Adrean Farrugia is a monumental force in the upcoming generation of Canadian jazz musicians. He plays with energy, excitement and most of all – joy.
His heart spills onto the keys as he explores melodies with curiosity and vigor – he maintains a childlike quality that allows him to say ‘yes’ to new ideas as they come.
Juno nominee, composer, third generation musician, teacher, Canadian ambassador and just plain fun.
“[Keith Jarrett’s] music has always had a quality to my ears and senses that transcends the five senses and really presences me to a spiritual realm underneath the surface that resonates in the music. Somehow his music says something to a part of me that feels deeper than just the brain. His music talks to the soul. This has become my own greatest goal as an artist: speak to the listener’s soul — that’s the part of us that we all share in common.”
- Adrean on Keith Jarrett’s music and influence in an article by Peter Humm, for the Ottawa Citizen
Adrean’s goal to speak to the soul has been achieved. He is driven by honesty and this conviction is evident in his playing – most obviously in his improvising – with an innate ability to set ego aside and open himself up to whatever may come.
Adrean began studying classical piano at the age of 12, but his musical roots run deep. His father Bruno is a drummer, his brother Benny is a guitarist and his grandfather Joseph was a fiddle player from PEI. In a home full of music, Adrean grew up around jam sessions and rehearsals that laid the foundation for his future career in jazz.
While enrolled at Mohawk College he was exposed to jazz and improvisation, which inspired him to cross over into this world. He tore through recordings by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Oscar Peterson and Bud Powell. I share this love affair for Bud Powell and can hear elements of his groundbreaking style in Adrean’s playing.
As one of the originators of early Be-Bop, Powell began his studies in classical music, like Adrean. And like Adrean, Powell was known for his incessant drive, lyricism and his ability to communicate the depths of his spirit and soul through his playing.
The list of performers Adrean has worked with is long and reads like a who’s who of the current jazz community. Some highlights include: Chris Potter, Joel Frahm, Matt Dusk, Guido Basso, Jane Bunnett, Randy Brecker, Don Thompson, Kirk MacDonald, Brad Goode and upcoming Harlot featuree, Kelly Jefferson (to name a brief few). He has studied with names like Kenny Wheeler, Geoffrey Keezer and Cedar Walton.
Adrean is a fixture in the Worst Pop Band Ever, the Ernesto Cervini Quartet, the Johnny Griffith Quintet, Quinsin Nachoff’s ‘Forward Motion’ and can be heard alongside his brilliant wife and Harlot’s Artist past featuree, Sophia Perlman.
Let’s talk food!
The Harlot: Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Adrean Farrugia: My favourite Toronto restaurants are Ritz on Yonge – best jerk chicken I know. Favourite fancy schmancy restaurant was Claudio Aprile’s Colborne Lane (closed 2013), the best food I’ve had anywhere – ever. My favourite Hamilton restaurant is Le Chinois – the best Szechuan food I’ve ever had.
I met Claudio Aprile and thank goodness, he’s really nice! We know that taste and smell are closely linked to memory, is there a particular dish that conjures up images of home?
The smell of bacon and eggs reminds me of Sundays growing up.
Is there a snack food from your childhood that holds special nostalgia?
Rice Crispy Squares – the way my mom made them – with extra marshmallows
So good when they’re warm and gooey. Is there a favourite dish you have that someone in your life makes for you?
Sophia makes a dish with soba noodles – veggie stir fry with chicken, fried tofu and this crazy coconut peanut sauce that I absolutely love.
A favourite dish at a restaurant you frequent?
Spicy tuna rolls and wakame salad at this sushi place in Liberty village (I forget the name of it). Chicken parmesan at East side Mario’s – yup, I’m a redneck.
I worked there on and off for seven years… so no digs from me. What is your favourite dish to make for guests?
Eggplant parmesan with homemade sauce that I learned from an 80 year old Italian grandmother of a girl I dated when I was younger.
Double Big Mac combo from McDonalds.
What is your favourite beverage?
Your go-to bar order?
Cranberry-Soda (I don’t drink booze anymore). Chicken wings or fish and chips.
What condiment can you not live without?
Hot Sauce or Mayo.
If someone were putting together the ultimate dinner for you – no limitations – what would it be?
Unlimited Alaskan King crab legs and a giant vat of melted butter.
Is there a dish or style of cooking you would like to learn how to make?
Szechuan or French
Touring takes you to lots of different countries, cities and small towns. What is the most memorable meal you’ve had – good or terrible – and what about it left an impression on you?
There was a restaurant called the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach, California where I had Alaskan King crab that had arrived on a small boat from Alaska minutes before it was steamed and brought to my table. It was so good I almost cried. Also, I had some kind of jellied fish in Bialystok, Poland once that was so gross I almost cried.
Yum and Bleck! Where is somewhere in the world you would love to travel to for its culinary offerings?
Some small village in Southern Italy where the food is simple but masterfully executed.
What is the breakfast dish you’d wake up early for?
Egg’s benedict (on gluten free English muffins)
Maybe a gourmet lasagne (but again it would have to be gluten free).
If you were throwing your dream dinner party, who would be your ideal three guests and what would you serve to them?
Keith Jarrett (the greatest musician I know of), Robin Williams (the funniest person I know of), Ken Wilber (the smartest person I know of). I’d serve them whatever the best caterer I could afford would make them.
When you are coming home after a tour, what do you crave first – what did you miss the most?
My own homemade frittata with bocconcini, cherry tomatoes, garlic, arugula and spicy sausage.
Any other food stories you’d like to share?
I once ate about a pound of foie gras at a fancy party, it was delicious. The next day I threw up. That could have been partly due to the half bottle of rum I also consumed with the foie gras…
Thanks again, Adrean, I fully expect to try your eggplant parm in the future.
