Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Perks of Food Blogging: A Decadent Evening at the NAC

Even though most food bloggers "work" for free (that needs to change!)...sometimes we receive some lovely perks in order to help promote the food that we blog so passionately about. A group of Ottawa food bloggers including Simply Fresh, Whisk, Foodie Prints, Apron Strings, Minty Fresh, Rachelle Eats Food, Media Style, Kayahara, C'est Bon Cooking and myself were lucky enough to be invited for a private 5 course dinner at the Chef's table in the kitchen of the NAC's restaurant, Le Cafe. Chef Michael Blackie rolled out his Taste 5 Menu for all of us and we proceeded to swoon over the food and wine, and of course, act like a bunch of papparazzi.

Usually when you're seated in or near the kitchen, it's a bad thing. Not so in this case, as we were seated at a well decorated table in the middle of the action, and we got to jump in and help create our meal from the mise en place to plating and service. With Chef Blackie at the pass, I have to say I was worried I'd experience a Gordon Ramsay moment and not plate something properly, but my hands were steady and it was all very enjoyable. (Perhaps it was the relaxing effect of the glass of bubbly we received upon entry to the kitchen...)

An apron is not my best look, but I still laced it up...

I was placed on Team Flamer, which meant that we were allowed to use blow torches! YES! The power of fire in our hands! We loved every minute of it, as my teammate Emma and I fired up those fresh figs and created a sugary, caramel coating. Led expertly by our team captain, Chef Bento, we enjoyed the little prep we did, but it wasn't enough to really get our hands too dirty, so we still had time to mingle with the other bloggers and shoot copious amounts of photos.

So serious!

Emma likes fire!


1st Course: Brandade crab galette served in a fennel sweet corn broth and garnished with a basil crisp; paired with N.V. Prosecco La Robinia from the Veneto region of Italy.

I really enjoyed the pairing of this crab appetizer with a simple glass of Prosecco. Quite refreshing and the fennel sweet corn broth was a nice complement.

2nd Course: Soya stained torchon of foie gras with warmed duck confit served with green apple gelee and a sugar-torched fig; paired with 2007 Pinot Gris from Burrowing Owl Winery in the Okanagan Valley, B.C.

I know what you're thinking -- foie gras? I thought you made socially responsible food choices? I know, and because of that I almost didn't eat it. However, the Sommelier, Tegan, informed us that the foie gras they use is from Mariposa Farms, and the farmers there don't torture the ducks to get the rich product. I decided to take her word for it, and further research via the Mariposa Farms website seems to corroborate that truth. However, you never really know until you visit a farm, so I intend to do so this summer and see for myself! The sugar-torched fig was to die for, but what can I say -- I love figs!

3rd Course: Crisp skinned salmon with wasabi crack, served with cauliflower and black sesame puree; paired with 2008 Huff Estates South Bay Vineyards Rose from Prince Edward County.

The salmon was quite tasty, and this dish was plated on a trendy piece of slate rather than a china plate. The crispy skin was delicious!

4th Course: "AAA Three way" -- a.k.a. Triple A Beef three ways. This included a 65 degree centigrade filet, a braised short rib with crushed pistachio, and pulled beef cheeks with charred pearl onion and oyster mushroom. This course was appropriately paired with a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Golan Heights Winery in Galilee, Israel.

After eating the short rib I pretty much went into a meat coma. Partially because I don't eat that much red meat, but mostly because it was so delicious! The other parts of this dish were also quite tasty, but no match for the pistachio-topped short rib! A highlight in this course was also the Israeli wine. My first time tasting a wine from Israel, it didn't disappoint. Smooth and full-bodied, and perfect with the beef dish.

5th Course: Honeybush semolina spring rolls served with roasted banana ice cream and tropical fruit cubic; paired with Taylor Fladgate Port.

Dessert being plated

Probably my least favourite of the courses, saved largely by the ice cream. We moved into Le Cafe to enjoy our dessert and that was when we bloggers really got a chance to talk food. The restaurant recommendations were flying, and we all enjoyed our nightcaps.

We left with the recipes in hand and a good sense of what MB (Michael Blackie) Cuisine is all about -- in his words: "Canadian Global Cuisine". Described by the NAC as "the true flavours of Canada with a global twist", Chef Blackie's cuisine reflects his background, having been born in England, raised in Montreal and travelled internationally before settling here in Ottawa.

Environmentally speaking, I was happy to see that Le Cafe and the NAC are following the trail blazed by other Chefs and composting their organic material, serving locally sourced water in glass bottles and taking advantage of some of our local farmers' bounty. Not as local as I'd like, but hey -- I ate every morsel so I can't say much more.

Our lovely Sommelier, Tegan

If you'd like to experience the Taste 5 menu for yourself, it's available from Monday to Saturday from 7:30 - 9:00 PM whenever there are performances in Southam Hall. (not intended for pre-performance rush meals, it is a 90 minute experience in which you are meant to savour your food -- shouldn't all meals be like that?).

Thank you to Chef Blackie and his culinary team, Sommelier Tegan, and hosts Jennifer and Natalie. It was a fun experience and I was glad to be a part of it all.

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