Sunday, August 21, 2011

The 2nd Annual Conscious Food Festival Recap!

Aug 13th, 2011: 11-8 pm
Aug 14th, 2011: 11-6 pm for free!

I felt like a child entering a fair ground when I approached the white tents spread out over the lawn at Fort York. I had attended last year’s event  and so I knew what to expect: healthy appetites, eager chefs, and good ol’ sustainable fare.

The Front Door Organics box is just $37
Everyone was on board for sustainable. There were farmers, beauty products, and herbal medicines made from locally sourced plants, craft beers and food battles – all in the name of Earth-friendly products.

One ticket cost one dollar. I bought ten, to start, and quickly used them up on little cups of beer (most were only one token) and snacks (averaging 3 tokens per).

I tried to follow a sensible, efficient route, so that I would visit each vendor and forget no one. The map at the entrance helped me plan the path.

I started at Berkley Catering, where a close friend, Don is the Sous Chef. He had divulged the night previous, upon prying, that they would be serving a trio of crostini. I mentioned I was a friend, and was promptly handed a crostini topped with smoked eggplant puree, and a proscutto wrapped fig. Crunch, soft, salty, sweet, and delicious. Another crostini had on it braised short rib, white bean puree and a cute fingering potato chip – a beautiful summer take on a winter staple. Still clutching my ten tickets, I said hello to friend and former boss, Anthony Davis, who is now Head Chef at Sidecar. At Sidecar, Chef Davis promotes seasonal, sustainable food on his ever-changing menu. Taking a look at his menu, anyone can see he supports local producers, and acknowledges their hard work by including them right on his menu: “Artisanal cured meats from Niagara's Mario Pingue” and “Monforte’s Sheep’s milk feta”.

Grindhouse Taco
Next on my feastful journey I headed towards smoke and sizzling. Grindhouse Chef, Tim Pettigrew was grilling locally sourced beef and then stuffing it into a fried-to-order (and gluten free!) taco. He topped it with arugula, fresh salsa, guacamole and sour cream. The peppery arugula brightened the smoky, shaved beef. I sat down in the center of the field, at one of the tables to enjoy the taco fully. From there, my focused and efficient plan unraveled and I began wandering towards one food stand to another in a daze.
The Best Root-Beer Float I have ever had

I passed by one tent, where a chef had his head down, focusing on de-boning a large piece of (sustainable!) salmon, while he taught his inspired audience about gravlax.

I spotted “ You’ll love the taste of our balls” on a big chalkboard, and knew it must be Chef Rodney Bowers. He will soon open Toronto’s first Meatball-oriented (and late-night!) restaurant, Hey, Meatball. Like last year, he had his music blaring as he danced in front of his grill, where he grilled buns and ladled bright red tomato sauce over his moist ‘balls.  There was a long line to get a meatball (4 tickets) – a great sign of things to come! I was handed my meatball and decided this was no standing matter. I found a quiet spot on the grass, leaned up against the beautiful stone fort wall, and mowed down. The sauce had soaked the inside of the bun, but the bun stood its ground and kept it together. The moist meatball was surprisingly light, with perhaps a hint of lemon zest (eh, Rodney, am I close?).

I had been sipping on sparkling water from the water tent, where Q water quadruple filters and carbonates Toronto tap water - a luxurious alternative to store-bought and much more eco-conscious. Q water didn’t have any cups on site, but it was A-OK because it seemed every guest to the event already was carrying a re-usable water bottle (three cheers for us!). I stayed hydrated with some sparkling, but after short ribs, tacos and meatballs, I felt I needed a little something more “refreshing”.

I was drawn to the bright orange tiki head at the Spearhead booth, where their motto is “ Beer without boundaries”. They have introduced a “Hawaiian style” beer, infused with pineapple! This little brewery opened up in 2011 right in Toronto. Each batch takes five weeks to produce, and the result it worth the wait. Their “real beer” is refreshing, light beer with bitter-citrus notes. They don’t pasteurize their product (which keeps the antioxidants up!); it is naturally carbonated; unfiltered (which keeps the beer high in Vitamin B!) and dry-hopped.

