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Dyan Solomon, right, is a Montreal-based chef and restaurateur.
Olive and Gourmando: The Cookbook by Dyan Solomon.
Mushroom mac ‘n’ cheese from Olive and Gourmando.
Our cookbook of the week is Olive + Gourmando: The Cookbook by Montreal-based chef and restaurateur Dyan Solomon. To try a recipe from the book, check out: Mikey’s citrus french toast , mushroom mac ‘n’ cheese , and pecan, chocolate and bourbon cake .
With disarming honesty and a sense of humour, chef Dyan Solomon describes her Montreal restaurant Olive + Gourmando as “definitely not a concept, just an organic series of happy mistakes and general fumbling.”
When she and business partner Eric Girard opened the corner café in Old Montreal more than 20 years ago, they were prepared for a progression. First a bakery selling coffee, homey pastries and country loaves, then an expansion into considered daytime food. What they didn’t anticipate, though, was that their gradually cultivated non-concept would set off ripples.
Long after the transition from bakery to restaurant was complete, their original pastry table — “smack dab in the middle of it” — remained. The illogical but endearing feature became a hallmark, one that inspired an onslaught of similar sweets tables wedged into small restaurants.
“Ironically, now Olive is a concept — especially in Montreal … I would love to take credit for a concept but that would be way too intelligent and organized,” Solomon laughs. “Eric and I were kids (ages 25 and 30 respectively) and we opened this thing. It’s evolved so much. I think we’re very adaptable — that’s part of our success. We just kept going with it, running with it as our neighbourhood changed around us. As Montreal has changed.”
Girard and Solomon met while working together at Toqué! — the famed Québécois restaurant — and set out to pour the same amount of creativity and care into “ordinary” daytime dishes as they had upscale gastronomic ones. Fittingly, in her first book — Olive + Gourmando: The Cookbook (KO Éditions, 2019) — Solomon gives salads, sandwiches and soups top billing, followed by (generally more involved) all-star plates, sweets and refreshments.
A balance of straightforward and complex, the classics take precedence in the collection of more than 150 recipes. There’s the #24 — a Vietnamese-inspired noodle bowl that started as an ad hoc offering for former regular Jake Gyllenhaal and became a menu mainstay — and a late ‘90s Cajun chicken sandwich that was so legendary Bono stood in line to eat not just one, but two in a sitting.
Vibrant flavours and unassuming decadence — qualities on full display in the accompanying recipes, which Solomon suggested with Valentine’s Day in mind — are defining characteristics. With colourful variations on staples like homemade ricotta, and an assortment of sauces and pastes designed to enhance everyday cooking, it’s also an invitation to explore.
“A cookbook is fun but it’s also meant to inspire,” says Solomon, adding that through the book, it was important for her to share a piece of heritage. “It’s very satisfying to tell your story and to share all of the kinds of things that have gone on in a restaurant that’s been alive for 20 years. It’s rare to be a restaurant and stay in business that long. We’ve amassed a lot of stories, a lot of employees, a lot of ex-employees and a lot of recipes.”
A reverence for the people who have contributed to Olive + Gourmando is as central to the book as Solomon’s thoughtful approach to ingredients and composition. Portraits of prep cooks, project managers, bakers and chefs appear throughout, and recipe headnotes tell the stories of people past and present who helped bring the dishes into being.
“(It was) a moment to really take the time to give a correct ode to all the employees in our business, because a business is nothing without its employees. I really believe that, and I’ve always very strongly believed that,” says Solomon. “I have a very deep bond with my staff. They are a huge part of our success. They’re the fabric. They’re what makes it interesting. They’re everything for me.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020