Toronto restaurateurs defend controversial meat dish

La Palette offers a dish that is both unique and controversial. People either love it or hate it.

Last year, the restaurant had about 20 protesters outside the establishment protesting the controversial dish. The protesters held signs and spoke into megaphones to make their voices heard. Brook Kavanagh, a chef at La Palette, went out to meet the protesters.

“Once they realized I was actually there to talk to them and have a rational face-to-face conversation, they were OK,” he said.

Brook Kavanagh includes horse meat on his La Palette menu.

Eating horse meat has been common in Europe for a long time and, while it is available in North America, eating it has yet to become a widely accepted practice here. Kavanagh said he was 14 when he first heard about horse meat from an Italian butcher. He said for a couple years horse meat at La Palette was only offered to customers verbally, in order to gauge whether or not they would like it. It has since been physically added to the menu.

“This is something we’re proud of and we’re not going to let other people’s opinions change what we do,” Kavanagh said.

Chefs herald the meat as wonderful to work with because of its tenderness and flavour, while animal rights activists claim the horses are killed in inhumane ways and are sick animals. Kavanagh, 29, says the restaurant’s supplier of horse meat ensures him the animals are raised for the purpose of consumption.

“These animals are raised specifically for their meat,” Kavanagh said. “They never know the taste of a bridle or a saddle on their back.”

Bob Timmons protests the raising and serving of horse meat as both a human rights and animal rights issue.

Bob Timmons, 39, is the animal rights activist who organized the protest in front of the Queen Street West restaurant. He doesn’t believe horses are bred specifically for consumption.

“The horses that go to slaughter aren’t healthy horses,” Timmons said. “They’re horses that are sick.”

Matt DeMille is a sous-chef at Parts and Labour, another restaurant on Queen Street West. He said he was first introduced to horse meat while filming a television show pilot at La Palette. DeMille, 29, says horse used to be on the menu at Parts and Labour, but was removed due to the negative reaction from customers and activists.

“I find it’s not worth the bitter notes and comments,” DeMille said. “I’d rather be liked than hated for something.”

Matt DeMille at one time served horse meat at his Parts and Labour restaurant, but not now.

DeMille said his restaurant wants to appeal to a wider clientele.

“I mean, at some point in your career you’re going to make enemies serving anything, but we want to be friends with everyone,” DeMille said. “That’s why we chose to remove the horse and serve something different.”

Chef Kavanagh, who has been in the food industry for 15 years, doesn’t believe La Palette caters to every consumer.

“We’re not trying to appeal to a vegetarian demographic,” he said. “We’re appealing to food lovers and if you’re a true food lover you try anything, including horse meat.”

Kavanagh says, from a culinary standpoint, horse meat is great to work with.

“It’s a beautiful product,” Kavanagh said. “It’s exquisitely tender, delicately flavoured and incomparably juicy; it’s really easy to sell.”

DeMille described the meat as sweet and also warns of overcooking it.

“Since horse is a very muscular animal, there’s not much fat in the meat,” he said. “So you have to cook it rare to medium-rare; it would dry out very easily if you cook it too much.”

Timmons said the horse meat industry isn’t selective in the horses it kills.

“Our world is a corporate world now; it’s all about … the profit,” he said. “This is where the horses suffer.”

Kavanagh and DeMille are both insistent that the horse meat served to their customers was raised for consumption, but Timmons thinks differently.

“They (the chefs) try to disassociate their meal outside of the cruelty that is being exposed, but when you do your research on it, all the information is there,” he said.

While he doesn’t want to take away from the horse meat industry, DeMille feels there are many other animal slaughters that activists could be examining.

“There are a few small horse farms in Quebec that treat the animals with respect, but there are millions of places that kill millions of chickens,” he said.

Timmons, a vegan, believes horse meat is more of a human rights issue than an animal rights issue.

“I don’t talk about the cruelty; people don’t want to hear about it because cruelty is more emotional,” he said.

