My absolute favourite restaurant is a small place, in the Glebe community of Ottawa, called Infusion Bistro. Besides having amazing food at very reasonable prices, they serve the best Bruschetta in the world.

  • Show ID and Intro
  • Interview with Michael Pickard

[Portrait theme music] Podcasting visual insound, this is another edition of Portrait on Electric Sky.

Mark Blevis: Say what you will about the restaurants of Italy, New York, Paris and London, the best bruschetta in the world is right here in Ottawa, Canada. I’m your host, Mark Blevis. On this edition of Portrait, Michael Pickard of Infusion Bistro explains to me how to make the world’s best bruschetta.

Mark Blevis: So, is this your recipe for bruschetta or-?

Michael Pickard: Yes, it is.

Mark Blevis: You made it yourself?

Michael Pickard: Well, it’s a traditional recipe. The problem with cooking is that so many people try to pretend they reinvented the wheel. The fact of the matter is it’s fresh basil, fresh garlic, some nice Roman tomatoes, some olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. So, you’re not really doing anything different all the time. People try to pretend that they’re tweaking it. The tweak that we added to it was the balsamic reduction, which is a bit of residual sweetness and the goat’s cheese, which works well with anything with tomatoes.

Mark Blevis: Oh, yeah.

Michael Pickard: All right. So, now we’ve all the ingredients essentially that we need. The key is fresh Roma tomatoes. What I tend to do is I’ll cut them in half. Some people, some I guess traditionalists if you will, will squeeze the juice out of the Roma tomato. I personally don’t. I think that all the flavours melding together is a good thing. You can slice the Romas. After you’ve cut them in half, you could quarter them, you can put them into strips, that’s completely up to you. It depends on what you would like. For us at the restaurant, what we do is we slice it into three and then we just slice it into little bite-sized chunks in that respect. So, we’re going to cut a few of these up. Then what we’re going to do — for the rest…

Mark Blevis: You actually figured out how to do this without losing fingers, obviously.

Michael Pickard: Yeah. I have a few little cuts, but my mom being a good German lady taught me one thing and that is everything in life should be built on steps. So, the first thing I learned was how to hold the knife properly. As I learned to hold the knife consistently and properly, then it’s a matter of trying to go a little bit faster. Sometimes people will try to just be faster from the start. I should knock on wood as I say this. I haven’t cut myself in a long, long time.

Mark Blevis: So, you’re holding the knife actually kind of by the base of the actual blade.

Michael Pickard: Yeah, the handle should fit somewhere in the palm of your hand and where you grip the knife should be essentially right around where the centre of gravity of the knife is. Then, you grip it like that. What happens then is when you go to angle, you have more support. The knife just will not all of a sudden slip off. The other key is have very sharp knives. Some people think that that actually could lead itself to you cut yourself more. It’s actually the complete opposite because then you would stop struggling with the knife to try to get through something. More importantly, if you do happen to, by accident, cut yourself at least it’s a clean cut, whereas, if it’s not such a sharp knife…

Mark Blevis: The whole thing finger instead of just a piece.

Michael Pickard: Yeah, exactly. Now, I’m just going to grab a mixing bowl. Pardon me.

Mark Blevis: Okay. The other thing I’ll mention while you’re walking around here is I noticed that you do not have your fingers sticking out. You actually have your fingers rounded so that the tips of your fingers are tucked away from where the knife is actually cutting.

Michael Pickard: That is correct, yes. What you do is you essentially just rest it against your knuckles.

With the basil, what we tend to do now is we just take the leaves. The only thing you do not want is the stem at the bottom, which is really thick, but as a far as taking the leaves off of the stems, you do not have to do that. It’s up to you, but I find with basil it’s all very usable and it’s all soft. It’s not like some other spices. Rosemary, for instance, you would not want any of the stalks on top because it’s so hard. Then, we can cut this into what I would say is julienned. Again, this comes down to what your interests are, but for us it’s just shaved slices. Then I just add the fresh basil to the Roma tomatoes, which we’ve already cut up. Then I reach for some garlic. Anybody who is eaten at our restaurant is quite aware of the fact that we’re very fond of garlic.  personally think that you can’t really ever have too much garlic. Other people may say otherwise. What we do, the exact recipe for this, would be if you were to do a two-pound batch of Roma tomatoes, you’re looking at adding a half a cup of pomace oil. We use pomace just because there’s a little bit more flavour. Extra virgin olive oil really is not going to bring anything to it. It’s generally flavourless, if you will. One bunch of fresh basil, which we’ve chopped up; salt and pepper to taste, some people have different preferences, and half a cup of chopped garlic.

