When it comes to the art of the picnic, fresh-thinking and a side of tradition goes a long way. In the hands of Joey Restaurant Group’s executive chef Chris Mills, it is readily elevated to a celebration of something more. In keeping with the status of the restaurant group he so ably guides in the kitchen, a premium casual picnic is in order.
“Romantically, picnics mean we have time to sit and relax. Realistically, picnics mean we have time to do nothing,” says Mills with a grin. Picnics stir memories of a life rarely less busy than at present for one of Canada’s most prolific culinary talents. Fortunately, Mills takes his passions to work on a daily basis for Joey, so fresh memories are always in the making.
“When we were looking at the summer menu, we found a lot of inspiration in the picnic. Our goal was to honour the favourites and go back to basics, but with big, bold flavours at the forefront,” he says. “We’re not introducing new animals or anything, just bringing a new hit of fresh; a more healthy, contemporary approach to some of the classic picnic table favourites.”
Voted one of the 10 most beautiful British Columbians by TV Week and wearing a smile as youthful as Joey’s cadre of culinary talents, it’s easy to forget Mills is far more than a pretty face. He has been in the industry since the age of 14 and has been passionate about good food and people for a lifetime. Recognized as a Pierre Dubrulle “Rising Star” in 1995, Mills took to the global stage on the original Japanese Iron Chef in 1999, before competing against 21 of the world’s top chefs in 2001 at the renowned Bocuse d’Or competition.
All accolades aside, since joining Joey in 2005, things have only become more fulfilling for Mills. The key difference now is that his passion and vision is shared with a team that extends over 21-locations spread over four provinces and one state. Together, they have done some great things – hosting a pair of dinners for the James Beard Foundation in New York remains a highlight. No one does that alone.
Mills clearly enjoys the challenges and opportunities it presents. “Training is key. We bring our teams from across the country and it creates a great learning synergy. Some incredible ideas come out of a group that size – that’s what really moves us forward the most.”
The recipes he has created to share with Indulge readers come with no small pedigree and a comforting culinary caveat: if you are really not in the mood to cook, everything below can be found on Joey Restaurants’ summer menu.
Otherwise, slip into the summer season in fine style with some savvy picnic recipes – and one cool cocktail twist on a Tom Collins.
Gathered together in the test kitchen at Joey Bentall One, Mills draws attention to the cutting board, where a beautifully crusted bird awaits.
“When it comes to chicken or any poultry, you are looking for a story bird. Every bird tells a story, so you really want it raised and processed as well as possible. Part of what you want to look for is a nice, tight skin,” Mills explains as he inhales the aromas of picnics past. “Good roasted chicken is unbeatable.”
There is, however, a wealth of ways to take good to great. As per the aforementioned crust and Mills’ customary modesty, his Spanish paprika rub recipe is one of them. Taking the time for a 24-hour brine, trussing the bird and putting the barbecue rotisserie to use in the cooking goes a long way, too. As always, turning and basting works wonders in the final flavour and presentation departments.
Naturally, nothing says summer like salads, but the leafy mainstays wilt in comparison to true picnic-friendly champions.
Those Mills has readied might just become staples in your own picnic sideshow: a crunchy green apple coleslaw with a Tabasco kick and an organic brown and wild rice salad brimming with almonds and currants.
“It’s all about making food that keeps its freshness in the field,” said Mills. “A great way to do that with the coleslaw is to keep the vinaigrette separate and toss the slaw about 10 minutes before you want to eat.”
And while fresh berries alone can make a perfect picnic dessert, Mills had the pleasure of working at London’s River Cafe last summer – and whisked away a final course as simple as it is divine: an almond, lemon and ricotta cake topped with fresh raspberries. As far a cry from a cheesecake as a pillow from a brick, it weighs in nicely for the summer set and is open to enough variation to make it a recurring picnic finish.
Without a doubt, the perfect picnic requires a bit of work upfront.
Truly celebrating having the time to do nothing, especially under the warm rays of summer, is nothing if not thirsty work. Which is why Mills is also the consummate host with drink order in hand: a shimmering glass of strawberry ginger lemonade as Tom Collins as you wish.
