Get to know a Chef: Leah Marshall Hannon, Midfield Wine Bar
Leah Marshall Hannon is part of a new guard of Toronto chefs who draws her cuisine from across the globe. It's difficult to categorize precisely the style of food she offers at Midfield because her various influences are as diverse as the wine list her dishes serve to complement.
Or maybe it's the other way around. When Midfield started as Toronto's first true wine bar, it was all meat and cheese if you wanted to eat. That was okay, but now the place is as full with people eager to try deep-fried cauliflower as it is with wine-lovers interested in a sip of something you'll never find at the LCBO.
Get to know how Leah Marshall Hannon runs her kitchen.
Did you always want to be a chef?
No. I wanted to be a hockey player. But that wasn't realistic, so I followed my other passion. Cooking. I was always very interested in food and cooking. This came from my mother who was working in kitchens as a cook herself. My siblings and I were always exposed to new exciting flavours and ingredients and my mom being a great cook made it easy to love all the food she made.
My family really congregated in the kitchen. And I started cooking for myself and my family at a young age. My mom never shooed us out of the kitchen and was always very encouraging.
When did you decide to embrace the profession?
When I was 20. I started serving at a few restaurants such as The Epicure on Queen West and another one in Parry Sound called Drew's. Serving didn't interest me whatsoever, and I soon became very curious about how the food and menu's were created and executed.
At Drew's I would always ask to make my own staff meal because I just wanted to be in the kitchen, in front of the mise en place and on the stove cooking. I felt so comfortable and empowered and knew it was what I was passionate about.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
Elegant Bistro. Haha! I don't want to intimidate people. I love creating a casual and fun dining experience. try to keep it simple and delicious with a focus on great products.
What's the biggest lesson you learned from your early kitchen experiences?
My first Chef at Fire on the East Side, who became a dear friend and mentor, taught me the saying "waste not, want not." She probably dropped that line at least half a dozen times in a shift. You'd think it would have gotten old fast but it really stuck with me over the years.
My interpretation of that saying is using every product and ingredient to its full value and true potential. Using all vegetable scraps for stocks, all bones after butchering for stocks, all stems for marinades or sauces, using whey from dairy as a dressing or to break down enzymes in meats. The list goes on, but you get the picture.
What brought you to Midfield?
Creative freedom. The owners really trust me and allow me to play around with the menu. They're very supportive and open-minded.
What cuisine excites you the most?
Spanish cuisine. It has so many different flavours, influences and techniques depending on the region and history. It's so fresh and bold and exciting. It has this great range of light and acidic to hearty and savoury.
Where do you like to source your ingredients?
Kensington Market. It really has everything. I love the variety. I have a routine when I go. Sanagan's, Hooked, House of Spices, Parola's, Cheese Magic, Blackbird, Caribbean Corner, Essence of Life, etc.
What's your favourite thing to cook on the menu and the most tedious thing?
My favourite thing to cook is the Crispy Rabbit 3 ways. The Rabbit legs are brined then confit then deep fried. Then the loin and liver and kidneys are battered and fried to order. I use the carcass for rillette and its served with a Red Pepper Rouille. And garnished with crispy garlic and honey. This dish I love because it uses every part of the animal and its such a nice bright warming dish. Great for the cold!
The most tedious is the deep fried olives. Pitting olives to order when you have to is such a pain in the ass. Then deep frying one by one... Ugh. Tasty though.
What chefs do you take inspiration from in Toronto?
Anthony Rose. He's built an empire of amazing restaurants and did every single one so well. He inspires me to do the same one day.
Jamie Kennedy. He's so talented and knowledgable and continues to make incredible, consistent food.
And lastly Michael Staatlander. I know he's not in Toronto, but I've always been in awe of this man. His care and appreciation for the food and where it comes from should be so important to every chef and every person for that matter.
Where are a few places you went out to eat in 2014 that impressed you?
What's one thing every person should know how to make?
What do you like to do for fun when you're not in the kitchen?
I like to hang out with friends. Cook with my partner. Walk my poochie. And when I can, take off to Parry Sound, where my family is from. It's beautiful up there.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS
Most underrated ingredient? Good salt
Best culinary tool? My kitchen Aid mixer. So versatile. And a work horse.
A (non-Toronto) chef that inspires you? April Bloomfield
Favourite Toronto restaurant? Foxley. Tom Thai is the hardest working chef.
What's one dish you can't live without? Breakfast. I love eggs.
What would people be surprised to find in your fridge? Lots of organic nuts, beans and grains.
What's one food trend that needs to end? For the love of God -- tacos. I love them. But it's a bit much.
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