December 13, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
"My name is Ave DInzey, as in Ave Maria!" announces the effervescent owner and chef at the Purple Hibiscus, 171 Dumoulin Ave.
She's cooking Caribbean fusion recipes from "when the world was flat."
For the past year, the 49-year-old Trinidadian-Canadian has been creating exotic food at her 28-seat eatery in St. Boniface -- a business attached to the front of the St. Boniface Hotel.
She spent 25 years as an international Air Canada flight attendant before retiring to follow her dream. "When I started out, my kids said, 'Do people actually pay you to eat the food you've been cooking for us all this time?' I said, 'Yes! You have been so spoiled!' " The kids are used to exotic dishes Winnipeg customers are just discovering, such as Creole fish with breadfruit.
"Breadfruit is actually a tropical vegetable from a big tree -- not a potato, not bread, but it's a white veggie and is steamed in coconut milk."
For Dinzey, cooking is an art. "It's Caribbean fusion, combining foods which are Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese and Continental. These flavours are mixed to create Creole, West Indian, and Trini foods." It's no surprise the place is called the Purple Hibiscus -- Dinzey grew up in a large multi-generation house in Princes Town, Trinidad and Tobago, where the whole front entrance was covered with a mass of purple hibiscus flowers.
She speaks French, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
"I must say I love it in St. Boniface; I've been here 18 years. There's so much character here! It's close to the city centre, but not in the downtown. And then there's the attraction called Wayne Dinzey.
"I fell in love with Wayne, whom I'd known 16 years. We were best friends and he kissed me one day, and that was it!"
Chances are, you will meet Ave at your table if you stop in.
She is noted for coming by with veggies her customers have likely never heard of (like purple yams) and offering a free taste. And she loves to do the actual cooking.
"I do the shopping, cooking, prepping -- a one-woman show."
Every night for dinner, she cooks four or five different dishes, such as cumin-flavoured geera pork, or stewed chicken in burned sugar -- a taste between caramel and molasses.
Desserts are exotic homemade treats such as mango flan and homemade tropical fruit ice cream she whips up herself.
"I put extra love in your food," she smiles.
"GOING to Timbuktu" used to mean trying to get to an elusive destination, somewhere at the ends of the earth.
Now you can pull up at 712 Langevin St. in St. Boniface, and you've arrived at Timboctou (one of several alternate spellings of the name).
Owner Salim Traore says he and his manager/brother Dave Traore mainly operate a Canadian-style convenience store, but they stock West African products as well.
Salim Traore is well aware of what Timbuktu means to people in Canada. In fact, he giggles when I ask him about it. He says, "I wanted to get a name that people would remember."
So now, when your grumpy nearest-and-dearest demands to know where you're going, you can truthfully say, "I'm off to Timboctou!"
Winnipegger Max Johnson, owner of the Great Canadian Travel Company on Marion Street, once took a group of wild and crazy people all the way to the actual city in Mali, West Africa.
Now you can get Timboctou bragging rights for the cost of a bag of chips!
CHAISE is Shea Ritchie's new baby.
Inside the large, two-storey house/restaurant there's a comfy lounge and large main-floor dining room. But nip upstairs and you'll find another dining room for large parties.
"We have a multimedia entertainment system -- projector, screen and Apple TV -- so you can play your own music, video or put on a business presentation," says Ritchie. You can also project a beach scene on a wall in winter or show a pre-recorded video of your gang singing Happy Birthday.
The 31-year-old restaurateur comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. His grandfather was Commodore Dan Ritchie of the MS River Rouge and the Millionaire Drive-In chain. Ritchie knows how to create mystique.
Though Shea's lounge and restaurant are Italian-inspired, calling the restaurant Chaise instead of Shea's is a nod to his French Quarter location. The hot-pink chaise lounge logo cakes in the dessert display look good enough to eat, but they're rock-hard iced-art pieces. As for the real desserts and tortes that share the display, "The red velvet and pistachio cakes are our main sellers, always neck-and-neck."
Jason Sopel is the chef in this six-month-old venture. "Jason was recently invited to the Gold Medal Plates event in October at the convention centre," says Ritchie.
Weekly unlimited sampler evenings have just started in the main-floor lounge, such as pizza night and gourmet grilled cheese night for a flat rate of about $25. The restaurant also offers custom dinners for groups -- anywhere from $30 to $200 per person with the chef designing a special menu for the whole gang ahead of time. "It's a perfect night out with many courses of amazing food," says Ritchie.
It's also become a popular new spot for breakfasts, which start at 9 a.m. -- only $5 weekdays, with fancier brekkies on the weekend.
And then there's Blue. Kids of all ages are amazed by Ritchie's clever black-and-white border collie with one blue eye and one brown, who waits patiently behind the restaurant for his master when he's working. When it's not busy, Ritchie takes Blue out on the front sidewalk, where they perform tricks to the amusement of patrons. Some come out of the tall hedges to stand and stare.
"Blue is the real brains of this operation," says Ritchie.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2013 A1