I bought a wonderful picture last week – a print of a painting by the young Japanese artist Sae Kimura of a dog barking at the moon. The dog (really a dog-cat cross) is called Joni (pronounced Johnny) and is a frequent hero of Sae’s extraordinary, whimsical, profound pictures. She currently has an exhibition at Harvest Kitchen on Harbord Street. I’ve never eaten there, but I will do so very soon because the restaurant’s Managing Director is Jill McAbe, one of the principals of JOV Bistro, back in the day, and a woman who would not be associated with anywhere that was less than stellar. She spoke at Terroir on Monday, educating us all about collaborative systems in the hospitality industry. It was there, in-between speakers, sitting in the Arcadian Court, that my monkey mind made its way back to Sae and Joni.
Terroir was very interesting. I’m not going to offer a precis – just a quick thank you to Scott Vivian, chef-patron of Beast, who made me blush deeply by mentioning me from the stage. There were many fascinating speakers and a general spirit of earnest bonhommie that I found encouraging. Strong contingents from Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Belize, Tuscany, Quebec, the USA, England and Alberta reminded the 700-or-so onlookers that the symposium now has an inclusive relevance far beyond the friendly confines of the GTA.
I’m delighted to say that those Albertans who came to Terroir stayed a few extra days and met up with other chefs and dignitaries who flew in from Calgary, Banff and Edmonton to put on a tremendous show of their own at Richmond Station on Wednesday night. The emcee was my friend the gastronome and food writer extraordinaire John Gilchrist (he shared the platform with Dragon’s Den star Arlene Dickinson) and nine guest chefs did the cooking. They are all part of the Alberta Ate collective, a group of chefs inspired by Toronto’s own Group of Seven, who come together in different permutations to create events like this. I don’t know if there was an actual mandate to do so, but the eight-course meal seemed designed to show Toronto that there was more to Alberta cuisine than steak. The opening act in particular, featuring Connie de Sousa (8½ months pregnant but wouldn’t miss the event) and John Jackson of Charcut, a restaurant known for its nose-to-tail meat, was splendidly unepected. The two chefs offered an elegant, delicate salad of smoked pickerel cheeks, gorgeous potatoes cut into thick coins, a dill-dressed hard-boiled quail egg and crunchy snowpeas. Little flecks of crunchy batter, threads of pickled onion and some awesome Brassica grain mustard completed the dish, along with a dressing of mustard-spiked sour cream. Lots of sturdy flavours on the plate but the salt-cured pickerel cheeks had enough personality of their own to stand out. Big Rock Warthog ale was a clever accompaniment.
The idea of the evening was to showcase Albertan ingredients as well as chefs and I think it was an eye-opener for some of the Toronto crowd. There wasn’t a dish that didn’t excite. Most of the chefs had competed several times at Gold Medal Plates in either Calgary or Edmonton but a couple of them were new to me. JW Foster is the new executive chef at The Fairmont Banff Springs: he presented a braised pork and caramelized onion terrine, a firm slice dressed with mâche and tiny pickled chanterelles that had the colour and almost the texture of uni.
Duncan Ly, chef of Hotel Arts Calgary and Yellow Door Bistro, won silver in this year’s Canadian Culinary Championship. His dish on Wednesday was brilliant – a piece of almost raw, citrus-cured rainbow trout over a hot-sour consommé made from the trout’s bones and spiked with a funky hint of fish sauce. Fresh sugar snap peas, wilted baby spinach, fondant potato and a few trout eggs were part of the fun, as was a bowl of crispy trout skin chips. A creamy cocktail like a Sour made with Alberta premium rye worked really well with it.
And so we progressed… Justin Leboe of the highly esteemed Model Milk in Calgary gave us elk tartar with an insanely delicious sauce made by puréeing raw oysters, ramps and sour cheese until it had the colour and texture of lobster tomalley. Chef and visual artist Pierre Lamielle of Food on your Shirt had fun with a Beet Wellington. Blair Lebsack of RGE RD in Edmonton cooked pheasant breast with a supple crepe filled with the leg meat, Sylvan Star gruyere and roasted onion. Chef jan Hansen of Heritage Park brought the savoury procession to a close with sous vide lamb loin, pickled beets and roasted carrot purée.
Karine Moulin of hotel Arts provided dessert - a dense chocolate and Saskatoon berry cake with wild blueberry chantilly and crispy green flax praline.
Amazingly, we finished on time and a fine time was had by all. I now have a smart white Stetson which I wear around the house.