The Halifax Brewery Market made quite the impression on me. The bigger picture mindset was definitely clear-cut compared to Kelowna’s. They had paper bags lining their compost bins, recycling galore with buckets for coffee lids and straws, zero waste market nights, and good food news on a flip chart – who wouldn’t like good food news? Plus, I have a thing for brick buildings, so farmers market + brick building = my happy place.
From a seasonality perspective, the Maritimes are later than us in the Okanagan. I technically live in a desert, so we have epic microclimates that I’ll touch on more during my wine-growing piece, but all you need to know now is that we’re hotter than much of the rest of the country with four distinct growing seasons.
Through Sarah (East Coast Wild Foods), we were introduced to Stefan Gagliardi, the brewer at Alexander Keith’s, who’s been dabbling with wild foods in some micro brews. I must admit I was a bit sceptical with the idea of teaming up with such a big brewery, especially considering my small business mindset, but that’s when you trust your collaborator and Stefan’s micro brews changed a lot of opinions that night! My project is all about changing perceptions and behaviours and that, for me, is the beauty of collaborating.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look into our naturally constructed feast:
The beautifully intimate harvest table was arranged using branches and green things that we collected during our foraging session to transport our guest back and have a sense of place.
As our guests arrived, they were welcomed by Keith’s brewmaster, Stefan and his Backyard Sea Buckthorn Brett Saison, which was brewed using ingredients in their Maritime backyard. Sarah was the first person able to supply Stefan with local sea buckthorn – he brewed the first two batches of the beer with it.
Then the magic of a communal long table dinner yet again waved its magic.
First Course: Wild Caught Atlantic Arctic Char with Coconut and Fennel Ishtew Sauce
Pairing: Foraged Cranberry Cocktail by Melissa Finn
What inspired this dish were the Syrians who chose to make Nova Scotia home way back when. People may not know that there are Syrian Christians living in the South of India in Kerala and that was the place where the concept of seasonal and local hit home because it was just what they do and so effortless. I wanted to start of light and delicate with spices and the sauce is kind of a Maritime inspired consistency (which is not thick, as many have told me).
The fish was filleted and simply seasoned with salt and pepper before pan searing to a medium. Whilst I was filleting the fish, there is always leftover ‘meat’ on the bones. When something has given its life for the gift of food, I don’t like to waste things. So, I took a spoon and scooped up the leftover mince, lightly cooked it and left it to cool. Then it was a case of flavouring it with one of my spice blends and add the flaked fish to some local yoghurt to make an extra something something to the plate. I wanted to let the ingredients just speak for themselves, so I plated it with just four components, including a fried northern bayleaf as the garnish.
Second Course: A Walk in the Forest – Forest Floor Smoked Foraged Mushrooms with Gold Forest Grains Farro Cracker and LF Bakery Hunter Sourdough
Pairing: Alexander Keith’s Lunenburg Coffee & Cacao Stout (made from Laughing Whale 7th Wave Espresso Roast discovered at the HFX Brewery Market).
This dish had a lot going on and was a play on one of my first From The Wild bush camp dishes when I shot season 4, episode 9. It was that adventure that made all this happen – I met Mel, who was my road trip partner-in-crime and I also met Sarah and now we were in Halifax working together. Instead of wild game, I decided to take the dried foraged mushrooms and asked Mel to smoke them using moss and forest floor things in our cast iron with some tin foil to keep the smoke in – and it worked, it tasted like it had been over the campfire, except I cooked it in the HFX Brewery Market kitchen. The savoury base was made up of local tomatoes, onions and garlic from the market cooked down with my Garam Masala spice blend and a splash of Okanagan red wine to tie it back to my own story. To add some texture and play on the crunchy forest floor, I crumbled up the farro cracker.
Pairing wise, Stefan wanted to compliment the smokiness with the roasted, tobacco flavours of the coffee. The beer’s sweetness with chocolate notes helped to lift the earthy mushroom flavours in my dish. There was this graham cracker malty undertone that sort of mimicked the organic farro cracker, too. I loved the bold chose by Stefan to pair a stout with the second course and not the usual dessert course.
