Skip to main content

Craig Wong, A Boy and His Sansaire

Meet Craig Wong. If you have been living under a rock you may not have heard of  Patois, his Jamaican Chinese restaurant here in the fine city of Toronto. There isn't a "best of" list that he hasn't made since opening under one year ago and one of the things he is becoming increasingly renowned for is his brunch. I know, I know, Anthony Bourdin claims that brunch is only a way for the kitchen to use up the weeks leftovers to serve to hung over hipsters before it all goes bad but at Patois, this couldn't be further from the truth. His brunch menu relies on creative twists on classic dishes with everything made fresh for a menu that is truly a stand alone affair, with nary a repurposed leftover to be found.

Craig makes a mean fried chicken and I used to think that his fried chicken with Hong Kong Waffles was my favourite thing until I had the Patois Eggs Benny.

Photo: Patois

You wouldn't think that Hollandaise covered poached eggs perched on two cocktail sized beef patties and some jerk mortadella would work but, somehow, it does. It's just that simple - BAM- one day the fried chicken is the only thing I have eyes for and the next, the eggs benny become my new obsession.

I went there for my birthday brunch and Craig made a 5 spice Porchetta Sandwich with Crispy cracklin, rapini and a thick smear of garlic sauce in my honour so, of course, I had to have it.
New favourite.
Midway through my giant sandwich, he brought out a plate of Jerk Chicken Chilaquiles - he and I share a passion for chiliaquiles- and now I feel like I am cheating on the porchetta. It never ends.

Okay, full disclosure here: Craig Wong is a friend. He is married to Ivy Lam, an amazing makeup artist who has worked with me for years. I attended their wedding, I intend to be referred to as "auntie Carole" when their 6 kids come along and I love the big boy chef pants off of the guy. I think this is one of the reasons I have never done a proper "review" of Patois. I feel too close to the place and don't want to be accused of nepotism or favouritism or some other ism so I have never gotten around to properly sharing the place on the blog but trust me, even if I didn't know Craig from a hole in the ground, I would still lie awake in bed, craving his crispy nori green beans, jerk fried rice and the pickled watermelon that he serves alongside the fried chicken. Okay, that sounds kind of pervy but there are no hidden euphemisms there - I really do love his actual crispy nori green beans.

we both clean up pretty nicely, no?

So, I have been going insane with my sous vide shenanigans and I also know that Craig is all about the sous vide as well, seeing that after graduating from The Institut Paul Bocuse  in France, he worked at Fat Duck in London, training under one of the foremost experts on sous vide, Heston Blumenthal. It made sense that I was going to want to pick his brain about this cooking method and when Sansaire said they were sending me one of their sous vide immersion heaters, I knew exactly what to do with it:

I handed it over to Craig.

So far, he has been busy trying to perfect a sous vide porchetta so that is what the Sansaire has been doing during the week, for the most part and then, on Sunday, Craig is using it for their poached eggs. He said that having the Sansaire in the kitchen has totally streamlined their brunch service and now that he has it, he can't imagine going without it. The porchetta is still a work in progress and once he finds the perfect time/temp/weight/volume formula, he plans to finish it by deep frying it quickly to get the perfect exterior. - it will be the perfect marriage between the two tools, each allowing the other to do the job it does best. He looks forward to that day when he will be able to let the Sansaire work it's magic and cook the pork while he is busy doing other things as opposed to the high maintenance process of oven roasting it, requiring manpower and close attention, which isn't always possible in a busy kitchen.

They have also been doing lots of menu testing and have had a good amount of success with root vegetables, loving the way that they retain their shape, keeping really nice, crisp edges. They punch out small rounds of say, potatoes or sweet potatoes, seal them up with butter, some thyme and some garlic and cook them at lower temperatures than they can attempt by conventional methods. Craig tole me loves how the flavours are more intense with sous vide:

"It's almost like it's seasoned internally, rather than just seasoned on the surface"

I felt very smart when he agreed with me that when you sous vide a potato, because are you are not adding any additional moisture to the food during cooking, it is kind of dryer. This means that it gets a much nicer crust on it when you then fry it after - like when making home fries, for example. I like it when we get all sciencey and I really like it when I come up with a conclusion that turns out to be correct.

When you sous vide meat or fish, you see a noticeable difference in the size and appearance of the cooked food due to the fact that moisture is retained and there is much less shrinkage than you experience with other cooking methods. I wondered if that is something that matters in a professional kitchen and Craig assured me that it is, indeed, important:

"We sell based on volumes, and as much as we want to go by weight, because thats how we pay for our food, we sell by volume because that's what makes a customer happy. The yield is what they care about. They don't care whether it's 8ounce starting weight, they care about whether it's 8 ounces cook weight - what they find on their plate"

"It gives us a chance to cook things to the degree that we want it and then to flash finish it, whether thats in a hot pan, with a searzall, whether it be with different tools that we have in the kitchen"

the Sansaire, hard at work keeping the perfectly cooked eggs warm during brunch service
We talked about the whole idea of a portable immersion heater vs the traditional, all in one sous vide bath unit and he really loves that this heater is small, it takes up very little room in his kitchen, he can use a variety of pots and other vessels as his water bath, making it much more versatile. We both agreed that not only is it a wonderful tool in the hands of an experienced chef, but it's actually a great tool in the kitchen of the reluctant home cook who lacks confidence, especially when it comes to cooking proteins. Let's face it, anyone can throw a boneless chicken breast into a ziplock with a pat of butter, some salt, a sprig of thyme and set the temperature and the timer and walk away and end up with a perfectly cooked piece of meat every time. It's comforting to know that, as long as you pay attention to the temperature of the water bath and the minimum and maximum times that each food item can remain in that water bath, you can't screw it up.

So far, so good. He is loving the Sansaire and I will keep checking in with him to see what he is doing with it and maybe, if we are really lucky, I can wrangle a recipe out of him in the near future.

Until then, I give you Hey Chef, with Craig Wong of Patois:

Popular Posts