What does local food look like in April? When the larders are getting bare and the first bright shoots of asparagus and lettuce are still just a twinkle in the farmer’s eye? Would it even be possible to put on an event and feed 300+ people on local food at this time of the year?
Turns out it’s not just possible, but really quite fabulous. The result was a delicious evening of not just local food but local beer, as the first annual Brewer’s Plate event paired some of Toronto’s top chefs with local craft breweries to come up with a dish that paired with and incorporated the selected beers.
Held at the Church at Berkeley this past Friday night, the event was put together by Green Enterprise Toronto. Said GET’s Network Director, Chris Lowry, in his speech to the crowd, “We’re here to celebrate the brewers, the artisans, the growers, the creators of this feast; and to honour the stewards of the land – the new generation of local farmers and food artisans in this part of the world, who combine traditional and 21st century agroecological methods to produce healthy food for us.”
And while the focus of the event was one of local food and local business, there was none of the militant attitude that can be a frustrating part of the local food scene. Coffee, chocolate and even oysters were a welcome part of the offerings. The event, says Lowry, “… recalls a recent past, and imagines a future where we export out of a sense of abundance, and import what we really can’t make here, like coffee or oysters.”
Opening offerings included pizza from Magic Oven, oysters from Oyster Boy, spicy beer nuts from Daily Apple, potato pizza from Santa Guida Fine Foods, jelly and pickled fiddlehead samples from Forbes Wild Foods and hot dogs from Buddha Dog.
For the main courses:
Deron Engbers of Veritas created an ‘Oreo’ of Northern Woods Mushrooms with Wit beer gastrique, Jerusalem artichokes and walnuts. This fun dish was paired with a selection of beers from Mill Street Brewery.
At the La Palette table, Brook Kavanagh offered a Cherry Chocolate Stout Braised Bison Shortrib on Fondant Potato with Sour Cherry Jelly, paired with the Chocolate Cherry Stout from Black Oak Brewery. This was, quite possibly, the most successful pairing of the night, as the cherry jelly and the cherry beer played off each other exceptionally well. Also on offer was a Wheat Berry-Banana Weissbier Fritter with Citrus Curd, paired with the Denison’s Weissbier.
The busiest table in the room was undoubtedly that of Jamie Kennedy. The JK signature Ontario Pickerel and frites with Cole Slaw and wild leek Tartar sauce were paired with beers from Church Key, with the Lactase Falcon beer used in the fish batter. This beer proved a bit strong for many folks – it’s got a strong aroma of blue cheese – but it worked really nicely in the batter.
Mark Cutrara of Cowbell offered what was probably the best-smelling and comforting dish of the evening. The Legendary, traditional pulled Pork and Beans was simple and down to earth, yet perfect for a rainy April evening. Paired with Cameron’s Auburn.
And finally from Marc Breton of the Gladstone Hotel there was Potato and Onion Galette topped with Monforte’s Smoked Sheep’s Milk Cheddar garnished with Toronto Sprouts’ Super Mix and Steam Whistle Pilsner-toasted mustard seed vinaigrette. Paired with Steam Whistle.
Desserts included a selection of cheese from the Ontario Cheese Society, peach crumble tarts topped with Monforte crème fraiche from Sequel, handmade organic chocolates from Kakayo and maple ice cream from Chris Klugman.
Aside from the beer, beverages included organic apple cider from Filsinger’s, coffee by Raymond Eames & Co., and tea by Oikos.
Although I ate all of the meat dishes, I was impressed by the number of vegetarian options that were available. Often vegetarians (who, it should be noted, are generally more eco-friendly and “green” than the rest of us, just by the default of their diet) get left out of such events when all the dishes centre around some form of meat. But there were offerings at every course, including fully half of the main courses, that were vegetarian-friendly.
Atmosphere-wise, while the Church at Berkeley is a truly gorgeous and inspiring space, it might have been a bit small for an event like this. A lot of people couldn’t find seats and some odd spotlights used to highlight the posts supporting the upper level proved to be dangerous for people as they moved around to the various stations. I ended up with a woman in my lap after she tripped on a light cord, and a few people were momentarily blinded as they tried to make it through the crowds carrying plates of food and glasses of beer.
Overall though, it was a really enjoyable evening, and it was especially heartening to see some of the city’s top chefs, who are generally more comfortable with wine, working with some of our fantastic local breweries and incorporating those products into their food.
If this is how great local food can taste in April, then I can’t wait for next year.