are big like this, they are better sautéed or in a stew.

At the front of the building, there is a vibrant flower garden, but those flowers aren’t just for show!  Some of them are nasturtium flowers, which have a bit of a peppery taste and add a fun bunch of flavour and a fun punch of colour to the summer salad they were added to.

 

In between the Mount Julian and main building gardens, there is a very special plant growing.  Viamede doesn’t use any pesticides and we try to preserve the natural landscape of the Kawarthas as much as possible. Because of that effort we are blessed with native plants like this wild grape.  This variety is completely edible, and not only can we munch on these grapes but we also use them in jelly.  Their leaves are especially exciting – Chef used them during the summer to make dolma as a starting course at Mount Julian.

 

Chef harvests the leaves before service and then boil them to make them nice and tender.

 

 

Once boiled, he fills them with wild rice and rolls them up into delcious dolma!

 

Another example of the wild Kawartha landscape incorporating itself into the Mount Julian menu is our sumac and honey butter.

 

Featured earlier on in the summer, this butter is hand-whipped and mixed with honey and sumac, which can be seen growing all over the property.

Our gardens supply our kitchen with as much natural produce as possible, and we are so grateful!  As our gardens transition into the end of the fall harvest, Viamede transitions along with them.  Into our fall season now, these Mount Julian blog posts are near their end.  Thank you for exploring the kitchen with me, and I look forward to sharing the exciting world of preserves with you later on in the winter.  We all need some way to preserve the summer season, right?


The Wines of Mount Julian

Dinner at Mount Julian is always about turning a meal into an incredible experience.  So far this summer, we have talked about the atmosphere, the history, and the food, and how those all play a role in writing the story of each individual meal.  What we haven’t explored is the wine and how it plays a role in the night.  Now it is time to take a trip downstairs to Mount Julian’s wine cellar with our GM Ben, who does all of the wine pairings himself.

 

As I’ve learned this summer, a good wine pairing makes all the difference.  As Ben says, “a great pairing starts with two separate items – a food and a wine – and turns them into one.  The wine mellows out, the food becomes richer, and things just… work”.  It’s amazing to watch as guests try the wine, try the food, and then try the wine again.  Their eyes widen and their faces are taken over with excitement as the wine and the food intermingle to create something even better than either the wine or the food could be on their own.  It’s the closest thing to magic that I’ve witnessed.  When Ben walks into the kitchen and asks for a sample of the food for the night, glass of wine in hand, I know that something exciting is about to happen. But like any good magician, Ben doesn’t share his secrets lightly.  After a little convincing, though, I got to the bottom of the wine story.

 

Ben’s background with wine really begins with an enjoyment of the stuff.  For Ben, it’s not about memorizing details such as what grape comes from what region and which year was better than others.  Just like Mount Julian, wine is all about the story.  Ben loves what he refers to as the chase, which involves tasting wines against each other, with food, without food, and soaking up each experience to compile a working knowledge of what kind of wine goes best with which food.  He “never gets sick of driving around, stopping in on winemakers, and tasting their newest creations”.  It’s an adventure that leads to lots of exciting wines on the menu at Mount Julian.

 

When deciding on which wines to order, Ben has some favoured staples from Prince Edward County mixed with some international choices.  Other than that, though, he bases his wine orders on the season.  As he explained to me, he is currently “working off the wines [he] picked in the spring for the summery flavours and heat. Lighter wines to go with fresh fruity dishes, cold soups, and similar”.  As summer begins to roll into fall, with some of the trees already starting to lose their leaves, he is looking ahead to fuller bodied wines to accompany stewed meats, root vegetables, and rich sauces.  A lot of these pairings will come from warmer climates like Australia and California.  I have been trying to understand what Ben looks for in a wine, and it really comes down to the wines with stories.  Ben explained that he looks for smaller wineries and passionate winemakers, as they produce wines that never fail to be interesting.  He often shares stories of how he “find[s] a great wine one year, [buys] enough to regret it shortly thereafter… and a year later, regret[s] that [he] didn’t buy more”.  These stories are always shared as the wine is being poured, and never fail to make the wine more interesting and more exciting.

 

One of the most interesting questions to ask wine enthusiasts is what their favourite wine is.  When asked, Ben simply stated that “it depends on the day, the food, who I’m with, the season, what else I’ve had, and my mood.  In the winter, with a braised beef with Viamede double smoked bacon, root vegetables, and a mushroom demi-glace, I’ll reach for that Californian Shiraz I’d normally shirk.  In the summer, feet dangling off a dock, I’ll take a Viognier spritzer.  There’s no shame in that!”

