Fine dining and chocolates go together like peaches and cream, so when I was invited to check out Ossington Avenue’s newest restaurant La Banane I jumped at the chance, and barring any kid in a candy store references, the figurative golden ticket was firmly in my grasp. Partnering with gourmet chocolate purveyor Cacao Barry, the menu was curated by Executive Chef Brandon Olsen, who massaged notes of subtle Cacao Barry chocolate into each course. Linked by their love of chocolate, and both being pioneering gourmands for their respective periods, intrepid traveler turned chocolatier Charles Barry, creator of Cacao Barry and Executive Chef of La Banane and Chocolatier at CXBO Brandon Olsen never got the chance to meet- but are bound by being creative and passionate about the same thing: chocolate.Passed Canapes kicked things off with Alunga Milk Chocolate Mushroom Foie Gras Vol-au-Vent with chevril, foie fat poached lobster, draped with White Chocolate crème fraîche & tarragon. The white chocolate was an ideal pairing with poached lobster, seemleessly blending with the crème fraîche adding that sought after sweet/savoury profile that makes my heart sing.
Quite possibly the best foie gras I’ve ever had was served next. Accompanied with a brioche made with with Cacao Barry’s Extra Brute Cocoa Powder and a poached apple, this dish was a perfect representation of Chef Olsen’s devotion to the savoury side of working with chocolate. The dense brioche was a perfect vehicle for the foie, which spread like creamy butter on the chocolate loaf.
For our mains, Chef Olsen concocted a gorgeous plate with Muscovy duck breast resting in an foie bordelaise sauce made with Saint Domingue Origin Dark Chocolate. Gentle wafts of delicate chocolate were just barely present- I lifted the plate to capture the fragrant nuances- just as the photographer caught me in the moment! Of course the meal ended on a sweet note, with Chef Olsen injecting yes, more chocolate into the final course, but notably, more foie too! The nutty Hazelnut Banana Cake was presented with a half moon of foie gras mousse- with Cocoa Nibs and Alto El Sol Plantation Dark Chocolate marrying the two. Four courses each containing two of my all time favourite ingredients? Golden ticket indeed.
After dessert, I spoke with Chef Olsen to get more delicious details.
LR- Did you always know you wanted to work with chocolate?
BO- I actually wanted to be a pastry chef, when I first started cooking but I came to the quick realization that Toronto doesn’t have restaurants that can afford a chef and a full time salaried pastry chef on pay roll. I realized I didn’t want to work in an industrial setting like a hotel or a large corporate restaurant group. So I realized if I was going to do it, I might as well become a savoury chef, but still keep very close interest in the sweet world. There’s something about chocolate I love to goof around with. I knew I never wanted to be a chocolatier, but I always wanted to have my hands in chocolate.
LR- But you own CXBO, a shop known exclusively for designer and decadent chocolately creations.
BO- I am a chocolatier. But I don’t want to be a full time chocolatier. I want to be a full time chef. That’s my passion, that’s what I want to do. It’s always a side project, I opened CXBO while waiting for La Banane to open. I have people in place to make sure it’s running. I don’t see myself ever tempering every day ever again. It’s more of a stress reliever than anything. It’s more about the restaurant for me. Chocolate making is like a sustainable hobby!
LR- Let’s talk Willy Wonka. If you could replicate anything from that famous book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory what would it be?
BO- I think it would have to be the ever lasting gobstopper!!
With unbridled creativity and talent, an ever lasting gobstopper wouldn’t be too far fetched for Chef Olsen’s repertoire. With banana art dotting the restaurant, and even the front of house staff, one can only imagine what flavours would unfold in that never ending candy. After a meal like this one, it’s no doubt that more foie and chocolate would be make it into the fold too.