Bob Blumer set out to launch his new Food Network Canada show World's Weirdest Restaurants with a pop-up restaurant at The Drake Hotel. The food was inventive and fun, with a few surprises thrown in.
We caught up with Blumer before the event to talk about his new show, weird food in Toronto, and strange hats. Check out the photo gallery for a sneak peek into some of the night's fun and inventive dishes and unusual presentations. With the clips of World's Weirdest Restaurants that were shown during the meal, there's a great chance that the show will be just as fun and interesting as the food at the pop-up launch. World's Weirdest Restaurants debuts on Food Network Canada at 9 PM EST on April 4, 2012.
So what brought you to this new show idea and how does it connect to the pop-up?
Well the pop up is an opportunity to make a little noise about the show. The show idea was floated by somebody in the development department at the production company I work with, but as soon as he threw it out there, it was like “God, what a great idea!” In Glutton For Punishment, we saw all sorts of crazy restaurants in our travels and actually ended up visiting some of the ones we ended up shooting and it was just one of those ideas that you’re always looking for ideas for the next show and he said it and yeah, so it panned out just like I pictured it.
And how you think you’ve put your own spin on your new show?
I’ve now hosted three shows and the first two I created and were much more about my vision and my journey in my recipes and my challenges. In this show, I’m really the host and the tour guide. The real stars of the show are the restaurants. Its fun to take people, pull the curtain back a little bit to check these places out and just see how weird and wacky they can be.
So speaking of weird and wacky, what’s been some of the stranger things you’ve come across?
Well, there’s different categories of strange. The obvious “want to make headlines” ones are the pop-up nudist restaurant in New York where all the diners were naked, Modern Toilet in Taiwan where you ate out of miniature porcelain toilet bowls, and the izakaya just outside of Tokyo where little monkeys bring you your beers. And then there’s all sorts of other kinds of weird, lots of tiny little restaurants with these really eccentric proprietors who dress up or act things out and who don’t really think of themselves as being weird but it really is kind of weird. For example, there was this one little tea house/restaurant in Brighton, England where this woman has a whole collection of these kinetic hats that sit on her head, but they’re big hats. One has a train running around it, one’s a fishbowl, and then she puts these hats on and sings you songs. All the while they’re serving in this tiny restaurant that’s the size of this part of the room (we were in a room that was about 150-200 square feet), serving fantastic contemporary takes on old British classics. The neighbors think she’s this really interesting character, but she doesn’t think she’s running a weird restaurant, she’s just doing what she does.
Do you think any of the concepts you’ve come across would work in a Canadian context?
It’s funny because we only did two Canadian restaurants and they were both pop-ups in Vancouver. I don’t really know why there aren’t more in Canada, and at the same time, I’ve been in lots of restaurants in my day that aren’t weird but are eccentric. Maybe that’s the difference, Canada has lots of eccentric restaurants, like Au Pied du Cochon with pig’s trotter and that sort of thing. I’m thinking of a restaurant in Whitehorse that I went to with this very eccentric woman running it, and there’s a place that used to be around Toronto, but she’s sadly departed called Mimi’s breakfast joint on Bathurst. They’re all very eccentric characters, but they don’t necessarily package their restaurants as a weird restaurant.
What was your inspiration for launching the show with the pop-up?
It was funny, because I was thinking “what can I bring from these restaurants that I experienced back here to celebrate the launch of the show?” I realized that each of these restaurants has it’s own sort of world, and you can’t set up a whole restaurant here. Ultimately, I decided that I’d do something of a “greatest hits,” and we’d do one course from each of four of my favorite restaurants and create this fun night. Then I got carried away and got some props and then I tricked the people at The Drake into doing it so the food would be really good. Anthony Rose is cooking and it’s his last big event, which we didn’t know at the time. It’s really just designed as a fun night and a little taste, while you sit in one seat in Toronto, of some of the weirdness that happens around the world.
Would you like to describe some of the dishes that will be at the pop-up?
The first course is actually a pretty straight forward dish of karagi,which is Japanese deep fried chicken marinated with soy, mirin, sake and fresh ginger and then tossed with potato starch and deep fried, but with a little bit of a presentation twist. It’s pub food and that’s what izakayas are. Izakayas are really pubs that serve you little snacks and you drink lots of beer to go with the snacks. I just ate at one on Friday called DonDon Izakaya at Dundas and Bay.
The second course is a blindfolded course where everyone will be blindfolded so it’s like eating in the dark and there’s going to be a soup shooter and a deep fried croquette. The idea is to guess the flavors, where the flavors are complex and you have to really focus what the flavors really are and after we’ll reveal what everyone’s eating.
The next course is an homage to Modern Toilet, and I won’t tell you anymore. And the last course is a doughnut course. We went to a restaurant called Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, which is this funky doughnut shop and there’s a new shop in Toronto, that hasn’t opened yet, called Glory Hole, and they made some doughnuts for us.
Anything strange or weird in the Toronto scene that you’re excited about?
Apparantly there is an “in the dark restaurant” in Toronto, like our segment at New York’s in the dark restaurant. I just ate at Ursa, which is a new restaurant and it’s sort of weird in the sense that they do a healthy contemporary cuisine with mostly local and Canadian ingredients but the chef has a background in cooking for performance athletes so there’s that tweak to it in the way that he cooks. The food is all super satisfying, but there’s not lots of butter and but it’s also sort of super haute-cuisine, with a little bit of that NOMA thing, and it’s hugely successful so far. And then there’s Porchetta & Co., a restaurant that serves almost only item [porchetta sandwiches] and every once in a while, they serve porchetta on waffles.