I’m a groupie. Not for rock stars or actors or even authors (well, maybe for Ken Bruen and Joyce Carol Oates and the Hard Case Crime writers), but for chefs. Toronto’s Jamie Kennedy is one I’ve been stalking for years. He’s a co-founder of the local chapter of the Slow Food movement, and his commitment to environmental issues, organic agriculture, and local producers is legendary. A decade ago, when I had a steady gig reviewing restaurants for Toronto Life magazine, Kennedy owned the sublime JK ROM, the restaurant at the Royal Ontario Museum. After that well-loved spot became a casualty of the museum’s ambitious renovation plan, the chef opened a new spot downtown.
The Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar is a perfect tapas restaurant. It’s only slightly larger than a cubbyhole, with tables for two lit by candles and barstool perches for those too tired (or hungry) to wait for a table. If you’re not familiar with Ontario vintages, this is one of the finest places to get an education: wines are available in half-size glasses, all the better for sampling. Ask the staff what distinguishes an Ontario Riesling from an Alsatian one, and you’re likely to get a taste of each along with an explanation.
When I told the server that I had celiac disease, she disappeared with my menu. A few minutes later she returned and handed it back to me. I opened the folded page and saw that the entire thing had been annotated in ballpoint pen. Dishes that were not available in a gluten-free version were crossed out, while potential modifications to others were written in. The server went over the menu with me in detail, pointing out potential problems with cross-contamination. I ended up with tapas-sized plates of asparagus with poached egg and pine nuts, tender duck confit, mushroom ragout, and blackberry sorbet.
I’ve been back to the Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar several times, and have had a menu annotated for me on each visit. I’ve also been to the restaurant with friends who suffer from lactose intolerance and food allergies, and have seen the staff lavish the same care that they do with celiacs.
Sorry, Chef Kennedy – you can’t shake this groupie.
Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar [address] 9 Church Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada [tel] 416-362-1957 [web] www.jkkitchens.com