Winterlicious set to sizzle for a seventh year

Top quality cooking featuring local ingredients and affordable prices are combining to form the recipe for success during a city-wide restaurant promotion this week.

The Winterlicious campaign, which runs for two weeks beginning on Jan. 30, and contains a lineup of 150 restaurants, is back for its seventh year. The restaurants feature a three-course prix-fixe (set price) menu starting at $15 for lunch and up to $45 for dinner. This is the first year that the $45 menu will be offered.

Winterlicious forms part of the city of Toronto’s WinterCity festival and includes many heavyweights of the local culinary scene. Martin Kouprie, chef and co-owner of Pangaea Restaurant in Yorkville, has been involved since day one.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be creative on a budget,” Kouprie said. “The $45 menu has made us go to a different level … this is reflected in the ingredients where we have everything from foie gras to breast of duck. These are items that you normally wouldn’t see on a $35 menu.”

Historically the upper end price point was $35; however the city of Toronto decided to add an additional tier to the program to encourage further creativity amongst the restaurant community. The majority of restaurants in the program chose to maintain the $35 menu according to Eirine Papaioannou, the supervisor of Toronto Special Events.

“We feel that the $45 menu price, which is an additional price point as oppose to an increase from last year, allows chefs to create amazing menus with more local and organic ingredients,” Papaioannou said. “At the $45 level, it is still providing quite a value for the consumer.”

Kouprie and his team began to plan their Winterlicious menu four months ago. Kouprie works closely with farmers and artisan purveyors to ensure that the harshness of a Canadian winter does not cause too much havoc on the foodstocks. Cookstown lamb and foie gras from just outside of Barrie are among the examples of the Ontario produce on the Winterlicious menu.

“We are trying to do farm to table as much as possible,” he said. “We have a fabulous tradition of winter cooking in this country. We find it (winter) one of our more challenging times but also one of our more invigorating times as well.”

The program began with 36 restaurants in 2003 and has grown each year since. In 2008 the positive economic impact of Winterlicious was over $9 million with approximately 200,000 meals served. The positive impact is also felt in the rural areas surrounding the city where many of the ingredients are sourced from.