Local dining event draws food lovers together
Neither bugs nor rain detract from alfresco food fest
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Jul 25, 2012 06:00 am
Picture this: two long tables covered with crisp white tablecloths bathed in the golden glow of a warm evening sun.
In a covered organic farm kitchen, restaurant staff bustle in organized chaos, cooking dish by dish and then plating each delicacy for 53 food lovers.
Most of the main ingredients are locally produced with the exception of whitefish trucked in from Slave Lake.
Blair Lebsack, a culinary arts instructor at NAIT, and his team started this event – the Range Road Dining Series – last year by setting up outdoor dining areas in surrounding farms. Tonight the diners are eating at Sturgeon County’s Peas on Earth, just a few steps away from the very soil that produced the produce on their plates.
“We’re here to have fun and we want people to understand where food comes from. It’s about cooking and sitting beside the garden where food comes from,” Lesback says.
Many local food advocates believe that most urban shoppers have lost context with drinking warm milk straight from the cow or munching dirt-stained carrots.
And unfortunately, unlike Ruby and Eric Chen, owners of Peas on Earth, many simply do not have access to garden fresh vegetables and fruit.
“We want to show people we’re taking fresh food very seriously. We want people to understand and see what you can do with good quality raw food,” says Lebsack.
The team’s five chefs spent a couple of weeks organizing a dining experience fit to honour the prime minister.
The menu includes hors d’oeuvres combining a duck salad roll, radish bruschetta and Sylvan Star Gouda on a bed of herb polenta. Following is a marinated beet and cauliflower pasta salad filled with goat cheese. A savoury plate of fish and spicy vegetables is eaten just before a refreshing basil sorbet is served. A braised pheasant crepe with deep fried zucchini blossoms and a juicy slow-roasted bison strip loin is introduced as the entrée. Closing the evening is Lesback’s signature colourful strawberry tart.
Throughout the meal, sighs of sensual pleasure escape from people’s lips. There isn’t a disgruntled patron around.
“It’s fantastic. The food is a very high quality and very delicious,” said patron Brian Gifford, an Edmonton lawyer who was instantly won over.
“We’ve been to other dinner clubs that are twice the price,” he said.
His favourite dish is the pheasant crepe with zucchini blossoms in tempura batter. Gifford and his wife Laura first tasted zucchini blossoms while on their honeymoon in Italy, but were unable to find them here.
“For this plate of food I would drive out of my way,” he said.
Glenn Fleck, a Stony Plain welder, instead leans towards the brightly coloured strawberry tart served with a rhubarb mousse.
“We think food tastes better outside and you really couldn’t get a better day than this,” he said.
He also points out that everyone at the long table is a food lover, and the instant easy-going camaraderie between strangers goes a long way in creating an amicable evening.
While some foodies may balk at the $100 price tag that includes food, wine and tax, Fleck takes it in stride.
“The bottom line is when you combine food this good with company this good, it can’t help but be good,” he said.
But turning a meal into an experience requires a lot of early planning and several 18-hour days just before the event. Executing an alfresco evening is challenging especially if an industrial kitchen is unavailable, says team chef David Leeder from the Blue Pear Restaurant.
“I like this better than working inside. These events are fun,” he said. “There’s nothing better than grabbing a bunch of fresh romaine or carrots. The ingredients are so much better because they’re fresh. This is an organic farm and you can’t beat that.”
For more information on Range Road Dinners email email@example.com