I love food. So does Russ. It's one of the bigger things we have in common, which is good because it means we don't argue about our extravagant food budget. So for Russ' birthday, I got him a nice chef's knife and a culinary event with Edible British Columbia
They let you in to the Granville Island Market
after hours. They have a long open storefront and they set up a lovely table with linens and wine glasses in the cement market hallway in front of it. There are fifteen attendees, and they were all on time, dressed in everything from jeans and t-shirts to a suit with a pink tie.
Immediately baskets of different kinds of breads and dishes of balsamic vinegar and lobster oil are laid out on the table. And the BC wine begins to flow soon after. Three people at the table don't drink at all and another is asking for tiny amounts, so I think the rest of us got larger than normal portions through out the evening; no sense wasting the bottle once it has been opened, I suppose.
We all get up from the table, carrying our wine glasses, and gather around a counter where a professional chef – Jeff Van Geest of Aurora Bistro
– creates delicious dishes using local ingredients. The theme on this evening is heritage tomatoes.
After the chef demonstrates each dish, we all take our seats again and are served. It's like watching a cooking show on TV, but you can smell and taste everything.
Green zebra tomatoes look under-ripe – bright green. But they are sweet and juicy. They are plated as you would get in a fancy restaurant – the kind Russ and I only eat at when my parents are paying for a special occasion – so the tomato slices are stacked with delicate rings of onions. They are accompanied by a sprinkle of local cheese and another glass of wine. I’m not much for white wines, really, but it is a nice bright Chardonnay.
I've always disliked tomato soup, but I'd only ever had canned before. But this smoked tomato soup is a completely different creature altogether. The mix of heritage tomatoes are smoked in an aluminum lined pot on a stove top with wood chips. Russ and another more experienced cook compared notes on what they thought was missing from the soup (I think they concluded that it need more cream), but I thought it was delightful.
Being a carb addict, it was the croûtons that I really loved: fresh bread cubes deep-fried in clarified butter and tossed with freshly grated parmesan. Pure decadence. Shame that only a couple of croûtons were in each bowl of soup.
Russ and I sat across from each other. On my left was a woman that Russ would later inform me was typical of a new Toronto import to Vancouver: she spoke very fast and very urgently. She's puppy-eager to learn. She asked a lot of detailed questions and took notes of every store, food brand, and restaurant mentioned by the chef or any of the rest of us. She leaned in intently as Russ told her about the best East Van food locations, having him spell the names of Italian bakeries and give her directions to the most authentic Chinese food stores.
I have been vegetarian for more than ten years. I am, admittedly, a bit of a "don't ask, don't tell" vegetarian (don't ask the restaurant whether or not they use veggie broth; don't ask if the ice cream has gelatin in it), but I have not eaten actual meat in a decade.
I won't blame the wine. I do credit the chef's excellent sales pitch: as he prepared the course, he praised the farm where he bought the chickens destined to be our main course: the chicken's living conditions and the quality of their diet, and the resulting quality of the meat. So when the parchment paper packet was set in front of me, I enjoyed the tomatoes and the arugula and then I had the smallest bite of the chicken.
Chicken has a very weird texture. It is sort of stringy. You all probably don't notice it because you eat it all the time, but it is a very bizarre thing to eat. I'm sure it was fantastic chicken, though; Russ certainly enjoyed both his portion and mine.
Sitting at the head of the table, between Russ and I, is a true foodie. He has come alone, but seems very comfortable making conversation with us, though we are half his age. He attends many culinary events and cooking classes. He is fascinating to talk to – to listen to – as he has traveled around the world primarily to have different food experiences. Toronto Puppy keeps interrupting to have him explain dishes and spell things.
As the chef prepares each dish, his assistant helps invisibly. The tools he needs next just appear beside him. Dirty dishes just disappear from around him and reappear clean if needed. In my mind, I call her Radar.
Tomato sorbet sounds strange, but it was very good. The sorbet was cool and refreshing, and the balsamic reduction wasn't vinegary, but rich and sweet. And I love late harvest wines. I have a sweet tooth.
The whole event was magical, including buying ginger jam and bakeable chocolate truffles to go and pouring ourselves into a cab. It was completely worth having my first ever hangover on Wednesday morning at work.