You Came, You Saw, You Conquered!
Eat Alberta 2013: year three. It was my baby. Each of us on the board has had a hand in shaping the character of this concept and this day. But, this year was different for me. I didn’t do the program which has been my raison d’etre. I didn’t chair the event, though it was by choice. However, it was not easy to step back. It is still not easy. As with all babies, they grow. And, this baby is no longer mine. It is ours. For that, I am so proud. We are so proud. Thank you, Sharon, Mack, Sue, Ming, Allan and Pragati. Each perspective and skill set brought to the Eat Alberta table has taught me a great deal and has enabled us to build this strong foundation based upon the principles that each of us so fervently believes about our city, our province, our food, culture and heritage.
We believe that this is important work. By “this”, I mean the tasting of our terrior, re-engaging with the cooking-from-scratch experience, preserving our food, making our own charcuterie and bread, revisiting the heritage recipes of our locale and understanding the importance of knowing our farmers and producers. Each of you has demonstrated that our time has been well spent through your support of this event the past three years. We sold out in less that a week.
Where do we go from here? That is the new question. And times have changed within these three short years. These concepts were once novel, and now almost mainstream which simplifies and complicates that question all at once. Where do we go from here?
John Schneider is a local ancient grains and wheat farmer who works hard to provide the quality of wheat, barley, oats and grains he sells every week at the market. A great speaker, too. He is passionate about our Alberta, its land, soil health and the work he does. People rave about his pancake mix. I love his flour and oats and barley. The morning started with the mighty Jeff Senger offering up the keynote address by telling his story. Sitting on the edge of our seats, thoroughly entertained, we all left in awe of this man and his family who walk their talk, each of us now completely committed to knowing our farmer. (Missed photos of Jeff and the incredible breakfast NAIT provided all participants: a down side of being on the planning team.)
Miss Jennifer Crosby was our lovely Mistress of Ceremonies for the day, and is honing her knife skills under the learned eye of the hilarious Kevin Kent, from Knifewear, in Calgary, below. Special thanks to Don House, and the Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance team for sponsoring our event this year. This is an expensive undertaking, yet our goal is to keep it affordable. To be sustainable and affordable is the ultimate goal, so we hope to see our relationships grow with other link-minded organizations.
Pyrogies are a part of Northern Alberta’s cultural heritage. Chef David Omar from Zinc came prepared with much more than we were ready for, but our volunteers seemlessly moved in and helped out. Joveena, below, one of our dearly loved Senior Volunteers, with Little Miss Andrea et el, still grinning after peeling, boiling and ricing about 10 kilograms of potatoes for the filling. Participants were full of good will, teasing one another shamelessly, as they worked to hone their pyrogy making technique.
Miss Johwanna from Mojojo’s Pickles shared her traditional Alberta prairie preservation techniques, and then instinctively invited participants to play with the flavour profiles, thus each pickle jar was prepared to the individual palate of each participant: who knew that such a simple idea can lead to such a flavour filled adventure?
Without the wonderful opportunity that NAIT had afforded us through the use of these wonderful kitchens, Eat Alberta would not have survived.
I heard excitement rise from murmur to a whispered mantra: Nevin, Nevin! I admit, this young man exudes as much warmth and charm as his food. Apparently, having Nevin teach how to butcher a chicken was a crowd pleaser! He and his wife, Kara, own Drift, Edmonton’s food truck with the largest cult following in the city. His class on chicken butchery was a huge hit. For many, this was the first time they had ever cut up a chicken.
Chef Alan Roote taught ricotta making this year. His mozzarella making class at Eat Alberta 2012 changed my life. I couldn’t take it as an organizer, but after Deb attended his session last year, she taught me. Shortly thereafter, Cheesepalooza was born. Look at the cheesy smiles here? Who doesn’t love making cheese? Once again, magic in this kitchen. Over and over, I heard, “I had no idea that it was this easy to make ricotta.” and “I have never tasted ricotta this good in my life!”.
Pastry Chef Tracy Zizek, part owner of her well loved local restaurant, Cafe de Ville, taught Saskatoon pie making. Homemade pastry making is a dying art, yet such an integral skill from the past woven into our culinary prairie tapestry. She focused on the relearning of this skill and participants proudly displayed their aromatic baked wares on the way out the door at the end of the day. There is nothing more traditional in Alberta than a homemade Saskatoon berry pie.
