Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I like to hear stories of success that come from hard work and long hours spent building something that stands the test of time. These are stories that inspire me and motivate me towards my own successes. They fill me with hope.

I heard a saying once, "The harder I work, the luckier I get." Sometimes you have to look hard to see sacrifice in people's lives, and other times it just slaps you in the face and screams for your recognition. One success story borne of hard work and sacrifice I have seen recently is the story behind La Casa Ouzeria Restaurant in Penticton.

Jack & Jackie Portalaki emigrated together from the beautiful Island of Crete, Greece thirty-six years ago and settled in British Columbia. It was here in Penticton where they raised their three children, Kosta, Minas and Eftalia. As a family, in 1996 they opened the small quaint, cozy restaurant La Casa Ouzeria. They prepared and served traditional Greek and Italian specialties and did well in their original location. They did so well in fact, that it wasn't long until they needed a larger venue.

With the support of many loyal customers, La Casa Ouzeria expanded to their new location, 1090 Main Street. It is one of three Greek restaurants I have been to in Penticton and in my opinion it is the best. The Greek food is traditional and home made. Great attention is given to the consistency of the food produced under the watchful eyes of every one of the Portalakis and great pride is put into running the restaurant.

Featured above is the Ouzeria Platter which gives a sampling of the many Greek items on the extensive menu. Calamari, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Dolmades, Souvlaki and lamb chops are the main components of the platter and it is fleshed out with a few other items.

Also featured above are Jackie and Minas Portalaki - mother and son - who, together with the rest of the Portalaki family drive La Casa into the future.

Here's a link to La Casa:

Thursday, November 15, 2007


This is a pictorial review of some of the world's great chefs.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Over the past couple of years I have heard much about Brazilian barbeque. And what makes Brazilian barbeque different than any other style of barbeque you ask? Dancing girls! Well, not just dancing girls...there are many other things that go along with it...but the dancing girls definitely make it different than your run of the mill chicken and rib place! All kidding aside however, everything is different about Brazilian barbeque and I highly recommend trying it out when you have a serious hankering for a belly full of meat!

In a nutshell (a Brazil nut shell, that is) Brazilian barbeque consists of a large variety of meats seasoned only with coarse sea salt that are slow smoked over a churrasco (Brazilian barbeque). These cuts of meat are walked about the churrascaria (restaurant) by rodizios (servers who serve in this style) and are carved at your table. Guests can have as much of any kind of meat as they like, as often as they like. And the meat keeps on coming until you are either full or you burst...which ever comes first.

Several cuts of beef, pork, chicken, lamb and sausages are prepared at a churrascaria. Usually the meat parade is preceded by a trip to a well laid out salad bar that includes both hot and cold items that are both common and uncommon. But the real reason one goes to a churrascaria is to eat as much meat as humanly possible!

I went to a Brazilian churrascaria this summer in Ontario. The Carnaval Brazilian Grill is located at 160 York Blvd. in Richmond Hill. I was really surprised at how much fun this place was because I wasn't expecting live entertainment as well as great barbeque. Brazilian dancers put on a fun show on the weekends as a Brazillian duet plays live Latin music. One of the musicians doubles as a Flaminco dancer too! If you come away with the urge to run out and buy a ticket to Brazil...don't're just catching the vibe!

Another highlight of the evening was the Caipirinha. Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail made with Cachaça, sugar and lime. Cachaça is Brazil's most common distilled alcoholic beverage. Like rum, it is made from sugarcane. The Caipirinha is very much like a Margarita, and considering that Margaritas are my favorite thing to drink in the whole world...I was very happy!

I have to say that
The Carnaval Brazilian Grill was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed my evening there. The festive atmosphere, great music and lively entertainment were a pleasant bonus on top of the great barbeque. For a look at this cool restaurant, follow this link:

Beach volleyball anyone?!


Several years ago I wrote for a local newspaper that was distributed throughout the North Shore, The Sunshine Coast and The Sea to Sky region of British Columbia. It was a pretty cool gig which gave me complete freedom over what I wrote and made me a bit of a "celebrity chef" in the area. The paper was called THE VOICE and it has since folded, but I thought I would revisit cooking with beer for you today by pulling one of my original columns out of my archives. This is exactly how the piece appeared in the paper complete with a rippin' bear bread recipe that was well known for being too good to resist.

While I was Executive Chef of The Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company, I developed this recipe to serve to our guests. I later developed an open window bakery where this loaf - and other amazing baked goodies - were offered for sale. This loaf was always the top seller and was the favorite bread of many.

It is a quick bread in that it is raised with soda rather than yeast. That makes it a close cousin of soda bread but in this case, the beer gives it a bit of a boost by raising it as well as giving it a shot in the arm where flavor is concerned. is the column as it appeared in THE VOICE as well as my Ale and Cheddar Loaf recipe!