 

There are so many stories pouring out of the Mount Julian wine cellar.  Each wine adds a new patch to the patchwork of stories that blankets a night at Mount Julian, and there is no experience quite like it.  The only thing left to do is to see for yourself!


Mount Julian: Pasta in Photos

by Alyssa Joynt

One of the things Mount Julian prides itself on is the freshness of our food. Our philosophy is all about making food from scratch, foraging for freshness, and scouring farmer’s markets. As I learned one evening, this stretches from our wine to our pasta dough. Chef Alexander makes the smoked trout tortellini in our pasta dish from start to finish, and as part of our Mount Julian blog series, I got to help! It all starts with the smoker.

The smoker is a relatively non-descript black box that I had never noticed before, but it makes a world of difference.

To get a nice smoky flavour, you need a lot of smoke, so a bucket of woodchips was soaked in water before being placed into the smoker. Dry wood burns, but wet wood smokes. Above the woodchips, Chef placed a tray of water to help the fish keep some of its moisture during the smoking process. Then, in went the trout!

From this to pasta!

It didn’t take long for the smoker to get nice and smoky, and once it did the fish cooked fairly quickly.

While we waited, I asked Chef more about the process. I learned that you can smoke duck, chicken, and nearly anything else you can think of. Because trout doesn’t take too long to cook – it’s just a question of how much smokey flavour you want – more time spent in the smoker leads to a smokier and drier result. As far as the trout goes, Chef favours a hint of smoke instead of a really intense smokiness, which helps the fish maintain some moisture and also adds a gentle and subtle richness to the overall flavour.

The finished fish was slightly smoky and extremely delicious (the biggest perk of joining the cooking process is the taste-testing!). Chef removed the skins and then we left the fish for a minute to make the pasta dough. As we prepared to make the dough, we both learned that charcoal is a lot harder to remove from skin than one would expect….

As Chef explained, the dough we made was arguably the richest ever, containing 6 egg yolks. To make the dough, the eggs were placed in a well in the flour and Chef stirred them slowly. This allowed the flour to be pulled in slowly but steadily.

Once the dough was mixed, Chef kneaded it with more flour to make the dough “nice and elastic”.

Setting the dough aside, we returned to the trout to make the filling. Using his hands, Chef crumbled the trout until it was nice and fine. Big chunks of trout inside pasta is not nearly as tasty as it sounds.

The next step was to add some flavour. Chef finely chopped green scallions and added them to the trout, along with some salt and pepper.

Once the filling was all mixed together, it was time to roll out the dough and start putting it all together!

After stretching the dough, Chef thinned it out with the pasta maker. He also floured the surface behind the pasta maker so that we could lay the dough out on the counter afterwards.

Once it was suitably skinny, Chef spread some saran wrap on a plate and sprinkled the top with cornmeal. This made no sense to me until he brought out the pasta cutter, which looks a lot like a cookie cutter. He made individual circles out of the dough, and placed each circle on the cornmeal plate. I soon leaned that this contraption existed to make sure the pasta circles didn’t stick to the surface, and I quickly became very grateful for it. Once we had enough circles, the folding process began.

The folding was definitely the coolest part of the process. Chef picked a circle and placed some filling in the middle. He then dipped his fingers and rimmed the circle with water to help the edges stick together.

He began by folding the circle in half and squeezing the edges together to make a little pierogi.

Once the pierogi is shaped, he folded the two ends in front to shape the tortellini.

After demonstrating a few times, Chef surprised me by letting me make a few of my own.
It’s both tricky and easy at the same time, because I really didn’t want to screw up but it also felt like I was working with something remarkably similar to Play-Doh, as the dough was relatively easy to shape and move (just don’t tell Chef I likened his food to Play-Doh).

The whole process from start to finish took a few hours, and we only made enough for a couple of servings. To make enough for a whole meal takes much longer. You can almost taste the care and patience that goes into making the pasta, although don’t take my word for it – come try for yourself!


Mount Julian: From 1874 to 2018

by Alyssa Joynt

This is the first in a series of blog posts about Mount Julian restaurant at Viamede Resort. We’ll be talking about the food, the history, the ambiance, and more! Check back regularly for the latest!

In 1874, Mount Julian stood alone, serving as both an inn and restaurant.  It has always been a destination for great food and incredible experiences, with lakers boating over for meals and people riding from Lakefield, almost 30 km away, just for dinner and a one night stay.

Mount Julian used to be a stand-alone location, with the restaurant on the main floor and a handful of rooms on the upper floor.  When Viamede Resort opened in 1885, Mount Julian served as the leisure side of the property, while Viamede hosted the labour crowd with miners and loggers filling the rooms.  In 1999, Don Bennet took over the resort and joined the two businesses, making Viamede the resort and turning Mount Julian into an Italian style resto, called MJ Bistro.

