Canada’s Top Chefs Share Their Warmer-Weather Foodie Hacks and Recipes

Canada's Top CHef's

Suzanne Barr, pictured above, says preparing a summer meal is all about keeping things as light and simple as possible. Photo: Samuel Engelking

Ah, summertime. Barbecues, campfires, dining al fresco and drinks on the dock. But after all we’ve been through this year, why not take it up a notch? Spark up the grill, but move over burgers, marshmallows and s’mores (well, not completely, we still like our old faithfuls), as we’re looking for fresh local bounty to feed us, too.

And although the pandemic has been tough going for the hospitality industry, some of the best chefs from across our country’s culinary landscape are happy to share their tips. Even if, this summer, it’s a table for one by a breezy window, a table for two on a tiny balcony or your household is celebrating a milestone on the front porch, these ideas will get you cooking.


Trevor Lui, chef, founder of Quell culinary talent agency, author of The Double Happiness Cookbook: 88 Feel-Good Recipes and Food Stories

Photo: Suech + Beck from The Double Happiness Cookbook by Trevor Lui


A tip for all seasons, including summer — quick blanching your veggies before you cook them. If you plan on grilling or tossing, a quick hot water blanch followed by an ice bath helps to bring out the brightest of colours for the veggies. You can see this with leafy greens, green beans and asparagus. As well, with carrots and even broccoli and cauliflower.”


Nuit Regular, chef, author of Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand

Photo: Graydon Herriott


I love to grill. It’s easy, it’s fun for entertaining family and friends, and I love being in the backyard and teaching my daughter how to properly grill food Thai-style, like my Chicken Satay (above). The secret is to baste the chicken with coconut milk while it’s grilling to keep it moist and add an extra layer of flavour. And always use charcoal – you can’t beat the flavour that you’ll never achieve with a gas grill.” 


Mark McEwan, chef, The McEwan Group restaurants and McEwan Fine Foods, head judge on Top Chefs Canada

Photo: The McEwan Group


June and July are early in the growing season for sure. When I think of summer I look to nature for first cues. Wild leeks, morels and fiddleheads. As a pairing, Ontario pickerel is about as good a fish as you’ll find anywhere and it’s at its best in summer. My garden will offer me leafy greens with great vinaigrette. Radishes grow like mad in June and should be eaten early. I guess my tip is to embrace the season as it offers itself.” 


Chef Mark McEwan’s Vinaigrette Dressing

vinaigrette recipe
Photo: The McEwan Group


Chef McEwan typically makes a double batch to keep at home. This vinaigrette tastes delicious on almost anything and will last in the fridge for up to two weeks. McEwan’s seasonal salad recipe includes greens such as yellow romaine hearts, bibb lettuce, Belgian endives, watercress, radicchio or treviso and fresh basil.

4 oz olive oil

3 oz red wine vinegar

Juice 1/2 lemon

1 1/2 garlic cloves minced fine

2 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tsp fresh thyme buds

1 shallot, diced finely

1 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Salt/pepper to taste

Method for Vinaigrette:

Place all ingredients in a sealable jar and shake (there is no specific order when adding the ingredients). Allow this to sit for one hour to blend all
the flavours.


Nick Liu, chef/owner of DaiLo, judge on Food Network’s Wall of Chefs

Photo: Joey Salmingo


One of my favourite summer cooking hacks is grilling fish wrapped in banana leaf. The first time I had this dish was during the Toronto blackout in 2003. My dad was going to steam a whole fish but because of the outage he decided to cook it on the grill. He pulled out these huge green leaves that were folded and tucked away in the freezer. He marinated the fish with chili oil, sambal paste, ginger, green onion and garlic and wrapped it in the large leaves. He placed it on the grill and closed the lid. When he opened the lid, the banana leaf gift-wrapping the fish was perfectly toasted with a golden brown, roasted green colour. Spicey, smokey, the intoxicating sweet aroma of seafood. The sap in the banana leaf gently smoked the fish and the texture was so moist from being steamed in its own juices.” 