Now You’re Cooking!

with Mark Livingston

Ninety-nine Slices Of Beer On the Wall

A few months ago, I was in the LDB in Whistler Village Square searching for the perfect nut brown ale in which to braise some lamb shanks for that evening’s dinner special. Being handsomely clad in my chef’s whites, I guess I appeared to be the only cooking authority present and was approached by two “mature” women with a question about cooking. They wanted to know which type of wine was best to cook with.

This is kind of like asking a librarian to recommend a good book - it just ain’t that easy! But, after a few queries about what they were cooking, I was able to narrow the field to a few varieties that would suit their needs.

Since my cookbook, “Contemporary Brewhouse Cooking” had just hit the book shelves that week, I asked them if they had ever thought of cooking with beer. With eyebrows raised to the ceiling, they came back with an impassioned, "No! You can’t cook with beer!”

The truth is that beer can do as much for food as wine - or any other spirit for that matter - by adding its own unique characteristics to a dish, while bringing out the best in the other ingredients. In Europe, great chefs and cooks alike utilize beer as a principal ingredient in a wide variety of dishes, and as a flavoring agent in others. Many of these dishes have become staples on European menus.

In Canada, the lack of full-flavored, full-bodied ales and lagers has been the principal factor in disqualifying beer as a cooking liquid. Until recently, most beers we have been forced to drink have been little more than insipid fizz in pretty packaging. But thanks to the revolution of hand-crafted, micro-brewed beers, that has all changed!.

Available to Canadian consumers today, is a variety of exquisite, flavorful ales and lagers that are brewed to such a high standard that it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish them from their European cousins. And the good news is that most of these brews can be successfully incorporated into your everyday cooking.

Cooking with beer is quite simple. Add beer to soups, stews, chilis, sauces, pot roasts and any braised meat dishes. For rich, robust dishes, try stout or porter. Seafood, whether steamed or marinated in beer, responds well to a tip of the bottle. Choose a light ale or lager that isn't highly hopped for delicately flavored seafood.

When mixed with flour, beer gives off one of the most wonderful aromas in the food world. For this reason, spill a little beer into cakes, pie dough, sweet and savory batters, and especially, beer bread.

Ale & Cheddar Loaf

This is, without a doubt, the best beer bread you will ever taste. You’d better bake a double batch whenever you make it, because just like Speedy Gonzalez, it’s gonna go quick muchacho!


3 cups all purpose flour

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

1 tbsp debittered brewer’s yeast (optional)*

½ tbsp salt

1 ½ cups amber ale (Granville Island’s Gastown Amber is a good chioce)

1 ½ cups grated old cheddar cheese

¼ cup melted butter

*Debittered brewer’s yeast is available at some micro-breweries. It is included in this recipe as a flavoring agent, not a leavening agent.


1. Preheat oven to 350oF. Grease and flour a 8 X 4 inch loaf pan. Set aside until needed.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add ale and ½ of the cheese, stirring until just mixed. (If adding debittered brewer’s yeast, combine with ale prior to adding.)

3. Turn batter out onto a lightly floured surface and shape into an oblong lump. Quickly transfer
to loaf pan. Lightly press batter into pan ensuring even coverage over it’s bottom. Drizzle with melted butter and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. ( Insert toothpick to test doneness.)

4. When baked, sprinkle with remaining cheese and return to oven for 5 minutes. Cool and serve.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


You know...I was thinking today about all of the things I've done in my life where I have excelled. I'm one to follow my interests, and there's one ingredient that has taken my interests to great heights. That ingredient is passion.

I've had many interests in my life. Cooking, karate, gardening, decorating, bagpipes and business have been just a few. I've accomplished quite a bit in each and every one of these pursuits as well. But, I realized today during a moment of introspection that although these interests are all very different in nature, I approached them all in the same way. I approached them all with great passion.

Passion is what drives us forward and makes us take hold of something and wring from it all that we can possibly get. Passion makes us want to consume something and take it in so deeply that we make it our own. Passion makes us want to know something intimately.

Without passion, music is nothing more than simple mathematics; just a bunch of notes played rhythmically in time without any emotional involvement. Without passion, art is nothing more than copying, stroke for stroke, what the eye sees just as it sees it. Without passion, dance is nothing more than patterned movements in time. And without is mere sustenance.

I think I could probably live on boiled potatoes and water. Maybe a few other boiled vegetables would ensure complete dietary health, but I think I could live on a steady diet of simple and uninteresting food. But I ask you...where's the flavor? Where's the snap? Where's the pop?

I like to approach cooking with as much passion as I can for two reasons. First of all, I just have it in me. I love cooking. I don't think you can substitute genuine interest for one which requires effort. It simply must exist. Second, I love to feed people and blow them away with my cuisine. It pleases me to see someone's face light up because of something I have made for them. Watching someone take the first taste of something I have cooked is sort of an exchange for me. It's intimate.

Food is my paint and the plate is my canvas. Food is my instrument. Food is my dancing partner. And it is with real passion that I paint my picture, play my instrument or twirl my lady on the floor. Anything less would be...Kraft Dinner!

