Three months ago I cooked Pancakes with Blueberries and Maple Syrup for breakfast. I wrote a post and the day after I was contacted by Nim from the Canadian Tourism Commission inviting me to an event that she was planning at L’Atelier des Chefs where food bloggers and writers could cook a few dishes using Canadian ingredients or inspired ingredients. This line of the email particularly got me ‘maybe you haven’t really thought before about Canadian foods or the culinary scene in this vast country so hopefully it would be an opportunity to find out more.’
She was right, I certainly had never thought about what constitutes as Candian cuisine – except obviously for maple syrup and I really did want to find out more. I wasn’t sure what to expect, partly because I had never been to L’Atelier des Chefs and party because I had no idea what foods we’d be cooking… although I was pretty sure that pancakes and maple syrup would be involved.
The evening started with a range of freshly prepared cocktails including an Ice Wine Martini, Blueberry Cocktail with Nova Scotian Sparkling Wine and Sparkling Ice Wine. It was a Tuesday evening and I had just come back from a somewhat heavy holiday in Edinburgh so I settled with the fresh apple juice that was on offer.
The evening commenced with a speech from Nim, who introduced us to the large team that were there to make us all feel welcome and teach us along the way. We were then asked to go and stand around one of the cooking tables in the kitchen. We would watch the chef teach us how to make a dish, taste it and then move around to the next table. I looked at the menu that we were provided with on entry and gasped – it was massive.
First up – Scallops Three Ways. I watched the first chef cook pan fried Scallops served with a Hemp Seed Oil and Sauce Verge, delicious. When pan frying Scallops, just make sure that you get the pan really hot and season the scallops with salt before you place them in the pan, cook on one side and then flip over to finish. The Hemp Seed Oil makes for a healthier alternative to butter as it is lower in cholesterol.
We also tasted Scallops glazed with Birch Syrup and served with Crispy Lardons. This was by far the richest Scallop dish – very tasty but I couldn’t eat too much of it. Scallops with Liquorice Maple Syrup were also delicious but I couldn’t really taste the Liquorice.
We had a whopping 5 dishes to taste for our main courses. First up were the skewers of Atlantic Salmon poached in a fragrant broth and served with a salad of Fiddlehead Ferns with Maple Syrup Mustard dressing. My ears pricked up when I heard ‘Fiddlehead Ferns’ and I wondered what on earth they were. I soon saw that they were strange looking vegetables – they had been shipped over from Canada especially for the event. Crunchy in texture and earthy in taste, they are not too dissimilar to asparagus. They were something special and I wish I could buy them here in London.
I don’t know how I’ve failed to realise how easy Salmon is to poach before. Simply place it in a pan of boiling water for 3-5 minutes, until the salmon becomes a pale colour.
Next up was homemade Sushi. I laid out my Nori and spread a thin and even layer of Sushi Rice on top, careful not to go over the line at the top of the Nori. I then laid my Arctic Char in the middle and used the mat to carefully roll it up. I was pretty pleased with mine, especially since I had tried this before at home and failed – the trick is not to fill it up too much.
I moved around the tables to my next dish, thin strips of Duck cooked on a plancha and served with a Pumpkin Puree, Wild Rice and a Chocolate Drizzle. The chef at this table took pride in arranging the Chocolate Drizzle perfectly on the plate and when summoning me to arrange my own, looked ever so slightly smug – I grabbed the bottle, held the nozzle to the plate and squeezed, moving the bottle down and side to side in a fast movement. The chef looked almost annoyed that I had been able to do it and I chuckled. The Wild Rice was utterly fantastic, crunchy and nutty. Duck is one of my favourite foods so this was a top contender for my favourite dish of the evening.
Still to go, I had two dishes, fillet of Cod en papilote with British Columbia Morel Mushroom sauce and creamy mashed Potatoes plus a serving of roasted striploin of grass fed Bison served with braised Savoy Cabbage and a Blueberry Coulis. Both delicious, the creamy sauce of the Cod along with the fresh Morels tasted very rich and I wasn’t able to finish the dish – but this was probably due to the fact that I was filling up, and fast. I had never tried Bison before but gobbled it up in almost one mouthful. I like to think that I’m not a massive meat eater anymore but deep down I can’t get enough.
With the main courses over, we retreated back to the table for a quick chat and break before the puddings commenced. I glanced at my menu quickly to see what delights were in store for me and was utterly elated at what I saw. I have a massive sweet tooth and pudding is probably my preferred part of a meal.
First up I watched the chef whip egg yolks into a frenzy. He was making Chocolate Soufflés. Apparently Chocolate Soufflés are the hardest kind to make (I wouldn’t know because I have never tried to make one myself) and you must make sure that the melted chocolate goes through the egg white at the last minute because it is very heavy. When it is ready to be added, separate a small bit of egg white from the rest and fold all of the chocolate into the mixure. Then fold this into the rest of the egg white. Butter and sugar all of the ramekins but ensure that the sugar is wiped from around the edge, otherwise the soufflé will lean to the side. I watched the potting of the delectable spongy chocolate and egg whites and then moved on while they were placed in the oven.
I also tried Buckwheat Pancakes with Loganberry Syrup, Blueberry filled Perogies and Flambéed Caramelised Apples with an Ice Cider emulsion.
Ice Wine and Ice Cider are two drinks that I am not familiar with but funnily enough, without actually realising at the time, I had just thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Ice Wine with my dessert at The Kitchin in Edinburgh. The concept of Ice Wine and Ice Cider is simple – the grapes and apples are frozen and then pressed, which locks in the sugar, making them incredibly sweet.
When Nim was talking at the beginning before the cooking commenced, she explained that the recipes were not specifically Canadian recipes, but Canadian inspired and using Canadian ingredients. She mentioned that many products that we eat probably originated from Canada – the flour that makes bread and pasta, seafood and, of course, Ocean Spray cranberry juice.
They attempted to ship over some caviar – twice! It got stuck at Stanstead Airport customs both times. I thought this was a funny story and it really shows just how much effort went into making this a superb event, which it was. We were encouraged to choose our own Canadian cookery book before we left. There was a wide range of books and they wanted us to choose something that we would be interested in reading (and cooking from!)
Full both of delicious food and knowledge of Canadian food, I journeyed home, hoping that I would be able to plan my trip to Canada soon.