When Ben Samann took over Viamede in 2011, he knew he wanted to turn MJ Bistro into something special.  A dinner at Bluehill at Stone Barn served as the inspiration for the locally-sourced menu, and when the groundskeeper at the time suggested that Viamede start it’s own farm, Ben was all over the idea.  Food that went straight from farm to table?  Food foraged from the forest?  It was a menu that wrote itself, and the stories behind the food match the storied history of the building itself.

In a recent interview with Ben, he explained that eating at Mount Julian should be a very natural, comfortable experience.  As he said, “we’re not serving asparagus soup in a shoe”.  The food is not overly surprising, deliberately weird, or alienating in any way.  This isn’t a fine dining experience governed by overly strict rules – it’s a place where you can sit down in shorts and a T-shirt and enjoy historic ambience and local food.  Ingredients sourced from as close as the land the building sits on and as far afield as the Lakefield farmer’s market, it’s a meal that feels like you’re coming home.

Welcome to Mount Julian.  This summer, we are opening our doors to a new, online experience on this blog.  From the way the food is foraged to the hand-selected wine pairings, we invite you to join us as we rediscover the stories behind Mount Julian.


Mount Julian Restaurant Welcomes Spring

by Alyssa Joynt

If you’ve ever visited Viamede, you will have spotted a white building with a green roof on your way in.  Perched overlooking the lake, The Inn at Mount Julian was built in 1847 to welcome overnight travellers and loggers.  Although it has been updated with modern day amenities such as electricity and indoor plumbing, the building has remained much the same, and as you step inside you know that you are in for an exciting experience.

As Viamede re-opened and welcomed the return of spring, I returned for my second season of work and my first shift at the timeless Mount Julian restaurant. The culinary experience at Mount Julian is all about the story.  Each ingredient that goes into the 5, 7, or 9 course tasting menu, as well as the a la carte options, adds not only to the dish but also to the story that your meal has to share.  I loved learning all about the stories that food can tell, and so I thought I would take you inside the walls of Mount Julian and give you a sample of an evening at the restaurant.

Recently, to celebrate the return of greenery to Viamede, Chef Alexander prepared a decidedly spring-themed meal that started off with an amuse-bouche nick-named the “spring bouquet”.  Featuring all of the first things to pop out of the ground in spring time, pea shoots and cat tail were wrapped in wild leek that was foraged on Viamede property, and the bundle was topped with a drop of maple syrup, which made its entrance last month.

Right before the soup course was served, guests were treated to multi-grain baguette and house-made butter that was prepared with honey and sumac.  Sumac is the bushy red plant that can be spotted all over, and the red buds, lending a distinctive citrus flavour, were what went in to making the delicious butter.  Sumac also grows white flowers, but thankfully Chef avoided those – white buds are poisonous!

Once the bread disappeared, guests were treated to a blast of spring in the form of soup.  Containing spinach and wild leek that was foraged on the property, the soup’s bright green colouring was reminiscent of the bright green that has returned to the Kawarthas after a long-lasting winter, and continued the spring theme of the meal.

Seared Manitoulin Island Rainbow Trout swam onto the scene for the next course.  Viamede is situated in a wild-rice region, and so the trout was perched atop wild rice and cranberries, and was topped with a savoury cranberry jam (ten points if you caught my fish pun. Ten points if you noticed the second one.).

The salad was served next and perpetuated the spring theme through its light lettuce, multi-coloured carrots, radishes, and red wine and shallot dressing.  It was followed by the main course, which was beef wrapped in Viamede bacon.  Viamede has a farm on-site, and our happy, adventurous, attention-loving pigs enjoy a happy and well-fed lifestyle before they make their way onto our plates in a sustainable and locavore-approved farming practise.  The beef was accompanied by caramelized mashed potatoes and topped with mushrooms and horseradish sprouts that were sprouted in Viamede’s own herb garden.

To finish off the night, dessert was a flourless torte-brownie hybrid with sour cream and a maraschino cherry made at Viamede.  The cherries come from Niagara, and they are drenched in maraschino liquer on-site.  The work that goes into their creation comes out in their delicious and fresh flavour.

For each course, every ingredient was carefully picked to be local, fresh, and delicious.  Each piece added something to the story of spring, and ultimately to the story of Mount Julian.  If it took a page of writing to describe just one five-course meal in the most concise detail, imagine the culinary adventures and the exciting stories that await you on your next visit to Mount Julian.

I hope to see you soon!