Fine PIN­ING

The PineSpiel Pro­ject at Michael Stadt­lander’s Ei­gensinn Farm takes fine din­ing to the pine for­est

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT & LIFE - JONATHAN FORANI STAFF RE­PORTER

Michael Stadt­lander holds a pine cone to his nose and breathes it in.

Some­thing about its aroma ap­pears to calm the chef as he gazes across Ei­gensinn Farm, 40 hectares of for­est and farm­land in Sing­hamp­ton, Ont., a small town past the wind tur­bines and yel­low canola fields that bor­der Hwy 10.

“When I grew up as a kid in Ger­many, my school was right in the pine for­est,” Stadt­lander says. “I have al­ways had this re­la­tion­ship with pine.”

Stadt­lander has put this conif­er­ous ever­green at the cen­tre of the PineSpiel Pro­ject, his fourth farm-totable ven­ture at the farm.

He and his wife, Nobuyo, will host as many as 27 guests three nights a week be­tween Aug. 12 and Sept. 18. Guests pay $350 for this “for­est din­ing” ex­pe­ri­ence. They will walk from ta­ble to ta­ble around the farm and eat the food where the in­gre­di­ents were grown and cul­ti­vated.

Each of the 12 cour­ses will fea­ture pine, a flavour Stadt­lander de­scribes as “a lit­tle bit more flo­ral than rose­mary.”

Among the dishes are white pine nee­dle steamed oys­ters, pota­toes baked in a pinewood fire and topped with but­ter cul­tured un­der pine nee­dles, and a Canadian Black For­est cake dessert fea­tur­ing pine maple syrup.

“I want to use the pine to con­nect peo­ple to na­ture,” says Stadt­lander, who came up with the con­cept while cross-coun­try ski­ing through the farm some six years ago.

“It’s very in­spir­ing,” he says. “Some­times it just comes to you.”

The PineSpiel Pro­ject al­lows guests to walk through the menu, ta­ble to ta­ble along a des­ig­nated trail.

One of the stops along the path will fea­ture large clay masks (made by Stadt­lander and his ap­pren­tices) af­fixed to trees as if giv­ing faces and per­son­al­i­ties to the trees that in­spired him.

As guests work their way around the din­ing spa­ces they’ll come across a clear­ing with sin­gle seat ta­bles for the oys­ter dish; a “tree house” kitchen where an­other dish will be low­ered to din­ers be­low; a Ja­panese gar­den style clear­ing with Ja­panese phrases scrawled on wood in­clud­ing “You are with the gods,” and “Trees are god.”

Na­ture is the star of the show. The prop­erty is a hip­pie’s dream (Stadt­lander ad­mits to be­ing a bit of a hip­pie him­self ), where 300 chick­ens scratch around with a pea­cock and the chef’s ap­pren­tices live in con­verted trail­ers that used to store cheese.

In the gar­den by the pig pen, squash, pota­toes, shal­lots, gar­lic, black cur­rants and toma­toes grow. In the “Al­ley of Good Times” near the prop­erty en­trance, Stadt­lander has lined a path­way with hun­dreds of wine and beer bot­tles — rem­nants of past din­ners on the farm. The Ger­many-born chef, who moved from Europe to Toronto in 1980 to open Scaramouche with Jamie Kennedy, is glad to be out of the down­town restau­rant scene. Those days are long be­hind Stadt­lander now.

“I’m very for­tu­nate,” he says. “I have peo­ple com­ing to me.”

A seat at Stadt­lander’s ta­ble costs $350, gra­tu­ity and al­co­hol not in­cluded, a price he’s some­times had to de­fend to crit­ics who’ve noted that he em­ploys un­paid ap­pren­tices on the farm. This sum­mer, he has had seven to 10 ap­pren­tices work­ing on the PineSpiel Pro­ject, some join­ing at dif­fer­ent stages.

“If you look at it on the level of world class gas­tron­omy it’s ac­tu­ally a good price,” he says. “It’s a lot of work.”

