McEwan All Access 3.0 (Event)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: McEwan at 38 Karl Fraser Road

When AbbySharp informed me I was selected to attend the McEwan All Access 3.0 event I was ecstatic! The news made my week. To think, not only would I be sampling some delicious food and get to meet Mark McEwan himself but I would do all of this with 29 other people who talk about and love food as much as myself.

To say I enjoy food would be an understatement. You can ask my husband, vacations generally are centered on eating - after all, the Michelin guide even says there are some restaurants offering “exceptional cuisine and worth a special journey”. I reflected back to see when this obsession started. Sure as a kid I enjoyed eating out and having good meals but it didn't consume that much of my thoughts. And then it hit me, this all really started after university when I landed my first role in the Financial District and was suddenly surrounded by some of the best restaurants in Toronto.

Over the course of the first few years of my career I began to eat some really nice meals. Mark McEwan's restaurants were not an exception and helped to introduce me to the joys of simple but professionally cooked food using quality ingredients. At Bymark, I had the most perfectly cooked salmon for the first time in my life. Prepared to a 70% doneness with crispy skin it was everything salmon should be – tender, moist and with enough fat to flavour the fish but not feel overwhelming. At North 44, I discovered what dry aging a steak for 60 days could do for flavour, it wasn’t disgusting but rather brought a good cut of meat up to another level. And lastly, at One found that delicious fries can become orgasmic when freshly prepared and paired with a flavorful truffle aoili. 

When the day finally arrived I rode up in a cab, compliments of Hailo, in front of McEwan at the Shops on Don Mills. Despite being ten minutes early, the party was already in full swing with tasting stations pumping out food and participants snapping pictures & eating to their heart’s content. 

My first stop was the Makaron station tantalized by the pretty coloured macarons all waiting. After trying three of the flavours I really couldn’t decipher a favourite. Luckily, our gift bags had a box for us to try at home complete with pistachio, raspberry, passion fruit with chocolate, blackberry and coconut. From those, the pistachio was the one for me – light as air, not too moist, not overly sweet and had a subtle nuttiness to it.

Making my way towards the back of the supermarket, the olive oil display caught my eye. McEwan’s private label bottle, actually produced by Rallis Olive Oil, boasts that it’s the only raw cold pressed oil available. The representative explained that an olive, like any other fruit, loses the purity of its taste as it’s heated, so ice pressing the olive allows it retain more of its natural fragrance and flavour. Another addition to our gift bag, I used it for lunch one day (as a dip and drizzled on bocconcini) and found the taste lighter and without any bitter after taste, while the colour a vivid golden hue. 

Seeing a swarm of people at the Hot Bunzz oven, I made my way there next where they offered a choice of three flavours – St. Lucia jerk wild boar, Brazilian red eye BBQ beef and king mushroom ragout. Based on the vendor’s suggestion, I went with the BBQ beef and really enjoyed it. The bun is a soft egg brioche and packed on top and inside with slices of tender beef, corn and mushrooms. Despite being packed with ingredients it wasn’t too messy to eat and there’s an extra kick from a horseradish sauce that hits you at the end. Although I didn’t have a chance to try the jerk wild boar, many other bloggers were raving about it so I sense it will be another crowd favourite when these are sold at McEwan soon.

Stopping off for some drinks we had a choice of Vineland Estate wines from Mark’s restaurants and beer from Beau’s Brewery. Generally I enjoy wine with food but was pleasantly surprised with the beer. Not being a huge fan, I asked for something lighter and if I remember correctly tried the Lug Tread lagered ale. This organic beer was remarkably crisp and smooth tasting. Best of all there was no bitter aftertaste at all. With the summer months coming soon, it will be a perfect choice for enjoying at a BBQ. 

Next, I tried some of their crostini (sorry the salami and Itaca prosciutto picture didn’t come out well) where I sampled a thinly sliced salami and great smooth parmigiano reggiano drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Unfortunately, the crostini were too hard to bite through and had to be discarded but that meant I could just save room for all the other food to come.

One of my favourite stations of the evening was the Island Beef offering beautifully cooked striploin steak. With only a simple rub and expertly charred cooking the meat simply melted on the tongue leaving a light beef flavour behind. I was surprised to hear the beef came from PEI where they are raised outside drawing upon the unique environmental properties of the sea, soil and pastures that the land has to offer. Whatever it was, the striploin was one of the most tender ones I’ve ever had despite being so lean. I can’t say for sure I’ll give up bone-in ribeye anytime soon, but could be tempted to eat striploin if it tastes this good.

Chef Shen Ousmand, the Executive Chef for McEwan, was on hand to cook pots of Fabbrica’s gnocchi for us. Simply stewed with san marzano tomatoes and topped with shaved parmesan and dollops of house made ricotta, they were soft and flavourful. Chef McEwan had tons to say about his appreciation for this dish – although admits to loving the octopus salad at Fabbrica even more.

Oysters and olives are two items I hated in the past but are slowly acquiring a taste for. McEwan was offering freshly shucked oysters during the event with a selection of varieties. I stuck with the smaller ones and with the addition of some shallot or onion vinaigrette and fresh horseradish they went down very easily.


To end, I had about six doughnuts from Von Doughnuts, I couldn’t help it there were just so many flavours to try! My favourite was the margarita (a nice sweet citrus with a blast of salt like you just licked the rim of a glass) and the lemon curd (where the donut is piped with a tart lemon cream and glazed). So what made them different from your regular Tim Horten’s variety? I found the dough less oily and the toppings plentiful and weren’t too sweet to allow other flavours (citrus, salt, bacon, toffee) to shine through. All in all, they weren’t too heavy, which could have accounted for how I had six of them!

But, the stations were not the only food items available. Plates of passed food were also offered all night including lobster tacos, grilled cheese, curry chicken salad and smoked chicken spring rolls. The tacos were delicious but that’s generally expected from anything containing lobster. The grilled cheese a pleasure filled with gooey brie and a sweet pear compote. 

But it’s the smoked chicken spring rolls I want to highlight; they were so packed with ingredients and wonderfully flavoured that I didn’t even need any of the tamarind dipping sauce.

Included with our $60 ticket was a take home bag filled with various items offered at McEwan. Some of the items, such as the macarons and olive oil, we were able to also sample at the event itself.

Others I was able to enjoy throughout the week to come. To date, I’ve also tried Nomz pecan energy bites. These little nuggets look like a truffle but are actually made with various gluten-free and paleo-friendly ingredients. Despite containing no refined sugar, the bites were decadent and almost like a Ferrero Rocher except without the crispy layer, less sweet and moister.

McEwan All Access 3.0 was my first visit to the upscale McEwan supermarket. Taking a tour around at the end of the evening the shelves and displays were just so beautifully put together.

From teas…

Oils …

Spices ...

To even bags of chips!

Plenty of ready-made food is available and when the second McEwan location opens at the TD Centre in March 2015 it will certainly draw in the Bay Street crowd for lunch and dinner. 

So, what did I learn about the man of the hour? Other than his crush being Michelle Pfeiffer, his favourite dish from Top Chef Canada the chicken noodle soup terrine and one of his earliest attempts at cooking being goulash (he burnt the bottom). Well, that he is friendly and personable – he truly made us feel welcomed and hung out with us all evening. Alas, what a great night! Hopefully, I’ll be invited back to 4.0 next year?

Like the blog? You can now follow me on twitter for notifications -