A LO­CAL BOUNTY DE­SPITE DROUGHT

It’s al­most din­ner time for Ot­tawa Har­vest Ta­ble

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

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).

WAYNE CUDDINGTON/OT­TAWA CI­TI­ZEN

Farm­ers Dan O’Brien, left, and Stu­art Collins, and chef Justin Faubert of Thyme & Again Cre­ative Cater­ing look for­ward to col­lab­o­rat­ing at Har­vest Ta­ble.

LAURA ROBIN

WAYNE CUDDINGTON /OT­TAWA CI­TI­ZEN

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.

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