FRESH Dinner at Market in Support of Grow Calgary
The FRESH dinner at MARKET Restaurant in support of GROW Calgary was, for the second year in a row, a resounding success. The well crafted vegetable dishes using ‘just picked’ veggies from the GROW Calgary gardens were a sure fire way to draw hungry crowds for the compassionate food organization’s only fundraiser of the year. Each simple home grown ingredient was plated with respect and integrity…a reflection of the pride and care with which it was grown by the GROW Calgary volunteers. Just as the passion of the chefs shone through with every plate, so too did the passions of each patron and volunteer; from each garden volunteer to the garden managers and sponsors.
Paul Hughes (GROW Calgary founder and driving force) began the evening by thanking the volunteers, introducing the farm managers, sponsors, and the people without whom, the organization wouldn’t be able to provide quality fresh organic veggies to the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank. While the chefs were busy plating, diners listened intently to the man whose every action has a purpose, keenly ensuring that the quality of life and comfort of those around him are put before his own needs. Always.
We began the dinner with an amuse bouche of lightly stuffed and delicately deep fried zucchini blossom. While I have never had the opportunity to try a stuffed zucchini blossom, I was a bit nervous to try one as I am allergic to zucchini. I’m very happy that I threw caution to the wind and gave it a taste as it was quite delicious, mostly because it was filled with cheese and was deep fried.
Our first course was a corny delight. I’m sorry, what I meant was that the primary ingredient for this dish was sweet fresh corn and it was utilized in several ways. First, the corn was roasted and then used to flavour a panna cotta, then it was dried, ground, and used as a corn chip. Lastly, we had slices of fresh baby corn and corn pollen to complete the dish. All of the sweet corn was contrasted with the slightly sour radish pods and gel.
Peas and carrots are often the first vegetables and solid foods we are fed as humans. The simplicity of this dish matched our innermost memories of that first meal, however, its flavour inspired a new appreciation of these two elementary vegetables. The salt roasted carrots became quite sweet during the preparation and the pea crema was smoother than any purée beyond memory. The dish was texturally completed with a carrot loaf crumb and complemented with pickled carrot tops.
The Potato and Onion course was a crowd favourite. On a single plate lay cloud-like soft gnocchi with a sweet onion soubise, tiny little fried potato cubes, braised small red onions, and tiny onion flowers that accented the dish in beauty and with their ‘larger than life’ onion-y punch. As I sat back and pondered the work that went into such a simple dish I could hear the gasps and excitement that buzzed throughout the room. Indeed, before I had even dug into my plate, I had already seen several social media images posted online. I guess word travels fast when a dish ticks all the right boxes: Warm and comforting, tasty and memorable. How is it that two such seemingly ‘lowly’ vegetables can be raised to such high standards?
Speaking of ‘low’ vegetables, there is none more lowly and controversial than the beet. There are some that can’t stand the ‘earthy’ flavour or colouration but there are others for whom the beet is the equivalent of earth candy. Kevin Yang, the pastry chef at MARKET clearly falls into the latter category as evidenced by his use of beets in the final dish of the FRESH dinner. The cheesecake contained beets that had been slow roasted to accentuate their sweetness, then blended and passed through a fine mesh sieve before being added to the mascarpone cheese. The sweetness of the beets became foiled with the bitterness of the liquid brandy chocolate paint and sunflower ganache, complementing each other perfectly. The sunflower croquant and dried beet chips added a thoughtful textural component that really completed the dessert.
The chefs and staff at MARKET worked tirelessly through the day and evening; creating, plating, and serving these memorable dishes and their time, as well as the use of the restaurant, was entirely donated by owner Vanessa Salopek. I would like to thank co executive chefs Alex Edmonson and Sean MacDonald, as well as pastry chef Kevin Yang for their efforts. With very little overhead, the proceeds from this year’s FRESH Dinner will greatly benefit the users of the Calgary Interfaith Food Bank and keep GROW Calgary ‘growing on’ with their mission.