Third Course: Oulton’s Meats Venison with Albertan Split Pea Daal and Wild Rice
Pairing: Alexander Keith’s Bisset’s Fancy. This one was a barrel aged mixed fermentation Saison with local rhubarb and rose petals with East Coast Wild Foods elderflower.
The sale of wild game in this country (except Newfoundland) is a no-go, so that prompted asking questions about where to go for responsibly raised farmed meats in area. The answer was Oulton’s Meats in Windsor. Initially I thought the meat shop would be in the Halifax area, but I was wrong – then came the road trip during the road trip.
Back home, I’ve tried to get a hold of farmed BC or Albertan venison and haven’t been successful. My boutique meat supplier in Vancouver only has New Zealand deer, which is crazy considering it’s such a big part of game culture here. When I called the meat shop, I was expecting needing to pull a select cut from their freezer. As soon as they said they have fresh, I asked if they could keep said pounds aside for me, but they said to just come over because they have lots. When we got there, I asked for the venison and was not expecting what happened next.
The man disappeared into one of the fridges, the next scene comprised of pulling the carcass of a whole bloody deer, casually asking which cut I’d like. The gentleman custom cut some leg steaks (which was only $12/lb, by the way), which was all kinds of amazing. Whilst standing in line, the man behind us shared that ‘the animals are well looked after until one bad day’.
I wasn’t sure how tough the meat would be and decided to marinade it overnight in yoghurt and spices just in case. On the day it was bought up to temperature, seared and butter basted with more forest things, like juniper and spruce.
I plated it with a split pea and red lentil daal because it’s cool to showcase some of the cool things happening in other provinces. Waterfowl eat these peas, but our farmers have a hard time selling them because people tend not to know what to do with them, so they export them to countries like India. Canada is also one of the world’s largest producers of lentils, which means I don’t need to import any from India. So, it’s all kinds of ironic and a story I like to tell. We noticed that all the animals at Oulton’s were eating apples – I decided to add those to the plate, along with the huckleberries from our foraging trip to add a pop of acidity and sweetness. Finally, I’m someone who likes fire – danger is my middle name. I took the caribou moss and set it alight using a blowtorch to gently smoke the venison as the plates went out. I then giggled to myself so much that everyone turned around. But, I was excited and am very much like a small child.
Forth Course: Forest Floor Roasted Pears with Foraged Spruce Yoghurt
Pairing: Alexander Keith’s Gin Barrel Aged Tripel – with subtle gin botanicals and spicy Belgium flavours.
Whenever I make a poaching liquid, I freeze what’s left and apply a bit of a Japanese master stock thinking to it. That means that every time I use it, it gets more complex and interesting. I took the Sugar Moon maple poaching liquid from stop one in Nova Scotia and re-purposed it here, adding more of the foraged things along the way. I kept the HFX Market pears whole with the skin on and let it oven roast with some of that aromatic poaching liquid. Then it was a case of slicing and serving with the homemade spruce scented yoghurt and topping it with leftover farro crackers because we had them and I believe you should use what’s left. The HFX Market was the best location to share that thinking with my guests.
I always head into every single one of my dinners a tad bit anxious – wondering if my decisions are the right ones or if people will get what I do. The best thing about my project is feeding amazing humans, who are willing to trust a person who they may not have met or know nothing about and go on an edible adventure together with the help of an open mind.
The reaction was exactly the same as in BC – people waited to say thank you and hugged me before they said goodbye and I was repeatedly asked to come back again. That was a huge compliment. Thank you to everyone who let me feed you; to Sarah from East Coast Wild Foods; to Stefan and the team at Alexander Keith’s and to Melissa. When four people from four different provinces are able to work together for the first time and pull of something magical, that’s a special thing.
Thanks for being province 3 on my bucket list, Nova Scotia.
With all the warm and fuzzy feels,