by Alison Kent
Now in it’s fourth year, Brewer’s Plate is a celebration of sustainable living, bringing together our finest in local food and brew artisans, chefs, artists, musicians, entertainers and guests, and culminating in a glorious feast for all the senses
On April 6th, a sold-out crowd of nearly 500 attendees gathered and mingled at Artscape Wychwood Barns – a newly chosen venue, selected in part because larger digs in which to house this increasingly popular evening had become necessary. But it’s also a natural fit, as both venue and event strive to connect and build community through arts, culture and the promotion of local food.
And what an abundance of local food and beverages there was in store for us! Just a few of the many highlights included Ruth Klahsen from Monforte Dairy’s aged Cheddar paired with Evelyn’s Crackers barley crackers – a simple, spot-on combination. While Chef Michael Steh of Reds ladled smooth and luxurious broccoli and Cheddar soup in bowls and topped each with braised pork, puffed pork rinds, and a lovely smoked paprika oil drizzle.
From La Palette and bursting with earthy springtime flavours, Brook Kavanagh’s stout and morel consommé with ricotta-stuffed morels and Brussels sprouts was sublime.
And I’ve had The Ballroom on the brain ever since tasting Chef Tawfik Shehata’s fabulous beer-battered fish tacos with salsa, slaw, and wrapped in soft tortillas.
For the most part, table set-ups were geared to encourage the pairing of a Chef or food artisan’s creation with a local brew (County Cider and a smattering of other non-beer beverages were also on-hand). It’s a great idea, but with a couple of exceptions I preferred to taste and appreciate each item on its own merit. This preference may also have had to do with my own particular challenge of trying to juggle a glass, plate, camera, notepad and pen while navigating the room.
At any rate, many innovative Chefs also incorporated beer from the brewery they were paired with into their creations, as was the case with Steam Whistle Pilsner being used in the fish tacos batter and Wellington Brewery Imperial Stout in the morel broth.
As for breweries, there were too many to list, but just a few standouts included Barley Days Brewery from Prince Edward County, F&M Brewery from Guelph, and from Etobicoke, Great Lakes Brewery and Oakville’s Black Oak Brewing Co.
Portion sizes at this event were generous, to say the least, as were the craft beer pours throughout the evening. And really, what is a feast without entertainment? Live music, silent and live auctions, mimes on stilts and other theatrical performances by Shadowland Theatre rounded out and enriched the evenings of everyone in attendance.
I did manage to save room for a bit of dark chocolate from artisanal chocolatiers ChocoSol Traders but had to admit defeat and forego sampling any of the many other delectable-looking sweets brought out later in the evening.
Proceeds from the evening will support Not Far From the Tree, an organization whereby hundreds of volunteers gather to pick an otherwise unused bounty of fruit from backyards in the city. Last summer, almost 20,000 lbs. of fruit, including pears, quince, sweet and sour cherries, plums, apples and crab apples, elderberries, mulberries, ginkgo and grapes were picked and redirected to food banks, shelters and community kitchens, with some of the fruit also going to the volunteers and the tree owner.
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I was pleased to be asked to create a 5-ingredient recipe for Ontario Craft Brewers for a sustainable recipe ideas booklet, which was available at Brewer’s Plate.
Being a huge fan of Barley Days Brewery, I chose to use their Harvest Gold Pale Ale. Other excellent options include Lake Of Bays Brewing Company Pale Ale, or for complementary hints of citrus and coriander, choose Nickel Brook Organic White, Muskoka Cottage Brewery’s Summer Weiss or Mill Street Brewery Belgian-Style Wit Beer.
Barley Days Beer & Bacon Mussels
By Alison Kent
Makes: 4 servings
Serve with crusty bread for sopping up those tasty juices and accompany with additional bottles of beer for serving alongside.
3 lb (1.4 kg) mussels
4 slices thick bacon, chopped
1 leek (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
1 ½ cups (240 g) halved grape or cherry tomatoes
1 bottle (341 mL) Barley Days Brewery Harvest Gold Pale Ale
Rinse mussels, pulling off any beards. Discard any mussels that do not close when tapped.
In large pot, cook bacon over medium heat until cooked and most of the fat has rendered out, about 5 minutes. Add leeks; cook until softened, about 3 minutes.
Add tomatoes and beer; bring to boil over high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Add mussels; cover and steam until mussels open, about 6 minutes. Discard any that do not open.
Alison Kent is a food & travel writer, recipe developer and Cookbook author. Follow Alison at twitter.com/alicatchef.