Now, with ours in the restaurant, what we do is we cut it so you can actually see the garlic. I think it’s a good thing. I like the little chunks of garlic. If you would prefer to stick your garlic in the Cuisinart and puree it and do it with the oil so that it actually does get chopped up and by all means you may do that, but just as far as how we do it here, that’s how we chop it up. Give it again just some more flavour. The key is, well, if I haven’t already said it or if I have said it, I apologize, fresh ingredients, it’s just such a huge difference, it makes such a big difference. When it comes to certain things like beef, organic beef is still through the roof as far as cost, but when you come to any of the produce these days it’s getting to a point where it’s very affordable and the flavour it’s just so much different, I find. I just cannot get over it. The other thing with the bruschetta, if you know in advance that you are going to be having a dinner party or you’re having people over and you want to serve the bruschetta, it’s actually one of those things that you’re better off making it two or three days in advance and letting it sit. I find that the way that the flavours then begin to combine and meld together, if you will, is a good thing. So, we’ve done this portion of it, and…

Mark Blevis: We’ve actually added the pomace oil, which you just kind of poured arbitrarily, I’ll say, but obviously the calculated eye and you stirred it all together so that is the tomatoes, the basil, and the pomace oil.

Michael Pickard: That is correct and we’re just going to grab a pinch of salt.

Mark Blevis: Okay.

Michael Pickard: What we also do, as well, here at Infusion is just prior to serving we bring it up to temperature. We heat it on the stove top in a frying pan or saute pan, but we don t make it so that the liquid that is in the pan is boiling, but what we do want to do is we want to just warm it up because, again, we find it just combines all the flavours. Sometimes when things are too cold, the true depth of the product doesn’t come out Then the last part that we won’t do today because it’s about a two-hour process, but which I’ve no problem telling you what it is, is the balsamic reduction. The balsamic reduction works on having one litre of balsamic vinegar. It can be any balsamic vinegar. It doesn’t have to be any of these expensive aged things, just regular balsamic vinegar, and if you’re going to use one litre, use one cup of sugar, and then you simmer it and you continue to simmer it until it gets to the thickness that you wished for it to be.

Mark Blevis: So, balsamic vinegar with sugar.

Michael Pickard: With sugar and it could be regular sugar.

Mark Blevis: So the measurement was?

Michael Pickard: One litre of balsamic to one cup of sugar. If you simmer it you’re going to be looking at from an hour-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours depending on, again, it comes out to how thick you want it. If for some reason you forgot it and when you cool it you find it’s too thick, it’s almost like cement or molasses just add a little more balsamic, bring it back up to temperature. The other thing is make sure you put your hoods on or your vents on because it does create quite an interesting, well, vinegar smell because you’re reducing this, so you want to have windows open or hoods on.

Mark Blevis: Is that where the name reduction comes from?

Michael Pickard: Precisely.

Mark Blevis: Okay. Boy, this is like an education experience for me.

Michael Pickard: We’re trying.

Mark Blevis: I don’t work in the kitchen.

Michael Pickard: Well, maybe you should now. Then the goat’s cheese, just put a little goat’s cheese ball. We take a crostini, a baguette, we slice it. If you do not have a grill you can cook it on, just put it in your oven. If you want to put a little bit of olive oil on it just to allow it to get crispy and then you’re ready serve. It doesn’t have to be long pieces. It can just be little medallions. It can be however you wish to do it and you’re good to go.

Mark Blevis: What were you doing before you started Infusion?

Michael Pickard: I went to Carleton and I got myself a degree in economics and decided that I was going to work in the banking industry. So, I was in Toronto and pursuing that and after about…

Mark Blevis: How’s that going for you?

Michael Pickard: Well, it wasn’t meant for me. Unfortunately, this is radio so you can’t see my long hair and earrings, but it was a little too formal for me, but I thought that from my upbringing and my parent’s background it was something that I thought would be — it was something I knew. I thought that I would enjoy it and certainly didn’t enjoy it that much. I’d always worked in restaurants when I was in university. So, I went back to work in a restaurant in Toronto. That’s where I met my lovely wife and it turned out we were both from Ottawa and it turned out we both wanted to have kids and so we thought, “Well, let’s move back to Ottawa.” n Toronto, you drive an hour-and-a-half to play golf and in Ottawa we drive an hour-and-a-half and we’re at our cottage. So for quality of life’s reason, we decided to move back to Ottawa. We couldn’t work for others forever, so we thought, “Well, let’s open up our own place.”

[Portrait theme music]

Mark Blevis: If you ever make it to Ottawa, be sure to check out the Infusion Bistro. Tell them Mark from Electric Sky sent you. Electric Sky is a proud member of the Rogic Podcast Conglomerate. Thanks for listening and please stay subscribed.

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