Congratulations on your book Beer at My Table ($34.95, Whitecap Books), a full-colour cookbook with tons of information about beer, beer pairing and recipes with pictures.
Q. How long was this book in the making?
A. From start to finish about two years, partially because I did all the food styling for the book, which took time away from the writing.
Q. Is this your first cookbook? Why did you decide now was the right time to create one? A. It is my first cookbook, but I’ve been writing recipes for years for LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine and other publications. I’ve also done recipe and product development for food companies. I felt now was the perfect time for a cookbook like this seeing as people are really interested in both beer and food and the interest is continually growing.
Q. Why did you want to create a cookbook featuring beer?
A. There has been an explosion of craft beer and new breweries. I wanted to give a solid foundation of beer and food knowledge, while also giving (people) a chance to practice the theories through the recipes.
Q. Did you enjoy the cookbook creating process? Would you do it again?
A. It was a little tougher than I had thought. I swore to my husband never again, but who knows!
Q. You have had an interesting and varied career. Congratulations. You are a chef and a beer and wine sommelier. How did you become interested in becoming a beer sommelier? What was the process to become one?
A. I received my wine certification years ago while working as a chef in Italy. For many years I did a lot of work that pertained to wine. Then I returned to Europe to work as a chef in Belgium and that’s what inspired me to change my focus toward beer.
When I returned to Canada, I began delving more into beer than wine, and ended up getting my beer sommelier certification with Prud’hommme, a course that offers different levels of certification in beer knowledge.
Q. Each recipe in Beer at My Table begins with information about the type of beer you are pairing with the food. It includes information about the flavour and why it pairs nicely. You also offer other beer suggestions. When choosing beers and recipes for this book, what came first, the recipe or the beer?
A. For certain the beer came first. One of the goals of the book is to teach people about different beer styles that are available throughout the world. I chose some of the most popular and readily available styles such as an IPA or Pale Lager. But I also included some beer styles that are a little more esoteric, such as a Gose from Germany and Gueuze from Belgium, which are both fantastic beers for food pairing on account of their acidity.
Q. Did any recipes/beers get cut from your book? Why? Do you think they will make an appearance elsewhere?
A. I did have to cut a great pairing that featured “Sofie”, which is a Belgian-style Saison brewed by Goose Island in the U.S. Saison is one of my favourite beers, but I had too many. We shot the photo for it, pairing it with a beet and kale salad. It will make an appearance once summer approaches on my website at www.toniawilson.com
Q. I liked that your recipes were divided into spring, summer, fall and winter dishes. Why did you decide to format the book in this way?
A. Beer is a seasonal product and so too is food. Breweries tend to release their bigger, higher alcohol beers in the cold months and lighter styles through spring and summer. I also think it’s a nice way to approach cooking; the dishes for spring and summer are lighter and don’t require a lot of time at the oven.
Conversely, the fall and winter recipes are more about slow cooking and deep, unctuous flavours that are great for pairing with the heavier beers that are often released in those seasons.
Q. Were the recipes created specifically for this book?
A. Yes, they were. I sat down with each of the featured beers and really dissected what each had to offer in terms of aroma, flavour and taste. Then I set out to create a recipe that would highlight the concepts I was trying to teach in regard to food pairing theories, while at the same time making them approachable, attractive and tasty.
Q. You write for the LCBO magazine as well as do private functions and catering. What is the process for creating dishes? When you create dishes, is the best beer/wine always on your mind?
A. For the magazine, I usually have a set concept for the article/recipes and I write within those guidelines. When I cater it is much more flexible and organic. The choice of menu and wine (or beer) may be chosen based on a favourite cuisine, such as Italian. Or it could be a wine or beer dinner where the bottles are picked first and then I create a menu that will allow those the beer or wines to shine.
Q. What is your favourite dish in this cookbook?
A. I’d have to say the Calamari and Green Olive dish with Gose made my heart sing. And the Ribeye with Stilton, Sage and Hazelnut Butter was for sure a crowd favourite on set.
Q. What is your favourite beer?
A. I can’t even answer that. But I can say that Westmalle Dubbel was one of the first beers that really blew my mind when I first started learning about beer. I also love Rochefort 8 from Belgium with a good hunk of blue cheese. Toronto’s Great Lakes’ Octopus Wants To Fight was the beer that made me start to love IPAs as well as Collective Arts’ Ransack the Universe, which is from Hamilton.
Q. Favourite wine?
A. Another tricky one, but if I had to only drink two wines for the rest of my life, I’d drink Fiano di Avellino from Campania in Italy and Garnacha from Priorat in Spain.
Q. You were the head chef at the Canadian Embassy in Rome and in Belgium, have made dinner for the queen of England and have eaten at places around the world. Where is your favourite travel destination? Your favourite food destination? Your favourite beer destination? Wine?
A. That is a loaded question. I have eaten in a lot of places, some high end and some simple. And I always get the most satisfaction out of the simple ones. I would say that the south of France and ALL of Italy are my favourite travel destinations.
I just feel comfortable there, partially because of the languages, but also because the growing conditions are so amazing that all the food is delicious without being overly manipulated, which you can only get from climate, not from anything else.
I haven’t spent much time in Germany, so that could potentially be my favourite beer destination, but for now it is still Brugge in Belgium. I could live there.
Q. Two Canadian breweries get a nod in your book Left Field Brewery and Henderson Brewery. Why did these two make the cut? Do you have other favourite, notable breweries you enjoy? Wineries?
A. Actually, five did; those two plus Highlander, Howe Sound and Moosehead. They all had beers that were great examples of the styles being discussed. The list of breweries I like could go on forever, there is so much great beer being brewed right now and always new beers coming out.
In terms of Ontario wineries, I really enjoy Tawse, Hinterbrook, Southbrook, 13th Street and Peninsula Ridge to name just some of the great wineries out there. And I will usually drink their Rieslings, Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Francs.
Q. You also have a line of mustards, Bru, made in Canada and inspired by beer. Why did you create this aspect of your business? Why mustard?
A. I was asked to lead a beer tasting for a large group of women at a wellness retreat. The organizers told me if I had a product to sell then bring it along. This prompted me to come up with the mustard and really was the impetus of my business.
Q. What do you hope to do next in your career? Any upcoming projects?
A. I’m looking forward to focussing on the mustard business for a while, people are really loving the product and I want to see where it can go. I also love talking and teaching about beer and food, so I’ll continue with that as well.