Derek Dammann doesn’t speak in sentences; he speaks in stories, from the heart. He wears his heart on his tattooed sleeves and intersperses cooking
I went alone to Appetite for Books, taking the single remaining seat, only to find myself flanked by two friends and a charming young lady with an extraordinarily well-educated gourmet palate. How’s that for kismet?
Using recipes from his new cookbook True North: Canadian Cooking from Coast to Coast, Derek showed us what Canadian food means to him. I’d scanned the book briefly during a book signing at Appetite for Books and read all the media buzz so it was high time that I met the man behind the legend.
Nduja, the first ingredient in our appetizer, took Derek six months to produce.
First Course: Pickled Rainbow Trout with Nduja We all oohed and ahhed like a Greek chorus. Lovely to see, even better to taste, the meaty and spicy nduja, atop crispy toast, contrasted perfectly with the clean, sharp, briny fish and pickled veggies. In case you’re wondering, nduja is spreadable Calabrian salami made with properly raised swine (which takes 2 years, not 8 months). It’s spiced with grilled, roasted, smoked, dried and then blended chilies and peppers, takes six months to cure and yields a flavorful kick with a 5 out of 10 heat level.
Second Course: Baked Oyster with Marmite Apparently you need to be very strong or very brave to swallow huge oysters raw. Cooking huge oysters can solve that problem. You can actually chew them. Our Beach Angel wild oysters came clear across Canada from Out Landish Shellfish Guild (you’ve got to love that name) run by hippies. Marmite — a fermented yeast extract byproduct of beer production — Japanese mayonnaise and mushroom duxelles coated the oysters and elicited swoons all around the table.
Main Course: Quail with 4-Spice and Aioli and Foie Gras. We learned about deboning quail, curing meat and the importance of allowing food to come to room temperature before cooking. The garlicky, supersmooth aioli and foie gras on toast were divine pairings for the crispy perfectly-cooked quail.
What are the four spices? Cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and allspice go into the potato starch used to dredge the quails after briefly pre-cooking sous vide until just medium-rare and before quick deep-frying.
The plate looks plain and deconstructed; the food tastes anything but.
Dessert: Sucre A La Creme Pot De Creme. Dizzy with pleasure after all that dining goodness, not to mention the good company, dessert simply slid from plate to mouth in one long inhale. The Maldon salt helped to temper the sweetness, but spoonful after spoonful it disappeared and all I could think was “I’m so glad I don’t have to share this.”
You don’t have to take my word for Derek Dammann‘s culinary cleverness. Read his book, True North: Canadian Cooking from Coast to Coast; it’s filled with simpler recipes you can and will make — or stop by his restaurant, Maison Publique in Montreal’s Plateau, to sample his entrancing gourmet wizardry.