Life is one big passion play in my opinion, and although not everything in our lives reaches us on our most passionate level, we must try to have even one thing in our lives which we can embrace closely and make it a true love. We must have something to take us to that place where nobody else can go and where nothing else can take us. I'm lucky because I have more than one interest now and I have had many in the past.

Remember, we must be true to ourselves before we can be true to others. That's not a selfish motto.



While in Toronto last weekend, I went out for dinner to an insanely busy Italian restaurant on Yonge Street. If it hadn't been for all of the people waiting for a table (3 deep at the bar), I could see Tony Soprano and the boys coming in to this place to talk business while sitting down to enjoy a nice plate of pasta, some sausages and a couple of bottles of wine. Actually...I would have liked that...but Tony prefers a much quieter place to talk I guess them's the breaks!

Grazie Ristorante is located at 2373 Yonge Street in the heart of downtown Toronto at Yonge and Eglington. It is a casual Italian eatery that offers the fare you would expect to see at any respectable Italian Ristorante, and it is laid down in simplicity and in style.

The menu is broken into antipasti, zuppa, pizzas, entrees and desserts. The menu offers a nice balance of pastas, seafood and meats prepared in a variety of cooking styles. Grilling, roasting, searing and baking center of the plate items adds to the variety of tastes and textures available from the busy kitchen. Veal, chicken salmon, prawns, mussels, clams, sausage and beef are all vying for your attention on this menu, and it's tough deciding on just one thing; especially since the smells coming from the open kitchen pump up the volume on your appetite!

We sampled the flat bread (pizza) bruschetta. It was really nice with lots of fresh basil, garlic and fresh herbs. The Tasca and Penza were our choices for main course pastas. They were both very nice. Finally, we ended the meal with Tiramisu and the Banana Cake.

Our wine for the evening was Masi Campofiorin. It was an excellent full bodied wine. The glasses used at Grazie for wine are rock glasses rather than stemmed glassware. That's the Italian way I suppose. Hey...who wants a sissy little wine glass when you can have a nice solid rock glass in your hand instead? Besides...they're much better for throwing at people; they hurt more!

Grazie was a blast and I recommend it for a great meal in an exciting atmosphere. They don't take reservations by phone, so it's first come first serve. Unless you make them an offer they can't refuse!


Here's a link to Grazie Ristorante:


A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to cook a dinner for some customers of mine in their home in Penticton, British Columbia. These customers have become friends of mine, and I wanted to do something nice for them to show them my appreciation for the friendship they have extended to me over the past year or so. In my book, we have people come into our lives sometimes that make us appreciate the quiet, unassuming moments of exchange between us and them, and we come away with a profound feeling of connection. Those are life's "golden nuggets."

This couple - Rick and Gail Riddall - are food and wine lovers. They enjoy cooking and dining out. They also have pretty good taste in wine. Like me, living in the Okanagan has afforded them the opportunity to drink some great local wines as well as some amazing international wines. They are always seeking new experiences and are eager to find wines that stand out from the crowd.

Personally, I am relatively new to the wonderful world of wine. I have really only been drinking wine for four years and much of that has to do with the fact that I am knee deep in vineyards and wineries here in the Okanagan. But, I have drank a lot of wine in those four years (hic!) and I have a slight knowledge of them. Enough to know what I like and dislike at least.

As I cooked for Rick and Gail, we drank a very nice bottle of Zinfandel. It was the "7 Deadly Zins" which is produced by Michael and David Phillips out of Graton, California. I am somewhat new to Zinfandels, but this wine is killer, and I'm smart enough to know a good thing when I taste it. Rick and Gail loved this wine and were amazed at the full body and the richness of flavor. It is a smooth, easy drinking wine that is fruit forward, slightly sweet with an ever so gentle peppery finish. Very slick indeed!!

Here's a link to Michael and David:

After our Zin and a fine dinner, Rick decided to decant a bottle of Port! I was pretty stoked about this because I love Port, and the bottle that Rick was pouring was one of the best produced in the world in 1994. It was Churchill's 1994 Vinatge, and I'll tell was just too good! If I ever wished I could wring out the last drop from a bottle, this was it!

Here's a link to Churchill's:

The Riddall's neighbor came over with a wedge of Stilton cheese to pair with the Port and we had a bit of a chat about wine. Jim is a member of the Opimian society of Canada. I didn't even know what the Opimian society was until that evening, but it piqued my interest.

The Opimian Society, founded in 1973, operates as a non-profit wine purchasing cooperative and all members benefit from its nationwide purchasing power regardless of their province of residence. The society currently has about 16000 members nation wide and is open to anyone.

Here is a link to the Opimian Society:

All in all, I had a great time and drank some amazing wine and Port. Sometimes things unfold before our eyes and we realize we are "having a moment." I really like times like these and think of them as "life's golden nuggets."

More please!