A LOCAL BOUNTY DESPITE DROUGHT
It’s almost dinner time for Ottawa Harvest Table
It has been an extraordinarily tough season for getting local crops to harvest. But it will be extremely easy to taste — and celebrate — the local harvest at an event Aug. 19. Savour Ottawa, a group devoted to promoting local farms, is putting on its second annual Harvest Table event at noon that Sunday, with a series of long tables at the Farmer’s Market at Brewer Park.
The five glorious courses will come from 20 of the Ottawa area’s top farms and will be prepared by chefs from about a dozen of the area’s top restaurants and catering companies.
The bounty will be served family style, at tables of 16, with seating for nearly 200 under tents.
Last year’s event, which was half the size and held at the Parkdale Market on an unseasonably cool day, sold out and was raved about by those attended.
“We blew people away,” says Jantine Van Kregten of Ottawa Tourism, one of the groups involved with Savour Ottawa.
“We did a survey and the feedback was that 100 per cent of those who attended would come back again.”
Not surprisingly, tickets are going fast for this year’s Harvest Table, 10 days from now. The meal, with beverage samples including Kichesippi Beer, costs $60. A “Cream of the Crop” ticket that includes a guided market tour and extra hors d’oeuvres costs $75.
“I think those tickets would make such a great gift or employee thank-you,” says Van Kregten.
The event is not a fundraiser. Farmers will be paid for the produce the chefs choose and use. The precise menu won’t be decided until days (or perhaps moments) before the meal, when the chefs decide exactly what they want to create with the produce that’s at its peak that week.
“I’m getting excited — it’s such a fun event,” says Stuart Collins of Bryson Farms, an organic farm near Shawville, Que., that specializes in heritage vegetables.
“I’ve got Steve (Mitton of Murray Street), Charlie (Part of Les Fougères) and John (Young of the Château Laurier) calling me already and asking ‘Will you have some to this or some that available?’”
The point is to celebrate the local bounty and to get eaters a little closer to the sources of their food. There will be a chef or a farmer eating alongside customers at each table.
“I was inundated with questions last year,” says Dan O’Brien of O’Brien Farms, laughing. “Mostly it was, ‘ How come your beef tastes so good?’”
Judging by the O’Brien striploin steak cooked Sunday by chef Justin Faubert of Thyme & Again, it’s an entirely reasonable question. Faubert cooked up his recipe on a hot plate at the market Sunday as a kind of dress rehearsal for how he will prepare O’Brien and Fitzroy beef for the Harvest Table event. It was perhaps the most tasty and tender piece of steak I’ve sampled.
“People in Ottawa are lucky,” says Faubert, who worked as a private chef and in restaurants in Vancouver for 10 years. “It’s a lot better here in terms of produce. Ottawa is a farm city. It’s nice to have a lot of farmers and a lot of excitement close to the city.”
Indeed, there are 1,267 farms within Ottawa’s city limits — more than in Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver combined.
“I like that the beef and the pork all come from fairly close to the city,” says Faubert. “I just arrived in November, but I’ve already had some of the tomatoes and the corn this summer and they’re great. This whole market is great — I don’t think Vancouver has one quite this big.”
To walk around the market and see the colourful bounty, you would never guess that it’s been a tough season. Talk to any of the farmers, however, and you realize how hardwon this harvest is.
“Weather-wise, it’s been the hardest year of our six years of farming,” says Kylah Dobson of Rainbow Heritage Garden, an off-the grid organic farm near Cobden. Although her stand brims with gorgeous fingerling potatoes, multi-coloured carrots, heritage tomatoes and tender salad greens, she’s still apologetic.
“We’d usually have arugula and spinach for sale, but it’s been just too hot and dry. We’re spending 25 per cent of our time irrigating. We’re like plumbers.
“We’ll take a significant hit, but I’m just glad that we’re not in our first year of farming. It would have driven us out of business.”
The summer has been even more ominous for the livestock producers, most of whom don’t use irrigation and have already fed their animals hay that was meant to be stored for winter.
“My dad (Bob Dobson of Dobson’s Grass Fed Beef Farm) has been farming for 50 years and he says this is by far the hardest year he’s seen,” says Kylah.
Dan O’Brien says most local livestock farmers “are on the edge.”
“Right now we’re feeding them this winter’s hay. Next, you turn to corn, but of my 60 acres of corn, if we don’t get more rain, the yield is probably going to be zero. And if you have to buy corn to feed cattle, it’s really expensive because you’re competing with the ethanol market.”
So expect the Harvest Table event to be something of a victory party. A chance for farmers and chefs to show off what they can produce, even in the worst of times.
“It’s very festive, very jovial,” says O’Brien. “It’s all about great food and a lot of fun.”
Van Kregten says it’s a party that should appeal to just about everyone.
“It’s for anybody who has an interest in local food, for anybody looking for a fun event on a Sunday afternoon, for anybody looking for a fun time. Bring your parents, bring your friends.”
■ Justin Faubert, chef at Thyme & Again Creative Catering, is on the team creating menus for the Harvest Table. He will be making a salad and a beef dish, which will be one of three main-course choices. He’ll be using striploin roasts from Fitzroy Beef Farmers Co-operative and O’Brien Farms and produce from Rochon Gardens and Bryson Farms.
He reserves the right to get creative with what’s available that day, so these dishes probably aren’t exactly what he’ll be cooking up Aug. 19, but he has created three recipes to share with readers that are easy to make, delicious and that capitalize on local products available now.
The cheese is from Les Folies Bergères (near Ripon, Que., and available at several Ottawa-area stores) and he uses extra-virgin soybean oil from southern Ontario, available from Jason Persall at Pristine Gourmet (pristinegourmet.com).
Farmers Dan O’Brien, left, and Stuart Collins, and chef Justin Faubert of Thyme & Again Creative Catering look forward to collaborating at Harvest Table.
Thyme & Again chef Justin Faubert made Marinated Striploin Steak with Tomato Butter and Fresh Summer Tian with goods from O’Brien Farms, Fitzroy Beef Farmers Co-operative, Bryson Farms and Rochon Gardens.