The Sharper Chef, Montreal: Jesse MacDonald, VORO

Montreal’s “Sharper Chef” series is written by food and drink aficionados, and features prominent chefs, brewers, vintners and distillers, all of whom share some of their finest (and often most secret) culinary insights. In this installment, head chef and co-owner Jesse MacDonald of VORO shares his sought-after Phoenician moussaka.

Note: This recipe is for 15 portions. Host a dinner party or scale portions respectively.

5lbs ground lamb
2 Spanish onions, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 tbs garlic, minced
½ tbs ginger, ground
½ tbs cumin, ground
½ tbs nutmeg, ground
½ tbs tumeric
½ tbs paprika
½ tbs all spice, ground
1 tsp cayenne
3 tps brown sugar
3 tps Dijon mustard

½ litre heavy cream
6 tbs butter
6 tbs flour
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp nutmeg

Potatoes and eggplant:
10 potatoes
3 eggplants

MacDonald opened VORO to show Montrealer sthat rustic food can be sexy without being overpriced. His bar-bistro’s name comes from the Latin ‘to devour’ — he simplifies, “Just eat, you’re here to eat.” That said, stepping into the chic industrial space, it’s hard not to notice the well-stocked bar: premium scotches and boutique vodkas imported from Russia. Everything on the seasonal menu is immaculately thought out — the in-house bread took five months to suit MacDonald’s high standards.

This Phoenician moussaka is representative of the restaurant’s cuisine, putting a Turkish twist on a traditionally Greek meal. Don’t let the elaborate ingredient list deter you, the methodology and assembly is surprisingly approachable — even for amateurs in the kitchen.

Add butter to saucepot on medium-high, and let melt. Slowly pour in flour, stirring, to create a roux. Continue stirring and add the lemon juice and nutmeg. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large pan; add onions and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the onions are soft. Add all the spices and the ground lamb and let it cook through, stirring often. Add celery, Dijon and brown sugar and give it a few more minutes. Once celery has softened some, set everything aside in a 3-inch baking pan.

Slice potatoes to be one quarter-inch thick; cover with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about thirty minutes at 400°C, taking care that you don’t overcook. Layer the potatoes on top of the lamb after finishing.

Slice each eggplant into four strips, lengthwise. Then, lightly salt the stripes and set aside for twenty minutes — this will cause their water to rise to the surface. Pat down, cover in olive oil and pepper and roast for about half an hour at 400°C. (If you’re handy in the kitchen, you could do this along with the potatoes.) Place atop the potatoes and lamb once finished.

Pour béchamel over the assembled moussaka and heat through. Afterwards, broil to give a golden colour, and serve.

Image courtesy of Ciro Boro


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