Summer Harvest Made Wednesday Delicious at the Gladstone
The menus at Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone are great for people like me (I like to reap the tasty benefits of the local summer harvest, but I don't have a garden nor do I really have the time to come up with an amazing 4-course gourmet dinner).
Every Wednesday, Chef Marc Breton of the Gladstone Hotel, and Sherri Patterson of Chick-a-biddy Farms (CSA) team up to give local foodies a run for their money. Together, they prove that dining out during hard times does not have to mean eating week-old produce that's traveled the same distance as your last backpacking tour of Europe, and cost about the same price as well.
Coming in at a reasonably priced ticket of $35 per person, the 4-course summer harvest prix fixe is an adventure in local living and dining.
In the morning, the farmer is up earlier than I have ever been, picking a variety of assorted produce to be hand-delivered to the Chef, where he will then have to quickly come up with the dinner menu for the evening. Think of it as your very own private "Iron Chef" competition, but with locally grown ingredients instead of squid eyeballs and other such oddities.
Thoughtful details, it seems, come in bundles, including the fresh wild flower arrangements that are picked from the same farm that provides the produce for your meal that night. We immediately opt to start with the "Fixed Flight of Ontario VQA Wines" bundle that have been expertly paired for each course. At a very reasonable $24 add on, it proves well worth it, as I am still working my way through Ontario's vast wine selection.
As we dive hungrily into the warm breadbasket, leaving behind such things as forks and knives, we are washed in aromas of fresh baked treats (all made with local ingredients, right down to the flour). We then forge ahead into the Amuse Bouche, exploring the newfound edible treasure presented before us. A delicately crisp tempura squash blossom, filled with eggplant and 5-chilli chocolate Caponata, resting patiently on a bed of heirloom tomato and cinnamon basil, waits for us to explore it.
As we sit, both armed now with fork and knife, a local farmer who helped pick the produce that very morning politely rises to the floor and introduces himself. With the deep warmth that can only come from someone who has spent their entire life working with the land closely, Don Mills thanks everyone for coming to take part in eating produce that he himself, along with other farmers in the CSA, have provided for tonight's meal. I feel instantly connected to the food sitting before me, listening to the farmer reminisce warmly about the produce and explain the benefits this relationship provides for all.
As Don Mills finishes up and steps away to head home, our plates are whisked away, and are quickly replaced with the next stage of this local adventure in food. The appetizer is a red fife wheat berry, corn and lentil salad, wrapped in paper-thin strips of cucumber and topped with black walnut crusted warm goat cheese and chive oil. We once more don our tools of the trade and begin to explore, finding the change in texture and weight from the last plate to be cleverly building up to a crescendo, as we begin to speculate on the direction of the next course.
The main arrives, and is less showy in its presentation, choosing to stay true to its roots, while still offering a light summery twist to a classic harvest dish. The pot pie, coming in both chicken and vegetarian incarnations, is hot in temperature and topped with a thin pasty crust resting on top, perfect for immediate exploration (unlike some versions I have had where they arrive resembling more of a volcano than a pot pie, their insides bubbling like dangerous palate-burning lava). This hearty but light main is packed with a veritable who's who of local root vegetables, cooked in a light base providing a mix of tastes and
textures that stir fantasies of quitting my day job and starting a local farm outside the city. I'm quickly brought back to reality, as we are invited into the kitchen to chat with Chef Marc Breton, and for a quick lesson on making desert with a flame torch.
We then head back upstairs, escorting our last, and most anticipated culinary adventure of the night to our seats. The dessert arrives arm in arm with us, and having mingled with the masters downstairs has only piqued our taste buds for what is sure to be the perfect end to tonight's event. A generous bowl of local raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and apricot sections sits nestled under a torch-broiled blanket of late harvest Riesling Sabayon. As we spoon mouthfuls of warm berries mingled with sweat fluffy brule-esque creaminess into our watering mouths, my friend remarks how the dish tastes like the berries have been sitting on a window sill all afternoon, warming themselves in the hot summer sun, just moments before arriving before us to be readily devoured.
The chef then, having finished his last plate for the night, visits each table to chat and answer questions about the night's food. The interactions with both the Chef and the farmer proved to be an integral part of this event, really tying the food to its source and bringing home the respect for local food that it truly deserves. The evening is reminiscent of a warm summers night dinner party with friends, only this time, your friends are local farmers and a very talented and passionate Chef.
Harvest Wednesdays continue through the summer and end on October 21st.
Writing and photos by guest contributor Christopher DeBoer.
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