Stadt­lander be­gan lay­ing out the trails for the PineSpiel four years ago, but his ap­pren­tices at the time weren’t pre­pared to com­plete the pro­ject. This year’s “re­ally great” team, who ar­rived in late April, has pulled through.

In June, the pro­ject was still mostly in Stadt­lander’s head. Half-baked ideas and half-built ta­bles sprin­kled the forests. Stadt­lander joked that the menu wouldn’t be fi­nal­ized un­til a week be­fore the din­ners be­gin.

Nobuyo, the farm’s ma­tri­arch and man­ager, hadn’t seen any of the pro­ject’s progress, pre­fer­ring to keep her dis­tance in the prepa­ra­tion stages. “Oth­er­wise, I speak too much,” she says with a laugh.

Less than a week be­fore the first sit­ting, Stadt­lander’s ideas have come to fruition — the first group of guests is set to ar­rive Fri­day. Rain or shine, the din­ner will go on.

On the open­ing day of the 2012 Sing­hamp­ton Pro­ject, guests with­stood a rain­storm, which made it into a doc­u­men­tary film.

Giv­ing in to Mother Na­ture’s whims is part of the thrill of for­est din­ing at Ei­gensinn, where Stadt­lander sees the po­ten­tial in ev­ery tree he passes, pine or other.

Next might be the “Maple Pro­ject,” he says. Or per­haps some­thing else will come to his mind as he walks his land, a con­stant source of in­spi­ra­tion for the chef, whose mind seems to be whirring with pos­si­bil­i­ties. The menu The PineSpiel Pro­ject menu fea­tures pine flavours across 12 cour­ses.

To learn more about Ei­gensinn Farm and re­serve a seat at Stadt­lander’s ta­ble, go to stadt­lander­seigensin­n­farm.com. 1. Hors d’oeu­vres will change from day to day but may in­clude: lamb liver and heart skewer topped with co­rian­der yo­gurt, grilled Ge­or­gian Bay lake trout glazed with ries­ling dill but­ter, cu­cum­ber stuffed with beef heart tartare and others. 2. White pine nee­dle steamed oys­ter on caramelized cipollini onion and Aca­dian stur­geon caviar. 3. Con­sommé from Ei­gensinn Farm Pek­ing duck and white pine. 4. Can­noli from os­prey mush­room with tomato, lo­vage and pine. 5. Bean frit­ters made with pine and Creemore Springs Lager with red pep­per may­on­naise. 6. Clay and pine-wrapped Ei­gensinn Farm pota­toes, baked in pinewood fire with pine Pro­sciutto and pine for­est-cul­tured har­mony cream but­ter. 7. Smoked white­fish and pick­erel sausage with four pine condi­ments. 8. Sor­bet from Ei­gensinn Farm rhubarb, wild ginger and pine yo­gurt. 9. Ja­panese-in­spired salad from Ei­gensinn Farm gar­dens with mozuku and pine-honey and sake dress­ing. 10. Over pine wood-grilled Ei­gensinn Farm chicken with peach-ginger ravi­oli and vari­a­tion of Ei­gensinn Farm veg­eta­bles. 11. Two cheeses from Blyth Farm, made with pine. 12. Canadian Black For­est Cake à la Lue­beck (his home­town in Ger­many). Guests will be treated to hemp and pine-maple for­tune cook­ies at din­ner’s end.

NICK KOZAK FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Michael Stadt­lander in­spects new growth on a pine tree at Ei­gensinn Farm in Sing­hamp­ton, Ont.

NICK KOZAK PHO­TOS FOR THE TORONTO STAR

Michael Stadt­lander’s son Hermann is maître d’ at the farm and con­trib­utes his graphic de­sign tal­ents. Here, they dis­cuss a pine cone logo for the pro­ject.

What Stadt­lander has dubbed the “Al­ley of Good Times” is a path­way be­yond the gar­dens that’s lined with wine (and some beer) bot­tles from past din­ners on the farm.

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