Everyone loved Owen so much last year, and his classes were just too full to accommodate all who wanted to learn from him, that we brought him back this year! He did not disappoint. Everyone that took his class was thrilled to take home a glass jar of starter, and their dough to age before baking and enjoying in the morning. Baking bread. There is nothing more basic. When I was young, it was considered a basic skill. As basic as reading, writing and arithmetic. Seriously. At 12 years old, for three years, and again the first year of high school, in grade 10, all girls (yes, only girls), had to take home economics. Learning these essential cultural culinary traditions was that important. And, after four years of the classes, I maybe didn’t learn how to cook and bake well, but I did learn the value of it. I learned to love the process. I was motivated to continue on my own. We have let our children down in our public school systems. Preparing food is an essential life skill: for all. Where else where our youth learn to do this? Unwrapping and zapping is not good for the environment, our bodies, the healthcare system…
Love to see note taking. Robert Rogers engaged the crowds with his vast information on edible wild plants. Taking a walk with him is such a great way to spend an afternoon in any season.
Chef Cindy Lazarenko presented a red meat blind tasting: Bison, Beer and Elk. There was a roast and a ground meat tasting of each. Oooooh, my. Chef Allan Suddaby had prepared the whole meat roasts for her in advance in the SousVide fashion. Even Cindy was in awe of the texture and flavour of each of these meats. She had prepared the three ground meats into meatballs. These were equally as informative to the palate. The texture and flavours of each were unexpected. I head how worthwhile this tasting was for many. I am a tasting fanatic. There is nothing like a side by side taste comparison to teach one about flavour, texture, quality and one’s own personal palate. Neil Herbst from Alle 2y Kat led the beer tasting, but I didn’t get a shot of him.
Third year in a row, but only one class this year, our own Chef Allan Suddaby taught sausage making again. There is no other like him. If you want to learn how to make sausage, Allan Suddaby is your guy.
Chef Chad Moss’s class was a first for Eat Alberta: make your own bacon. He did a tasting and won over the crowd with that. “I can taste the chemicals in this one.” Participants ranted as they compared the tastes of homemade bacon to those that are mass produced. Small shops in the city will even smoke your cured slabs for you, for a nominal fee. I get mine done at the Budapest Deli. Irving’s Farm’s beautiful Berkshire Boar pork belly was on centre stage in this class. Making your own food with meat you buy at the supermarket can take you down the wrong path. Know your farmer, remember?
Elaine Wilson, the most energetic, positive and passionate home chef I have ever met, now with her own new spice blends, says the above is the best Vegan Mayo one can find. Elaine’s “Food You Can Cook” products are well worth exploring: all exotic aromas can be sniffed at City Market downtown every Saturday. She took our participants on a taste adventure and built confidence in each person in front of my eyes as the plethora of ingredients she brought with her were mixed, blended, tasted and tested throughout the class. More than one unique dressing was discovered by each person and all were in awe of how truly simple it actually is to dress one’s own salad.
Lunch time already? Each participant has actively engaged in two full classes after the key note. NAIT students prepared another lovely soup and make your own sandwich lunch. Loved the soup this year. I am a soup fiend.
Two more sessions followed lunch and all gathered together once more for a series of Lightening Talks this year: where else can one engage in similar experiences through the remainder of the year? We even got our own bag of red worms to take home and use for our urban compost!
Martin Osis was a popular speaker about local mushroom foraging and wrapped up the day with his 2 minutes on where to join up with the Mycological Society throughout the year. And while this was happening, the volunteers were plating the Famous Eat Alberta Tasting Boards, this year conceived and prepared by Chef Allan Suddaby.
This year the tastes were:
- Corned Beef: Sangudo beef brisket, homemade carawaysauerkraut.
- Smoked Pork Loin: Irvings Berkshire pork loin, rhubarb onion jam
- Evans Cherry Pâte de Fruit Gelée
- Sylvan Star Grizzly Aged Gouda
- Wheat and Bean Salad: Gold Forest Grains wheat berries, Alberta pinto beans, herbs
- Carrot Slaw.: Yogurt mustard dressing
Allan has promised to share the recipes. Keep hounding me and I will keep hounding him. Each was sublime. What a better way to end the day? Sipping local fruit wines, chatting with new friends, and tasting our own terrior. There is nothing like it: Eat Alberta. Don’t miss it, next year.
Where do we go from here?
Other recaps of the day: