Executive Chef Amanda Ray brings big city sophistication to farm-to-fork dining at The Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County
When dot.com millionaire, Jeff Stober, dropped an eye-watering $6 million on renovating a dilapidated old hotel in what was then – in 2001 – a sketchy part of Toronto, it was a bold move that may have seemed foolhardy to some. But Stober was right on the money with The Drake in Parkdale, and he was right again when he invested heavily in Prince Edward County.
Formerly a foundry converted into a retirement home converted into a small, mom-and-pop B&B, the modest waterfront property has been given a radical and visually stunning update and expansion, with the addition of rustic cathedral ceilings braced by roughly hewn beams; expanses of glass for lake and garden views; a breezy chic palette of greens, whites, and yellows – a colour combination that somehow manages to both make a statement while remaining neutral enough to provide an unobtrusive backdrop for an impressive art collection. Here, as on Queen West, is all the familiar Drake kitsch and cheek, sometimes even flashing in neon.
The Drake in Toronto built its reputation on the vibe – at once hyper-hip and urbane tempered with plaid-shirt Canadiana – the rooms and the menus, but perhaps more so, on their unique and bold art installations and cultural happenings, and it’s no different at the Devonshire. Still, what is art and style without a little something to eat?
The Devonshire opened in 2016 under another chef, and in 2021, Executive Chef Amanda Ray took over all aspects of food service, making her responsible for six menus – the dining room, room service, food truck, and catered events – and a kitchen brigade of around 20. At 45 years of age, it’s a load she carries with the calm confidence more often found in someone much older.
“I’ve had some amazing mentors in my life,” says Ray. “I had a great upbringing with a strong family, some of the teachers at George Brown College, and the chefs I’ve worked for; they’ve given me a solid foundation.”
Ray graduated from George Brown College in 1999, although it wasn’t what her father had hoped for. “My father is an English professor who’s taught at some very prestigious universities here and in the US,” says Ray. “He wanted me to go to university, but my sister helped me tune that out and follow my heart to culinary school. I think he’s okay with it now.”
She took some knocks too, while studying abroad. Ray worked in France and Italy, in stuffy old kitchens where the vastly male staff didn’t believe women belonged in the kitchen. “Most of my colleagues in the kitchen were old men, stuck in their ways, and didn’t even bother to ask my name; they either didn’t think I’d last or didn’t want me to, so they didn’t bother to get to know me,” says Ray. “So, I had to prove my worth to them and everyone, which has made me better.”
“I learned a lot, but I also learned that I wanted to be accepted and allowed to grow,” recalls Ray. “I wanted to go and work for a woman.” Back then, that was a harder prospect than it is today. “I applied to anywhere with a woman chef,” recalls Ray. “There was Scaramouche, Monsoon, Truffles, Auberge du Pommier, and North 44. The only two callbacks I got were from North 44 and Auberge du Pommier. I was offered a job at Auberge, where I loved the kitchen and the people, and so began my 19-year journey with Oliver and Bonacini.”
The young chef left her hometown of Aurora for Toronto, where the opportunities were greater, but where sexism on the job was still a reality. “I was very lucky,” says Ray. “I don’t know if it was my attitude or what, I mean, I was tiny, but I was able to roll with the punches and guy humour, and there were other women in the kitchen who took me under their wings.” Big or tiny, one needs a thick skin to work in some kitchens. “I definitely got yelled at a lot. It could be very strict, but I had to earn my chops, which I didn’t mind; I wanted to prove myself,” says Ray. “But I probably had a few moments when I cried in a walk-in.”
Still, says Ray, “I love the energy, creativity, passion and the intoxicating feeling of hospitality.” And when she landed at Canoe under Chef Anthony Walsh, she found a mentor who would keep her “charged” for the next 15 years.
Ray also credits living a healthy lifestyle with her unflagging energy, enthusiasm, and career longevity. “I love yoga, biking, and meditation,” says Ray. “I used to run with the Food Runners but my body and injuries don’t allow that anymore. Now I would rather run towards a good meal than a finish line.”
Chef Ray loves living in The County. “I love being close to the water, surrounded by art and culture, building relationships with farmers, and working for a company with values that align with my own,” says Ray. “It’s perfect for me right now; I’ve been able to bring back the positive reviews and give the kitchen some much-needed re-energizing, plus there will be some expansion in the near future.”
With post-pandemic staffing woes, Chef Ray still finds herself on the line, and she’s fine with that. “I’m here to inspire the team and create the menus, but I love cooking. I’m passionate about food, and I don’t want to get rusty. I’d hate to end up just sitting in front of a computer.”
Staffing challenges has also meant that she’s had to hire many young and inexperienced people to work in her kitchen. “I hope to keep inspiring people who are young and green,” says Ray. “I’ve got a good number of women on my staff, and that’s given me the opportunity to mentor some young women over the years, and that’s beautiful.”
“I love being close to the water, surrounded by art and culture, building relationships with farmers, and working for a company with values that align with my own.” AMANDA RAY
Truffle Burrata, Roasted Mushroom, Rye and Herb Salad
This Burrata Recipe with mushrooms and radicchio can be served as an appetizer or as a salad. It’s a delicious dish perfect for fall, and with the warm earthy mushrooms and truffle vinaigrette, is a fantastic dressing you can use with many recipes. Truffle paste, oil and preserved lemon can be found at most fine food shops or online. If preserved lemon is proving elusive, the zest of a fresh lemon will do.
