Hicks' Weekly Dish: Back to the land with Eat Alberta BY GRAHAM HICKS, EDMONTON SUN FIRST POSTED: TUESDAY, APRIL 29, 2014 02:02 PM MDT
It’s challenging to describe exactly what the one-day, once-a-year Eat Alberta gathering actually does, but I do know it’s good for the soul.
A group of dedicated volunteer foodies spend the entire year preparing for a one-day event, this year entitled Seed the Possibilities!
A who’s who of the region’s artisan culinary world – Nevin Fenske of the Drift food truck, Alley Kat Brewing’s Neil Herbst, Michael Kalmanovich of Earth’s General Store, Blair Lebsack of RGE RD, shovelandfork.com’s Chad Moss – are enlisted to show up on a Saturday in April and run workshops on their specialties.
When the organizing committee releases its 14-workshop schedule, held last Saturday at the NAIT culinary school, there’s a virtual stampede to register. Within days, at $150 each, the event sells out.
It’s a hoary cliché, but probably accurate. Eat Alberta is about an old-fashioned agrarian yearning in so many of us to get back to the land, to make really good food from scratch or at least learn from those that do.
The instructors are the real thing, individuals who have embraced the artisan food lifestyle, producing high quality, high-priced alternative foodstuffs. And, as often as not, barely eking out a living.
Workshop #1 with Kris Armitage of the Everything Cheese shop in Riverbend: Crack open a slice of herbed pecorino sheep’s cheese from the farmstead Cheesiry in Kitscoty (near Lloydminster). Smell it, full of herbs with a grassy aroma, roll it in your fingers, dry and crumbly, taste it – salty but sweet, grassy, herbs, a touch of oil, fresh.
Workshop #2: Talk about getting back-to-the-land. Our group walks into a NAIT teaching kitchen to find an Irvings Farm Fresh pig split in two, down its length from nose to tail. I now know where a picnic roast, a shoulder butt or jowl bacon is cut from, how the meat is rolled and tied, how to cure and then smoke a slab of pork belly for the world’s best home-made bacon. This was an old-fashioned pig – plenty of fat, raised outdoors, fed au naturel.
Workshop #3: In a hands-on biscuit-making session, Former Duchess Bakery, now District Coffee Co. pastry chef Erica Vlegenthart showed us how to make the perfect biscuit – and in a pinch, make buttermilk from mixing lemon and milk.
Workshop #4: With Alley-Kat Brewery’s Neil Herbst, we tasted samples of Alley-Kat’s various beer styles, learned about ales and lagers, how variations on the malt/hops/yeast/water theme produce an infinite variety of beers, from Alley Kat’s Oatmeal Export Stout to its best-selling apricot and grapefruit flavoured ales.
Sometimes things get a little whacky at Eat Alberta – listening to an advocates for raw milk, keeping chickens in our backyards and even urban beekeeping operations was amusing.
My family’s won’t go whole hog on this back-to-the-earth stuff – it’s too expensive for one thing. Nor do I believe that organic locally grown food is innately good, conventional groceries somehow bad. For every dollar spent at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market, we’ll spend $9 at Superstore. But it’s strangely satisfying to know it’s all there.
Eat Alberta (eatalberta.ca) won’t be back until next April, unless the organizers decide to stage more events.
The Petroleum Club (beside Kingsway Mall) is successfully straddling a fine line between being a private club and an open-to-the-public events producer. Given the way non-fitness private clubs are going, going semi-public is really its only survival option.
At a recent luncheon in its smoothly re-designed Pembina Room, the Arctic char was as beautiful a piece of fish as you’ll find in Edmonton, cooked by rising local culinary star Doreen Prei. Coming up at the club are open-to-all wine festivals, wine dinners, events with food, showcase markets. More at edpetroleumclub.com.