We catch up with the dynamic culinary duo of Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles to talk about their RV tour of Canada’s diverse foodlands.
They fished. They foraged. They harvested rice the old-fashioned way –with two sticks out of a canoe. And they cooked. The they are Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles. Hughes is co-owner and executive chef of Montreal hot spots, Garde Manger and Le Bremner, and known to TV audiences for Chuck’s Day Off, Chuck’s Week Off and Chuck’s Eat The Street. Smiles is chef at Le Bremner and was first runner-up of the 2013 season of Top Chef Canada.
Collaborating with local chefs and food experts on every stop on Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip, Hughes and Smiles cook up new favourites and challenge the definition of Canadian cuisine. Rather than back bacon and poutine – not that we don’t love ’em – the guys find themselves making Baba Ghanoush with locally grown eggplant and mixing fresh figs, a Mediterranean favourite, into muffins (recipe, next page) and firing up the grill to bake them. You can’t get much more Canadian than that!
Tara Losinski: How does our cultural diversity impact being a chef?
Danny Smiles: It’s really the key to successful cooking – it broadens your horizons as a chef. I try to incorporate as many Canadian-produced ingredients as possible. But this was the first time that I got a chance to get up-close-and-personal with so many of these amazing foods.
TL: What was the most interesting ingredient to which you were introduced?
DS: I would have to say the bullhead seaweed in Victoria – that was completely new for me. I am looking forward to getting some into the kitchen at Le Bremner.
TL: What was your favourite experience?
Chuck Hughes: I would have to say it was in Victoria when we were out at sea and eating sea urchin right on the boat, fresh out of the ocean.
DS: I loved Salt Spring Island. It was different from anywhere I had been in Canada.
Barbecued fig and cardamom muffins
⅓ cup + 2 tbsp olive oil
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 cup almond flour
⅔ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp orange juice
1 cup crème fraîche, plus extra for garnish
10 figs (4 chopped, 6 halved)
Grease 12 ramekins or muffin tray with 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil.
In large bowl, whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs, remaining olive oil, orange juice and crème fraîche. Fold in chopped figs.
Pour wet mixture over dry ingredients. Gently stir until dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon into greased ramekins or muffin tray. Top each muffin with half a fig, then bake in centre of 350 F (175 C) barbecue for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in centre of a muffin comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve with drizzled honey and a dollop of crème fraiche.
Makes 12 ramekins or large muffins