Bites and bugs: Ambitious “Flux” dinner is full of surprises for a great cause

Bites and bugs: Ambitious “Flux” dinner is full of surprises for a great cause

Next multi-course extravaganza July 21 at Rideau Pines Farm will be more affordable at about $60

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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.

Top, by chef Steven LaSalle of The Albion Rooms, nasturtium stuffed with thyme-scented thyme butter, mustard seed picked in jerjus, grapefruit/thyme verjus on apricot puree, ginger. Bottom, by chef Danny Mongeon of Hooch Bourbon House, duck carpaccio with chive flowers, lamb's quarters, and "cricket." Actually, to me it looked more like a baby grasshopper. Whatever.

Top, by chef Steven LaSalle of The Albion Rooms, nasturtium stuffed with thyme-scented butter, mustard seed picked in jerjus, grapefruit/thyme verjus on apricot puree, ginger. Bottom, by chef Danny Mongeon of Hooch Bourbon House, duck carpaccio with chive flowers, lamb’s quarters, and “cricket.” Actually, to me it looked more like a baby grasshopper. Whatever.

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.)

Left, beautifil and delicious house-churned sheep butter with chive, lemon verbena, wildflowers. The butter was served with bannock (top right), followed by Lucky Lime Malpeque oyster.

Left, beautiful and delicious house-churned sheep butter with chive, lemon verbena, wildflowers. The butter was served with bannock (top right), followed by Lucky Lime Malpeque oyster.

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 appropriateĀ  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.

By chef Ian Reed of The Courtyard Restaurant, charred grilled tomato on ham hock salad, Nat's Bread crostini, with smoked tomato ketchup, aerated bacon hollandaise.

By chef Ian Reed of The Courtyard Restaurant, charred grilled tomato on ham hock salad, Nat’s Bread crostini, with smoked tomato ketchup, aerated bacon hollandaise.

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.

Top from chef Steve LaSalle, leek gelee and honey, asparagus, cured Arctic char, pickled dandelion buds, raw cucumber. Bottom by chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, spruce tips, cucumber and gin sorbet, olive oil, violas, begonias.

Top from chef Steve LaSalle, leek gelee and honey, asparagus, cured Arctic char, pickled dandelion buds, raw cucumber. Bottom by chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, spruce tips, cucumber and gin sorbet, olive oil, violas, begonias.

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.

Top L-R chefs Adam Bannerman of Hooch, David Gick and Kyle Mortimer-Proulx of the former ZenKitchen. Bottom, chefs Chad Bradley and Danny Mongeon take bannock off the flames.

Top L-R chefs Adam Bannerman of Hooch, David Gick and Kyle Mortimer-Proulx of the former ZenKitchen. Bottom, chefs Chad Bradley and Danny Mongeon take bannock off the flames.

“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.”

Top, from chef de cuisine Adam Bannerman at Hooch, fried kale chips, reconstituted dry Le Coprin mushrooms, puree of rmushrooms, blue cheese and walnuts with sauteed smoked mushrooms glazed with raspberry vinaigrette. Bottom, from chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx goat butter salsify cooked sous vide, confit fennel puree with goat butter, charred pearl onion, cucumber blossom, wine-braised leek, smoked red caviar and beurre blanc.

Top, from chef de cuisine Adam Bannerman at Hooch, fried kale chips, reconstituted dry Le Coprin mushrooms, puree of rmushrooms, blue cheese and walnuts with sauteed smoked mushrooms glazed with raspberry vinaigrette. Bottom, from chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx goat butter salsify cooked sous vide, confit fennel puree with goat butter, charred pearl onion, cucumber blossom, wine-braised leek, smoked red caviar and beurre blanc.

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.”

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By chef Ian Carswell of K-W Catering, cured and braised pork belly with pork "snow" on beet puree, pickled beet, jus, pickled beet greens, pork crisp tuile.

By chef Ian Carswell of K-W Catering, cured and braised pork belly with pork “snow” on beet puree, pickled beet, jus, pickled beet greens, pork crisp tuile.

Top, from chef Ian Reed of Courtyard, cured foie gras on roasted garlic potato, house sauerkraut, pulled duck, wild mustard, smoked duck breast, sour cheery duck jus. Bottom left by chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, roast purple carrot, white carrot cooked sous vide in orange carrot juice, caqrrot ash dust, house lemon ricotta, kimchi, radish top. Right from chef Danny Mongeon, sheep yogurt, rhubarb emulsion, malted milk powder and honey drizzle.

Top, from chef Ian Reed of Courtyard, cured foie gras on roasted garlic potato, house sauerkraut, pulled duck, wild mustard, smoked duck breast, sour cheery duck jus. Bottom left by chef Kyle Mortimer-Proulx, roast purple carrot, white carrot cooked sous vide in orange carrot juice, carrot ash dust, house lemon ricotta, kimchi, radish top. Right from chef Danny Mongeon, sheep yogurt, rhubarb emulsion, malted milk powder and honey drizzle.

Top from chef Adam Bannerman, strawberry curd, pickled white strawberry, vanilla strawberry and lavendar sorbet with chocolate. Bottom left from chef Steve LaSalle, vodka sour with daisy buds, fennel, dill and coriander seeds, juniper berries. Right from chef Danny Mongeon, maple cotton candy hung on a tree branch.

Top from chef Adam Bannerman, strawberry curd, pickled white strawberry, vanilla strawberry and lavender sorbet with chocolate. Bottom left from chef Steve LaSalle, vodka sour with daisy buds, fennel, dill and coriander seeds, juniper berries. Right from chef Danny Mongeon, maple cotton candy hung on a tree branch.

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The kitchen cast.

The kitchen cast.

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