How Toronto's chefs came together to save a wedding


The happy couple — event planner Esther Katzman and food writer Suresh Doss — were expected to host the perfect wedding.

Indeed, a month before the big day, every detail was in place — the remote Niagara estate was booked, the elaborate vanilla-ginger and chocolate-hazelnut cakes were ordered and the embroidered parasols from India were ready to be hung in the dining tent.

And then their caterer ghosted them.

Upon arrival, guests were treated to platters of tapas and pintxos prepared by Richmond Station.
Upon arrival, guests were treated to platters of tapas and pintxos prepared by Richmond Station.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

“I’ve worked with chefs in the past and knew that a lot of them didn’t check emails and preferred to keep their head down,” Doss said. “But when it came down to the three and four weeks before the wedding, we were in a bit of a panic mode,” he admitted.

“The first thing people said to us when we were sending invites was that the food and drinks were going to be amazing,” said Katzman, 31, a senior account manager with event and marketing company Mosaic. “I had people ask if they could buy a ticket to the wedding.”

But with the wedding less than a month away, they had no food to serve their 128 guests.

Appetizers of pork and rabbit terrine with pistachio, sweet wine gelee and pea shoots en croute.
Appetizers of pork and rabbit terrine with pistachio, sweet wine gelee and pea shoots en croute.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

“The anxiety was growing and I told Esther that we needed to make a drastic decision,” said Doss, 39. He called off the original caterer and with the last-minute help of a few of the city’s best chefs and old friends in the food industry, the race was on to create a multi-course feast for 130 guests at a remote backyard venue in just 12 days.

Doss is the print editor of the Toronto edition of Foodism magazine and the new host of a weekly food segment on CBC’s Metro Morning that explores the GTA’s multicultural food spots. He leads private food tours introducing diners to international cuisines at family-run restaurants tucked away in the vastness of GTA’s suburbs. So, while food is an important part of most weddings, the pressure to have good food was paramount.

The wedding had a station serving up cooked-to-order Sri Lankan hoppers.
The wedding had a station serving up cooked-to-order Sri Lankan hoppers.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

In late July, after the caterer fell through, Doss ran into his friend Carl Heinrich, chef and co-owner of downtown’s farm-to-table restaurant Richmond Station. The chef casually offered to help any way that he could. Days later, Doss fired off a late-night email to Heinrich asking if he could cater the event, which happened to be taking place on one of the busiest wedding weekends of the summer.

“We didn’t have the staff to do it, maybe if he asked us six months ago, but I told him I’ll see what I could do,” Heinrich said. He was keen on making sure there would be food at their wedding. After calling around to different chefs and caterers without any luck, Heinrich stepped up.

“When a friend needs help, I’m going to do what I can,” Heinrich said. “He’s always been supportive of my career, so we turned it into a collaborative food event, which is always fun for a chef to do.”

Suresh Doss and the chef who saved the day, Carl Heinrich.
Suresh Doss and the chef who saved the day, Carl Heinrich.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

Heinrich rounded up Richmond Station’s general manager Jenn Hornak and three chef friends who happened to be free that weekend: Jesse Vallins of the Maple Leaf Tavern, Heinrich’s fellow Top Chef Canada Season 2 competitor Trista Sheen and his former sous chef, Alex White, now the chef at Niagara College’s Benchmark restaurant.

The chefs divided and conquered, hashing out a menu of dishes that could be assembled quickly on site using ingredients they already had, or could easily source such as carrots, fennel, zucchini and radish from Heinrich’s bounty grown at the 100-acre organic farm, called the New Farm near Creemore, Ont.

Eight days before the wedding, Heinrich emailed the couple the first draft of the menu — including quinoa and corn lettuce wraps with soybean hummus, scallop crudo, duck liver pate on toasted brioche, and pork and rabbit terrine to start. Doss and Katzman were elated with the menu that spoke to their love of local produce and tapas-style dining.

Chef Jesse Vallins of the Maple Leaf Tavern grilled up a bunch of his homemade sausages.
Chef Jesse Vallins of the Maple Leaf Tavern grilled up a bunch of his homemade sausages.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

With the main menu attended to, the Sri Lankan-born Doss concentrated on finding a caterer to make hoppers, sweet and savoury crepes made from a batter of rice flour and coconut and cooked in a wok.

“We kept striking out because a lot of these guys aren’t used to cooking on such a big scale or could make the drive to Niagara.”

So once again he turned to a chef friend, this time it was Johnne Phinehas, chef and owner of downtown’s Saffron Spice Kitchen, a kothu roti takeout spot.

“He had a friend who could do it, and we had a three-way phone conversation where Johnny acted as the translator since I wasn’t completely fluent in Tamil,” he says.

Sous-vide rainbow trout with corn puree, grilled squash and tomato salsa by Richmond Station.
Sous-vide rainbow trout with corn puree, grilled squash and tomato salsa by Richmond Station.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

Two days before their big Niagara bash, the hopper station consisting of a half dozen mini woks and butane camping stoves was confirmed.

On the day of the wedding, all the food stations were ready. Guests parked on the side of the dusty country road and walked across the sprawling lawn of the venue, where the chefs were at their stations, grills fired up and coolers unpacked.

“Carl showed up the day before to survey the venue and, with the exception of showing him where to put the garbage, we basically had no contact till it was time to eat,” Doss said. “As soon as I saw him and the other chefs pull up, we knew we didn’t have to worry about the food.”

It was the wedding feast of their dreams.

“Everyone started their conversation with me by saying how the food was amazing and that I had to try this or that.”

Two cakes, meringues, marshmallows and pâte de fruits were made by Michelle Edgar of the Sweet Escape. Platters of Indian sweets from Al-Karam Sweets were also served.
Two cakes, meringues, marshmallows and pâte de fruits were made by Michelle Edgar of the Sweet Escape. Platters of Indian sweets from Al-Karam Sweets were also served.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

A sangria dispenser awaited guests at the bar along with wine and beers and ciders made for the couple by Oast House Brewers and West Avenue Cider.

Meanwhile, guests were welcomed with platters of pintxos and tapas: polenta fries with marinara sauce, grilled vegetables, salt cod on crusty bread, rabbit and pork terrine.

There were grilled sausage coils from Vallins, Heinrich and Sheen worked another grill serving bites of thinly-sliced charred skirt steak with chimichurri and flaky Sous-vide trout with corn puree.

A vegetable station offered wraps and beet salads, lighter fare than the late-night poutine truck White arranged from Niagara College.

Suresh Doss and Esther Katzman seal their union with a kiss.
Suresh Doss and Esther Katzman seal their union with a kiss.  (Jeffrey Chan)  

The dessert buffet included the ginger-vanilla and chocolate-hazelnut cakes, marshmallows, meringues and pâte de fruits made by Michelle Edgar of the Sweet Escape patisserie in the Distillery District. Platters of burfi, a dense and milky South Asian confection typically served at celebrations, from Al-Karam Sweets in Scarborough, rounded out the dessert table.

“There was a point when the sun was going down and I was looking out on the yard, seeing people at the bar and at the tables with a glass in one hand and a plate of food in the other and we were relieved and honoured that Richmond Station was able to pull everything together,” Katzman said.

Guests feasted and drank, celebrating the union, unaware that the wedding of two of the most food-obsessed people they knew almost didn’t have any food on the table.

The couple did concede there was still one hitch that night: they forgot to put out the takeout food boxes for their guests.

karonliu@thestar.ca



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