“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.
The Gravitational Pull of Bernice Trimble is a powerful piece of theatre by Canadian playwright Beth Graham about family and the scourge of Alzheimer’s. It also includes the “perfect” casserole. During the play, that casserole, which begins with a bag of frozen hash browns, a can of cream of mushroom soup, two cups of sour cream, and an onion (you may know it?), is assembled on stage. Middle child, Iris, opens and dumps and stirs the comfort casserole in honour of her mother, Bernice, on a surreal night that calls for such comforts. (And that’s all I’ll say ’bout that.)
Chef Pat Garland and his team from Absinthe Café (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.
He then called the first course “Tuna Casserole – Casserole de Thon” – that apparently freed him up to smoke a mess of fall tomatoes and turn them into a gossamer sauce, which 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, 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.’ It’s the dish that Iris in the play describes as the “everything that’s bad for you casserole” — the difference between the play’s casserole and Garland’s is that he uses fresh potatoes, bound without the aid of soup.
Dessert was a smooth and fragrant crème brulée (a la Vanille et son Sablé), topped with a maple leaf-shaped shortbread.
The French bistro comfort classics served on Tuesday were logical – Garland is a whiz with those – but the excessive French translations on the menu he handed us only made sense 30 minutes into the play, when… well… you’ll just have to see.
“One must tell it like it is. Not imagined, but remembered…” Iris tell us, as she stirs the casserole on stage. “But… it’s going to get goopy,” she warns. And so it does.
And though Garland’s pre-theatre casserole didn’t steal the show, he did set it up for us, and filled our bellies with excellent goop.