For the Vinaigrette
2 ¾ cups extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp. sherry vinegar
2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 ½ tbsp. truffle paste
2 tsp. truffle oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
Pinch Maldon Sea Salt or other large flake sea salt to finish
For the Roasted Mushrooms
4 cups fresh mixed mushrooms – oyster, shiitake, lion’s mane – or whatever is available to you
2 tbsp. olive oil
Zest of 1 fresh lemon, washed
Pinch sea salt and pepper
4 whole sprigs of fresh thyme
For the Salad
Fresh Truffle Burrata – one ball per person as main,
½ ball as starter
¼ bunch each of: Italian or flatleaf parsley, tarragon, basil – leaves picked, stems discarded (about 1 cup)
1 head radicchio, pulled apart, core discarded, washed and spun dry
2 cups mixed baby greens or baby arugula, washed and spun dry
Peel of 1 preserved lemon; julienned, white pith removed
Olive oil for frying bread
1 loaf rye bread, sliced, 1 ¼ – 1 ½ inch thick
First Make the Vinaigrette
- Into a large bowl add the olive oil, both vinegars, salt and pepper, truffle paste, truffle oil, and minced shallot; whisk vigorously to bring together. The vinaigrette can be made a few days ahead, stored in a covered jar in the fridge.
To Roast the Mushrooms
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
- Shred the oyster mushrooms, and coarsely chop the lion’s mane and shiitake, or whatever ‘wild’ or gourmet mushrooms you have. Make sure to clean off debris and cut away tough stems.
- Add mushrooms, thyme sprigs, salt and pepper, lemon zest to a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and toss to evenly coat. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Set aside – covered – somewhere where they can be kept warm but won’t dry out.
To Make the Salad
- Before serving, drain burrata, set on a clean towel and bring to room temperature.
- Into a large skillet over medium heat, add a drop of olive oil and the bread slices; fry until both sides are lightly golden; set aside.
- On individual plates or a large platter, arrange the fried bread, and top each slice with a ball of burrata, torn in half.
- Arrange warm mushrooms around the burrata.
- In a large bowl, lightly dress the radicchio, mixed greens or arugula, and herbs with the vinaigrette; gently toss to coat; add a few pinches of salad to the plates around the toasts, then garnish the burrata with julienned preserved lemon and a pinch of Maldon salt.
Makes 4 servings
“Commercially yeasted bread is the original fast food,” says Humble Bread owner and baker, Henry Willis. “Sadly, the bread industry in North America isn’t concerned with quality, only larger profit margins at the expense of people’s health. And nobody talks about it.” We’re talking about it: The loaves that emerge from Willis’s custombuilt wood-fired brick oven are anything but “fast.” Made with simple, top-quality ingredients the vegan dough is fermented making it superflavourful, healthy, and easier to digest even by those with gluten intolerance. “We always source the highest quality ingredients from local producers who use only organic or sustainable growing methods,” says Willis. The bakery – no retail shop at this time – is housed in an 1850s barn, in the heart of Prince Edward County. Look for Willis’s wife, Natalie, selling their goods on Saturday mornings at the Wellington Community Market in downtown Wellington. The Drake Devonshire has been a customer since 2014, and Chef Ray is a fan. “We use his bagels on our brunch menu, and in the fall, we will be using his 100% rye bread.”
The Fungi Connection
Closer to Kingston than to The County, on the banks of the Napanee River, is tiny Yarker, home to The Fungi Connection, and American expats, Deb and Darin Kelly and their four kids. The couple have been growing things together since 2006, at first as a hobby, but always maintaining the dream of full-time farming and the honour of feeding their community. When they arrived on Wolfe Island in 2018, their goal was to build their farming business. By mid-2021, a customer offered some space on her 200-acre farmstead in Yarker, and they were able to expand their growing operation. The couple don’t just raise fantastic fungi, they sell home-growing kits, give workshops, and consult to the mushroom industry. Fierce believers in organic farming methods and friends to all living things, the pair raise produce free of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Chef Ray is a mushroom-lover. “We’ve cooked with their mushrooms for four years now, using oyster mushrooms, shiitake, cinnamon cap (chestnut), and black king oyster.” And, they’ll be extending their production and adding maitake and pioppino.”
John Nyman has been in a sticky situation since he was just eight years old. Growing up on his family’s Picton area farm, he kept himself busy every spring in the sugarbush, building his own sugar shack, then tapping and collecting sap by hand and boiling it into syrup. From humble beginnings, starting in 1993 with just 40 plastic ice cream buckets, today he has 6,200 taps supplying sap to a high-efficiency wood-fired evaporator, producing over 10,000 litres of syrup – golden, amber, dark and very dark – maple sugar and candy, and maple butter. But man cannot live on maple alone. John and his family – the kids are enthusiastic young farmers – practise open-door, ethical, sustainable and animal-friendly farming, pasture-raising grass-fed lamb, pork, beef, eggs, free-range chickens, and turkeys; all, perhaps not coincidentally, delicious with maple. Since opening in 2014, the Drake has kept its larder stocked with John’s 10-litre jugs of amber syrup, which Chef Ray has featured on a few of her signature dishes: Duck Wings with Chili-Maple Glaze; Chicken and Waffles; and French Toast.
Johnny C.Y. Lam