Me and the food business

This week at my 5 à 7 group (Bible study and prayer group meeting in a home), I received a compliment on my cooking, featured weekly in this venue.  “You should start a restaurant, Ted.”

While I always appreciate the intent of this comment, I am never tempted in this direction for these particular reasons:  1) To make outstanding food it takes hours of prep work.  No restauranteur simply buys the best of Costco prepared foods and warms them up for their customers.  Working with the best ingredients you create within a culinary tradition – French cooking with lots of butter, Italian with attention to the vegetables.  Without a doubt the tradition that I would draw on would involve meat.  There are a half dozen meat dishes that I do well and then there are a bunch of casserole, one-dish comfort foods that mostly draw on my smoked sausage as a star ingredient.  If you start with the best ingredients and you don’t mess it up along the way somehow then the result will please the palate.  All of my cooking is a labour of love, which starts at the fact that I like eating this kind of food.  But would I cook to earn a living?  Unqualified no.  2) Montreal is a city of so many good restaurants and yet on any given night you can visit one and find only one or two tables occupied.  I always do the math if I’m eating in an empty restaurant.  Is my $40 or $50 restaurant bill enough to pay the rent in this place, let alone earn a living for the owner?  I’m afraid the answer to that is another “no”.  My restaurant would undoubtedly be one of these that fails to make ends meet.

One of my favourite supermarkets in Montreal featured grain-fed capons in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.  I was fortunate to buy one and bring it home, where Carol set to Googling to find if that bird was a small turkey or a large chicken (yes, to the latter).  Then, as I so often do these days, I went to the internet and came across a restaurant recipe for cooking the capon that I thought made a lot of sense.  In fact, this chef-owned restaurant in Manhattan had produced an entire 400 page cookbook that may possibly cover everything that an aspiring copy-cat restaurant owner would need to put on their menu to have a restaurant serving outstanding food.  The chef owner, Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune Restaurant, also wrote an autobiography which I recently finished reading (see my Goodreads for a few of my comments).  This afternoon I set to browsing through the Prune restaurant cookbook and by the time I completed this I was psychically exhausted from all the detail of running an outstanding restaurant.  I’d counsel anyone who would have their own restaurant to read these two books authored by Gabrielle Hamilton. At one point in her life Gabrielle pursued an education in writing as a way out of the cooking business.  While it turned out that this was not to be her calling, she put her writing skills to work in describing her own life and the result is an education in food and its preparation (and much more).

The pictures in today’s Sunday blog are some self portraits that I happen to like, taken in mid-December 2008.  The equipment is all washed up and I am bundled up against the cold, as it was my preference, for the good of food I was preparing, to work in a chilly shop – just above 0 degrees Celsius.  I’m nostalgic for those days, but it’s a comfortable sort of nostalgia that knows I’ll never be going back down that road of having my own shop.

Market and me

Pen & Ink sketch of Kitchener Farmers Market

This pen and ink print signed “Paquette 72” hung on the wall just above some Group of Seven prints in my parents dining room. It was well placed near the table where we celebrated special occasions as the meat business that the Dettweiler family has been associated with for several generations was founded on taking our meat to market and we still continue doing that.

My father remembers his earliest market experiences at the Preston market.  Sales began with the ringing of a bell at, I’m going to say, 6 am.  Seems early, but in that era the first sales would already be lined up for waiting purchasers and with the bell the money could change hands.  Farmer vendors like my grandfather had work to do at home and in the day of early morning markets they may have been back home by 9 am.  If you weren’t an early riser in that day, you did not get to buy the meat and produce brought to market by hard-working farmers.  At St. Catharines market, if you want Dettweiler’s sausage in the 21 century, you can come as late as 11 am – but no later, as at that hour I will already be packing up in order to get on with the work of my Niagara-on-the-Lake deliveries.

