The Brewers Plate: Local Food Feast
Friday night brought the inaugural Brewers Plate, an event to showcase what a locally-sourced feast in southern Ontario, in April, looks like. As organizers said, "if you can pull off a local food event in April, you can do it in any month."
The Brewers Plate is the product of a collaboration between Green Enterprise Toronto (GET), Local Food Plus and Slow Food Toronto. This first annual feast was a celebration in fine style, with none of the pretension that sometimes accompanies local food events. With a star-studded cast of chefs and breweries, I arrived hungry and ready to sample the local fare.
The food offerings, from Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, La Palette, Veritas, Cowbell, the Gladstone and Rebel House, were all approachable, unforced efforts; I never got the sense that the chefs felt over-matched by April's limited bounty. Not to be left out, six breweries were also featured: Mill Street, Cameron's, Wellington, Church-Key, Steam Whistle and Black Oak.
With such culinary expertise working with excellent local products, my main question was, which dish would reign supreme?
The evening began with an assortment of hors d'oeuvres. The best for me, and indeed one of the best dishes of the night, were the mini sausages from Buddha Dog. The small hot dog was a perfect combination of Prince Edward county beef, maple syrup and rhubarb "ketchup", and an excellent farmer's cheese, all on a fresh baked bun. A very close second were the petite New Brunswick oysters, courtesy of Oyster Boy.
The main dishes were all palate-pleasers. Adding to the energy and excitement of the evening, Toronto's star chefs were on hand to serve, and help plate, their creations.
For myself, and I was not alone in this assessment, the best of show goes to Jamie Kennedy and his Ontario Pickerel and chips. He was stationed near an emergency exit, through which was a fryer, providing freshly fried fish and chips all night. The pickerel was perfectly tender with a crispy batter and the fries were delicious; this version would give any of Toronto's best fish and chips a run for their money.
A very, very close second for me was Brook Kavanaugh's cherry chocolate stout braised bison terrine on fondant potato. The flavours melded exquisitely, and each bite melted in my mouth.
This dish featured the most surprising taste I thoroughly enjoyed: Black Oak Chocolate Cherry Stout. Typically, if I hear "chocolate" or "cherry" in the name of a beer, it foreshadows my displeasure with the drink. In this case, neither flavour overpowered and the result was truly delicious. Unfortunately, you have to head out to the brewery to find bottles available for sale.
Other dishes certainly did not disappoint.
Deron Engbers served up my third favourite dish, illustrating his creativity with an "Oreo" of Northern Woods mushrooms sandwiching a Jerusalem artichoke. The evening's comfort food came from Cowbell's Mark Butrara, who served his legendary pulled pork and beans.
There was bound to be a disappointment, and while minor, it came from Karen Vaz. Her barley risotto, served inside an Ontario hothouse tomato, underwhelmed. The dish lacked the depth of flavour smoked trout was to add, as Vaz's supplier fell through; to the chef's credit, she did not substitute a less local, or lower quality fish.
Not deterred for a moment, my next taste was Marc Breton's superb potato and onion galette, featuring Monforte's smoked sheep's milk cheddar, which was delightful on each bite.
The highlight of the dessert spread, for me, was the amazing selection of cheeses from the Ontario Cheese Society. Although Ontario, rightfully, gets short shrift compared to Quebec in the cheese discussion, the samples on hand showed that when artisans are at work, the product is fabulous.
The mini peach tarts from Sequel deserve mention, with their wonderfully light and crispy shell and the sweetness of the peaches perfectly offset by the sour creme fraiche.
The crowd of about 300 fit the Berkeley Church well, packing the house but fostering conversation and intimacy with the crowd and chefs. Plus, with a $150 price tag, 300 people is a reasonable target.
Was the event worth the price admission? Admittedly, I'm not sure how much money was raised for GET, but Friday's feast absolutely demonstrated that a high-quality dinner in April can be locally sourced. I expect there will be a second Brewers Plate next year, and I already am eager to sample the chefs' creations.
All photos appearing in the post by Joshua; flickr slideshow by Jerrold. blogTO is a sustaining member of GET.
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