Cooking with Chef Christopher Walsh of Rustik
He’s full of insider tips too. Think you know how to make homemade mayo or aioli?
Nothing says spring like fresh new greens – think fiddleheads, asparagus and garlic scapes – poking through the soil to greet us. Maybe it’s the anticipation, but we swear they taste so much brighter and give us infinitely more pleasure than the hearty winter vegetables we’ve relied on for months.
Rustik chef Christopher Walsh is eagerly awaiting this coming bounty, finalizing a spring menu to do it justice. Enter the charred asparagus taco, in which al dente shoots are at the centre of a big, complex bite.
In the tacos, “you get the freshness of cilantro, the char of the tomatoes and asparagus, then the heat of the chorizo and aioli on the back of the palate,” he says. “Food needs to tell a story as you bring out the flavours.”
Christopher builds this story using authentic flour tortillas made by AlbaLisa All Natural Mexican Food in Alliston, goat cheese from Woolwich Dairy in Orangeville and, to garnish the dish, microgreens from Caledon’s Nature’s Nurturing. Along with his style of cooking, this dish represents the reason he jumped at the chance five months ago to work with restaurateur Brett Jaggard, who opened Rustik in Orangeville two years ago.
Now he’s commuting from Toronto and says he “couldn’t be more grateful” for the chance to helm this kitchen and be closer to farmers and producers. “He’s like a kid in a candy shop,” says Jaggard, who will be his energetic field guide.
Christopher was born in England, and first immigrated with his family as a boy to Welland, Ontario, then spent about 18 years with his family in Nova Scotia. In a household of specialized mechanics, he credits his mom for encouraging his interest in food and cooking back in high school when he was casting about for a work placement. “I fell in love with it,” he says with a slight British lilt. “I love making new things.”
This led to a diploma at Nova Scotia Community College and gigs at the Chateau Lake Louise and, most recently, with the Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants group, which owns restaurants such as Canoe and Biff’s Bistro, and a catering operation in Toronto, where Christopher says he “honed his craft.”
He’s full of insider tips too. Think you know how to make homemade mayo or aioli? Pause before you reach for your beloved extra virgin olive oil if you plan to build in other flavours, such as the chipotle here. “I use canola oil,” he says. “It’s neutral. Olive oil can be very strong and peppery, and dominate.”
While there are many steps to amping up each bite in this Mexican-inspired dish, Christopher points out that home cooks can build in shortcuts, such as using store-bought mayo. But some steps, such as the caseless chorizo, are so simple they’re worth it.
The result? In addition to looking every bit the bright, optimistic spring offering, we found it a juicy, tangy, smoky winner. And a perfect nod to new beginnings.