Five tokens left and lots more stands to visit. It’s hot out and I take a break under on tent where The Pickling Battle has just begun. Ivy Knight helped to organize the Conscious Food Battle Ground, much like her 86’d nights at The Drake. Local Food Plus’ Partner Services Manager, Chris Trussell, is the MC and getting the crowd quite rowdy. Everyone is smiling and enjoying the friendly competition between the three chefs. First, Tim Pettigrew (of Grindhouse) presents his spicy pickled yellow beans. The audience gets a sample and before last bite, Trussell is handing the microphone around, asking for first impressions. “Spicy!” says one little girl. “ Great for a Caesar” says her mom. Next up is Chef Matt DeMille from Enoteca Sociale, who presents his pickled Ontario ramps (i.e. wild leeks). They are a beautiful purple at the base, fading into white towards the stem. Ever so lightly pickled, the natural sweetness of the ramp shined. The audience cheered and Trussell cheekily asked if people had made up their minds about a winner yet: “ Stand up if you like #1! …And now stand for #2!” Some people stood, and others laughed along, including Chef Bowers, who was ladling his Veggies a la Greque at the side of the tent. Served in a little clear plastic dish, his colourful concoction won the crowd over. He had meticulously pickled each vegetable individually according to its natural sugar content and flavour profile, before combining the carrots, cauliflower, and radish. A la Greque is a quick-pickling method, which means the vegetables don’t become quite so acidic. It is the perfect way to pickle a seasonable vegetable, without compromising its fresh characteristics, to be enjoyed in the summer (a la Greque isn’t true pickling and not a method to use if you want to preserve the summer harvest for the winter months). Rodney proudly held up his prize: a bright green, sparkle-encrusted pickle on a pedestal.

I sipped both kinds (one token each) of Beau’s beer. The seasonal beer, Festivale was amber in colour and a bit too bitter for my taste, but their flagship beer, Lug-Tread was exceptional. Their beers are all organic and produced locally in Ontario.

By this time, I was getting pretty full, so I had to pass on the deep fried sardines from Hooked  – but boy they looked good. The cook fried them to order and served them with a spicy tomato aioli. This was under the Ocean Wise tent, a non-profit association that works with and educates restaurants, markets, food services and suppliers about sustainable fish options.  With Ocean Wise’s guidance and their knowledge, Hooked sells only the most sustainable fish so that you don’t have to worry about making the unwise choice. If you can’t make it out to Lesliville, (but you should try!), Ocean Wise provides wallet-sized info cards to use as a quick reference when shopping. Red means no, yellow is okay and green means eat!
Ocean Wise says YES to Catfish

The next free sampling…errr I mean food competition was held at 4:45. Dip Domination. First up; Buddha Dog. Now located just in Prince Edward County (The Toronto location has closed, but the dogs are available on Saturday and Sunday at Evergreen Brick Works), the chef sounded off his hot dog dips as I tried to frantically write them all down – pen slipping on drool. They were: red butter jelly; garlic scape pesto; pumpkin papaya jerk…and then I gave up and ate. Delicious. Who doesn’t like hot dogs? Anthony Davis was next, with an artichoke dip on a fried potato chip and topped with shaved PĂ©rigord truffle. I didn’t get to taste it. My pals from The Auld Spot had just arrived and were backstage getting their 50 samples ready. Chef Josh Dalton had worked with Sous Chef Rob Clements to create a creamy rillettes of braised short rib, duck fat and truffle which was spread on a thin square of toasted focaccia before I helped out and dripped a drop of white truffle oil over each one (man, I love truffle oil). Darryl, one of the owners, insisted we all go up to hear the winner announced – but not before Trussell asked us each “in 30 seconds or less” to talk about why we got into cooking. It’s funny to see chefs on stage because “we are back of house for a reason!” said Rob. That is, most chefs aren’t the big personality types we see on TV; we just want to cook good food and stay out of the spotlight. My turn came around and I fumbled over my words, but I think I was able to get my point across: Food is about sharing love, and the connection we have to each other, and to the earth.
Produce from The Sweet Potato
There were many more wonderful vendors. To find out more, visit The Conscious Food Festival website.

A big thank you to:
Jessica Brown - for organizing the event
Scott Rondeau and Emma Brown – co founders of the festival
The Grid – for supporting the event and granting everyone free access to the festival on Sunday.

Little suggestion for next year: Maybe for next year we could encourage guests to bring their own plates? Or ask them to re-use plates from stand to stand. Were those beer cups biodegradable?

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