Being busy is just fine with executive chef Mark Caswell of the Muskoka Bay Club
Trying to pin down Mark Caswell for just ten minutes is no mean feat. The executive chef at the Muskoka Bay Club is always on the go: lovingly preparing savoury dishes in the kitchen, experimenting with new food combinations, or planning menus for any one of a dozen weddings scheduled at the club this summer. He’s busy, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Part of the appeal of cooking is trying new recipes, ensuring every diner is pleased, finding a way to accommodate someone with a food allergy… that’s exciting,” he says with obvious passion. “Trying new things means you are always improving yourself and your culinary art.”
Caswell knows a thing or two about improving himself. He’s largely self-taught, picking up his skill through experimentation and on-the-job learning under other chefs. “I certainly didn’t follow a traditional path in my culinary career,” he says with a laugh.
That path began with making pizzas at a Barrie mall as a high school job. From there it led him to a fine dining establishment in Toronto, three years at the Lake Joseph Club, a spell operating a 40-seat bistro in Barrie, and ultimately to at the Muskoka Bay Club where he brings his unique vision to the site’s two distinct restaurants: Cliffside Grill, a traditional pub, and the Muskoka Room, where fine dining is perfected.
“Cooking in Muskoka is different than anywhere else I’ve been. Muskoka is very touristy, so there is a wide range of people from all over the world that you have to keep happy, in addition to club members,” Caswell explains. “I love the challenge of trying to please everyone.”
It shouldn’t prove hard for Caswell, a talented chef who leans toward continental food and considers his food casual fine dining with a touch of elegance. His rainbow trout dish, blackened with grilled pineapple, basmati rice and an almond compound butter, is gentle and rich in flavour. The walnut-crusted rack of lamb is accompanied by the simple fresh flavours of stewed lentils, fresh mint and green apple chutney.
Desserts are sinfully good: a raspberry chocolate mousse cake, a lemon Euro tart topped with a cloud of meringue, or a New York cheesecake accompanied by fresh berries and coulis.
“I always like to do something out of the ordinary. Last year, we tried pepper-crusted ostrich tenderloin – it’s delicious and very healthy. This year I’m introducing wild boar tenderloin with a wild mushroom risotto, wilted arugula and Madeira demi-glace. It’s very lean meat and very healthy,” he explains.
But regardless whether the plate leans toward the exotic or the conventional,
Caswell likes to source locally and add a bit of Muskoka to everything on the menu.
Caswell wants people to know the Muskoka Bay Club is open to the public.
“A lot of people think we’re members-only. They don’t know what they’re missing.
If you can see our dining room you’d
understand the appeal of dining here. The view here is spectacular and it only enhances the food.”