Chef celebrates 10 years at Black Birch Restaurant

April 8, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

“I just want to cook,” commented Mark Mogensen, owner/chef of the Black Birch Restaurant on the Hockley Road. “Even though I’ve been 34 years cooking, I’m still trying new things here. Pressure cookers used for stock making give such a clarity and freshness to the stock.”

In this restaurant kitchen where everything is made in-house and the chef enjoys variations on certain themes, new ideas to use sometimes old methods keeps his menus fresh and the kitchen interesting. New technology sometimes bursts into the old kitchen with surprising results.

Sous vide, “called precision cooking,” Mr Mogensen began. “I’ve been cooking Osso Bucco for 30 years, marinading it, sear it and then cook it for hours but I tried this method, of precision cooking the Osso Bucco in a bag in water at an exact and constant low temperature [140 degrees F] and the results blew my mind. It was the best Osso Bucco I ever tasted.” 

Now it is on the menu.

Speaking of Italian dishes, there is always an Italian choice on the menu at the Black Birch Restaurant, for, as Mr Mogensen told us, “I was taught to cook Italian food in the Italian manner by chefs who didn’t speak English.” Pasta cooked al dente, serving the right amount of sauce, which is enough to cover the pasta and leave a wipe of bread to clean the dish, not a soup bowl of sauce with half of it left over.

A convection oven for the Sunday prime ribs. “It keeps the meat so tender,” he said, “The beef doesn’t break down from roasting too long. We might not get blue rare cuts but it’s still juicy and delicious.”

He went on to say, “I got a little smoker for small cuts and salmon bits to put into things. Everything here is made from scratch.  One of the first chefs I ever worked for used to say  ‘The poor animal dies so we could eat – let’s use as much as we can.’ So, we use the tendons for beef stock. I really got into that stuff. A big part of my career is making stock – beautiful consumes  and soups.”

What he would like is to able to broaden people’s knowledge and tastes: “People love the rack of lamb but think they won’t enjoy a leg of lamb, which is actually more flavourful because of the bone. People eat what they eat,” he remarked. “In Toronto, people like different things.”

Mark Mogensen has enjoyed the staff that work and have worked for him, some of them  students.

“I’ve really had a satisfying time here bringing kids in for their first jobs. There was one of them here the other day who had worked here in my first summer. He spent five years in China since then and was here with his girl friend.”

He has full praise for his customers, “What’s happened is I have a fantastic base of regular customers. I don’t have any you’d rather not see, like in some other restaurants I’ve worked in. I’ve worked over the years – there’s a history with people here I do enjoy.”

While the future view suits him, Mr. Mogensen would also like to invite customers to “order” meals for consumption at home.  “You might plan to have people for dinner, set the dining room nicely and then have us cater it,” he suggested.

So, we went to dinner that evening to taste the Osso Bucco. There was plenty of time for a hors d’oeuvres and an aperitif as everything is made fresh. The meals arrived and, as with everything at the Black Birch, it was elegantly plated, the Osso Bucco placed upon a bed of saffron risotto in the traditional Italian way, vegetables on the side.

We dug into meat that was delicious, the texture of which was both tender and well bodied. The rice was a joy of subtle flavours balancing the richness of the meat. Some new recipes call for mashed potatoes but they would be a very poor substitute for the traditional saffron rice.   

“I want to die here,” he told us humorously. “That’s why I bought the place. Eventually, my role will change a bit but I will always insist on excellence.”

The Black Birch Restaurant is located at 307388 Hockley Road, across from the Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve parking area. It is well lit and easy to find. Open seven days a week. Telephone: 519-938-2333.

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