Monday, November 30, 2015

New Chefs at Resto 7 - Food With Flare

Mix fresh Moroccan ingredients with Canadian experience and know-how, add a dash of Brazilian vibrancy, and what do you get? The new team of chefs at Resto 7

The team: Erica Bernhardt, Haley Polinsky and Gastao Rodrigues

Erica Bernhardt, Haley Polinsky and Gastao Rodrigues began their residency at the acclaimed pop-up restaurant last month, and will be cooking for Fez locals and visitors until January 17.

Dishes they have created so far include cucumber grape gazpacho, avocado roll with harissa shrimp; Fenugreek braised short-ribs, jerusalem artichoke puree, slow cooked onions and walnut salsa; fresh cheese gnocchi with roasted grapes and fennel, butter white wine sauce.

When The View From Fez team ate at Resto 7 last week, each dish was like an artwork, and the mix of flavours perfectly complemented one another.

delicious gnocchi 

It's not the first time that Haley Polinsky has worked in Fez. She spent time in the kitchen while  previous chefs Harry and Laura were in residence at Resto 7. "I came at the end of their residency and had a really positive experience here. The quality of food they were producing with the local produce was really great."

Knowing that running the Resto 7 kitchen on her own would be a formidable task, she asked two friends, Erica and Gastao, to join her. She knew that both were highly creative, and would respond to the challenge of working with seasonal ingredients and supplies that are not always reliable. "Erica and I ran another pop-up (in Canada), Galette Girls," she says.

From a small town in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, Haley grew up on a honey farm. "so agriculture was a big part of my life," she says. She loved cooking with her mother, and decided to go to culinary school in Vancouver when she finished high school. On completion, she worked in catering, and then moved to Toronto, "...and got more into food scene". She met Erica while working at the restaurant C5 at Royal Ontario Museum.

Fenugreek braised short-ribs, jerusalem artichoke puree, slow cooked onions, walnut salsa

Stints at restaurants Grand Electric and Bar Isabel followed, before, "I quit my job last December and went travelling for five months. That's when I came to Morocco."

Haley's ethos is "to use as much local product as possible. I think it's important to know the farmer, and how the food is produced." She also works as a food stylist for professional photographers, "which is such a chilled atmosphere compared to working in the kitchen."

Erica Bernhardt was born in Rio de Janeiro, but her family left when she was young. "My mom worked for the Brazilian foreign service, so I grew up in the United States and the Czech Republic. Then I lived for a long time in Brazil as a teenager." After finishing a Masters in Political Sociology, Erica moved to Toronto. "I wanted to do something more practical, so I went to cooking school" After finishing, she began cooking fulltime, and worked at the Beverley Hotel and Opus restaurant. "I met Haley at C5, where I worked for a year and a half." Erica has been working as a pastry chef for the past three years, and during that time she and Haley started the pop-up "Galette Girls".

Galettes, or French pastry tarts, are something they have returned to with their lunchtime offerings at Resto 7, where delicious and beautifully presented savoury tarts are offered with a salad.

"This is my first time in Morocco. Initially, I felt completely overwhelmed when we walked into the Medina. I am super-excited about the markets. That's my favourite part of shopping."

Erica has created an unusual dessert with amlou, a Berber mix of ground almonds, honey and olive oil. "I made crème anglais, stirred the amlou into that, then set it with gelatine and breaded it with sweet feuilletine crumbs. It's then fried and served with caramelised bananas and wild strawberry jam.

Her partner, Gastao Rodrigues, was born in the tiny Brazilian city of Parnaiba. "I lived on a farm from when I was eight to thirteen, with pigs, cattle, sheep, orstrichs, coffee and sugar cane. I had a really fun time helping to take care of it."

Later during his teen years, they moved back to the city and Gastao's parents opened a restaurant. "I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I went to law school for a year and quit and decided to travel." His parents suggested he acquire a practical skill before he went, so Gastao took cooking lessons from the chef at his parents restaurant. "I couldn't fry an egg before I started."

While visiting Toronto, Gastao decided to take a cooking course his cousin had enrolled in. After graduating, he worked in a Portuguese restaurant for a couple of years, working his way up to being the chef. Then, from 2010 he was at a Brazilian restaurant, the Copacabana Steak House, followed by the Shibui Robata Bar from 2014. "I was working pretty much seven days a week, and learned a lot of Japanese techniques from Masaki, a Japanese chef from New York."

Five years ago, he met Erica at a party, and they have been together since.
"At first, when Haley asked us to come to Morocco, we said absolutely no way. But then we changed our minds."

"At first I thought it was a little overwhelming, but it has some similarity with places in Brazil, that are also crowded and disorganised."

Cucumber grape gazpacho, avocado roll with harissa shrimp

One of the aspects the trio have had to get to grips with is the "nose to tail" approach to meat in Morocco. "Shortly after we arrived, we went to the butcher and asked for eighty lamb shanks. He looked at us horrified and asked, do you know how many lambs I will need to kill to get that many? What will I do with the rest of the animal?"

Gastao says they are enjoying finding new ways to use the produce they find. "During the first week we cured trout with beets. And I really like the small 'beldi' lemons here. We sliced them really thin and burnt them slightly."

With the different cultural influences in their backgrounds, and their years of professional experience, Haley, Erica and Gastao are making the most of their time in Fez. Their dishes not only look exquisite, but the blend of flavours and textures in their dishes are carefully thought out, and work extremely well. If you have the opportunity to try their fare, I encourage you to take it.

To find out more about Restaurant Numero 7, also known as Resto 7, visit their website. CLICK HERE. 

Words and portrait photo by Suzanna Clarke. Food photographs by Haley Polinsky. 

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