To check out a video of Mills, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-IahBptAw0&feature=youtu.be
Organic brown wild rice, almond and currant salad
Makes 4-6 portions
- 1 cup organic brown rice, cooked
- 2 cups white rice, cooked
- up wild rice
- 1 cup red pepper, carrots, celery, onion, garlic
- 1 oz currants
- up almonds, whole toasted
- 1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
- up basic vinaigrette – recipe follows
Makes 1 cup
- 1 cup olive / vegetable oil, blended
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- up white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- to taste salt & pepper
Whisk olive oil into other ingredients to make a stable, emulsified dressing.
Roasted chicken with Spanish paprika
Serves 4-6 people
- 1 chicken, young fryer
- 1 quart brine – (recipe follows)
- up Chris’ Spanish paprika chicken seasoning – (recipe follows)
Have your butcher truss the chicken (tie into a compact shape to roast the fryer more evenly).
Prepare the brine recipe and place the chicken in the brine for 24 hours before roasting. Remove from the brine and drain/dry thoroughly.
Season generously all over the chicken then roast it, preferably on a barbecue rotisserie if you have one, or follow your favorite recipe for oven-roasting – which should always involve turning and basting the chicken for best results.
Let it cool briefly before cutting or placing the chicken in a waxy paper bag or other suitable container to take to the picnic!
Makes one quart
- 1 quart water
- up salt
- 2 lemons, cut in half
- Sprig thyme
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 Tbsp peppercorns
Prepare the ingredients in a suitable pot by dissolving the salt in the water over heat. Allow all the ingredients to blend, then remove and chill before using.
Chris’ Spanish paprika chicken seasoning
Makes 3 cups
- ½ cup Spanish paprika
- ½ cup salt
- ½ cup garlic powder
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup onion powder
- ½ cup thyme powder
Blend all the dry spices together and store in an airtight container for later use.
Coleslaw with Tabasco vinaigrette
Makes 4-6 portions
- 3 cups cabbage, medium shred
- ½ cup celery, diced
- ½ cup green apple, diced
- ½ cup green onion, diced
- ½ cup Tabasco vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 1 tbsp Italian parsley chopped
- to taste salt & pepper
For a picnic, keep the coleslaw separate from the vinaigrette and toss about 10 minutes before you want to eat. This keeps the coleslaw fresh and crisp, but gives enough time to absorb the flavours.
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- 2 limes, zested and juiced
- 2 Tbsp Tabasco (or to taste)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp celery seed
Almond, Lemon and Ricotta Cake with Fresh Raspberries
Makes One – 10 inch cake
- 9 oz blanched almonds
- 2 oz flour
- 7 lemons, zest only (reserve juice)
- 3 lemons, juiced
- 8 oz unsalted butter, softened
- 9 oz sugar
- 6 each organic eggs, separated
- 10 oz fresh ricotta
- 1 cup crème fraiche (buy at any gourmet grocery store)
- 2 pints fresh raspberries
- for dusting powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 300F. Butter a 10-inch round cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.
Coarsely chop the almonds in a food processor. Combine with the flour and lemon zest. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer until pale and light. Add the egg yolks one by one before adding the almond mixture. Do not over mix.
Put the ricotta in a bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Add the lemon juice. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the egg whites into the almond mixture and finally stir in the ricotta.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour until set. Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean. Remove from the tin while still warm, and cool on a cake rack.
Cut thick wedges and serve with a generous helping of crème fraiche and local raspberries dusted in icing sugar.
Strawberry Ginger Lemonade (Tom Collins)
For the Lemonade:
- 1 fl oz ginger syrup (recipe follows)
- ¼ cup fresh local strawberries, hulled, washed and chopped
- 1 fl oz lemon juice
- ½ can club soda
- 1 tsp pickled ginger juice
- 1 cup ice
For the Tom Collins boost:
- 2 fl oz Beefeater 24 gin
Combine all the ingredients except the soda in a shaker and shake vigorously to bruise the ice and strawberries. Pour into a chilled tall Collins glass and top with club soda. Garnish with a strawberry and twist of lemon.
Ginger Simple Syrup:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 fl oz fresh ginger, peeled and grated
Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a simmer. Using a fine box-grater grate the peeled ginger to release the juices and add this to the syrup. Once the syrup simmers, remove from heat and cool. This is best made at least a day before and stores refrigerated up to 2 weeks.