My father would make deliveries of meat after the brief market hours, perhaps to customers in the neighbouring town of Hespeler and certainly in the other direction from home to Breslau customers.  When he eventually built his own meat shop, maybe 1/4 mile down the road from the family farm, he called his business “Midway Meat Market”.  This name took advantage of the name of the Breslau telephone exchange.  When you picked up your telephone in those days you didn’t need to know any numbers.  You spoke to the operator and asked for the “Midway” exchange and then asked to be connected to the meat market there.  Presumably, picking up the handset and specifying “Midway Meat Market” was all it took to be connected to my dad in those days.  There you could order a pound of bacon, a nice chuck roast and 2 pounds of pork sausage and my father could arrange to deliver it to you at your home.

If you would like to order some of Mennonite smoked sausage these days you can contact us by emailing “info” followed by the domain name of the website you are presently looking at (which is our family name) and the “.ca” ending of Canadian domains.  We also have a store on Victoria Street, just across the Grand River from Kitchener and the phone number for this Breslau, Ontario location is the exact same one we have had since the day that they discontinued telephone operators for local calls.

Many things have changed over the years, but you can still get quality meat from the Dettweilers which will make your meal times to be special occasions.

God has no problem with that

Thinking of a title for my Sunday blog this week, which must be prepared this Saturday night as tomorrow is not only a day of rest in the morning for me and Carol, it is an exciting day of choir work as we audition over 50 singers for Montreal Gospel Choir.  Exciting season-beginning event each year.

So….what of the title, “God doesn’t have any problem with that”.  Well, if God were God On High, and also Prosperity God, wishing, even willing my material well-being, I know he would have a problem with the way I conduct my business. This Prosperity God would be ashamed to be associated with an affair like mine which refuses to progress and finds itself (parce que, l’affair dans cette affair, c’est MOI) doing shoddy things like lugging home leftover product wrapped up with ice like I was some bag-lady moving her worldly possessions. At the June market I reached my target of a complete sell-out in spite of having significant un-ordered product.  When this happens, I’m elated the whole trip home.  Today I had little extra product available at the outset (except in Garlic-smoked sausage) so I didn’t try to promote extra sales.  Result:  I didn’t get extra sales and had several no shows – people not claiming their orders.

[Note added 6 weeks after original date of this blog:  watch this 6 minute presentation on the effects of inner voices from Alain de Botton’s School of Life.  You could say that my rather confusing blog “God has no problem with that” is about me listening to my inner voice condemning me about the way I do business.  Fortunately, God is to me the comforting, encouraging inner voice and more than that, God specializes in redeeming bad situations, at least that is my experience.  Read on and see what happens when I’m faced with more leftover product than I can carry and a rapidly approaching deadline if I am to reach the last Saturday train back to Montreal.]

What did the God that I know do?  (Btw, He is Suffering Servant God and God Immanuel, too).  This God sent an absolute angel of a taxi man: patient, caring, good driver, very professional, a listener.  The flat rate from Burlington to Union Station downtown Toronto was nothing miraculous, but I tipped him as if he was Jesus Christ meeting Abraham.  God can get me more of the tipping money and he all-the-time-Jehovah-Jireh does (that’s my life experience).  But still, I’m lugging a hockey-bag-sized ensemble of 4 X 5 kg garlic sausage plus ice bag to keep the product chilled, plus insulation to keep the ice from totally melting, a vinyl sign used between ice and product to keep the whole thing from becoming sausage soup until I got on the chill train. ‘Le tout’ bound together and made carry-able, but not elegantly, with the jib halyard that I salvaged from the items in the rummage shed at the Lake of Bays dump several years ago.  Fer shame, Ted!

I am presently returning from a business trip – please don’t imagine me meeting clients like a traditional businessman might on a business trip.  That is what I do – meet my clients – but we’re not talking of some future sale, we’re handing over product that they have ordered from me by phone or email.  If I did it every month I might really hate what I do, but I do it 4 times per year (go to market) and it refreshes the majority of what I do in my business which is work by myself in a cooler, packaging sausage while staring at the box liners hanging in front of my stainless steel work table. I don’t exactly hate that either, as it is menial work which gives a person time to think great thoughts, and the one day per week nature of packaging is about the appropriate healthy level for doing that sort of thing.

