Next multi-course extravaganza July 21 at Rideau Pines Farm will be more affordable at about $60
JUN 19 14 – 10:50 AM — I am not among those hipsters who look to entomology for a memorable dining experience.
On the contrary, should I ever encounter a roach in my soup — and, mercifully, I cannot recall it happening — I’d be inclined to summon the waiter and ask him to take it away.
But these days I recognize a generation raised on celebrated TV bad boy Anthony Bourdain, and cloned pop dreck like Fear Factor and Survivor, may think it’s really awesome to ingest goofy things beyond the usual congealed slop of everyday poutine. Go have at it, I say, just keep the bat wings, worm castings and mouse tongues away from my plate.
And so it was a most rare occasion this week when I was presented an otherwise-wonderful cutting board of paper-thin duck carpaccio attractively decorated with chive flowers, lamb’s quarters, and — quelle surprise! — two crispy critters for shock value. Chef Danny Mongeon of Hooch Bourbon House on Rideau Street said the chitinous garnish was, in fact, crickets, but to me they looked suspiciously like small dehydrated grasshoppers. No matter, my dinner companions goaded me to at least try one, which I did, and was unimpressed.
I flicked the second critter aside with a butter knife.
(Chef Danny tells me later the insects were not intended to shock, but rather as a garnish to reflect what ducks would have eaten — before, that is, they were turned into carpaccio.)
Bugs notwithstanding, the inaugural 16-course dinner Monday called Flux held at Mariposa Farms, a bouncy 45-minute school bus ride away in Plantagenet, was an impressive indulgence in gastronomic adventure. Plate after plate came out in rapid succession, every one of them beautiful to behold, creative in execution, and flavourful.
The idea is to periodically assemble a group of eager young chefs to create an eclectic if not exotic menu in a rural setting where participants might better appreciate the provenance of their food. In this case, Mariposa Farm operated by Ian Walker and Suzanne Lavoie was a most appropriate choice — a 200-acre organic spread where, as Walker proudly proclaims, the tractor was shot years ago, leaving the real grunt work to bare human hands and sweaty horse power.
Mariposa is well known in Ottawa culinary circles for its choice duck and goose meat, foie gras from Quebec, and mixed farm vegetables. Walker and Lavoie carry an ambitious line of small-batch artisan cheeses that are coveted by the city’s finest kitchens. They also offer a popular Sunday lunch at $45 in a fully equipped pavilion on the premises.
The name Flux is meant to “reflect constant state of change,” says Mongeon, its founder. To that end, chefs have adopted the tangled Irish symbol — a tyriskele triple spiral — to symbolize growth and evolution, as each menu must necessarily change with the seasons and availability of local ingredients, many of them foraged. I wrote about the Flux dinner plans earlier, in some detail here.
The Mairposa event cost $175, with the soup kitchen Shepherds of Good Hope as the night’s beneficiary. Patrons received a $25 tax receipt from the charity, and were asked to donate an additional two hours of their time doing volunteer work for the Shepherds. While attendance was somewhat underwhelming (of 23 people who came out, 15 actually paid while the rest were media, friends of chefs and other guests) the evening, I think, was a qualified success.
Mongeon expects a better response at the next outing July 21 to Rideau Pines Farm in North Gower, where the ticket price including bus shuttle drops to a more friendly level of about $60. Word of mouth and social media should help after this week’s experience. The July charity beneficiary has not yet been decided.
“The next one will be outdoors with live music,” Mongeon says.
“I think the event this week went well. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed themselves.
“The chefs were proud of their dishes and every one was cohesive. By that I mean the menu components went together really well.”
Details of the next event will be posted soon, Mongeon assures me, on the Hooch Bourbon House website. Also stay tuned to Facebook and Twitter for announcements.
Among patrons this week was Brandon Holmes, who manages kitchens for Orchard View Living Centres. He moved to North Gower from St. John’s almost two years ago, and figures events like the one this week present a good opportunity to get out and mingle.
“I heard about it through word of mouth,” Holmes says.
“I’ve eaten at Hooch a few times and Danny mentioned he’s doing this charity initiative, so I thought why not come out and taste?
“I’m certainly enjoying myself, I’m meeting new people. It’s nice to see collaboration among chefs, each cooking in a different way. It’s unique.”