Julie Garton, Wine Director and Sommelier, The Four Seasons Hotel Toronto

Julie Garton
Photo: Four Seasons Hotel Toronto


If you are looking for a lighter wine with vibrant flavours but a bit lower alcohol, try a Vinho Verde from Portugal, a Kabinett Riesling from Germany or a Muscadet from the Loire Valley in France.”


Smoked Sparkling Margarita

smoking margarita
Photo: Four Seasons Hotel Toronto


According to Julie Garton of the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, the subtle smoked note from this cocktail can add a layer of flavour and enhance a dish like carpaccio – such as the Sicilian Tuna Carpaccio (right) served at the hotel – tartare, and raw and cured fish. A little salt, like in a carpaccio, can really enhance the flavour of this sparkling margarita. A bubbly wine is a fun finishing touch – savoury wines such as a dry Spanish Cava pair well with the smokiness of Mezcal.

1 oz Mezcal

1/2 oz Grand Marnier

1/2 oz Agave

3/4 oz fresh lime juice

3 oz of a dry Spanish Cava, such as Raventós i Blanc Blanc de Blancs

Build your drink by putting all ingredients (except the cava) into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until cold, then pour into a chilled coupe glass. Top with the cava or other sparkling wine. Garnish with a simple lime twist.


Nicholas Issel, Executive Chef, Fairmont Château Lake Louise

Nicholas Issel
Photo: Fairmont Château Lake Louise


I have two key tips for any summer meal or BBQ. First, choose the star of the show [Issel proffers his Angus Beef Ribwich, left]. This can be a quality cut of meat from your local butcher, a fresh piece of pacific salmon or even fresh seasonal vegetables or mushrooms from the market. Plan the rest of the meal around it and complement it with sides and salads. Tip number two is probably my favourite: make homemade accoutrements. It can be pickles, relish, sauces, chutneys – the sky’s the limit. This is where you can add your personal flare with a pickle or sauce that takes the dish to the next level.”  


David Hawksworth, chef, The Hawksworth Restaurant Group, author of Hawksworth: The Cookbook

Photo: Clinton Hussey


When summer rolls around it’s time to get outdoors and explore! Elevate your picnic with a chilled soup – gazpacho [Hawksworth’s tomato gazpacho, Dungeness crab and Avocado tian, left] is one of my all-time favourites – the aroma and flavours are bright and fresh. To keep your chilled soup at the perfect temperature be sure to cool down your thermos flask first by filling it with water and ice; once chilled, drain and replace with the soup and pop in an ice cube. Serve it with grilled or toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, mashed avocado and a sprinkling of thinly sliced jalapeño on top.” 


Suzanne Barr, chef, author, restaurateur and social advocate, judge on Wall of Chefs

Suzanne Barr
Photo: Samuel Engelking


Summer should be all about relaxing and keeping things as light and simple as possible. That’s why I love fresh, seasonal salads. Try mixing sweet and savoury, like my Watermelon Rosemary Greek Salad with juicy bits of watermelon and a bit of crunch from the pea shoots. It’s hydrating, refreshing
and has lots of textures and flavours.” 


Suzanne Barr’s Watermelon Rosemary Greek Salad

Watermelon greek salad recipe
Photo: Suzanne barr


Chef Barr kindly created this fresh and nutritious dairy vegetarian-friendly take exclusively for Zoomer. Serves: 4

4 cups watermelon, cut into 1 inch cubes

1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots

1 English cucumber

1/2 cup feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano


1/2 lemon, zested and juiced

1/4 cup white balsamic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon Greek honey

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper


Pea Shoot + Crumbled Feta Cheese

Add cut watermelon and shallots to a large bowl. Crumble feta cheese into bite-size morsels and place to the side. Peel cucumber, cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a teaspoon, scoop out inside seeds of cucumber.  Slice cucumbers into half-moon 1-inch pieces and place in bowl with watermelon.  Add rosemary and oregano into the bowl.

In a separate bowl, add dressing ingredients, and using a whisk, mix dressing until thick consistency is achieved. Pour over top of watermelon, shallots and cucumbers and mix well. Place into a serving dish, garnish with pea shoots and feta cheese, Enjoy!

A version this article appeared in the June/July 2021 issue with the headline “Northern Lights,” p. 84.


Canada’s Top Chefs Share Their Favourite Summer Recipes