God has no problem with that.  God can use that, even when I’m ashamed of myself for my shabby show.  God is ‘in it’.  Like ‘with me’ – Immanuel.  God doesn’t desire to put me in a situation where I don’t feel much respect for my business self, but he doesn’t say “I’m out of here” or reinforce my negative self condemnation, he sends his angels to carry me.  Sometimes the taxi dispatcher sends Jesus.

Glory to God, in the highest!

And peace, on earth.

Good will…



btw, the bag-lady worldly possessions ensemble got delivered to my faithful Cornwall customer (and perhaps himself a double agent school teacher / part-time angel) who was over-the-moon for how it worked out in his favour and was ready for me to deliver like this all-the-time.  That would be putting the Lord, Thy God to a foolish test (in my eyes, anyways).  This one’s a one-off, kind of cool-in-the-end experience that started with me wallowing in misery.  And praise God, for His ways are right.  But Via Rail delivery? Not happening…..more than once.

Harold Teaches Steak

These comments about choosing a good steak are a combination of my own experience buying steaks at my local supermarket ever since I’ve been married and the wisdom of my father, Harold, who cut a steak or two in his day.

The first thing my father taught me (I just listened when he spoke) was that the best steak is a Porterhouse.  Now, if you go into your local supermarket or restaurant you are not going to see this name on the label or on the menu as this steak is simply called a T-bone.  That’s all right, let other people buy the T-bones – I’m going to choose the T-bone that is a Porterhouse cut every time.  In the image you’ll see two steaks exactly as I found them cello-packed on their styrofoam tray.  I drew in black line approximately where the one steak ended and the other began.  The steak at the top of the image has it’s rather large bone at the top, while the steak at the bottom of my image has its bone toward the bottom

What is a Porterhouse steak? It is a steak from the hindquarter of the beef, from the loin that has the T-shaped bone but the vertical part of the T is much shorter than the true T-bones and the horizontal part of the T is quite large.  But the best way of identifying is not so much the bone, but the tenderloin.  The vertical part of the T separates the tenderloin portion from the – well, the rest of the steak.  If the T-bone had no tenderloin at all and no bone we’d call it a strip loin – that is the tenderloin has been stripped off – to be sold plus cher as filet mignon.  Going back to identifying the Porterhouse steak among the T-bones.  The Porterhouse has a much higher percentage of tenderloin than the T-bone does.  In my image the steak at the top has its tenderloin on the right while the steak on the bottom has its tenderloin on the left.  I’d estimate that the steak at the top has about 40% tenderloin while the steak at the bottom of the image has about 35% tenderloin (which is a higher percentage than your average T-bone steak).  A sure way of determining which side is the tenderloin side and which is not is that the side that is NOT tenderloin will have some fat on the outside while the tenderloin side will never have fat on the outside.  That fat on the outside makes the non-tenderloin side (a strip loin steak) pretty enjoyable too – I know my dad would never despise some nicely seasoned fat on the outside of a steak or roast and I, well, I am my father’s son in that respect.

The tenderloin part of the steak is the most tender.  You can take your fork and easily pull it apart without needing to cut it with a knife.  When you are placing your Porterhouse on your barbecue – put the tenderloin side away from the heat as it doesn’t need to be cooked as much as the not-tenderloin part of the start.

When choosing your steak try to optimize the amount of tenderloin and then look for fat marbling in the steak – that is where there is a pocket of fat surrounded by lean meat or sometimes a line or streak of fat between the lean.  Fat helps tenderize meat (which is why that round steak needs some marinating as that cut of beef will never have fat marbled through it) and, when barbecuing the fat drops on the hot coal or metal and the smoke produced gives it that barbecued flavour.

You know, recently I’ve become quite dissatisfied with the lack of flavour in the steaks that I am buying at the supermarket.  I don’t believe that they age the beef at all.  A week hanging in a cooler before being cut would help it a lot.  Maybe I need to go on a quest to find a butcher who will sell me steak that tastes like something more than my Montreal steak spice.

I will start my find- an-alternative-to-the-supermarket for steak tonight as that is what is on our menu for this Friday night.

I have MUCH more to pass on about steak that I learned by virtue of being a butcher’s son.  Enough for more blogs in the future, I’m sure.