Northern Scene’s North-South Fusion Dinner

DSCF0196It might have been the lights at Northern Scene, but it seemed to me NAC interim executive chef John Morris turned a bit green on the stage of the North-South Fusion Dinner.

Morris was the host chef and the first of three duos – one chef from each territory paired with one from an Ottawa/Gatineau restaurant – at an intimate cooking demonstration and dinner called North-South Fusion (part of the week long festival called Northern Scene that celebrates the art, music, theatre, literature, fashion and food of Canada’s north.)

From a jewelled purse, as Morris described it, his chef partner Rebecca Veevee (Nunuvat’s “Laughing Chef”) unsheathed her ulu, an all purpose Inuit knife used traditionally by women.  “No man can touch it,” she cackled at him, as he gazed upon its elegant curves with obvious envy.

With her girl-knife, Veevee handily skinned and diced filets of Arctic char while watching Morris do the same, over at his end of the table, using some boring looking chef’s knife.

With that dull knife Morris did manage to produce a luscious char tartare. This he served with a toasted juniper berry aoili that brought the forest to the fish in a stunning way. With her Arctic char, Veevee made a shepherd’s pie – fish, peas, onion, herbs, topped with mashed potatoes and cheese, and devoured at our table.

Genest, host Alan Neal, and Part
Genest, expounding on low bush cranberries, and CBC host Alan Neal and Charles Part hanging on her every word

The next duo was Michele Genest from Whitehorse and Charles Part from Chelsea. Genest is The Boreal Gourmet and Part the longtime co-owner and chef of Les Fougeres. Together, they produced an elk osso bucco terrine, with apple-wood smoked elk jerky flavoured with juniper and dusted with yarrow. With the roasted bones, Part produced a sparkling consommé to whet the appetite. The meat came – of course – from Thom Van Eeghen and Fay Armitage’s The Elk Ranch in Kanata.

To Part’s elk, Genest’s part started with black morels. These were foraged DSCF0208after a northern burn, while the morel soaking jus became part of the braising liquid for Part’s meat. She also brought to the dish Yukon low bush cranberries (known as lingonberries in Scandinavia and partridge berries in Newfoundland). At Les Fougeres, they oven-dried some of the berries, and made a sweet-tart syrup with others. The raw berries Genest cooked down in a sugar-birch syrup tarted up with apple cider vinegar, spread it on a pan, popped it in an oven (mine, to be precise) and out came a crunchy brittle that gave a burst of brightness to the pungent meat.

Genest also hauled spruce tips down from the north (ours weren’t yet in season) along with spruce oil. With these she made a gremolata for the osso bucco, where the chopped up tips and spruce oil replaced the more traditional parsley and olive oil. To finish the dish she candied some of the spruce tips: a first for everyone in the room.

Photo by Cathie Archbauld, Harbord Publishing
Photo by Cathie Archbauld, permission, Harbour Publishing

Michele Genest is my childhood friend. A Toronto girl who fell in love with the north. She left for a three week visit twenty years ago, was apparently enchanted with the place, returned home to pack her bags (yadda yadda yadda, yes, yes, we’ve heard it all before) and the girl never looked back. Damn her.

Though she’s been back all this week, borrowing my kitchen to prep for Northern Scene, my front hall filled with cases of her fantastic book The Boreal Gourmet (Harbour), my house infused with the earthy smell of black morels and spruce needles and birch syrup simmering on the stove. All attempts to woo her back to the south with excellent restaurant meals and glorious summer weather have been in vain.  She and her magnificent husband Hector MacKenzie (famous wilderness guide, avalanche expert, official taster for The Boreal Gourmet) return to Whitehorse on Sunday to the snow and the mud of spring, and my kitchen will never smell as fine again.

Our third and final pair of chefs (sorry, back to Northern Scene!) was Yellowknife’s Robin Wasicuna teamed up with Ross Fraser of the Fraser Café. Their course featured reindeer, farmed in Inuvuk and apparently from the original herd at Reindeer Station (brought from Scandinavia and herded from Alaska to NWT in the thirties, a government initiative to introduce reindeer farming to Canada’s north).

Wasicuna roasted the tender back strap of the venison to ruby rare. To pair with the reindeer, Fraser found wild DSCF0213garlic in the knick of time (delivered to his restaurant that afternoon). He grilled ramps, diced rhubarb and with toasted sunflower seeds and charred bread made a romesco sauce of sorts with which to smother his bronzed gnocchi. The dish was finished with early Ontario asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes chips.

Hats off to the National Arts Centre. This was a wonderful event.







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