Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Truly Holistic Experience: Terroir V Dinner at Lassdale Farm

For the past five years, Arlene Stein (formerly of Hart House in Toronto, presently with the Evergreen Brickworks) has held an annual symposium called Terroir, where hospitality professionals (everyone from chefs and restauranteurs all the way to farmers and authors) meet to share ideas and attend workshops to learn about best practices from some of the industry luminaries.

In past years, Arlene has held a special dinner after the event to thank the keynote speakers for travelling to Toronto to take part in her annual food biz convention. This year, she decided to have the dinner before the event. I think she may have made some arrangements at the Savour Stratford Perth County Food Summit a few weeks ago, since she chose my friends Mark and Chris Lass' Lassdale Farms/Wild Violet Pottery as the venue for an incredible dining experience.

Among the guests for this remarkable evening of Canadian dining were Fergus Henderson, a British chef who is well known as a leader in the popular Snout-to-Tail carnivore movement; Trevor Gulliver, Chef Henderson's business partner at the St. John restaurant in the UK; Mitchell Davis of the James Beard Foundation; David Kinch, award winning chef at the California field-to-table gem Manresa; and Mark Schatzker, author of Steak: The Book. Mark sourced out some Nunavut seal meat for the event that he offered to share with Fergus, Mitchell, and Trevor (left to right above).

Now I'm no industry pro, but I do know that the best dining experiences are those that stimulate the body, mind and spirit. The pottery barn where Chris Lass works - nestled in a vast snowy field - provided a gorgeous rustic environment. Her stunning, often iridescent clay creations - within which all of the food and drinks were served - added an earthy authenticity appropriate to the whole Terroir concept. Mark and Chris explained how the special kiln they built at the farm produces Chris' dazzling pottery (which even includes pieces made of clay dug up on the farm itself!).

Chef Kinch and Mitchell Davis were immediate fans of this talented local artisan!

Local farmer Antony John (aka Soiled Reputation Farm's The Manic Organic) was crooning the classics back in the barn, and we all tried some of the raw seal, as well as some local elk jerky, some skewered beef tips made with veal from the very farm upon which we were standing, and smoky duck prosciutto beside some oysters with seal merguez sausage (above).

All of the food for the evening was prepared by the kitchen team from Langdon Hall in Cambridge, who cooked in the great outdoors alongside a heaping handful of student chefs from the Stratford Chefs School (who need to be congratulated both for finishing their grueling first year a few days previous and for sticking around to prepare such a stellar meal for these serious VIPs).

I was able to take some video of the evening that included a clip of the adventurous Mark Schatzker offering to be the first to try the seal (I think "North of the Border" may have been a better song for that one Antony); as well as intros to the meal by Stratford Tourism's Danielle Brodhagen and winemarker Norman Hardie of Prince Edward County.

The meal included Arctic Char, Muskox and Caribou served family style in Chris' ceramic creations. Soiled Reputation vegetables provided a local complement to the northern delicacies to which our American and British guests of honour were treated, many for the first time.

The pottery studio loft was alive with conversation and buzzing with personality.

I found Chef David Kinch to be a real class act, which he demonstrated when he took the time to talk to the chefs-in-training who prepared our meal while we all enjoyed a spectacular platter of local goat and sheep's milk cheese from Monforte Dairy. Chef offered the dudes in the kitchen some of his invaluable culinary insights (above). Word has it he'll be in town for a week next year teaching at the Stratford Chefs School (I'm not going to miss those dinners).

I was disappointed that I wasn't able to attend the full Terroir V event at Hart House in Toronto on March 1, but I think I got the next best thing by being invited to share in this sensational winter dining experience!

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