Adrean can be seen around Toronto and Hamilton frequently. He has a duo album with Joel Frahm in the works as well as a show with the legendary, Ernie Watts Quintet, May 21st at the George Weston Recital Hall. If you’re in Toronto the 1st week in June, be sure to come to The Rex Hotel to see him with The Johnny Griffith Quintet featuring NYC’s Jeremy Pelt… I’ll be there and so should you! xo
SWANKY STUFFED CHICKEN PARMESAN
Adrean has mentioned his East Side Mario’s memories – a place I have strong ties to. 20 years ago, their food was actually tasty, not like the pre-fab plastic they serve now.
As I’ve been told (and hope to experience), he makes a mean parmigiana, so I decided to put together something a little reminiscent of that old New York/Italian chain, while keeping it gluten free for his current needs.
Cornmeal adds a beautiful crunch and the stuffing makes this dish decadent and special. The addition of diced pepperoncinis echoes Eastside’s bottomless bowls of garden salad while adding texture.
Pairing it with parmesan potatoes reminded me of the ever present cheese graters at Eastside’s we had to crank tableside – “Cheese or pepper, folks?”…
For the chicken:
2 chicken breasts, cutlet removed
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
4-6 tbsp garlic herb Boursin cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 grated parmesan cheese
1/2 – 3/4 cup diced pickled pepperoncini peppers
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil
4-6 tomato slices
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
2/3 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Using a sharp knife, butterfly the breast making an incision down one side cutting it in half leaving one side in tact, opening it up like a book.
Place the chicken between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and flatten to half its thickness with the smooth side of a meat mallet or bottom of a pot. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
Spread with 2 – 3 tbsp Boursin cheese and sprinkle with 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/8 cup parmesan cheese. Arrange 1/4 cup (or more depending on the size of your breast) peppers on 1 half, followed by 1/4 cup basil, 2 – 3 tomato slices and sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp oregano. Fold the breast over and secure with tooth picks. Repeat with 2nd piece.
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a shallow bowl, mix the cornmeal, parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Press both sides of your chicken parcel into the breading, making sure to coat well.
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium/high until it begins to shimmer. Slide chicken into oil and fry 3 – 5 minutes each side until golden, using tongs to carefully flip.
Place the chicken on a baking sheet and spoon 1/3 cup sauce over each breast and top with 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/8 cup parmesan. Finish in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and the chicken is cooked through, 5 – 10 minutes or the internal temperature reads 165F. Do not over cook.
Let the chicken rest 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with a garden salad like Eastside Mario’s bottomless red bowls by tossing crispy iceberg lettuce (or romaine) with Italian dressing, red onions, black olives, tomato wedges and pepperoncini peppers. Pair with the potatoes below for a swanked up version of a chain restaurant classic.
GARLIC & PARMESAN ROASTED POTATOES with ARUGULA
680 grams/1 1/2 lbs mini potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil + more for serving
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp dried oregano
4 cloves garlic, minced
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup packed arugula
Halve the potatoes and place them in a pot with cold water and some salt. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Drain right away and pour back into the pot to steam dry. The drier the potatoes the crispier they will be.
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss the dry potatoes in oil with parmesan, oregano, garlic and season with salt and pepper.
Arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast for 30 – 40 minutes until golden and crispy, turning once or twice during roasting.
To serve, toss with the arugula, drizzle with a little more olive oil and plate right away. If you have any leftover tomato sauce, serve alongside for dipping.
ONTARIO WINE PAIRING
Gone are the days of the hard and fast rule that you must pair chicken, pork and fish with white wine and red meats with red. There are so many variables – you can pick a contrasting wine or something with analogous flavours – you can find a wide range of wines for each dish.
For Chicken Parmesan I like a pinot noir or lighter merlot, but it’s just as acceptable to go with something more full bodied like a chianti, or even a dry bubbly.
My obvious choice was to look to an Italian winery right here in Niagara – Colaneri – and their exceptional wines. They feature the Appassimento technique meaning “withering”. Grapes are thinned out on the vine, hand picked, then placed on racks in a greenhouse where air is gently circulated. The grapes slowly dry out leaving no water, only juice, producing a concentrated, full bodied grape.
With this crunchy, salty and complex stuffed parmigiana I like Colaneri’s 2013 Corposo – 70% Cabernet Franc and 30% Syrah. This wine is done in the Ripasso style featuring the skins of 100% dried grapes passed though the fermenting juice. Here is one of my favourite Niagara wine authorities, Mike Standen – tasting guru – of Colaneri:
“This is a wine packed with red and black fruit – not too full but not too light – my crowd pleaser which caresses lighter and fuller palates. I get loads of cherries and raspberries entwined with vanilla and spice.”
For more on Colaneri see my post for Calabrese Pasta with Arugula
Alas, the Corposo is now sold out! The 2014 won’t be released until June, but try Colaneri’s Virtuoso 2011 Pinot Noir instead. A palate of cranberries, cherries, vanilla and spice.
Here’s a favourite of mine that Adrean plays on – Johnny’s latest album with some of Toronto (and NYC’s) best. Adrean’s playing really shines in this project – one I am super proud to have seen take shape from conception to completion.
When Adrean, Sophia and TO sax player, Chris Gale (an upcoming Harlot’s Artist featuree), were over before Christmas, Adrean was singing the praises of a new piano prodigy out of Indonesia. The future of jazz is safe in the 11 year old hands of this double Grammy nominee, Joey Alexander.
SUPPORT ONTARIO’S GREAT MUSIC, WINE AND FOOD SCENE – WE DO IT WELL!