DesBrisay Dines

Chefs & Shows pairs top chefs with great theatre

“Come hungry; leave entertained.” That’s the thinking behind the GCTC’s Chefs & Shows, a marriage of the culinary and theatre arts where the dining foreshadows the drama.

It’s the brainchild of Sheila Whyte of Thyme & Again Creative Catering and Michael Moffatt, chef/partner of Beckta, Play, and Gezellig restaurants. For one performance of each of the GCTC’s six mainstage productions this theatre season, the first act of the evening is a pop-up, prix-fixe communal dinner. It stars a guest chef charged with creating a meal inspired by the play. And though it feels a bit mean to tell you what you’ve missed — four Chefs & Shows have taken place — there remains one, with a plan to run these pre-theatre dinner parties again for the 2017–18 season.

The last event of the Chefs & Shows series happens April 18 and sees Atelier’s Marc Lepine teamed up with 1979 by Michael Healey.

The first event featured Pat Garland of Absinthe Café. He was matched with The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble, a play about the scourge of Alzheimer’s in which comfort-casserole cooking features prominently. Garland had read Beth Graham’s play and figured the best way to honour it was to open cans of soup, empty their contents for some purpose other than his dinner, and use the tins as centrepieces. Because, well, the chef had his limits, and they didn’t extend to cream of mushroom. He called one of the three courses “Tuna Casserole,” though it was no variation I grew up with. Garland smoked fall tomatoes and turned them into a sauce that became the scarlet canvas for a delicate lasagna, the pasta sheets interleaved with fresh ricotta and an English pea purée perked with pesto. Over this, he placed seared yellowfin tuna crusted with olives, basil, and a crumble of the tomato skin he had dehydrated. You know, that kind of tuna casserole.

A roasted pig doubles as a prop at a Chefs & Shows event that featured Katie Borwn Ardington cooking before a performance of The Last Wife. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen
A roasted pig doubles as a prop at a Chefs & Shows event that featured Katie Borwn Ardington cooking before a performance of The Last Wife. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

The principal prop of the second event was a roasted pig’s head, apple-mouthed and chestnut-ringed. It starred Katie Brown Ardington, chef de cuisine of Beckta Dining and Wine. She was paired with The Last Wife, a modernized (and wickedly good) reimagining of the relationship between Henry VIII and Katherine Parr, by playwright Kate Hennig. This time, the gluttony was moved to long communal tables in the upper gallery of the GCTC. We began the feast with cured meats, aged cheeses, dried fruits, salted fish, and preserves. Bowls of a rich game consommé came next, then platters of roast pheasant with juniper berries, cabbage, and stewed apples; another featured Fogo Island cod. Finally, a selection of sweet treats. Henry-style, we overindulged.

The good sense of Chefs & Shows is to bring good food and good theatre together — to have one art form add value to the other. It’s an idea worthy of a standing ovation.