About this article

By: Louise Andre
Posted: May 11 2011 9:42 am
Filed under: Arts & Life

10 Comments on "Toronto restaurateurs defend controversial meat dish"

  1. Watching the CBC’s investigation of horse slaughterhouses should put to rest some of the myths about eating horsemeat discussed here. Worth watching if you want the facts:

  2. I am curious if Brook Kavanagh has ever been to a horse auction here in Canada and witnessed first hand the horses that are being bought for meat along side the horses that are going to new “homes”?

  3. Where is this horse farm that raises and slaughters meat just for your restaurant? I would love to see that!

  4. Maybe they should get their facts straight…

    “92.3 percent of horses arriving at slaughter plants in this country in recent years were deemed to be in “good” condition”, not sick like they claim.

    And really, why would you promote the lie that the meat is coming from sick animals? Who wants to eat sick animal flesh? Gross.

  5. Since I’m an American, I don’t know if horses are raised in Canada for human consumption or not although I know many reputable people who say they are not. Be that as it may, in the US they are definitely NOT. We do not eat horses and our Federal Drug Administration classifies horses as Companion Animals – which they are. Since Bute and other banned substances are in such wide use, the consumption of US horses by humans is definitely NOT advisable.

  6. Jenniefer | May 17, 2011 at 10:57 am |

    All horses that are slaughtered have already gone through substantiated amounts or torture before the actual slaughter process (which in of itself is horrible and cruel, horses often alive when they are hung by their hinds, sometimes even alive when their hooves are cut off). Any type of horse ends up in slaughter: foals, pregnant mares, old, sick, or injured, even somebody’s stolen horse). If this industry is so worth promoting, why do haulers bring horses across the U.S./Canadian border at night? Go visit a slaughter facility if you are not convinced. Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean you should eat it. Moreover, slaughter facilities create huge pollution issues (improper disposal of blood and carcasses). Should we also eat cat and dog here then? I’m sure they would be juicy and tender also. Even in countries, which are said to traditionally eat horse), such as France, horse consumption has gone from 12% to 1% (based on the knowledge of the slaughter industry); where, some historians say it even got started when famished soldiers were told by a surgeon during the Battle of Eylau in 1807, that they should eat the fallen (dead) horses. This is not the same thing as to ship horses for slaughter. Being a food lover is one thing, but in this time and place, one ought to consider the amount of suffering that my palate has unto the rest of the environment, and unto other beings.

  7. SUE GRIFFITHS | May 16, 2011 at 9:17 pm |

    There’s only one answer and that is to stop eating animals.

  8. SORRY – you’re wrong thinking the horsemeat served was raised ‘never knew a saddle or bridle.’ Over 100k horses were slaughtered in Cda last yr, a great majority rolled in on lrg transport trucks from the US – TB’s off the track, no longer ‘wanted’ because they couldn’t earn money but statiscally supported.. more QH. Point being, this country is a part of the problem, NOT part of the solution. Learning that horsemeat & supporting that industry via restuarants in Toronto, is a viable industry in my own Country is, quite frankly embarrasing. I thought learning we had 7 slaughter plants for horses was embarrasing enough. Pls note I’m not a Peta member, nor am I a vegetarian or otherwise ‘tree hugger’ type. I’m just against horses getting sent to slaughter – the majority raised with never that intention. And I was horrified enough to read about Top Chef Canada & the horsemeat challenge. Again, embarrased to be a C

  9. lee chesterfield | May 13, 2011 at 6:45 pm |

    I would just as soon eat my dog, as eat horse meat. Horses are not livestock. Do you really think slaughter houses are looking out for the consumer or the animal.?

  10. Barbara G. | May 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    Well why not serve up a dish of dog meat or cat meat on the side. After all it is eaten in Asian countries but does that make it right? No, it does not. And the reason is we consider these animals pets. The cruelty that goes into the killing of dogs/cats is own a par with horses. It will never be excepted in the US nor will you ever see it in supermarkets. Any of it. Most horse people consider their horse a family pet and part of their household. You don’t see people riding in parades on cows do you? And don’t think that just because I’m against eating our pets that I’m a vegan, I’m not. But horses are in a whole different category. They smart, intelligent and your friend and I refuse to eat them and I will fight to the death to save them.

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