Some people are artists, while others are artistic geniuses. Michael Stadtlander is clearly the later. When it came to choosing a place to spend our wedding dinner with family and friends, we wanted a place that prepares local, seasonally-driven food. We wanted a dinner that I could not hope to cook despite my considerable kitchen skills. We wanted a place that was magical and unique. Eigensinn Farm was the one restaurant that I had always wanted to visit, but the timing never worked out. Despite the fact that our wedding was going to be at the beginning of March, after the coldest February in Ontario history, I decided to contact the info email for their sister restaurant, Haisai. I expected a brief missive from a member of the waitstaff reminding me that they were not open until April. What I received instead was an email from Nobuyo Stadtlander asking the details with an assertion that Michael might be available to produce the Eigensinn menu style at Haisai. Without hesitation we agreed to a date, basic concepts and numbers.
What makes a perfect meal? As a professional food photographer, I spend a great deal of time considering how to create the perception of a perfect meal. Lighting, fabrics, textures, colours and smell all come into play. When I travel, I focus on food and wine, often taking cooking workshops and visiting local markets. The food I prepare is intelligent, real and follows a French manner of flavours. The food of Michael Stadtlander is on a completely different plane. His flavours are uniquely his, and while one clearly can understand the deep complexity of each dish, each taste is not easily replicated by anyone other than him. I say this because as we returned from our honeymoon in France, I found it quite easy to repeat the menu items we chose along our road of gourmet gluttony. Parsnip Hummous Puree? No problem. Fennel shaved into a simple vinegar pickle. Simple. Escargot, bavette, quail, jambon persille or even Pomme Herve: easy. To take Stadtlander’s Venison consommé with sweetbreads and mushroom ravioli and come close is akin to hearing Glenn Gould perform an aria from the Goldberg Variations: impossible, yet beautiful.
Food is only a piece to a puzzle. The real backbone to the experience is the service of Nobuyo and their son, Hermann. Both are beautiful, playful people who appreciate how to make guests feel connected to the experience put before them. Monika and I truly felt like we had met old friends when we visited at the end of December for their New Year’s Day lunch. Hermann brings a hip, cool factor to Haisai, but understands how to communicate the food and wine he brings to the table. He clearly has a passion for food, and will, if all goes well, shortly head to Germany for a few apprenticeship opportunities abroad. Nobuyo has a spritely attitude and an infectious laugh. Her communications via email were always positive and honest. Her understanding of wine, especially what wines were corked that we brought, was impressive. We owe much to her and her family for the glorious night we experienced with our friends and our family.
In the end, however, a dinner is only as good as those seated at the table. Our twelve guests were the most important people that we have known in our lives, but those who were also able to enjoy wine, food, conversation and each other despite never having met before. We laughed, ate, drank and shared a specific moment in time that was created for us my the Stadtlander family. While speeches had been banned, guests ignored the rules and shared moments and thoughts as they were moved to do so. My brother burst into a Stompin’ Tom Connors tune with reckless abandon only to stop and share a private moment he had shared about our relationship. Glenn spoke the kindest words imaginable about who I am, as a man, and gave a speech that every man wishes his father would have the wherewithal to give. He gave it as a friend and as a mentor. We all felt truly fortunate to be in each other’s company throughout the dinner of our lives.
After a myriad of courses, each with defined flavours, the chef brought out what could only be called a work of art. In fact, it made me cry: Michael had dreamed up a mythical cake that felt like it was drawn from a wellspring deep in the imagination of the Black Forest. Indeed, the bird’s nest of beauty was flavour-based on a black forest cake, but held ethereal textures and was present on a piece of granite. It was a gift that one only hopes for in this life. The entire dinner was art, and it was appreciated by all who attended.
I should mention that as we left the restaurant in a blissful haze, I thanked Nobuyo for all of her efforts despite not normally doing these types of events. Her response was simple: “With you, things were always ‘Perfect’. You had no demands for the menu, you let us do what we do. ‘Perfect! Perfect. Perfect'”. What else would I do when given the opportunity dine is such a beautiful environment? Certainly not tell a genius what I should eat when he already knows and is able to offer me things I could never dream of. That, my friends, is magic. Perfect.